Getting published. It’s a goal almost every writer shares. But how do you get your story from slush pile to publication?
As the editor of wordhaus, a weekly ezine for genre flash fiction, I’ve gotten to see behind the curtain of how these decisions get made. Though wordhaus rotates between three genres—romance, thriller/horror, and sci-fi/fantasy—I’ve found that the qualities that set apart a great story are always the same.
I can’t answer for all editors, but when I’m looking for stories for wordhaus, I have four key things I look for:
1. A good writer is a writer who reads (submission guidelines).
Before I see your story, I see your email subject line. And your subject line tells me something very important: whether you read the submission guidelines.
If you do it right, your subject line looks like this: “Submission: [Your genre here], X,XXX words.”
And if it doesn’t look like that, I know from experience that the odds of your story fitting wordhaus’ niche are much lower. Because if you didn’t read the guidelines, how do you know what we publish?
So when I’m reviewing the latest submissions, I open the ones that follow the guidelines first, and I feel a lot more optimistic about what I’m about to read going into those stories.
2. Lede me on.
Now I open your email excited about the story inside it. But right now I’m only reading your opening paragraphs, with special attention to your starting sentence, or the lede. Just like in journalism, a lede that works tells me something important about the story and makes me want to keep reading.
That lede is critical. It’s the teaser that will give readers a sneak peek of your story from the home page, and it’s the preview that will autogenerate when your story is linked on Facebook.
These first few paragraphs also give me a sense of your writing abilities and help me determine of your story’s content matches what wordhaus publishes.
If I still want to read at this point, I pull your story into Word and double check your Word count. This shouldn’t be a surprise since you put followed the guidelines and put it in your subject line.
3. Keep it moving.
Now, finally, I read your full story. There are two things I’m looking for as I do so. The first is conflict.
Conflict gives your story the tension that forces it forward. No conflict, no story. What you’ve got there is a scene description or a character sketch.
I know, this feels like Story 101. But so many submissions overlook this key element.
4. Tie up loose ends.
The other thing I’m looking for is full is a conclusion. Many short stories start strong only to drift off into nothing at the end.
Perhaps writers get to the end of their story and find they have run out of space within the word count. Or perhaps they are trying to be artsy by leaving the conclusion open to interpretation. But it doesn’t work. Loose ends have a tendency to unravel.
Do your readers a favor. Take those lovely story threads you’ve woven together and tie them up properly at the end.
And, well, it’s that simple. The key to getting published is in pulling the details together properly to draw the reader in, a conflict that pushes the story forward, and a tight conclusion. Do these four things in your story, and this is one editor who will have no choice but to publish you.
Open a short story you’ve written and review it for these elements. Is the lede strong? Does a conflict keep the story moving forward? Is there a full conclusion? Address any weak spots you find.
Bonus points: What the heck, send your story to wordhaus or another publication that suits your story.