Short Story Submissions


Let’s talk about Standard Manuscript Format!

(Wait, no! Come baaaaaack…)

OK, so it’s not the most exciting topic. But I was on Reddit’s r/Writing when I read a post where more than one person said it took them hours to format their manuscripts. And oh good golly, no! This might not take you five minutes, if you don’t know Word very well, but it’s fast. Super fast.

So let’s use Microsoft Word 2010 to put a story into Standard Manuscript Format. You can do this for novels and short stories.

Let’s get started!

What are we aiming for?

When we’re done, it’s going to look like this. If you’re confused at any step of this process, just try to duplicate this (or the first page of the Standard Manuscript Format link.)

SMF - Template.PNG

You’re going to:

  • Format the text of the story.
  • Create a title page that includes:
    • Your word count.
    • Your personal information.
    • Your title and byline.
  • Add a header to the top of every page.

Step #1: Double space your lines

  1. Select all of the text in your document (shortcut: Control+A).
  2. Go to the “Page Layout” tab.
  3. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Paragraph” section.Screenshot of the Page Layout tab, showing the Paragraph section.
  4. Find the “Line Spacing” drop-down menu. Change it to “Double.”
  5. A screenshot of Word's Paragraph: Indents and Spacing tab.Hit “OK.”

Your text is now double-spaced. That’s 95% of the work right there. And while you’ve got all that text selected…

Step #2: Change the font

  1. Select all of the text in your document (shortcut: Control+A).
  2. Go to the “Home” tab.
  3. Change the font to Times New Roman. (Or Courier New, I guess. But Courier is gross.)
  4. Change the font size to 12pt.

SMF - Font

Now your font is standardized. That’s most of the work right there.

The next step is optional!

(Optional) Step #3: Change the italics to underlines

You only need to do this if you’re using Courier New font. And, as you can guess, I hate Courier, and very few places require it.

In novels, emphasis is usually shown with italics. But  Standard Manuscript Format suggests two different ways to handle emphasis: either with Times New Roman and italic font or Courier New and underlines.

The vast majority of places are perfectly fine with Times New Roman and italics. Check the submission guidelines of the place you’re submitting to. If they explicitly ask you to use underlines, follow the instructions in my previous post.

If they don’t mention it, skip this step.

Step #5: Check your margins

If you’ve never changed your margins, they’re probably fine. But let’s check.

  1. Click on the “Page Layout” tab.
  2. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Page Setup” section.Screenshot of the Page Layout tab, showing the Page Setup section.
  3. Ensure that your Top, Bottom, Left, and Right margins are all set to 1″.
  4. Screenshot of the Page Setup section, showing all margins at 1".

    If they aren’t, set them to 1″. Then hit “OK.”

Step #6: Set up your title page

Now that your story is formatted, it’s time for the title page!

Step #6-A: Add your title and byline

  1. Put your cursor at the start of your file and hit return until you’re about 1/3 or 1/2 of the way down the page. It doesn’t have to be exact.
  2. Enter the title of this piece.
  3. On a new line, type: by YOUR NAME
  4. Select both of these lines.
  5. Center them (shortcut: Control+E).

Step #6-B: Add the word count

  1. Figure out how many words your story has. You can find this in two places:
    • Under the “Review” tab, in the far left (next to the Spelling button) is a small button with “ABC123” on it. That’s your word count button.SMF - Word Count 2
    • Word 2010 also keeps a running word count at the bottom of the file. You don’t have to open anything! Just look at the bottom of Word.SMF - Word Count
  2. At the top of the manuscript, add “#### words.”

Step #6-C: Add your name, address, phone number, and email address

One important note: Your personal information (and, by extension, your word count) are all SINGLE-SPACED. But you double-spaced this file back in step #1, right? Yeah. That’s why the last step in this section changes that.

  1. Put your cursor before your word count.
  2. Type in your name.
  3. After your name (but before the word count) hit tab until your word count is at the right edge of the page.
  4. On the next two (or so) lines, put your address in.
  5. On the next line, add your email address.
  6. On the next line, add your phone number.
  7. Select all of this new text.
  8. Go to the “Page Layout” tab.
  9. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Paragraph” section.
  10. Find the “Line Spacing” drop-down menu. Change it to “Single.”

Step #7: Add a header

  1. Double click in the empty header area of your document. Word will open your header editor.
  2. Go to the “Insert” tab.
  3. Select “Page Number.”
  4. Choose Top of Page > Plain Number 3. This will add the page number to the top of your document, aligned right.Screenshot of the Insert tab and the Page Number section, showing Plain Number 3.
  5. Put your cursor in front of that page number.
  6. Type in your information: LAST NAME / NAME OF PIECE /

Now you’ll have a pretty header. It’ll appear on the top of all of your pages, complete with an accurate page number.

At this point, your story should look like the screenshot at the top of this page. You’re pretty much done! There’s just one last thing to do…

Step #8: Add the Ending

  1. Go to the last line of your story.
  2. On a new line, type: END
  3. Center it. (shortcut: Control:E)

Tada!

And, when in  doubt…

This probably looks like a lot of steps. And if you’re not super used to Microsoft Word, it might feel like a lot of work! But this is really, really easy.

If any of this IS confusing, just mimic the example at the top of this post or look at the Standard Manuscript Format guidelines.

Once you get the hang of it, this is fast! This is so easy, in fact, that I never write in Standard Manuscript Format. I find 10pt single-spaced Arial font to be soothing to look at, so that’s how I write my stories. I only format them when I’m done with them.

There are definitely a few other things you can standardize–this definitely isn’t everything. But most of the other stuff you can do is small, and it won’t get you into hot water. A manuscript that follows all of the above steps will be perfectly acceptable for submitting at most places.

Of course, that’s not a promise. This’ll work for most places. Most! Always check a place’s submission requirements before you submit! But for everything else? You’re done, and it only took you 5 minutes.

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:

duotrope-piece-submission-page

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.

A few months ago, someone asked me a simple question: Why did I write short stories?

I, like the vast majority of people writing speculative fiction, primarily write novels. That’s the end goal, right? To write wonderful novels, get an agent, and see how far you can go! Novels are big! Prestigious! And they make you royalties!

And while there are some very prestigious short fiction markets, it’s… well, still not the same as a novel. So why, the question goes, would I spend time I could be using for my novels on short stories?

Here’s the long answer.

1. Short stories can be written quickly.

OK, so let’s say you wrote a novel. It’s 80,000 words long. You’ve written it, edited it, and gotten reviews.

How long did that take? I mean, I can’t say for sure–we all write at different paces–but it wouldn’t be surprising if that took you a year.

Short stories are just a few thousand words, maybe 2,000-6,000 on average. That’s, what… a chapter? You could write that in a few days.

2. Short stories can be published quickly.

When I queried agents last year, most of them took between 2-6 months to respond. And that’s just for the first request! They want the partial? That’s more time. They want a full? That can take months! Agonizing, exciting, wonderful, terrifying months!

Publishers aren’t fast, either. Even the extremely fast small press that published Justice Unending took ~4 months between the contract and publication.

Short stories are fast. There are no “fulls” or “partials”–you send the complete story to the market when you submit. And they’re fast! Many places respond in a matter of weeks, and most reply in under 3 months.

3. Short stories can be a big self-esteem boost.

Let’s face it: it feels nice to be published. There’s nothing quite like knowing that someone likes your work. They got 200 submissions, read them all, and decided they wanted to publish yours. How cool is that?

4. They’re easy to do in between novels or drafts.

Do you let drafts rest before you go back to them? Do you take a breather after finishing a novel? Are your beta readers reading your draft, and you’re not quite ready to jump into something new?I personally find it very hard to write back-to-back novels. So what do I do with those moments? I write short stories. Maybe I can test ideas for new novels! Or try a new world! Or just write in a genre I usually don’t play with! Who cares? I can just take a few weeks, dash something out, and then get back to work.

Basically, short stories are an excellent way to get:

  • That nice “I completed a project!” feeling
  • Lots of responses from markets
  • Publications credits

… in a much faster time frame than you would with novels. And if you schedule your time right, they don’t even get in the way! You can write your novels and fit short stories in between. And with a stable of 3-4 stories, you can have multiple stories out for submission for months.

For me, it’s absolutely been worth it. And depending on how you write? Maybe it’ll help you, too.

When I published my first short story, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. What happens after you get your acceptance email? How long will it take? What if the editor is really slow to respond–should I go into hysterics and assume they decided not to publish me? Or, um. Maybe not?

I’ve published four short stories and placed in two contests, so I’m definitely not an expert. But I’ve got a pretty good idea how this process generally goes, and that’s what I’m going to share.

So here goes!

1. Step 1: The Acceptance Email

One of these days, you will get the most wonderful of gifts: An acceptance email.

By this point you’ll have seen a ton of rejections. You’ll be used to the pleasantries, the “Thanks for submitting”s, and the “This isn’t right for our publication”s. But one of these days, it’ll be different: They’ll thank you for sending the piece. They’ll tell you that they really like it. They’ll say they want to publish it.

OK, so, uh… Now what?

(OK, so the right answer is “celebrate.” But what about afterwards?)

2. Step 2: Getting the Contract

Nothing is final until you sign the contract.

Short story contracts are very simple. They tell you what rights the publisher is taking, how long they’ll hold onto those rights, and what they’ll do with them. Every contract is different, so you will definitely want to read yours.

I don’t pretend to understand contract law, but you should be able to understand most of what you read. Google (and your friendly neighborhood writing communities) can help with the rest. Some questions I look for are:

  • Do you have to wait before re-submitting the story anywhere else? Weirdly enough, you can submit your short story–even one that’s been published–to multiple places. You just have to look for places that accept reprints. Your contract will probably explain how long you have to wait before doing that.
  • What rights are they claiming? All of mine ask for the one-time, nonexclusive, world, electronic, English-language rights for some period of time. This is the important stuff. Google anything you don’t understand.
  • When and how will they pay you? If this is a paying market, the contract will explain when and how you’ll be paid. Most of them will pay you after the story is published.
  • Does it mention any way the contract can be voided? Sometimes you’ll see clauses explaining that the contract can be voided if something goes horribly wrong. For example, I’ve seen some saying that they have to publish the story within a year or I have the right to ask for the contract to be nullified. Another said they could void the contract if we couldn’t agree on edits.

But honestly, short story contracts are very simple. Novel contracts are a big deal, and you’ll often see people pouring over their contracts, identifying poor language, and renegotiating for better terms.

Short stories aren’t nearly as complicated. You should definitely understand what they’re asking. But unless you find something super nuts in there, you’ll probably just read it and sign it.

Step 3: Sign the Contract!

When you’re ready, sign that baby! Each place does it differently. I had one ask me to print it, scan it, and sign it. Some take e-signatures. Whatever. The editor probably told you how to fill out the contract when they sent it to you.

So sign that. Sent it in!

Step 4: WAIT FOREVER

And…. now what?

Probably nothing.

The thing is, the contract is signed. You’re good. It’s out of your hands. Now you just have to wait for the thing to be published, and that might take months. And unless you have edits to do, you’re done. It’s over.

Now, if you’re a crazy-pants worrier like me, you might be tempted to get anxious. What if the publisher doesn’t respond again? What if the publication is months away? Is there a chance they’ll decide not to publish me? Could they have lost my emails? Could anything go wrong? Do I need to check in periodically?

And no. No, no, no. You’ve signed the contract. Unless the publisher goes out of business or cancels the issue, you are pretty much guaranteed to be published. Cool your buns and wait.

(As a side note, though, you can probably start telling people you’ve sold a story. You’ve signed the contract. It’s a done deal! You could wait until it’s actually out and published–because at that point people can buy and/or read it–but that’s up to you.)

Optional Step 5: Edits!

Of course, sometimes you won’t just be waiting around. Sometimes you’ll have edits!

In this case, the publisher will have their editor work on your story. This is very standard stuff. You’ll work with their editor. You will be courteous and kind and open to their feedback. You will work together harmoniously and end up with a story everyone is happy with.

Optional Step 6: Biographies!

And sometimes they want you to write a short biography, too. Those are fun!

Optional Step 7: BUT THEYRE TAKING FOREVER and they didn’t respond to my contract and maybe it was lost and now theyre not going to publish it and its been months oh god

STOP IT

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about small presses, it’s that they’re slow. Slower than you would ever imagine. They are very busy companies run by a tiny number of people, so please. Have some sympathy. Have a lot of patience. They are going to be slow, slow, slow.

This means they may take forever to respond to your emails. They may not acknowledge they got your contract. You may toss your edits at them and never hear back, ever. These are all maddening, obnoxious things for a writer, but you have to let them go.

Of course, it’s OK to follow up if you have a big question, the publication date is looming, and you aren’t sure everything is ready. You can definitely send a polite question. But sometimes you’ll just have to trust that it’ll happen. It’s out of your hands.

You signed a contract. You’ll be published unless something goes horribly wrong. Just run with it.

Step 8: Publication!

Finally, your story will actually be published. And that’s when you can cheer, celebrate, read your own work a dozen times, and/or glory over your free copy of the book. Send the link around! Put it, without fear, in your future queries! “I’ve previously published short fiction at [Name of Publication.]” Heck yeah! You have!

You have a publication credit. Congratulations!

Optional Step 9: Get Paid

If this is a fee-paying publication, your last and final step will be getting your check or PayPal payment. But you might have to wait a bit. The contract says they’ll do that after your publication goes out… But, being a small press, they might be slow about that, too. Just stay on the ball and follow up as necessary.

All in all, it’s a slow but delightful process. And while nothing is set in stone until the moment the story’s published, you honestly don’t have much of a role in this. Sign the contract, do your edits, and wait. It’ll be nervewracking until the day you see yourself in print (or e-print), but believe me: It’ll be worth it.