So many writers are working on a novel. But I think my favorite medium might be the short story. Getting your short story published in a reputable literary journal or magazine is a great way to get noticed as a fiction writer. But competition is stiff, so I thought I’d share a few tips for submitting. that I picked up along the way.
By the way, I’ve worked for numerous literary journals including Fresh Boiled Peanuts, The Nomad, and The Invisible Academy. You’ve likely never heard of these, and that’s fine. It’s part of the point, actually. There are tons of literary journals out there, from small one-person operations that pay in contributor’s copies to big glossy magazines that will pay cash for your story. It’s important to do your research when setting out to submit your story to them. You want to make sure the magazine or journal has a good reputation—even better if it’s won some awards. And remember, getting paid is great, but sometimes the exposure you receive is the best payment—so don’t limit yourself to only paying markets. There are some great literary mags out there that will be a feather in your writer’s cap even if they don’t pay.
That said, when it comes to literary magazines and journals, what are editors looking for? What makes one submission better than another? What makes them choose your story from the slush pile? The following rules can help.
- First and foremost, read the submission guidelines. Sending your bodice ripper romance story to a literary journal for hard core science fiction readers will land your submission in the trash. Bottom line: make sure you’re targeting the right kind of publication.
- Never submit anything to a magazine or journal that you have not read at least one issue of. This is as much for your own good as it is a helpful strategy. By reading the magazine first you can get a feel for the tone of the publication and you can decide whether or not your story is a good fit—or tailor it to be.
- Include a cover letter for your story that briefly describes what the story is about. This is a short pitch of approximately 25 words that explains who the main character (or characters) is and what the conflict of the story is about. Keep it short. This isn’t a synopsis.
- You may include a short bio about yourself, but it should be modest. Keep the main focus on the story itself.
- Address your cover letter to the editor by name. Do your research and make sure you spell their name correctly.
- List the word count of your story.
- Avoid using any sort of fancy fonts or typefaces.
- Avoid clichés, such as beginning with your character waking up from a dream.
- Use simple dialogue tags. “He said” and “she said” are best. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re boring. Fancy tags just draw attention away from the dialogue itself.
- Be careful with modifiers. When it comes to adjectives a little goes a long way. For adverbs—remember that rule even more so. You short story should be exactly that—short. Don’t crowd it with unnecessary words.