10 Tips for Fiction Writers from the 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market

9781599638416_5inch_300dpiThe 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, now in its 34th year, is hot off the presses, and today I’m sharing ten pieces of advice from the contributors to this year’s edition. NSSWM features articles on fiction craft, getting published, and marketing and promotion, as well as more than 400 pages of listings for novel and short story writers, including literary agents, book publishers, magazines, and contests that are interested in your work. This year’s edition also features access to an exclusive webinar from best-selling author Cheryl St.John, on exploring emotional high points in fiction.

To celebrate the release of the 2015 NSSWM, I’m giving away two copies to two lucky winners who comment in the post below! I’ll announce the winners on October 22. 


1. On writing an exceptional short story:

“Outline, even if it’s the most rudimentary way. It leads to inspired deviations. … [Don’t] think too hard about ticking off [your] boxes in advance. A good story—long or short—will provide them by virtue of its being good.” —Andrew Pyper, in Jennifer D. Foster’s article “Anatomy of a Successful Short Story”

2. On writing dialogue within a scene: 

“Rich dialogue can animate and drive a scene. But good dialogue doesn’t act in isolation. The point of view of the stakeholders in the matter at hand must be provocative or interesting in some way. There must be conflict—conflict important enough to make the reader care. And then, driven by this conflict, the characters must come alive, revealing their needs, desires, flaws—their basic humanity. The dialogue itself must be distinctive and original. When it’s not working, it tends to sound clunky and artificial.” —Jack Smith, “Writing Strong Scenes”

3. On finding ideas for magic realism: 

“Ever since I began writing, I’ve been a collector. Not of things—shells, stamps, figurines, stuffed monkeys, autographs, etc.—but of possibilities. Odd happenings and images from around the world and in my dreams that could—and often do—make their way into my writing. While many might be considered mundane observances, paired with the right character in the right situation, I know they’ll make terrifically fantastic occurrences. —Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, “Making Magic”

4. On getting through the mid-draft slump: 

“A mid-draft slump is a symptom, which calls for a diagnosis before you can effectively treat it. Believing you can write your way out of this mess, that you can rescue the middle with a strong closing act, is a seductive trap, because your reader may never make it that far. When that reader is an agent or an editor, this assumption becomes a fatal one.” —Larry Brooks, “Stuck in the Middle”

5. On developing a distinct point of view and voice: 

“Practice makes perfect, and the best way to practice is by writing short stories. Flash fiction (telling a full story in 1,000 words or less) is a great training tool.” —J.T. Ellison, in Janice Gable Bashman’s interview “Capturing Readers’ Interest”

6. On Twitter “pitch parties”: 

“As informal as social media can be, Brenda Drake emphasizes that writers need to treat pitch parties as professionally as any other submission. ‘Your manuscript should be completely polished. It has to have been through your beta readers and critique partners, and you should have revised it a few times,’ she says.” —Diane Shipley, “It Started With a Hashtag”

7. On what impresses literary journal editors: 

“I’m impressed by a writer who takes our theme, shakes it around, and throws it back at us in a way we were not expecting. Catching us off guard with good writing is rewarding. We all know what we want, but when we come across something we didn’t expect, something that cuts in a new and exciting way, that is a great way to attract attention.” —Todd Simmons, in James Duncan’s roundtable “What Literary Journals Really Look For”

8. On how to choose a small press to submit to: 

“Evaluate the content. If a small press is consistently putting out quality writing, chances are it has a solid editorial team. The amount of time it’s been in existence and its general reputation are helpful indicators, too.” —Robert Lee Brewer, “Sizing Up Small Presses”

9. On hybrid publishing: 

“Diversity means survival. That’s true in agriculture. It’s true in our stock portfolios. It’s true on our dinner plates. And it’s true in publishing. Survival as a writer means embracing diversity from the beginning. And that means thinking of yourself as a “hybrid” author. … The hybrid author takes a varied approach, utilizing the traditional system of publishing and acting as an author-publisher (a term I prefer to self-publisher because it signals the dual nature of the role you now inhabit).”  —Chuck Wendig, “Best of Both Worlds”

10. On organizing a virtual book tour: 

“You may find it helpful to assemble an ‘online media kit,’ a section of your website where you can provide photos and other relevant information, such as a video trailer and press release, in one location. This way, you can give your hosts a single link instead of inundating them with attachments … .” —Erika Dreifus, “10 Tips for Your Virtual Book Tour”

You can find the articles these tips came from, as well as hundreds of listings for book publishers, literary agents, magazines, contests, and writing conferences, inside the 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market.

Edited to add: joep613 and stateofga, you’ve each won a copy of the 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market! Congrats!

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45 thoughts on “10 Tips for Fiction Writers from the 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market

  1. JanelleFila

    Number four is great advice! I think too many writers just keep plugging along when something doesn’t work, but never really go back and analyze why the story isn’t working. I also like the idea of being a hybrid author. I have to get completely out of my comfort zone to learn all the newest social media trends, but find that I love the writing communities in those mediums! Janelle http://www.janellefila.com

  2. Zander Tepp

    I write from the hip – or should that be from my finger tips – and forget to plan to promote and publish. These tips were a good reminder to treat my writing as a business instead of writing and hoping people will find me. This is no field of dreams.

  3. Jaycob Burns

    Outlining, especially for short stories, has been a huge blessing from me. With an outline and knowing where you want the story to go, it really helps when you’re stuck on one section to at least temporarily move onto the next in order to help connect the dots.

  4. djessop

    For tip #5, I have always thought that “flash fiction” was an excellent tool to help writers develop their skills. Glad to see that someone else thinks so as well.

  5. Dorothy's Daughter

    I appreciate all these points. I’m in the middle of a rewrite and have a bit of a slump going on. Thanks for such a great site and valuable advice!

  6. Liz

    Great stuff! I’ve been buying and reading various publications for a few years now, and finally took the plunge to a life of writing for a living. I’m hoping to eventually write fiction for profit, and reading these tips is extremely helpful for knowing I’m either on track, or I’ve learned something new to help me move forward. Keep it all coming and thanks again!

  7. xcntrk

    I learn more about writing from this site and the emails I receive than from any other source that I have found. Thanks for all of the help and keep up the GREAT!!!! work.

  8. stateofga

    I hum sometimes when I’m trying to fill empty space but it doesn’t really have a purpose. I’m in the middle of my book so I think I should avoid the hum and stick with the radio.

  9. jlocascio

    I love the suggestion about Practice makes perfect and working on writing complete short stories of 1000 words or less! I know practice makes perfect, but I hadn’t thought of creating a complete story’s while practicing! Thank you! I now have another goal for to work towards!

  10. Jackie

    I can’t agree more about outlining, even if it is, in your mind, just a short story. I know outlining isn’t for everyone, but for me, it is a lifesaver. Sometimes I even outline each individual thought or story arc on an index card. This way it allows me greater freedom in moving ideas/plots around into a different sequence for greater flow in the story.

  11. charlieku

    Good advice all. I especially like #10 as it hits me right between the eyes. I’ve done a poor job of marketing my books and assembling an online media kit on my website seems a great way to start. Thanks for all the tips.

  12. lrthomps

    I like the ideas here: building up and pushing beyond first ideas toward startling new connections then parring them back into their ‘essence’. And practice of course! Thanks for posting.

  13. Beduwen

    Great post. I especially like #9, thinking of yourself as a hybrid author and taking a varied approach. We definitely have to be flexible in our roles these days, since we wear so many different hats: writer, author, blogger, Tweeter, etc, etc!

  14. katerinkapd

    Hi, everybody! I am happy to be a member of this wonderful website! I like the Writer’s Digest magazine very much. I will be very happy to win the 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market! This will be the perfect present for me! Thanks for everything you do!
    Have a nice day! Kate.


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