So You Want to Submit a Short Story

Last month I talked about how women don’t submit as many short stories as men do to science fiction / fiction markets. This month let’s get down to business.

So, let’s assume you’ve got a polished version of your short story. It’s been workshopped, revised, edited, and proofed to perfection. What now?

Research your markets.

Where you send your stories depends on your goals and the story itself. For instance, do you want to qualify for SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) membership (see below)? Do want to sell to the best paying market? Is your story high fantasy? Steampunk? Hard sci-fi?

You need to do your homework before hitting the send button. Here are few places to get started:

  • · SFWA Qualifying markets

    To become an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, you have to make three short story sales to what SFWA deems to be a Professional Qualifying Market ( (Or, you need to sell one novel to a national publisher.) These magazines pay professional rates, publish quality stories, and meet other criteria (circulation, etc).
  •  Duotrope (

    This is a very handy online database of short fiction markets. You can search by genre, subject, payscale, length, etc.

  • Ralan (

    This is a site started by a science fiction writer about 15 years ago. Ralan tracks speculative fiction markets (science fiction, fantasy, horror) in particular.

You can also check out Writer's Market--both the book and online versions. However, any guidelines listed in the hard copy version, at least, might be outdated.  Always check the magazine's own submission guidelines.

Read the guidelines.

Every magazine has submission guidelines. READ THEM. Most tell you key information such as:

  • exactly what the magazine is looking for (or specifically NOT looking for)
  • if they’re even open for submission 
  • if simultaneous submissions are allowed
  • who to submit to (know the editor’s name!)
  • how to submit (mail, email, online submission system)
  • pay rates
  • turn-around times
  • word limits
  • reading windows (some mags only read at certain times of the year)
  • rights bought
Strange Horizons has one of the more complete guidelines in the business. They tell you exactly what they’re NOT looking for.  Be sure to check out the Stories They See Too Often.

Probably the one thing most magazine editors tell prospective submitters is TO READ THE MAGAZINE. That way you know if your story truly fits. You can usually request or buy single copies of magazines from the publisher or online.  And the big three (Asimovs, Analag, and Fantasy and Science Fiction) are available on Kindle and Nook.

Format and send your submission.

Just like novels, short stories have a particular format and etiquette. Check the guidelines on each publication’s site for specific requirements. Some magazines still require snail mail submission, but most have moved onto email and online submissions. However, the format of the manuscript and cover letter is the same.

The SFWA has good advice on manuscript formatting and cover letters.

Track your submission.

Keep track of what you send out. You system can be as simple as index cards or a notebook or as complex as a spreadsheet or tracking software. Some writers print out the story and write the date and market across the top. I use a notebook, with one page per story. I write down the date and market. Then scratch through it if it’s rejected. (I usually date the rejection, too, and jot down any notes from the editor.) Then move on to the next market.

If you want something more techie, Duotrope, Writers Market, and a few other places have online tracking tools. You can also download freeware to do the same thing. Or, design your own spreadsheet.

The important thing is to keep track of what you sent where—so that you don’t send the same story to a magazine twice or send the same magazine more than one story at a time. Don’t give the slush reader (or editor) an excuse to reject your story.

Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

If you get a rejection, file it and move on to the next magazine.  I keep this quote from Isaac Asimov (a prolific writer if there ever was one) tacked to my memo board:
“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist.”
- Isaac Asimov

In other words, keep submitting.

btw, (shameless plug ahead) I have a story--"The Actuarian"--in the April issue of Odyssey as well as another one in the September issue. I have past Odyssey stories (as well as a list of others) on my personal site.


RK Charron said...

Very helpful Angie!
Thank you for the great post and the links.
All the best,
RK Charron

Angie Smibert said...

You're welcome!