5 Questions to Ask BEFORE Submitting Your Short Story





Have you ever toyed around with the idea of submitting your short story to a publication, but felt too overwhelmed or uncertain to actually send in your manuscript? Creating a strategy for myself based on the five questions below helped me prepare one of my short stories (which I’ll lovingly refer to by the alias of Fantasy Story #1) and ready myself for the submission process.

First, I had to ask myself:

I. Have I made my story the best it can be?

The rest of this post continues under the assumption that you have already gone through the steps to thoroughly edit your short story. Whether you’ve hired a freelance editor, consulted with your beta readers, or participated in your critique group, make sure that you’ve got at least one other pair of eyes to look over your story. Even if the thought of having your work critiqued isn’t exactly fun, you’ll be thankful later on for the chance to improve your story before you start sending it out.

When I was preparing Fantasy Story #1, I submitted my draft to a writer’s critique group that I had joined a few months prior after doing some self-editing to my manuscript. I received valuable feedback from around 6 other members of the group, which I then reconciled and used to improve my draft. Specifically, my critique group caught a plot hole that I was able to fix in my second round of editing.

II. Have I created a solid organizational system?

Before moving onto the next step and looking for markets to submit your work, I would recommend creating a system for recording details of the stories that you plan to submit and information on the publications you are interested in.

I’ve experimented with a some submissions tracking software, but I ultimately wound up creating a simple excel document with two spreadsheets. The first tab was dedicated to the stories I had written, and contained columns with the following information on each story:

  • Story title
  • Genre
  • Word count

I would also preemptively create a few extra columns to fill in after I began submitting my work:

  • Market submitted to
  • Date submitted
  • Response?

I then created a second page to prepare for my market research. The columns in this tab had room for:

  • Publication name
  • Website URL
  • Direct link to submission guidelines
  • Payment, if any
  • Genres accepted
  • Wordcount range
  • Whether they accept simultaneous submissions
  • Whether they accept reprints
  • When they are open for submissions

If using a spreadsheet isn’t ideal, I would recommend checking an app like Trello, which allows you to generate calendars based off of your to do list, or writing software such as The Novel Factory that helps you complete your manuscript as well as record info on potential markets. Use whatever system you think would help keep you organized throughout this process.

III. Have I researched potential publications?

After creating a way to organize your submission information, it’s time to delve into market research. I would recommend giving yourself a deadline, otherwise you could theoretically continue searching for markets forever and never actually submit your story (just like with editing).

When doing market research, you can use free databases to help you on your search. Poets & Writers is an example of a free site that allows you to search for literary journals, magazines, and small presses. Paid options include DuoTrope and Writer’s Digest, which contain more powerful search tools as well as additional statistical information, such as what percentage of submitted stories are accepted, that can be helpful in your search. Although these two options require payment to the full search capability, they are relatively inexpensive ($5 and $6 per month respectively) and membership can be purchased on a month-to-month basis. After finding markets through these tools, note down the information in your organizational system.

IV. Am I following submission requirements?

If you’ve found a few markets that you like, be sure to read through their submission requirements twice and thrice before sending in your work. Small things like proper formatting can trip you up later on if you don’t note them carefully at the beginning. For example, maybe Fantasy Magazine #6 requires a 12 font justified word document, while Genre Geeks Digest prefers 11 font double-spaced with a bio at the end.

If you’ve found a market that you think would be a good fit, I would recommend taking a look at their past issues just to make sure that your story fits the kind of pieces the publication is looking for, as suggested by many publications in their submissions guidelines. For example, since Magazine #3 accepts fantasy I might want to submit Fantasy Story #1 there. After perusing a couple of their recent issues, I realize that my dark fantasy story might not be such a good fit with the high fantasy works that Magazine #3 tends to publish, so I can cross that market off of the list.

V. Am I keeping my options open?

I like to keep a list of possible markets for each story I plan on submitting. That way if I receive a rejection from one, I can quickly bounce back and find another.

My first attempt at publishing Fantasy Story #1 in a prestigious genre magazine ended with a rejection, which I had almost expected. The day that I was notified, I dove back into my database to find another possible market, SciFi and Fantasy Digest #6, that might accept my work. SciFi and Fantasy Digest #6 opened submissions in a few weeks time, so I started preparing and formatting my story for that submission date. With fingers crossed, I sent my manuscript back out into the world…and received a second rejection email.

Instead of dwelling on the two rejections in a row, I looked back into my database and located a third market, which I submitted Fantasy Story #1 to. And what do you know? I received a congratulatory email announcing that my story had been accepted.

If you’ve edited your short story and plan on submitting it into the market, be sure to create a solid strategy to keep yourself organized throughout the research and submission process. Don’t skimp on reading and rereading the guidelines for a publication that might be a good fit for your story. And most importantly: don’t stop submitting. While a rejection can be used to edit and improve your story, don’t let it stop you from trying out another publication that might be a better fit after you’ve polished your piece.

What tips do you recommend for submitting your short stories?

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Zed Amadeo

Zed Amadeo, indie author of fantasy and horror, has always held a curiosity for the unexplained.Zed continues to be inspired by the strange happenings in the world, serving as fuel for the dark urban fantasy series, Kindred. To keep up with Zed's latest adventures into the strangeness of the universe and get a free fantasy booklet, subscribe to Zed's newsletter.
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