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The long and short of the short story form

The short story is a classic for a reason – and editors say it isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Here’s a look back at the form from its origins to the present, plus tips and fresh insight on where to find homes for your stories in the future.

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Where to publish short stories

Harris says there are plenty of places looking for well-written stories, especially ones around 3,500 words, which she calls the sweet spot for having the most market opportunities. She estimates there are thousands of available markets. “You’ll find short stories in literary magazines. Genre magazines. Children’s magazines and commercial magazines. I mention the caveat well-written stories because even though there are many outlets for short stories, the competition to earn a space on the page of a journal is quite stiff. For any writing project, you must create, revise, and polish your work until it meets the standards of the market to which you’re submitting, and in the world of short stories, that standard is skyscraper tall. Short stories are some of the most clever, experimental, urgent, and fresh prose being written today.” 

Schwartz agrees. “Places abound to publish, and more spring up every day, wanting work ranging from flash fiction to longer stories. You may not be able to make a living or even pay your rent publishing short stories, but there are innumerable publications, print and online, that want to honor a writer’s work with handsome production values and whatever remuneration – contributor copies or payment – they can afford.”

While there are many markets where you can submit your work, they are not known for their speed in responding and publishing. Patience is key, especially with bigger markets like The Paris Review or The Sun. You can spend months querying, and then when you get a “yes,” it may take a year or more before it is actually published. Harris says the fastest thing to hit the market usually is flash fiction. Writers can often sell it and have it published in a month or two. 

Many literary magazines have gone completely online or launched as a digital-only publication; The Vestal Review is one of them. For over 20 years, it has published flash fiction (and it is a paying market). Galef says the publication has remained strong for two decades because the previous editorial regime showed acumen in everything from choosing excellent work to showcasing it in print and online. “They paid for fine writing, and they slowly gathered a following. The authors who’ve published with us, and the awards the work has won, make for an impressive list. We no longer have a print edition, and we use but try not to abuse social media, but we do have a magazine with a reputation worth promoting. We’re eclectic, which is to say, I don’t think there’s a typical Vestal Review brand of fiction, and I think that also helps.”

Finding markets

Researching the right market for your stories can be time-consuming, but it’s a necessary part of the process. The more work you do upfront, the more likely you are to find a home for your piece. Sending it out to a bunch of publications that aren’t a good fit is only going to result in more rejections, and no one wants that. 

There are resources and websites available that can help make the process of finding the right market a bit easier. One popular website is Duotrope, where you can find up-to-date listings, and it will track your submissions. There is a small monthly fee ($5), but it definitely saves time. Submittable is another submission site, and that one is free. 

Author and short story writer Alice Kaltman says it’s important to read the different journals, magazines, and literary reviews to see if your style fits with what they typically publish. “There are many publications I love to read, but I know they’d never go for my quirks. Another good thing to do is see where writers you admire publish, those with whom you feel a certain literary kinship. Who knows? Maybe you deserve a place at their table, too!”

By taking the time to research markets, reading the stories in those publications, and only submitting to those that are the best fit, your chances of getting an acceptance will increase. 

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Keep track of your submissions through a platform like Duotrope or Submittable or create your own Excel spreadsheet. Record your rejections and submissions. If something gets rejected, try not to take it personally. Instead, find a new market and send it out again. 

As we’ve seen, the short story world has grown and evolved over the years. Sometimes it’s been in the spotlight, other times it’s been more underground, but it has never gone away. In the modern era, Harris says, “It’s just never really been for mass market. And that’s OK. It’s an experimental, exciting place to be where there’s a whole lot of love.” 

Join in this excitement by making the time to read and write short stories. 

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