Monthly Archives: April 2015

Short Story Markets

In my two most recent posts, I discussed tips for writing the short story and how it differs from the novel. Here, I will look at markets for short stories. 

Writers who seek to build credibility by getting published will do well to focus on short stories. There are a number of opportunites, from literary journals to university publications to online sites. Writers should start by purchasing the 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, which contains numerous listings for book publishers, literary agents, fiction publications, contests, and more. 

Poets & Writers has a listing of publications that accept short stories, which includes genres and submission requirements. Random House has a comprehensive list of literary magazines, including contact information. Duotrope allows users to search for literary magaines by genre, response time, and acceptance rate. It requires a subscription fee of $5 a month, but there is a free trial.

Reading through these lists can overwheilm the writer, especially one who is just starting out. I wouldn’t dream of submitting a short story to the top literary publications like Atlantic, Missouri Review, The New Yorker, Paris Review, Ploughshares, or Virginia Quarterly Review. Okay, I submitted a short story of which I was proud to the Missouri Review and I never received a reply. All of these publications have an acceptance rate of less than one percent.

This begs the question: why submit to these lofty literary journals? It’s best to aim lower, but first the writer must make sure his work is ready for prime time. Novice writers should join a local writer’s group ad submit their work for feedback before submitting it for publication. Or, if a writer’s group doesn’t exist in a writer’s region, find a critique partner. 

What about online magazines or self-publishing on Amazon.com? I found a site, Every Writer, that listed the best online literary magazines. This seems like a great resource. It contains a list of criteria they used to compile the list. As for Amazon, it is tantanlizingly easy for a writer to draft a short story and upload it. Viola! The writer is published. However, the most important piece of advice I can give is to resist the temptation to publish your work before it is ready.  And the writer is not the best judge of whether his work is ready. 

For the writer whose work is ready, the short story is a great route to publication. This is especailly true for writers who have the foresight and technical skill to come up wiht a serial or series that will keep readers buying their work online.

I have not pursued this path myself, but I am interested in learning the experiences of others who have done so. 

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Writing the Short Story, Part II

Author Zadie Smith once reportedly advised writers who are planning a short story to start as close to the end as possible. In Part I of this series, I discussed the narrow focus of the short story. Since the short story is generally limited to 1,000 to 3,500 words, writers must keep to a minimum the number of scenes, characters and time frame. Beginning a story close to the end might sound contradictory, but there is a logic to it.

Let’s say the crux of a short story centers on the deteriorating relationship between a father and a son. Substitute a husband and a wife or two lovers. The ending is the final break between the two people in the story. It is irreparable and absolute. In a short story the writer doesn’t have the space to explore the relationship from its beginning and to delve into the origins of the conflict. What the writer will convey in a short story is the final break, the tipping point.

If the short story centers on a journey, it must be a short one–a drive from Boston to New York as opposed to a cross country trip. A hero’s journey in a short story must begin “in medias res”–in the middle of the action. In a novel, the hero faces a  series of mounting challenges before the ultimate test. In a short story the hero is in the middle of the final battle, the ultimate challenge. The writer may weave into the story some references to the hero’s humble beginnings or earlier challenges, but it must be a fleeting glance back.

Similarly, the writer cannot give the protagonist multiple problems or challenges to solve in a short story. Choose one problem that signifies the larger issue. If the protagonist must overcome his need to get out from underneath his father’s shadow, show this through a single episode that pays off the theme. The protagonist should face one problem in a short story. The problem must link to something the character wants (or something the protagonist doesn’t want to happen to him). And, as in a novel, there must be a consequence for failure, though it doesn’t need to be as life-transforming as in a novel.

Though others may differ, I believe strongly the writer must stick to a single point-of-view (POV) in a short story. Multiple POVs work in novels because a writer can select a POV character for a scene and switch POVs in other scenes, based on the needs of the story and who is affected most by the scene. Changing POVs in a short story which has one or two scenes at most will confuse the reader.

Similarly, I would advise sticking to one setting, or two at most, in a short story. The setting, of course, must match the mood and the genre of the story. 

I will discuss short story markets in the next installment.

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