The Short Story Publishing Timeline
All the steps from draft to publication and beyond
Finishing the story
The first step is finishing the story. Not just finishing, but finalizing. It should be edited, polished, and proofread. Short stories are not published on spec. You cannot just pitch an idea. You cannot send a rough draft and hope for developmental editing. The most you will get is line-editing, and not always that.
Have your story finished and then ready to go.
Prepping your submission
So the story is ready, but that’s not the only thing you need to submit your story in literary markets. In most cases you’ll need a cover letter, even if it is just a short spiel you plop into the body of your email or copy-and-paste into a box on a submission form. Once you have a standard cover letter, the hard work is done and you can use it again and again, updating and tweaking as need be to fit submission guidelines.
What’s in a Short Story Cover Letter?
Writing cover letters for short story submissions is actually pretty easy
Additionally, some literary markets ask for your author bio from the get go. It’s nice to have one prepared and ready to go when the submission process starts. Again, this is something that will be tweaked over time as your life and writing achievements change, but having one to start with is a good idea.
The Formula For Writing the Perfect Author Bio
What short story writers need in their author bios (for beginners)
Searching for literary markets
The first real step in the short story submission process once all the prep work is done is the search for viable literary markets (literary magazines, anthologies, contests, and the like).
It can be overwhelming and intimidating. Thankfully, free tools like the Submission Grinder, writer resource websites like Newspages.com, and writer friendly email lists exist to help with the search.
Where to Find Places to Submit Your Short Stories
All evergreen and completely for free
Once you find the literary markets, you must choose which ones you should send your stories to. Of course, first your story must fit the submission guidelines of length, genre, and open/closed submission times.
After that, you can submit blindly, throwing darts and hoping for a bull’s eye. Or you can use a bit of strategy, figuring out if you are prioritizing prestige, payment, fast responses, and/or publication chances (among other factors), and using those priorities to guide you.
Choosing Where To Submit Your Short Stories
Coming up with a submission strategy for your short fiction
Submitting short stories to consideration for literary markets can be a trying process. There is the emotional component where you put something you worked hard on out to be judged. There is the time component where you have to wait long stretches for editors to reply to you. There is the busywork component of going through the process over and over and over again. And if you’ve never done it before, you maybe not be sure what to expect.
What to Expect When You’re Submitting: Submitting Short Stories for Beginners
What to expect from literary magazines and what they expect from you
But if you have submitted short stories before and are looking to up your submission game, there are some tips and tricks that can help your productivity, your regularity, and your publication chances.
Some are surprisingly obvious while being surprisingly effective: build up a regular and routine submission habit. More submissions equals more chances. More regular means not missed out on time-limited chances.
Others are statistical. Look out for new magazines where people aren’t submitting yet. Look out for themed issues that narrow the submission pool. Look out for magazines that target certain demographics of writers that you are part of (women-only, student-only, geographically specific to be a few of many examples).
One way or the other, you can refine your submission game for a more effective way.
Best Methods for Submitting Short Stories to Literary Markets
Practical tips for streamlining the submission process
5 Tips for Increasing Your Short Story Acceptance Chances
How and where to submit your short stories so that they’ll get published (other than the obvious)
Keeping track of submissions
The less glamorous side of submitting short stories is the administrative work that comes with it. You will need to keep track of your short story submissions. Which story (even which draft), which market it was submitted to, when, how (email, submittable, snail mail), when/if you should follow up, and other notes.
Using these notes, you will be able to make sure not to multiple submit your story to the same magazines, known when you need to query the market about your piece, and know where to withdraw your story from submission if need be.
Keeping Track of Short Story Submissions for Beginners
An easy and customizable method anyone can do for free
Rejections and acceptances
Here comes the fork in the road. Your story is either accepted (Yay!) or rejected (Gasp!).
The hard truth is you will probably be rejected a lot. More than accepted. Easily more. You need to toughen up your skin and accept that as part of the process. And maybe learn a few things from having your story rejected along the way.
Interpreting Rejection Letters 101
The good, the bad, and the hopeful of literary magazine rejection letters
What I Learned From Over 250 Rejection Letters
I started submitting short stories to literary magazines in 2015; Five years later, here’s what I learned…
But if your story is accepted, yay! Time to celebrate and pat yourself on the back. Right away, you should withdraw your story from any other literary markets it is currently submitted to. Then, you will engage in the publication process with the editors of the literary market who has published the work.
Publication and contracts
When your story is accepted, a new timeline starts. One where you have to be attentive to the editorial timeline of the literary markets and what it needs from you: signing contracts, approving line edits, providing addition author information, and helping promotions.
Sometimes these timeline move along fast once the story is accepted. Sometimes it is another grueling-long process, but worth it once a quality publication comes out.
Usually, the literary markets are clear communicators of what they need and the following steps. Some have more rigorous editing stages and some do not. Some have lengthy contracts and others simple ones. Always read your contracts to protect your short stories rights and to know the important factors like rights claimed, rights reverted, payment schedules, and other details that directly impact your control over your story.
Copyright and Contracts for Short Story Writers 101
What you need to know to get published and protect your rights
Top Terms To Look For In Short Story Publishing Contracts
The three things you should know before signing
The afterlife of stories
This is another splitting pathway. If your story is published (again, yay!) in a literary market, you have the ability once the story’s rights revert back to you the author to publish the short story again. You can publish them on a blog, on Medium, in an eBook, in a traditional short story collection, or as a reprint in another literary magazine.
What Short Story Writers Need to Know About Reprints
Exploring a new publishing avenue for your old fiction
But sometimes, despite your hard work on a story and following all the best practices of the submission process, you just cannot place a specific short story. But it doesn’t mean that story is dead in the water. Many of the publishing options there are for previously published short stories can exist for your unpublishable short stories too.
What To Do When Literary Magazines Don’t Want Your Short Story
The second lives of unpublishable short fiction
Remember, whatever the case, you ultimately control your short stories destiny.
Margery Bayne is a librarian by day and a writer by night. Like a superhero but with more paper cuts.
If my story was the one that perhaps pushed you over the edge into wanting to get a Medium membership, please consider signing up through my membership link. It’s no extra cost to you and helps support my writing efforts.