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Short Story Publishing Guidelines


Authors like O Henry thrived in the short story market, and became more successful than many novelists. Short stories can be a great addition to your writing life; they can add publishing credits to your career as well as gain you some purchasers for your big works. Reading a short story gives a reader a fairly good idea of the writer’s prowess, and hence, if you are really good, your readers will love to read your novels after reading your short stories.

One of my most favorite writers, Stephen King, started his career with short stories. [How many times have I read King’s biography and wondered how well it depicts my own life, as I want it! Doing what he is born for every day, getting married to a fellow student, who is also a writer—a love marriage—writing his best-sellers still in his sixties, about 2000 words a day, King is really what I want myself to be like.]

You can start your short story career with many of the sprawling magazines out there. Refer to Writer's Market for great places to submit your work.

How to Publish a Short Story: The Steps

1. It is best if you have more than one short story, in fact several short stories. If a particular genre suits you, then stay with it. First step is to research your market. For this, the most effective way is using the Writer’s Market (2009 Edition). This is a comprehensive publishing guide, which gives information as to where you need to publish your short story or novel. Here is the 2008 Edition of Writer's Market.

2. Read your magazines. After choosing some of the magazines to submit your work to, read some of its back issues. This is mainly to understand the thoughts of the editor you are dealing with.

You can’t inherently control the way the editor would like your work. Everyone has his own preferences. However, you can know what sort of stories the editor likes by reading the back issues. You can make the necessary changes to the story, or even choose an appropriate story from your arsenal to throw at that editor. Say, an editor of a crime magazine particularly likes woman detectives with a good sense of humor, and you happen to have a very matching story, then you can send it out to that editor.

3. Read the magazine submission instructions. The importance of this step can never be more stressed. Every magazine gives you instructions as to the query formatting, the sort of stories they are currently looking for, etc. Check out the magazine website for them.

4. Make sure you have done all editing and proofreading of your work, and they are complete without any errors. Grammar and punctuation are extremely important in writing, particularly in short fiction. When you submit, make sure your content is refined to core.

5. Cover Letter: You need to query the publisher, specifically the particular editor to whom you are sending the story, with a cover letter. This should be equally free of errors. The formatting instructions such as use of font, double-spacing, etc., are common for novel queries and newspaper queries. For more information on fragrant and stinking cover letters, here is an editor’s desk itself.

6. Follow up professionally. If you don’t get a reply back from the editor for about six months, then follow up with a letter. If you still don’t get a reply, follow up once again after another six months. If still no reply, continue searching for publishers.

The Tips

1. ‘Publication Credits’ is a buzzword that a writer uses to lure a potential publisher. However, the publishers know that there are always new writers, and they expect them to respect themselves. So, don’t be sorry if you have nothing show below that buzzword. The trick is not mentioning it at all.

2. I needn’t tell you more about the professional query letter and cover letter submissions. It’s right there in the article about novel query letter formatting.

3. Editors love writers who are not skunks. Don’t pester them every week asking ‘politely’, “Sir, I hope you are in the process of considering my submission, ‘The Short Story’, which I submitted last week.”

4. Don’t get lost with submissions. Keep track of every story you submit to every publisher. Here is a great software with which you can do this easily: Sonar Submission Tracker.

5. Thinking of submitting to more than one publishers? Make sure you read each publisher’s guideline as to multiple simultaneous submissions.

6. Make yourself available at all times. Only God and the editor know when your story is accepted.

7. Yes, your story submission and waiting can be quite lengthy and tiresome, and don’t let your professional and personal life mix up.

8. Be on the lookout for new publishers and literary agents all the time, for that legendary best-seller you are writing. Adding short story publication credits to your career will quicken your steps.

9. Make sure you write every day. Utilize maximum of your time in reading and writing. Here is what Stephen King says: “Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.”


When you are dealing with a novel, it is always good to write short fiction. Mostly because, it keeps you current in the business, and it guides you to more ideas, which will positively affect to your novels. It even helps you fight the writer's block.

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008


  1. Good stuff! I got Stephen King's "On Writing" a long time ago. Bradbury's got a good book on becoming a writer too.

    I still don't have the chops to hang with anyone, but I try.

    I've put you on the blogroll.

  2. Very good post.

    With point #9, while its easy for people who have flexible/non existant work schedules to read and write four to six hours a day, its almost impossible to so while holding down a 9 to 5 job plus other commitments. Best I can do during the week is about thirty minutes a day, broken up in pieces.

    However in fighting writers block, most definitely writing short stories, whether good or bad, helps clear it up to certain degree.

  3. Thanks Jay, for the comment. Would you mind telling me which book of Bradbury was that? Thanks Georgie. Don't you think half an hour a day is too low?

  4. To a certain degree, it is far too low. I think my problem has been the readjustment to what motivates me to write.

    Back in 2006, anger really motivated my writing. My output was pretty good as I wrote about several short to medium length stories. And I worked on them whenever I had the free time.

    Now moving up to 2008, it's been a real problem readjusting the mindset to write without the anger as motivation.

    So now, I can write only in small spurts M-F. I'm starting to do much better on the weekends, as I have more free time to work at my writing.

    I guess I'm trying to apply time management skills to something that you really can't limit yourself in doing.

  5. You're right; no one should limit themselves on what they love to do. What was the reason behind your anger?

    Feelings come and go, but from your comment, I felt that you were in a constant state of anger during those days?

    All the best with your writing, and hope that you will write more. Thanks for the comment.


  6. In those early days, I had a lot of issues going on between home and work, which in turn created a lot of anger.

    The anger itself was not an end to itself nor was it all consuming (but it sure felt like it), but it did help me tighten my focus with my early writing.

    I'm still trying to find that good emotional balance that will help me improve my writing.

  7. I wish you all success, I hope you will write more. Thanks for the comment.

  8. Great post! From my own experience, it really does make a difference when you start out to read a story when it is formatted properly and the submission matched your request. It makes a great impression.

    Of course, the story needs to be amazing and the writing exact, but the first impression really counts to getting a story published!

  9. This is what I concider the Super=WalMart of blog sites. In that I mean to say that when i shop I shop at super WalMart. Why? Because it is the "get everything you need in one place" shopping center for me.
    I came and read your blog on publishing a short story and found "everything I needed in one place." I appreciate blogs such as yours because they are informative as well as a great read.
    Thank you for sharing this with us. This is sure to help many aspiring and even veteraned short story writers.
    Sincerely written, Darrel Day author of Abduction and Until Death Do We Meet

  10. Darrel, this is such an inspiring comment for bloggers like me. Thanks for reading. I hope you will come more.


  11. Bradbury's book is called "Zen and the Art of Writing", and it is GENIUS. There is a particular section dealing with the monster at the top of the stairs that every writer, reader, or thinker should read. It's brilliant.

    Also, thank you for your blog. It's very helpful. :)

  12. Writing four to six hours a day is only possible if you're a full-time writer. Other than that, it doesn't matter how long you're writing as long as you're writing. I manage about two hours a day.


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