How to Get a Short Story Published Like a Pro

Learn how to get a short story published like a pro from former Writer's Digest editor Scott Francis, including the 10 rules for submitting short fiction.
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As a writer you probably hear a lot of advice about how to get your novel published, how to write a perfect query letter, how to get an agent or editor’s attention and so forth. But what if you want to know how to get a short story published? How is the process different for submitting to literary journals or magazines different from approaching a book publisher?

How to Get a Short Story Published Like a Pro

Submitting Short Stories

Getting your short story published in a reputable literary journal or magazine is a great way to get noticed as a fiction writer. It can:

  • Help you build your author platform as a fiction writer
  • Provide opportunities to get paid for short stories
  • Provide opportunities to win awards or cash prizes through short story contests

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But competition for publication in these markets is stiff, so it’s important to remember a few best practices to improve your chances.

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Annual Writing Competition

Writer’s Digest has been shining a spotlight on up and coming writers in all genres through its Annual Writing Competition for 90 years. Enter our 90th Annual Writing Competition for your chance to win and have your work be seen by editors and agents! Almost 500 winners will be chosen, including a grand prize of $5,000 cash, interview in Writer's Digest magazine, and more.

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Before Submitting to Literary Journals

In my career as a writer and editor, I’ve worked for numerous literary journals including Fresh Boiled Peanuts, The Nomad, and The Invisible Academy. You’ve likely never heard of these, and that’s fine. It’s part of the point, actually. There are tons of literary journals out there, from small one-person operations that pay in contributor’s copies to big glossy magazines that will pay cash for your story. It’s important to do your research when setting out to submit your story to them. You want to make sure the magazine or journal has a good reputation—even better if it’s won some awards. And remember, getting paid is great, but sometimes the exposure you receive is the best payment—so don’t limit yourself to only paying markets. There are some great literary mags out there that will be a feather in your writer’s cap even if they don’t pay.

That said, when it comes to literary magazines and journals, what are editors looking for? What makes one submission better than another? What makes them choose your story from the slush pile? Want to know how to publish a short story? The following rules can help.

Want more? Get More! - How to Publish a Book: 7 Tips From the Pros

10 Rules for Submitting Short Stories

  1. First and foremost, read the submission guidelines. Sending your bodice ripper romance story to a literary journal for hard core science fiction readers will land your submission in the trash. Bottom line: make sure you’re targeting the right kind of publication.
  2. Never submit anything to a magazine or journal that you have not read at least one issue of. This is as much for your own good as it is a helpful strategy. By reading the magazine first you can get a feel for the tone of the publication and you can decide whether or not your story is a good fit—or tailor it to be.
  3. Include a cover letter for your story that briefly describes what the story is about. This is a short pitch of approximately 25 words that explains who the main character (or characters) is and what the conflict of the story is about. Keep it short. This isn’t a synopsis.
  4. You may include a short bio about yourself, but it should be modest. Keep the main focus on the story itself.
  5. Address your cover letter to the editor by name. Do your research and make sure you spell their name correctly.
  6. List the word count of your story.
  7. Avoid using any sort of fancy fonts or typefaces.
  8. Avoid clichés, such as beginning with your character waking up from a dream.
  9. Use simple dialogue tags. “He said” and “she said” are best. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re boring. Tags like “he orated” draw attention away from the dialogue itself.
  10. Be careful with modifiers. When it comes to adjectives a little goes a long way. For adverbs—remember that rule even more so. You short story should be exactly that—short. Don’t crowd it with unnecessary words.

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Short Story Virtual Conference

Writer's Digest is pleased to present an exclusive virtual conference for short story writers! On May 21-23, our Short Story Writing Virtual Conference will provide expert insights from award-winning and best-selling authors on the finer points of how to write a short story.

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