I’ve been writing speculative fiction—fantasy, mythica, ghost stories and Sci Fi—for 5 years. Wrote the obligatory World’s Best Novel first, like every rookie writer does. At the time I thought it was brilliant; now I realize it was pretty lame (more on that below). During that frustrating interlude while I was vainly querying said novel, I stumbled upon a short story market with an interesting prompt. So I took the characters from my novel and wrote a short story, submitted it, and to my surprise and delight it was accepted for publication. A check for $20 and my first writing credit came a few months later, and I was once again blissfully patting myself on the back about my brilliant writing.
Unfortunately my brilliance was more like a blind squirrel occasionally finding a nut, as despite churning out a flurry of new short stories, none were accepted for publication. Oops. But, rather than throwing in the towel, I did a lot of research on short story markets and also bent my back to the task of writing better stories. So here’s what I learned.
Short story writing is much more of a meritocracy than novel writing
Unlike either the traditional publishing or the self-publishing path for novels, which both rely heavily on the author’s name, reputation and marketing skills, short story markets, for the most part, judge each manuscript on its merits. Which is not to say that name authors don’t make it to the top of the slush pile, but unknown authors get published every day in paying short story markets. Many read blind to the author’s name. The whims and biases of editors play a large role, but still a manuscript is judged on its merits, not on how many thousands of likes one has on Facebook.
There are a lot of short story markets
Regardless of genre, subgenre, and story length, there are a lot of short story markets, many of which pay (see below). I’ve yet to write short story for which I couldn’t find at least 20 potential paying markets. Some excellent sources of information on markets include www.duotrope.com and www.ralan.com.
It takes both quality writing and perseverance to get short stories published
I’ve written 25 short stories about ghosts and Martians, neodymium lasers and Valkyries. Eight of which have been published a total of 10 times (two were reprinted…). I have 2 more under contract and 154 rejection slips in a drawer (I blogged about my road to 100 rejections, see crhodges.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/rejection-countdown-to-100/ ). I’ve had stories selected on the first submission (see above) and on the thirteenth.
Writing short stories helps one grow as a writer
Now that I’m into it, I have found that writing shorts allows me to experiment with a lot of different voices, tropes, characters, styles and points of view. I’ve written in first and third person, past and present tense (particularly effective for shorter works). I’ve written male and female protagonists; I’ve written in Swedes and African Americans. I’ve set stories on Mars and in Sydney (I’ve never been to the former but I’ve spent a lot of time in the latter). Heck I’ve even written from a dolphin’s POV. I’ve experimented with disinterested and unreliable narrators; I’ve tried dark and also comedy (I’m better at the former). And because it’s faster to write, edit, submit and get a yea or nay on a short, the feedback loop is much shorter and I can learn what works / doesn’t quicker.
Short story markets pay, but don’t quit your day job
The definition of a pro market for shorts is $0.05 per word. Yup, that works out to $100 for a 2000 word story. And pro markets are really tough to get into (I only have one pro win). Semipro markets pay from $0.01 to $0.05 per word, and token markets pay less than $0.01 per word. So for me the average has been like $50 a story. But it is payment, and hundreds to thousands of people are reading each published story.
Short stories can be part of a writer’s portfolio
Even with my modest success in short stories, I’m still working on novel number two, a mythica piece, Ragnarök Willie. Which actually started life as a short story. As to my first novel, Gho, I’m retooling it as a novella (about 25K words) to take a swing at the blossoming Amazon Singles market. But all those short story credits should help in querying and even in marketing.
About Chuck Hodges
I live in Colorado, USA with my wife, three daughters, a dog, a turtle and no ghosts that I know of. Not being an idiot, I have a day job running a product development company with customers on four continents (including a couple of large projects in Australia). When I’m not working or writing I volunteer at the local hospice, play the euphonium (poorly), swim, hike and coach youth softball. I blog regularly on reading and writing at crhodges.wordpress.com and my Facebook haunt is www.facebook.com/C.R.Hodges.Author. Stop by and say howdy.
Many thanks to Scarlett for allowing me this soapbox.
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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