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Getting Your Short Fiction
Published: The Hard Truth
Kristy Taylor 2006
The short story market is one of the hardest to break
into. There are thousands of well-known writers pumping
out short fiction, and thousands more just like you,
struggling to get themselves published for the first
time. But there are several things you can do to set
yourself apart from the rest and start working your way
to the head of the pack.
First things first, make sure your manuscript is
professional. Use a plain, 12-point font, times new roman
is the norm. Double-line space the entire manuscript and
only left-justify your text. Use a minimum one inch
margin on both sides of the page, and top and bottom. Put
your name, address and contact number in the top
right-hand corner of the coversheet, put your story's
title and your byline in the centre of the page. Rights
being offered should go on the bottom-left corner and
approximate word count on the right. Thereafter, make
sure the first three words of the title and the page
number appears in the page header on the right-hand side.
Place your title about two-thirds of the way down the
first page, your byline immediately underneath, and start
your story one double-spaced line below that.
If this manuscript was for a short story competition you
would normally need to remove the coversheet and delete
any occurrences of your name from the final draft. Though
you should always check the competition's guidelines as
some do differ.
If you can submit an error-free, professional-looking
document, you will already have beat out all the dreamers
who think they'll get their story noticed if it's printed
on pink paper, bordered with little stars, or
hand-written in old gothic. None of these strategies will
give you an edge; they will only make you look too
eccentric to be worth an editor's trouble.
Though an editor may want to change your title, a title
can sometimes make or break your entire submission. Don't
alienate yourself by selecting a title like 'My Dog
Rover,' or 'The Story of My Father.' Instead, go for
something mysterious or edgy, like 'Bark the Dead Down,'
or 'The Meanest Old Bastard from Here to Melbourne.'
When to Take Instruction
Get on-line, not just for e-publishing, but for print
publications as well. Find out what your target
publishers are looking for in terms of genre and
submission criteria, such as format and word length. You
would be surprised at how many new writers will attempt
to submit a piece that is 3,000 words too long, or is on
a topic completely unrelated to the regular content of
the publication they are attempting to break into. If you
can follow a publisher's submission criteria to the
letter and are sensitive to what their publication is
trying to accomplish, you will find yourself pulling even
further ahead of the other writers.
However, you don't always have to listen to the dictates
of publishers. Many editors will tell you that if you are
submitting a piece to them, do not submit it to any other
publisher at the same time. If they find out they have
been wasting their time on your piece while you've gone
with another publisher, they could blacklist you.
Although, authors will tell you a different story. Rather
than having eager publishers fighting over your work, the
truth is that you will probably submit your story, wait
for months to hear from the publisher, and then get a
letter of rejection. Is your time really that much less
valuable than that of an editor? Experienced authors say
submit, submit, submit. Just be sure to keep a list of
all the places you have sent your manuscript so you can
withdraw it if you get lucky.
While it may be hard or even impossible for a
never-published author to get their manuscript in front
of an editor, one strategy for breaking in is to enter
short fiction contests. These contests usually come with
some prize money and an opportunity to be published.
However, beware of scam contests. Any contest that says
you're a winner and then asks you for money is a scam.
Any contest that says you're a winner but wants to
publish your work without paying you is a scam. Don't be
fooled - research contests as thoroughly as you would a
publisher. A reading or entry fee is pretty much the
norm, but again beware, watch out for high fees in return
for small prizes.
Tough or Get Out
Being neat, professional, competitive and a
contest-winner may help to put you at the head of the
pack, but these do not make up a never-fail formula for
success. The truth is, your stories are going to be
rejected a disappointing number of times. Just remember
that this does not mean your story is bad, and it does
not mean that you will never succeed. It just means that
you are going to have to learn to accept rejection. Some
of the greatest authors in literary history have been
able to paper their walls in rejection slips.
If a rejection contains comments of any kind from an
editor, you know you're on the right track. You made them
care enough to want to teach you something, and this is
no small feat. Whatever an editor has suggested, consider
it carefully. Try making some of these changes and
Forget that this is a Job
Like every other stage of the process, this is hard work.
Writing is like any other job, to do it well, you have to
work your butt off, and deal with bosses that are going
to give you a hard time every chance they get. The
biggest mistake a new writer can make is to give up when
things stop being easy. As soon as the creative juices
don't seem to be flowing, or they can't get part of the
story just right, they quit. This attitude is all wrong.
Writers that are getting published aren't better than
you; they're just working harder than you. Authorship can
offer huge payoffs, but only to those who are willing to
quit playing and do some real tough storytelling.
One last thing you can do to advance further ahead of the
pack is to do your research. Writers used to depend on
annually published directories like the Fiction Writer's
Market to get the scoop on submission criteria and
publisher addresses, but today the Internet is the place
to be for the short story writer. The new frontier when
it comes to short story publishing is on-line. The form
is ideally suited to on-line publications, websites and
as a downloadable for hand-held devices. So warm up your
mouse and start pounding that keyboard, you'll never know
unless you give it a go.
Kristy Taylor is a syndicated freelance journalist with
articles and short stories strewn across all forms of
media. She has written and published numerous books, and
is the executive editor of KT Publishing, which
encompasses several web sites. For free listings of short
story competitions visit http://www.shortstorycompetitions.com.
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