A Tale of Perseverance, Research, and (As Always) Having a Thick Skin
I know I have been very absent since April, and I apologize for that. Between break ups, family deaths, and trips out of the country, these last few months have been some of the most hectic and heart wrenching of my life. C’est la vie.
Having had my first short story picked up for publication and being a slush reader for Every Day Fiction, I thought I would write a blog post to give some helpful pointers to those struggling to peddle their short stories. Silly me thought: Oh, this will be easy. It’s the “minor leagues.” Tip: IT’S NOT. It’s HARD. It took me six months of pushing my measly little six-hundred words around before finally, finally someone took an interest (and I’m so very happy with where I’ve been published, as I love Foundling Review’s magazine). I submitted to twenty-five magazines before I was accepted. It was definitely a frustrating process, as being on submission always is.
Here are some tips to help you on your journey to having your short story published:
1.) Read the magazine’s guidelines. READ THEM.
There is nothing more frustrating than someone who doesn’t take the three minutes necessary to read a magazine’s submission guidelines. I can’t tell you how many times someone at EDF will ask to have their piece withdrawn because it’s been accepted elsewhere – which, awesome for you, but we don’t accept simultaneous submissions. Things like this matter. Pay attention. It reflects you negatively as an author and professional.
If the magazine only accepts submissions up to 1,000 words, don’t send 1,010 words. Surely you could find ten words worth cutting instead of going against the clearly stated guidelines. Following the rules is a skill which should be practiced in every area of your life, so please take a few seconds to make sure you’re following them to a T.
2.) No matter the length of the short story, there should always be a fully rounded plot and character arc.
Unfortunately, I see this issue in probably 75% of short stories I read.
It doesn’t matter if your story is 200 words or 4,000 words. It doesn’t matter if your prose reads as though it was written by the hands of the fairest angels. It doesn’t matter if there’s not a single misused semi-colon. If you give me a beautifully written story about a boy sitting at a window looking at trees, you are going to get a rejection from me.
What makes a story engaging is a fully developed plot and characters who grow as the reader delves into the story. Think about what you love to read in the novels you enjoy. What about them hooks you? When you reach the end of the novel, is the main character the same person they were at the very beginning, or have they changed, grown? The same applies for short stories.
3.) Make sure your format is easily legible.
You want these people to read your work, so please make sure that your 1,000 word short story isn’t formatted in one gigantic block of text. Do you know how hard that is to read? I immediately look at it and deem it unworthy for my brain’s consumption.
So, please, break your story up into smaller paragraphs!
4.) Use spellcheck and make sure your grammar and punctuation is impeccable.
This should go without saying, but…spellcheck is there for a reason. Use it. Re-read your work. Have someone else read it to find the mistakes you may have overlooked. One little mistake won’t garner an automatic rejection, but the editor can’t write the story for you. There’s only so much that can be fixed.
5.) As always, BE GRACIOUS when it comes to criticism and rejection.
Rejection is a big part of a writer’s life. I’ve been harping on this issue since I began the blog six months ago. Please, PLEASE handle criticism with grace and aplomb.
Firing back at an editor or slush reader is NOT going to get you anywhere. In fact, it gets you on the banned-til-the-end-of-time list, which is the opposite of where you want to be, with a tactfully nasty e-mail in your inbox. So they didn’t read the story how you intended it to be read. So they don’t understand your character. So they don’t think your prose is as awesome as you do.
That’s okay. Everyone has an opinion, and that simply wasn’t the magazine for your piece. You will find a magazine that loves your story. Keep chugging and never let that one rejection get you down.
So, folks, hopefully you’ve found my tips helpful.
Get out there and start submitting!
The Query Faerie