Since the written word has been offered to others for profit, there have been those seeking their work included in these publications. We, my brothers and sisters, come under the heading of the Seekers—writers of novels, songs, poems, essays, plays, and short stories. All are similar in how to go about getting published, like the way dogs, cats, babies, and drunken girlfriends all like to curl up on laps, but that is where the similarity ends. Each has their own criteria, demands, and audience. I’m going to discuss the what I have learned with regards to having a short story published. Business buzzwords will be bolded.
I started my career as a writer by penning a novel—silly me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good story, just not anywhere near ready for publication. I needed to know more about not only what makes for a good story, but the process involved with the publication of that story. After switching over to short stories, I was encouraged by friends to seek publication of what I had written. Little did I know what that entailed, and I wished someone would have explained the process to me in depth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they would have if I had asked the right questions. The purpose of this essay is to help explain the process.
Some generalizations about how written work gets published.
Anybody can set themselves up to become a publisher, all they need is a business plan, adequate capital, time, and connections. Anyone can also be a writer, you take an idea, put it to paper, and offer it to the publisher for their review and recompense. If the work is good–you will both win. If it’s great—they make money and you go on talk shows. To get your work before the publisher, many fields require an agent to act as a go-between the two parties. Agents are a valuable resource for a writer because they know which publisher is looking for work like yours, and for the publisher, because they act as a filter for all the manuscripts out there for consideration. There are some large market publishers that will accept non-agented submissions, but that is only during an advertised period (Harlequin usually open in the fall, like a goodwill gesture before the holidays).
Today’s electronic world has made self-publication an easy option. Skip the outside publisher and keep any profits earned for yourself. Unfortunately, this also means the writer also takes on all expenses the publisher, i.e. editing, formatting, printing, advertising, distribution … well, you get what I mean. Self-publishing is not at all a new concept, and the writer should not be discouraged by my description of the process. It is just not part of the process of having a short story published unless all the stories in the book belong to one writer, then it becomes a collection as opposed to an anthology. Notice I keep using the word writer instead of author. That is because the general concept is we are all writers, but we are not considered authors until we have had something published.
Practical steps prior to submission of a short story.
You’ve written a story and you think it special enough to want to share it with the world by having it published. You believe it is something of quality, something people are willing to spend their time, or even money, to read. Whether it is something that will make them laugh or cry, it needs to be well written.
First, you must know what the market genre or subject is. You don’t want to offer Erma Entices Eatonville to a publisher of children’s books, and vice versa. Know your audience. Have select members of that audience test read your work to see if the plot/message is being presented as you imagined. If this is done during while writing the story, they are known as Alpha readers. If they are reading it after you have finished writing the story, AND, reviewed it for errors (punctuation, spelling, etc.), they are called Beta readers. Take whatever comments these readers have to heart. You may not always agree with their remarks, but remember, the way they have processed your story will be how the publisher will as well. Make whatever changes, then submit it to an editor for another review.
You should never have to pay for an Alpha or a Beta reader. There are enough people around willing to read your work, just make sure they will comment without reservation. Your editor, on the other hand, is someone you should spend money on. Always send your editor the best version of your story, this person is a professional hired to bring your work up to industry and professional standards. There are line editors and content editors. Line editors will read your work, line by line, and correct any punctuation, grammatical, or continuity errors in your work. Think back to your English Composition class in high school and how your papers were returned with red ink notations by the teacher. This is what a line editor does. A content editor will do the same but also, with your permission, rewrite portions to give it more of an impact. They charge accordingly, the content charging more because they are being asked to do more work. You can find an editor just by asking, most authors have an editor they can recommend. It is appropriate to ask a potential editor what their rates are and their timeline for returning your work, do they give discounts if you have them take a second look, etc. Editors are your employees, your contract with them the same as you would a roofer or house painter, you wouldn’t take the first person who came along just because of convenience. Editor prices will vary, many of them charge less than a penny a word for work being asked. If they charge more, they had better provide more than just spilling red ink on your work.
Where can you submit a story for publication?
This varies from story to story, I know that sounds simplistic, but basically, that’s about it. If you write children’s stories, research who publishes children’s stories, magazines, journals, anthologies. Find out if they are accepting submissions. If it is a magazine, get an issue and look for the submission guidelines, if it not specific, send them an e-mail (I would say write but in this electronic age …) and ask, are you accepting and what are your guidelines. Better yet, go to their website and look for their submission guidelines there. Take note, those guidelines will be very specific and if not followed exactly can be the reason for rejection regardless of how good a story you have written.
If a publisher is accepting submissions, another consideration is whether your piece fits the size criteria, market type or length definition. Still working with the children’s magazine as an example, what if they are only accepting Flash Fiction pieces? Flash Fiction is any work 750-1,000 words or less. Count the total words of your story, minus the title and byline, for your word count. Is it less than that amount of words? If it is more, then it is a Short Story. Short stories measure up to 10,000 words, more than that it becomes a Novelette or Novella. A Novel is considered over 40,000 words. For the sake of example, yours measures 2,100 words which means you need to find somewhere else to submit it too.
If you don’t know where to look for open markets, try asking for recommendations or do some research to find out who has made a call for submissions. By reading this I know you belong to a Facebook writing group. Many of your fellow members will share information about who is accepting submissions. Another source is by subscribing to online resources like Duotrope of The (Submission) Grinder for referrals. These sites collect all the information I will mention here and periodically report what they know about these publishers. Another source is internet websites such as Writing Career, where like the two listed above, also list open markets and writing contests, both paid and unpaid. When you get one of these recommendations, go to that publisher’s website first to verify it is open, and second, to make sure your work fits within the parameters of their publication.
Part Two: What are you looking for when looking at the publisher’s page?
(November 2017 All rights reserved)