I’ve probably written about this before, but you know what? It’s a brand new year. Also, I need something to point to the next time someone asks me about this.
Let’s talk about how you submit short stories.
1. Get a subscription on a site like Submission Grinder or Duotrope.
These are databases of small fiction publishers. Both of these sites let you:
- Keep track of all of your short fiction, including their names, genres, and lengths
- Search for markets that take stories of that genre and length
- Record which markets you’ve already submitted each piece to
- Track how long your pieces have been out
- See when other people have gotten rejections and acceptances (or when they’ve given up in despair and marked something as no-response)
- Tally up your acceptances and rejections.
Duotrope costs $5 a month, is slightly easier to use, and includes a few features that Submission Grinder doesn’t. (It’ll show you whether you’ve submitted your pieces to markets that would let you simultaneously submit them elsewhere, for example, and it has a very nice but sometimes anemic theme calendar.) Use whatever site you prefer.
2. Know how long your stories should be.
Do some research. Look at pro, semi-pro, and token-paying markets in the genre you want to write for. (What are those? I’ll talk about that in a second.) What size of story do they want?
I don’t know if this is the same for all genres, but in the realm of secondary-world fantasy, these are the most common types of short stories:
- Flash Fiction: Stories under 1,000 words. There are a reasonable number of places that want fantasy flash fiction, but there aren’t nearly as many markets as there are for standard-length fiction.
- Short Stories: 1,000 – approximately 6,000 words, with the sweet spot beneath 5,000. There’s no “standard” length–you’ll find people who want stories of all shapes and sizes. I’ve had the most luck with stories between 4,000-5,000 words.
- Novelette: Varies wildly. I’ve seen places that top out at 10,000. Or 11,000. Or 17,500?! Like flash fiction, there are fewer decently paying markets at this length.
Duotrope and Submission Grinder also list novellas (approximately 20K-39,000K) and novels (40,000+). But this post is about short stories, right? So let’s leave it at that.
3. Know the pay scales.
Short stories go by a very simple pay scale:
- Non-Paying Markets: These markets pay nothing.
- Token Markets: These markets pay less than 1 cent a word. Some of them have somewhat quirky ways of paying you back, like the good ol’ “We won’t pay you anything upfront, but we’ll give you a tiny fraction of royalties on the sales.” Which means, of course, that you have a perfectly good chance of making $0. (I obviously prefer the ones that pay you upfront.)
- Semi-Professional Markets: Pay between 1 and 4 cents per word. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them are at 1c/word.
- Professional Markets: Pay more than 5 cents per word.
For the most part, short stories don’t pay royalties. You get paid once after the piece is published.
4. Write your story.
Now that you know some of the markets that exist in your genre–and what they’re looking for–go, and be free! Write words! Make magic!
5. Enter your stories into Duotrope or Submission Grinder.
Go to whatever database you’re using and enter your new piece. They just want to know the genre and how long it is. Here’s what Duotrope’s “New Piece” page looks like:
6. Search for markets.
Now that the piece is in the database, you can use the database to search for markets that accept pieces like yours. Just keep a few things in mind:
- The database can only tell you “Hey, this place likes 3,500-word fantasies!” That doesn’t mean your piece is a good fit for that market. They may only be accepting pieces about fairies in contemporary office settings, or pieces from authors in Australia. Research every market’s submission requirements before you submit to them.
- Be daring. Submit your stories to pro-rate places and work your way down. Expect boatloads of rejections. Non-paying and token payment markets are the easiest to get published in, sure. But why start there? Work your way down.
- Expect tough competition at the top. Pro-rate places are extraordinarily competitive. Your stories may be competing with those from professional authors. Don’t take it personally (or get too attached to the thought of 12 cents a word.) If you can sell to them, it’ll be a feather in your cap. But if you can’t? Keep going.
7. Keep your stories out.
Most short fiction markets respond in about 1-3 months (but many are much, much faster.)
When you get a rejection, log it in Duotrope or the Submission Grinder, find a new market, and send it out again. When something gets accepted, write a new story to replace it.
And that’s it! Just keep writing, keep submitting, and keep trying.