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  • Stella B James

How to Submit Your Short Stories

In my last post, I explained various ways you can find magazines to submit your writing to. In this post, I'll be explaining how you submit your short story once you have chosen which magazine(s) you want to submit to.

First thing to note is that every magazine has their own set of guidelines. FOLLOW THOSE GUIDELINES. I have read countless times that many stories will get rejected simply because they did not follow the guidelines! By not following a magazine's guidelines, you are not only proving that you didn't care enough to respect their magazine, but you are also not giving yourself a fair shot.

I am going to break down a typical magazine guideline set up:

1) What they are looking for: Typically, this is the first thing they will mention. They will talk about the kind of magazine they are and the type of stories they want. They will also tell you what kind of stories they do not want, also known as their "hard sells". Respect this. No, you will not be the magic author that sways them. If they do not like romance, for example, do not send them romance, even cleverly veiled romance. It. Won't. Work.

2) Word Count: This number can range in all kinds of ways. Micro fiction can be anywhere from 1-250 words. Flash fiction usually caps at about 1000 words. Most magazines I stumble across have a sweet spot of 1,500-4,000 words. These are pretty ideal, in my opinion. Either way, they will always state the word count, except for those rare few that will say that they accept any amount of words.

3) Wait time: The amount of time it takes for them to respond back to you. I plan to elaborate on this in a future post where I'll discuss rejections, but let me just say upfront that these numbers are better taken as suggested lengths of time. Sometimes, a publication will say it will take three months to get back, and you may end up waiting five. Most will suggest that you query them if you haven't heard anything in a certain amount of weeks/months. They all differ, but I think a good rule of thumb is to add on an extra month before you query because sometimes, slush piles get backed up and these readers are only human. Wading through all those stories must take a considerable amount of time, and you have to remember, you are not the only one submitting to them.

4) Rights. This is the section that will state what kinds of rights you are granting them. Most of the time, you are granting them first publishing rights for a certain about of time (usually six months) and then all rights revert back to you. I have had one instance where they claimed full rights, but that is a rare case.

5) Payment. Or maybe no payment. I'll write more on this in a different post, but yes, sometimes you'll find yourself wondering if you should give a story for free. There are mixed opinions on this. I've done it, and I don't regret it. I think the choice is up to you, but keep in my that there are great magazines out there that can't pay. If you are looking into a paying market, most pay 6-8 cents per word. Some less and some more.

6) Type of file and format: Formats, formats, formats! Shunn is the one suggested the most, but they'll tell you what they prefer. Double spaced, single spaced, margins and no spacing between paragraphs... it is different everywhere, but equally as important to follow. This is where I hear people get rejected. If they completely ignore the formatting guidelines, and especially the word count! Pay attention to formatting! Especially when they don't want any identifying information in the manuscript itself. Also, make sure which type of file they want to receive; Doc, RTF, PDF... pay attention to this. Please.

7) Simultaneous and/or Multiple Submissions: A simultaneous submission is when you submit your story to multiple publications at once. A multiple submission is when you send more than one story to the same publication at once. Some publications accept both, one or the other, or neither. Pay attention to this as well. Some places will automatically reject and blacklist you if you simultaneously submit when they've stated not to. Some publications warn that they will delete your submissions if you send multiple. I know the wait can be hard and deep inside, you want to give your story the most opportunity and exposure. Play by the rules. It will only speak of your professionalism and your seriousness at your craft.

Okay, you've written your story. You've formatted it to their specifications and you saved it in their preferred file type. What now? Well, they will want you to submit it in one of three ways: email, Submittable (or other submission portal), or through an online form. Whatever way they choose, also make sure that you are following the guidelines on this, especially when emailing.

When you submit through Submittable or an online form, everything is pretty spelled out for you. You're literally just filling in the blanks. However, when emailing, make sure you are using the correct email address and subject line as they specify. Never, and I mean never, email an editor on their personal email unless specified to do so. Also, include a cover letter, even if they say they aren't necessary. I believe cover letters show a certain level of respect and professionalism.

My cover letter is short and sweet and to the point:

Dear Editors of [Insert Magazine Name Here], (If you can find the name of the editor, address by name instead)

I respectfully submit my [genre here] short story, "Insert Title of Story Here" ( at [insert word count here] words) for your consideration. (If they ever ask what inspired the story, I put that information here).

I have been published in [put publications here, up to three and no more]. (If you go by a pen name, here would be a good place to state that: I write under my pen name...).


Your Legal Name

Your Address Line 1

Address Line 2

Phone Number


They don't want a summary of your story, unless they ask for it. They don't want a long drawn out history of your writing career or how you came to start writing. They are interested in your story first and foremost. Let your work speak for itself.

They may ask for a bio. These can range from 50 words to 100 words. I suggest looking up other writers' bios to get a feel for how they are written. For me, writing the bio is the hardest part.

Once you submit your story, the hardest part is the wait. Rejections will come. They'll sting. Enough rejections will make you want to quit. Don't quit. Not if this is your dream. Because nothing compares to the thrill of your story getting accepted, this I can promise you.

Stay tuned next week where I break down how I track all of my submissions!

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