I get this question all the time: How do I publish a short story?
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?
It’s a lot to think about and I’ve seen more than one writer throw in the towel and say they’re happy to just be writing and don’t need published.
The thing is, once you know what you’re doing, getting short stories published isn’t as scary as it seems.
The 10 Steps to Publish Your Short Story
If you’re looking for a quick guide, here are the ten steps to follow in order to get your stort story published. Click each step to jump to more details.
- Read the guidelines.
- Pay attention to deadlines.
- Format your manuscript properly.
- Prepare a bio.
- Prepare an elevator pitch.
- Write a cover letter.
- Submit again.
- Record your submission.
Read on for a detailed explanation of how to master each step of the process and get your short story published.
From Writing to Getting Published: The Full Journey to Short Story Publication
This article focuses specifically on how to submit your story for publication. If you already have a story on hand to submit, jump down to learn exactly where and how to get it published.
But if you don’t have a short story ready to publish, or if you want to write a new story specifically for publication, we’ve written a series of articles on how to write your best short story and maximize your chances of getting it published. Here’s the full process from idea to publication, with links to our articles about each step:
- Choose your publication. The best way to publish a short story is by choosing a publication and then writing a story for that publication. Why is this the best way? Because your story will already be tailored for a publication rather than a story that sort of fits. Stories that sort of fit have a lower likelihood of being accepted for publication. For more on how to choose your publication, read our guide to finding the best publications for you.
- Plan your story. Once you’ve chosen where you want to submit, it’s time to plan the story. If you’re stumped for writing ideas, check out our 100 Best Short Story Ideas, then read our guide for how to turn your idea into a brilliant short story plan.
- Write your first and second drafts. I always recommend writing the first draft of a short story in one sitting. It’ll be more cohesive that way. Be sure to take a break in between drafts so you can edit with fresh eyes! Here’s how to write your story like a pro.
- Get feedback and edit your final draft. I can’t stress how important getting feedback is to the writing process. You need to know if your story makes sense or leaves the reader bored. And, trust me, you’ll miss typos. Guaranteed. If you don’t have a writing group to give you feedback, consider checking out The Write Practice Pro. And to help you make the most of your feedback, read our guide to editing your story.
- Submit! Read on for where to submit and the step-by-step process of submission.
Where to Publish Short Stories
The first step in publishing your short story is deciding where to publish. There are quite a few options to choose from when you’re ready to publish your short story:
Anthologies are a collection of short stories by different authors. They’re often themed and either pay per word or a flat token payment. Some pay royalties, but this is rare.
When you publish in an anthology, you sell your publication rights to them for a specified period. (Note: This DOES NOT mean you sell copyright. Copyright is ALWAYS yours from the moment you pen the story. Never sell copyright to anyone.)
What this means is you are not allowed to republish the story anywhere else until the agreed-upon time runs out. Then all rights revert back to you and you may publish the story elsewhere as a reprint.
2. Literary magazines
Literary magazines are publications that focus on creative writing. They aren’t just for “literary” work. There are plenty of genre literary magazines out there!
Lit mags can be printed or exist solely online (e-zines). They’re normally published at least quarterly, but some are only yearly and some are published monthly. Unfortunately, a lot of literary magazines aren’t able to pay their contributors, or they pay in token payments (a one-time flat-rate), rather than paying royalties.
As with anthologies, you sell your publication rights to the magazine for a specified period.
Check out our list of literary magazines to start your lit mag search.
Everyone loves a good podcast, and there are plenty out there that buy short stories. These podcasts are pretty cool. They take your story and produce it with sound effects and voice actors. Think old-time radio show.
Thanks to the internet, everyone is able to publish their own work. Amazon and Draft2Digital make it fairly easy to self-publish on all online retailers, as well as libraries. You can even make your story available in print through these companies.
The benefit here is you get royalties each time you sell a copy. The downside is you’re less likely to sell a ton of copies.
5. Your website
If you don’t have an author website, you should strongly consider setting one up (here’s how). You can share your releases there, build up an email list, and show up in a Google search. Sites are also a cool way to introduce your work to your readers with free stories.
How do you find places to publish your short story? You can search for open calls for podcasts, literary magazines, and anthologies on sites like Duotrope, The Grinder, and Horror Tree. We also keep a list of our favorite literary magazines. Make sure to follow writing groups on Facebook as well for more chances to submit.
How to Choose Where to Publish Your Short Story
Now that you know your options, how do you choose?
The answer depends on your goals for the story.
Do you want to share it with a select group of people? Are you wanting to build your email list or social following? Go with your website.
If you’re wanting to move toward building a wider readership, you’re going to want to go bigger. You’ll want to look into anthologies, literary magazines, and podcasts.
If money is your main motivator, I’m going to tell you right now you’d better forget about that. Most short story publications have little to no money to pay contributors. You’re not going to get rich publishing with them.
And that’s fine! Why? Because the point of publication is to build readership.
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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
Pro tip: Write deadlines down on a calendar or use an app to keep track. You should keep track of these like you would a word deadline.
3. 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.
Some things to pay special attention to:
- DO NOT use tab or space to indent your paragraphs. You need to set up indents in your word processor (.5 inch is standard).
- Use a normal font. Times New Roman or Courier are preferred. Do not get fancy. Black, 12 point, double-spaced font is also standard.
- Margins should be 1 inch.
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.
4. 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.
Here’s an example:
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.
5. 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.
6. 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
Here’s an example:
Please consider my 1,800-word short story, “Story Title,” for publication in Random Magazine.
My writing has appeared in a variety of online and print publications, including Random Anthology I, Unusual Anthology Vol. II, and Titled Magazine.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
That’s it! See, not so bad.
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.
8. 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!
9. 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.
Did You Know You Can Get Published Through The Write Practice Pro?
The Write Practice’s members-only forum, The Write Practice Pro, has a cool feature that allows you to publish your work on Short Fiction Break literary magazine directly from the forum. With this feature, members have the opportunity to polish their short stories with peer feedback, then elect to publish that story to The Write Practice’s partner literary magazine.
Why does The Write Practice do this? It’s simple: Publishing gets your writing and your name in front of readers. Publishing to Short Fiction Break will help you do that.
Getting published is extremely competitive. The acceptance rates for anthologies and magazines are quite low and it takes forever to hear back from most publications. Publishing to Short Fiction Break gives you a jumping-off point for your writing career, not to mention the nice publication credential you’ll have to put in your cover letter!
How to Publish a Story on Short Fiction Break Literary Magazine
Note: publishing is currently only available for pieces posted in the Short Stories Workshop.
1. After your piece has been thoroughly edited, navigate to your writing piece on The Write Practice Pro. If you can’t find it, go to your profile and find your story in your feed.
When you click on your profile, you can easily find your story in your activity feed.
2. Click the “Publish” button beside the story title. Note that you must complete your three critiques and write feedback for three other stories before the “Publish” button will appear.
After you click Publish, a dialogue box will appear, asking if you agree to Short Fiction Break’s publishing guidelines and terms. When you confirm you’re ready to publish, you will see this message with a link to your story:
I put in a sample story to show you how it works. Here’s the story LIVE on Short Fiction Break:
Pretty easy, right?
One more benefit to publishing to Short Fiction Break: writing credentials.
Remember how I said you can put these in your cover letter? I didn’t have one for years and got rejection after rejection.
Then I published through The Write Practice Pro and got my first acceptance from an anthology less than a month later.
I’m not saying editors definitely care whether you’ve been published before, but it sure didn’t hurt to have that credential under my belt!
How to Publish Your Short Story . . . And Actually Reach Readers
What’s the point of publishing? To get your work read, of course!
Here’s the thing: Publishing alone won’t get you readers. You have to share your work!
No matter where you publish, it’s your responsibility to promote your work. Editors won’t do it. Big publishing houses won’t do it (or won’t do most of it).
You have to do it. You have to share your work with the world.
Once you’ve published, share your work on social media, on your website, in your newsletters. Talk about it around the watercooler and at family functions. Never shut up about your work!
That’s how you get readers. You promote yourself, your publications, and your writing. (And it never hurts to help a fellow writer out by promoting their work as well!)
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.
And so is publishing.
So get your latest story polished and submit that baby to some publications!
Have you submitted a short story to a publication before? Let me know in the comments!
Imagine a writer has submitted a short story to a prestigious literary magazine and has just received a rejection. The rejection was a personal note from the editor (which is rare!), explaining why the piece was turned down.
Write the post-rejection scene. Start out with what the editor said in the rejection email. Write for fifteen minutes.
Share your writing here in the comments so we can all check it out. Don’t forget to read and comment on your fellow writers’ work!