Skip to main content
Publish date:

4 Short Lessons on the Subject of Short Stories

What do short fiction editors really look for? What's the secret to great flash fiction? Are anthologies the most overlooked markets around? The answers may just jump-start your career.

Whether you’re actively trying to publish short fiction or merely considering giving it a try, the March/April 2017 Writer’s Digest is full of ways to jump-start your creativity, improve your shorter-than-short form, give editors what they’re looking for and grow your career.


We learned so much, in fact, in compiling this issue that we wanted to celebrate its release by sharing our four favorite lessons here:

1. Virtually every writer can benefit—at least creatively—from writing short fiction.

Even if you don’t aspire to publish short work, trying your hand at brief, complete stories can help you refresh your creativity, refine specific techniques and rediscover your love of writing for the fun of it,” explains StoryADay founder Julie Duffy in her article “Short Training for Your Long Game” (which is full of exercises and tips to help you reap all the benefits).

2. Submitting to anthologies can give you better odds of acceptance than literary journals.

“Open submissions to themed anthologies provide great opportunities to writers who may lack in experience, but carry a keener insight and greater grasp of the subject matter than more established writers,” says Roland Goity, co-editor of the anthology “Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction.” (Pushcart Prize–winner Michael Kardos has collected this and other helpful insights on the many benefits of these compilations in his article “All About Anthologies.”)

3. A successful flash fiction story has all the aesthetic complexity of a story 10 times its length.

Don’t let the brevity of flash fiction mislead you into thinking that it’s easy to write; like poetry, it’s easy to write badly. Aim to include these three elements: 1) An intriguing way in which the protagonist has grappled with the story problem; 2) The lesson learned or the epiphany experience from the struggle; 3) The story milieu, evoked through vivid sensory details. (In his article “Flash Forward,” accomplished short fiction author and writing instructor Flash White breaks down helpful examples of exactly how to pull it off.)

4. Short fiction editors aren’t shy about sharing what they’re looking for.

The March/April 2017 Writer’s Digest has plenty of insights from 15 of them—hailing from publications ranging from Glimmer Train to Barrelhouse to The New Yorker—but lucky for you our bonus online exclusive outtakes with these generous staffers feature even more great tips.

If you like what you see here, find more advice on all of the above and more in the March/April 2017 Writer’s Digest, on newsstands now or available for instant download here. As always, we’d love to hear what you think: Leave a comment below or email your feedback to with “Reader Mail” in the subject line.

Yours in writing,
Jessica Strawser

Editorial Director, Writer’s Digest magazine
Subscribe today in any format you like, so you never miss an issue.

Follow me on Twitter.
Connect with me on Facebook.

Learn more about my debut novel ALMOST MISSED YOU, now available to add to your Goodreads shelf or preorder from AmazonBarnes & Noble or your favorite online book retailer!

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Ending Your Story Too Soon

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Ending Your Story Too Soon

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is ending your story too soon.

FightWrite™: Fight Scenes with Magic

FightWrite™: Fight Scenes With Magic

In this post, trained fighter and author Carla Hoch explores the process of writing fight scenes with magic—how to make the unbelievable believable, how limitations bring us closer to our characters, and more.

Invoice Template for Freelance Writers

Invoice Template for Freelance Writers

If you're a freelance writer who is able to secure assignments, an essential tool you'll need is an invoice. In this post, Writer's Digest Senior Editor Robert Lee Brewer shares a very basic and easy invoice template for freelance writers to get the job done (and get paid).

3 Things Being a Broadway Wig Master Taught Me About Storytelling

3 Things Being a Broadway Wig Master Taught Me About Storytelling

A career behind the curtain helped Amy Neswald in creating her own stories. Here, the author shares 3 things being a broadway wig master taught her about storytelling.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Out of Control

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Out of Control

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let things get a little out of control.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2021 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Next Steps

Here are the final steps for the 14th annual November PAD Chapbook Challenge! Use December and the beginning of January to revise and collect your poems into a chapbook manuscript. Here are some tips and guidelines.

NaNoWriMo’s Over … Now What?

NaNoWriMo’s Over … Now What?

After an intense writing challenge, you might feel a little lost. Here are some tips from Managing Editor and fellow Wrimo Moriah Richard for capitalizing on your momentum.

Ian Douglas: On Telling the Truth in Science Fiction

Ian Douglas: On Telling the Truth in Science Fiction

New York Times bestselling author Ian Douglas discusses how he incorporated implausible conspiracy theories to uncover the truth in his new science fiction novel, Alien Hostiles.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 589

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a yesterday poem.