Friday, February 17, 2006

Publishing 101 - Short Stories

This morning I had a surprise in my Inbox. I received a 'Plea for Help' email:

    Melly, I came across your blog and I liked your style.
Why thank you.

    You seem very approachable [oh my] so I decided to ask for your help.
    I've been writing for a while but lately I started toying with the idea of publication only I don't have a clue how to go about it. I have a few short stories that I think are good enough to be published.
I started emailing (let's call him) John back, but then I thought to myself that perhaps John could benefit from all your experiences.

So here's what I've got so far:

Let me start by saying something that may or may not be obvious. Publishing is a business just like any other. The reason I mention this first is that once you've decided to be published, your attitude and behaviour should be the same as if you were to approached any business dealing. That is - professionalism.

There are some rules to learn and follow, but once learnt, there's nothing to it (other than actually getting the acceptance letter).

  • Make sure your story (manuscript in publishing lingo or ms. for short) is your best work and that it is as ready as you can make it - no misspellings, no grammar mistakes (that don't work) etc.

  • Find a market. This is probably where most first time publishers get stuck, but with the internet today it can't be any easier. Almost all magazines you read or have heard of have a website. You need to find the writers guidelines in that website. Some will have a clear heading saying guidelines, but most magazines list them in the 'Contact Us' page. If they do not have the guidelines anywhere on their site you can either email the editor - be concise and write Guideline Request in your subject line, or you can snail mail the editorial department - attach a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) and ask them for the guidelines.

    Here are a few websites that contain markets lists (a list of publishers and/or guidelines): Ralan, A list of market lists, Literary markets.
    And then there are these wonderful books: Novel & Short Story Writers Market 2006 (Novel and Short Story Writer's Market) and 2006 Writers Market (Writer's Market)

  • Follow the guidelines to the letter. If the publication doesn't want stories over 5,000 words, don't send it to them. If they want elf erotica, then that's all they're accepting. Don't waste their time and your time when your ms. can be circulated elsewhere. Make sure you send during a reading period, address your email to the right person, etc. All things professional. And most important, know your market, that is, read at least one copy.

  • Prepare your manuscript. There are two general ways to format a manuscript, one for e-zines and one for print magazines. Here is the SFWA standard and here's an example from Rob Sawyer of this format. There might be small differences, don't sweat them. Strange Horizons, however, an e-zine, wants a different format and there's an example there too.

  • cover letter. Keep it short. Something like - enclosed is XXX for your consideration. If you have any publishing credits you can list a few. Nothing more.

  • submit your manuscript: in the body of the email, as RTF attachment, Word attachment, snail mail with a SASE, using an online form, whatever and however the editor requires.

  • query. If sufficient time has passed (usually the guidelines indicate the time) and you have yet to receive an answer, send a polite query. Be concise, polite and don't forget to add your name and the name of your story.

  • Some lingo:
    - Simultaneous submissions or sim sub - meaning sending the same ms. to a few publishers at the same time.
    - Multiple submissions - sending more than one ms. to the same publisher.
    - Payment on publication - you will receive payment when the story is published.
    - Payment on acceptance - you will receive payment when the story is accepted.

Read the rest

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Georganna Hancock said...

One essential ingredient to winning the honor of being a published short fiction writer is this: persistence. The competition is fierce in this market, and only those with staying power will succeed. You must be willing to keep submitting a piece (assuming it's the very best you can write) until it is published. That may take dozens of attempts.

Pat Kirby said...

If possible, find a good first reader or critique partner.

Even people who disdain critique groups, i.e. Stephen King, rely on a first reader (in King's case, his wife.)

A good first reader is someone who likes your writing but isn't afraid to give you an honest assessment.

Paul Darcy said...

Go to Robert J Sawyer's website.

Follow his advice.

Enjoy your new career!

Carter said...

1 - Read the guidelines. Then read them again. Then follow them. Repeat as needed.

The guidelines will usually tell you everything you need to know about what they want in the way of file type for formatting or whatever. If you read and follow the guidelines precisely, you're already two steps ahead of most people submitting to this market.

2 - Expect rejection. It's not personal. It doesn't mean your writing sucks, or you suck, or anything. It only means that your story is not right for this market at this time. Try somewhere else. The imnportant thing is to keep a ms. circulating until it sells. While it's circulating, you're working on the next one, right?

Melly said...

Urrghhh, persistence is something I have to remind myself daily. Thanks Georganna :)

Pat, of course, it totally escaped me.

Paul, we do like our Canadian writer - don't we?

Oh, I forgot to mention the whole rejection business. Thanks Carter (and for emphasizing the guidelines importance).

Benjamin Solah said...

Thanks for that. I've read a lot about it already, but it's always nice to have it all concisely written out in one hit.

melly said...

Thanks Benjamin :)

dog1net said...

You have shown a lot of character in your response, and provided both encouragement and sound advice to a budding writer. Good for you.

Michèle said...

Great post!

Thanks especially for sharing the market links. I didn't have any of these, so I bookmarked them all.

Melly said...

Why, thank you Scot. Blush.

Michèle, your picture puts such a smile on my face.
Thank you very much :)

Linda said...

Great information! Thanks Melly!