4 Steps to Give This Editor No Choice But to Publish Your Story

This guest post is by Emily Wenstrom, who will be filling in Sophie Novak while she’s traveling. Lit addict, movie geek, writer, Emily Wenstrom is a public relations professional who blogs about creativity in art and work at Creative Juicer and runs the short story zine wordhaus. In her alleged free time, she writes fantasy fiction.

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.

About Emily Wenstrom

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

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  • SuzanneG

    Thanks for the simple checklist, Emily. Sometimes it’s the easiest things that trip up the new writer. Maybe they’re so eager to send their story out that they don’t take time to look for the guidelines. Maybe it’s because they believe the guidelines are only suggestions. But I’ve seen some sad faces when their story is rejected… and sometimes they still don’t understand the purpose of submission guidelines. This article is a great explanation of exactly how each point of the guidelines is used by the editor to choose stories for publication.

    • Thanks for coming by, Suzanne! And you’ve made a great point. I’ve seen similar advice on many literary agent lists … I think it’s hard sometimes for us to apply the same rigidity when pursuing a passion like writing as we do for more mundane things like job hunting, but it makes such a difference on the receiving end!

  • Wendy Onizak

    Thanks for this, Emily. I know the lede is important but I just put it together from reading what you wrote, that if a novel, magazine article, news item, or whatever, doesn’t grab me in the first couple of paragraphs, more often than not it gets tossed aside. I better remember that while I work on my first novel.

    • Thanks Wendy, so glad something I wrote could help. Good luck with that novel!

  • Susan

    Thanks for the education, not only about how to be published in wordhaus, but about the word ‘lede’. The dictionary tells me it’s a modern journalistic substitute for the word ‘lead’ to overcome any confusion with the metal. Seems unnecessary to me but this language of ours just keeps on evolving doesn’t it?

    • I didn’t know that was where the spelling came from, how fascinating! Thanks Susan, I love that.

  • Emily,

    You mention five things at the end of your post but I see only four… what am I missing?


    • Oh no, that would be my own typo. Thanks Birgitte, I’ll look to fixing that.

      • Sure my pleasure. So my real question is, and it’s really more an observation: I’m one of those writers who do all of the above. I do everything you recommend and then some, to a capital T.

        Enter personal, subjective opinion. Assuming you’ve dotted your t’s and all that, would you not agree that the decision to publish really does boil down to an individual editor’s or editorial team’s subjective opinion? Which is often aligned with a publication’s own mission or literary direction of course.

        I’ve had some success (my novella “Verse in Arabic” was named a finalist in the Press 53 Open Awards last year), but I have noted, having read numerous journals, that many literary magazines tend to publish a certain type of story, a certain voice. So then the question becomes, should a writer not seek out those journals with whose horizon his or her work best resonates, instead of hitting the obstinate brick wall.

        Would love your thoughts.

        • Absolutely, Birgitte. Any publication is looking to share a certain kind of writing.

          Off the top of my head, an example that comes to me is lifestyle magazines. If you’re skimming the racks, do you pick up Simple or Elle or Cosmo? Why do you choose the one you do? Because while they’re all women’s lifestyle magazines, but they’re also all very distinct. Each of these publications delivers a certain style of writing.

          So bear with me for a second as I carry this over to literary magazines. Just like commercial magazines, the way a literary magazine connects to a readership is through consistency in the type of stories they release, which lets the reader know they can return to the same publication over and over and count on enjoying the same kind of stories there every time.

          There have been times when I’ve had to respond to a writer that while I found their story to be very good, it’s simply not a good fit for wordhaus. I always wish these authors luck finding the right home for their story, and sometimes that response becomes a conversation that leads us to find another story that author wrote that is a better fit, and we’re able to get them published at wordhaus with a different story.

          But to get to your ultimate question–I think you’re absolutely right. A key to getting published–and also to connecting with the readers who will most appreciate your work–is to take the time to find the publications that compliment your writing style. The best way to do this is to read publications before you submit to them.

          A great insight, Birgitte.

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  • Anonymous

    Sorry. When an editor is blogging, all credibility is lost when there are multiple typos. 🙁

    • Really? Would you mind let me know where? I’m sure that’s my fault. I was the last to look over this before we published it and I do sometimes miss things.

      • Oh that’s kind of you Joe, but if there’s a typo, it’s because I introduced it. But yes, to our commenter–I’d also appreciate being aware of my mistake. Please do let us know.

        • ediblesprysky

          Since Anonymous apparently isn’t coming back… 🙂

          “This shouldn’t be a surprise since you put followed the guidelines and put it in your subject line.” (put followed–clearly not what you meant)

          “I pull your story into Word and double check your Word count” (second “Word” probably shouldn’t be proper)

          “The other thing I’m looking for is full is a conclusion.” (is full is–again, just an extra word overlooked in editing)

          That’s all that stood out to me as I was reading. Hope that helps!

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