The Short Story Publishing Timeline

Photo by Lucian Alexe on Unsplash

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.

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.

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.

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.

Submitting stories

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Margery Bayne

Margery Bayne

Margery is a librarian by day and a writer by night; a published short story author and an aspiring novelist. More at www.margerybayne.com or @themargerybayne.