Writing and publishing short stories is the best way to get your name and your work out there to start establishing yourself as a writer. But the process of getting short stories published can seem a tad overwhelming at first. Where do I start? How do I find places that publish short stories? How do I submit a short story for publication?
The thing is, once you know what you’re doing, getting short stories published isn’t as scary as it seems.
How to Submit a Short Story for Publication: The Complete 10-Step Process
Once you’ve gotten your story polished to the shiniest it can be, you’re ready to submit. But how do you go about doing it? What is the professional etiquette for submitting? What should you prepare before you email an editor?
Here are the steps to submitting a short story to a publication:
- Read the guidelines
Ninety-nine percent of publications have guidelines posted on their websites. You probably already read them when you chose your publication, but you’ll need to read them again.
Guidelines are extremely important and you need to follow them. There are publications out there that will reject your story without reading it if you don’t follow the rules.
If that sounds petty, it may be, but as someone who’s edited anthologies before, I can tell you it’s a huge pain if the author didn’t follow instructions. And the last thing you want is to annoy the editor.
Remember, they get hundreds of manuscripts every time they’re open for submissions. They don’t have time to deal with an author who can’t follow instructions. Plus, it’s rude and shows a lack of enthusiasm for the publication to ignore the rules.
I repeat: Read the guidelines and follow them.
- Pay attention to deadlines
Deadlines are there for a reason. They’ll be listed on the publication’s website and you need to abide by them. Don’t think you can sneak in a day late with an excuse. If you miss the deadline, you’ll have to wait until the publication opens again or submit elsewhere.
- Format your manuscript properly
An improperly formatted manuscript is another annoyance for editors. Some publications will have specific formatting guidelines they want you to follow (again, check the guidelines), but most will simply want your story in standard manuscript format (Shunn). Go to that link and read the entire document thoroughly! Here’s a final checklist to make sure you have everything you need.
It makes it a lot easier if you format your stories in Shunn format as you write them so you don’t have to tweak later.
- Prepare a bio
You should always have an updated, short author bio ready to go. Bios are written in third person and are often required to be under one hundred words. (You may want to prepare two: one under fifty words and one under one hundred.)
If you have published stories in other publications, you can list them. Choose your three most recent or your three most prestigious. Don’t list everything you’ve ever published, though.
If you don’t have publications, don’t worry! Just leave that part out.
- Prepare an elevator pitch
An elevator pitch is pretty much what it sounds like: a one- to two-sentence summary of your story (what you could get out in the time it takes to ride an elevator). You’ll also hear it called a premise, a summary, or a logline.
IMPORTANT: Not every publication will want this. In fact, most don’t. If they don’t specifically say they want a premise, short summary, elevator pitch, etc. in the guidelines, do not send them one.
I do recommend you prepare one at this stage, though. It’ll be easier later on when you’ve forgotten the exact point of your story and you need to have one. It’s also less stressful to have one prepared before submittal.
- Write a cover letter
Cover letters are not nearly as daunting as they seem. They’re really just a few sentences introducing yourself and your story.
You don’t need to fill a page with several paragraphs. In fact, don’t do that! Editors don’t want to spend more time reading your cover letter than they do reading your story, and they don’t need to know what made you want to write or how many pets you have.
Here’s what you need in a cover letter:
Salutation (Dear Editor is normally fine)
Story title and word count
Optional: Elevator Pitch (Again, DO NOT do this unless the publication asks for it.)
Any previous publications (It’s fine if you don’t have any. Just skip this. DO NOT say you’re a novice or this is your first story.)
Thanks and sign.
Most publications take email submissions. Some use other systems, like forms on their site, Moksha, Hey Publisher, or Submittable. You’ll find where and how to submit your story in the publication’s guidelines.
Pay special attention to the guidelines. (I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I can’t stress this enough.)
Paste your cover letter in the body of your email. Most likely, unless your story is a piece of flash or you’re submitting poems, you will attach your story to the email. This is the standard way to submit, but make sure that’s how your chosen publication wants it.
Make sure you take note of what kind of file the publication wants. Some are okay with a simple DOCX format, but some want an RTF. You can change how the file is saved in the SAVE AS menu.
Make sure your story is attached before sending the email! (Seems ridiculous, but I’ve sent emails without attachments several times.)
If the publication requires a “blind read,” make sure you don’t have any identifying information on the document.
Make sure you have the correct email subject line typed. (Guidelines, again.) If you don’t, it might get lost in a spam filter. If there are no specific guidelines regarding the email subject, go with: SUBMISSION — Your Story Title — Your Last Name.
Proofread your email!
After you’ve done all that, take a deep breath. It’s time.
- Submit again
Check to see if your chosen publication allows simultaneous submissions. If they do, that means you can submit your story to other publications while you’re waiting for a decision. [FYI: Multiple submissions allowed means the publication will take more than one story from you at once.]
I highly recommend submitting to as many publications as you can. The acceptance rate for anthologies and magazines is quite low, so you’re increasing your odds of being published if you get that story out there to as many editors as possible!
- Record your submission
You need to keep track of where you’ve submitted, when you submitted, when you expect to hear back, and what the response was.
There are online options for this, such as The Grinder, but you can use anything that makes you feel comfortable and that you’ll keep accurate. A spreadsheet or notebook would be fine. I double up on my tracking and use a site as well as my own spreadsheet.
You’ll most likely be waiting a while before you hear anything from the publication. This isn’t a quick process and it’s often agonizing to wait for an answer, especially if you’re new to the whole submission process.
Most publications will have their expected response time listed in their guidelines, but they’re often late. Be patient. They’re sifting through hundreds of stories. Whatever you do, DO NOT email them to ask for an update (unless their guidelines say you may after a certain time). It’s unprofessional to do so and won’t earn you any points in the editor’s eyes.
Publish, Publish, Publish!
Getting short stories published is a pretty simple process once you know what you’re doing. (Way simpler than writing!) Getting your writing out there with short story publication is the best way to keep your work on your readers’ minds.
If you get a few rejections along the way, don’t give up! We all get them. It’s part of the writing process.
[To read the remainder of the article with examples of cover letters and bios, read How to Publish a Short Story: The Complete Guide.]
Sarah Gribble is the best-selling author of dozens of short stories that explore uncomfortable situations, basic fears, and the general awe and fascination of the unknown. She’s currently cooking up more ways to freak you out and working on a novel.