A lot of you have just finished participating in The Write Practice’s 7 Day Creative Writing Challenge. You’re pumped, inspired, enthused. You feel good about establishing a writing habit. Now what?
Now you write a short story and submit it.
This post is the first in a four-part series that will show you how to publish a short story, walking you through the process of planning, writing, and submitting a short story. At the end of the series, you’ll have a short story ready for submittal!
Don’t be nervous. We’re going to do this together.
NOTE: Throughout this series, DO NOT post your work in the comments. I’m going to ask you to submit to a publisher at the end of this series, and posting it here would be considered publishing it. Our Becoming Writer community is a great place to workshop your story before you submit it.
How to Publish a Short Story
So you want to publish a short story. What comes first? Where do you start? Do you really know how to publish a short story?
Never fear. Today, let’s walk through the first two steps:
1. Choose a Publication
If you’re anything like me, you write what you want to write and don’t worry about where you’re going to submit it. That’s great. Follow that muse.
But, for the purpose of this series, we’re going to focus on picking a publication BEFORE you begin writing. This will give you focus throughout the process.
Take the time to investigate before you settle on that particular publication. If you can afford to buy at least one of their past issues or anthologies, do so. What they’ve previously published are gems that can give great insight into what they like and don’t like. If you can’t buy an issue, try to do as much research as possible and read their guidelines for insight.
Read the guidelines for a few publications and see if you’d be interested in writing the type of story they want. (It doesn’t have to be from one of the links provided.) Then settle on one and stick to it.
If you want to try for Glimmer Train or Tin House, that’s up to you. But don’t focus all your attention on the larger, more well-known magazines. Your chances of acceptance are better elsewhere (to start) and there’s nothing wrong with the little guys! Along those same lines, paid publications are great, but don’t expect to make eight cents a word out of the gate.
NOTE: Pay attention to deadlines! This series will appear biweekly, so don’t choose a publication that has a deadline before April.
2. Plan Your Story
We all have different processes when it comes to writing. There is no one-size-fits-all way to plan a short story. Or any writing, for that matter. Some people like to plot every detail and some like to take pen to paper without knowing exactly what they’re writing.
Both methods are fine, but either way, there are some basic questions you should know before you begin. Here’s what I want you to think about before you outline or start to write:
- Who’s your main character? Short stories are about one character. Keep it simple. This is a slice of life, not an epic.
- What does your main character want? Every main character has to want something, even if, as Kurt Vonnegut said, it’s only a glass of water.
- What’s getting in the way of your main character getting what s/he wants? Problems and obstacles are what make the story. If your character wants a glass of water and all she’s got to do is go to the tap, there is no story.
- What’s the climax? One of the biggest mistakes I see in short stories is the lack of climax. Don’t forget it! You don’t have to know exactly what’s going to happen at this stage, but you should have a general idea. Without a destination, you don’t know where you’re going.
Keep in mind that short stories are different from novels. They are simpler in terms of scope, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy! Keep your focus narrow. Stay away from B plots, point of view switching, and verbose writing.
Stumped for ideas? Try one of our 100 best short story ideas.
Don’t Stop There!
After you’ve answered these four questions, you can start brainstorming your obstacles, write an outline, or even start writing the story. Please don’t wait until my next post to think about getting started. Short stories have short fuses: The momentum will burn out if you leave it too long.
In two weeks, I’ll go over the basic elements of a short story and common mistakes. At that point, you may have an outline, a draft, or a couple pages of brainstorming.
And by the end of this series, you’ll know exactly how to publish a short story. In fact, you’ll be ready to submit!
Have you ever finished a short story before? Have you ever submitted anything? How do you plan your stories? Let me know in the comments.
Today, I want you to find a publication to submit to. Take ten minutes to explore short story publications and find one that publishes the kinds of stories you’d like to write. Make sure the deadline to submit isn’t until the end of March 2018 at the earliest!
Then, take five minutes to start thinking of a story concept and answering the questions above.
If you’re on a roll when your time is up, feel free to keep going! You can write your outline, brainstorm, or start writing.
When you’re finished, come back here and tell me how you feel. Nervous? Excited? Terrified? Which publication did you choose? (Remember: Don’t post your story in the comments!)
Don’t forget to give some encouragement to your fellow writers!