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How short stories can open the door to publishing

You don’t have to write a novel to break into print

Some people say there’s no place in today’s publishing world for short stories, but in reality, there are more opportunities than ever to publish short fiction. While the major publishers do favor novels over story collections, the online market for short stories has exploded.

There are hundreds of online and print publications publishing short stories by new and unknown writers. Well-established print journals that pay for short stories include The Threepenny Review, One Story, The Georgia Review, and The Sun Magazine. Even CNET is now publishing short fiction, paying a handsome four figures per story. Payment isn’t everything, of course. Most magazines don’t pay much — or anything — for short stories, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth pursuing.

There are plenty of places for aspiring novelists to find encouragement and community, but outside of MFA programs, the craft of short story writing often gets lost in the noise. In a recent survey, a number of writers told me they’re working on short stories or story collections (go here to take the survey, 4 Quick Questions About Your Writing Life).

For many writers, short stories provide entrance into the publishing world, as well as a path to representation by a literary agent. Although a short story collection is unlikely to be a big commercial hit, it can help you get on the publishing map, garnering reviews and solidifying you as a “writer to watch.”

A short story collection launched my writing career sixteen years ago, quickly leading to my first published novel. Long story short: I published a few stories in literary magazines, then submitted them as a collection to an annual contest. The collection was then published by a university press. After the book came out, a literary scout for a publishing house saw it at Barnes and Noble and contacted me to ask if I had a novel. I signed a contract for my first novel a few months later, and the publication of the novel ended led to a fellowship to a writing conference, where I met my agent, who has since sold four novels for me in the US in addition to selling my novels to publishers in 26 languages. For me, it all began with publishing short stories in literary magazines.

While publishing a story collection with a university press may not be as glamorous as selling one’s debut novel to a publisher, it is a reliable way to get one’s foot in the door, and it provides a path to publication for many writers.

To take this path, of course, you have to write a really good story. And then you have to write a few more good stories, enough to make a collection.

How to begin writing and publishing short stories

So, how do you begin? Flash fiction is a good place to start. Many literary magazines publish flash fiction. For print journals, a story that takes up 2–3 pages of print space often has a better chance of breaking through the slush pile than one that takes up 15–20 pages of print space. Online literary journals are also a great place to publish your flash ficiton. Years ago, I started Fiction Attic Press specifically for the purpose of discovery and publishing flash fiction by emerging writers online, although I later began publishing flash fiction print anthologies and debut novels as well.

When you begin submitting your short stories, you should submit each story to several journals at a time in order to increase your chances of publication. Once you have your first publishing credit, be sure to include it in your query letter the next time you send out a story.

Do you want to write and publish short stories? Join my online class, Master the Short Story. You’ll learn how to write great characters, describe the world of your story, devise a compelling plot, choose the best point of view, write captivating dialogue, and more.

Michelle Richmond is the author of two story collections, The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress and Hum, as well as five novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Year of Fog. Her books have been published in 30 languages. Follow this publication to get Michelle’s monthly writing and publishing newsletter, or write with Michelle.

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