One of my lockdown projects has been to start a YouTube channel, which will mostly be about publishing short fiction (plus other entertaining bits and pieces related to writing and publishing). You can check out my first video below, or read the transcript below if you’d prefer.
Why write short fiction & how to sell it to magazines, journals and anthologies
Transcript as follows:
Hi everyone, I’m Ephiny Gale, and today I’m going to talk to you about why you might like to write short fiction and how to sell it to magazines, journals, and anthologies.
To give you a brief overview of who I am: I have been writing short fiction to sell for about eight years now. I had my first professional-rate acceptance back in 2012. Since then I have had short fiction published in markets like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Constellary Tales and Daily Science Fiction and my short fiction has been awarded the Best of the Net Award, the Syntax and Salt Editors’ Award and has been a finalist for multiple Aurealis Awards.
I created this channel for a couple of reasons. The first is that I really love YouTube videos and I’m pretty active in the speculative short fiction community, but I see these kind of videos shared almost never, so maybe that’s a niche that I can fill.
And the second reason and the more important one is that prior to 2012 I just didn’t know that it was possible to sell your short fiction the way that I do now. I had read some short stories, I had even written one that had won an award, but aside from the occasional kind of local award I didn’t know that it was possible to DO anything with your short fiction. I thought that in order to get your short fiction in things like anthologies and magazines that you needed to have an agent, or you needed to already have something like an established novel career, but thankfully you need none of those things.
Prior to midway through 2012 I was focusing on writing stage plays and screenplays, and having moderate success with the former and none at all with the latter. And what I loved so much about writing scripts was that you needed so few words to tell a story, you know: I didn’t have to write a seventy thousand word novel to convey a story to the reader. That was just SO many words – too many words.
My wonderful girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, said, “You know you don’t have to write a novel to write prose, right: you can write short fiction and submit that to markets that will buy and publish your work.” And at the time this was a huge revelation to me, and if this is a revelation to any of you watching this video – just one person – then I will consider this video a resounding success.
So why might you want to write short fiction? Well, as I mentioned before, you can tell a complete story in a relatively small amount of words, and I really do mean a complete story. In my experience adapting screenplays or stage plays into prose, a full movie or a full stage show is roughly equivalent to about 5,000 to 20,000 words of short fiction, depending on how much you wanted to add or strip away, and it’s wonderful to be able to tell so many different stories rather than spending years of my life on a single one.
Because the pieces are short you can complete them relatively quickly. If I’m writing a flash piece of a thousand words or less, I can usually complete that in a single writing session of two to three hours. If I’m writing something longer – let’s say 4,000 words or more – that will usually take me several months, but that’s still infinitely faster than if I was writing a novel, so it’s wonderful to have that regular sense of completion.
And short fiction is easy enough to fit into my life. I work full time in a job that demands most of my mental energy, so I usually only have the mental and creative power to write on the weekends. That’s fine: I’m still completing pieces fairly regularly, and if I do need to take a few months off every so often because life or work is too overwhelming, that’s okay, too. I don’t suddenly stop being a writer because I have other priorities in my life. Short fiction is flexible and I can do it when it suits me and still publish and complete my work.
On a less practical note, if you appreciate brevity I think you will enjoy reading and writing short fiction. About 80% of the novels I read, I feel like they could benefit from having about 30% to 50% of their words cut. They don’t need that many words to tell a story. Short fiction is all about removing excess bloat.
I will say that I don’t think you should write short fiction with the primary goal of making money. Absolutely, the markets that publish your fiction should pay you for it, but I don’t think I know of anyone who traditionally publishes their short fiction and makes anywhere near enough to live on from that short fiction alone. I write because I love storytelling and I love the validation of having a good market purchase my work, but even though I have sold to plenty of professional-rate markets over the years, I don’t think that I have ever made more than about 500 Australian dollars from my short fiction in a calendar year. It’s, uh, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. It might be a stepping stone to helping you get an agent, or it might help you get a novel published, but in and of itself it is not a big money maker. I think probably the people who are making the most money from short fiction are probably doing things like self-publishing erotica on Amazon, but I can’t offer you any advice about that.
So you want to write short fiction and get it published in some good journals, magazines, and anthologies. How do you go about doing that? I’m going to give you an overview today, and then I’m going to go into a lot more detail in future videos, so that this one isn’t five hours long.
The first step is to actually write your piece of short fiction, which could be a flash piece, a short story, a novelette or a novella. Different parts of the publishing industry disagree on what the exact word counts for these categories are, but for ease i’m going to go with the ones that I see the most, which are on Duotrope. So a flash piece is about 1,000 words or less. A short story is usually 1,000 to about 7,500 words. A novelette is 7,500 words to about 15,000 words, and a novella is 15,000 words to about 40,000 words, at which point you are edging up into novel territory. In my experience, the easiest stories to sell can often be the ones in the 1,000 to 5,000 word range, simply because of the number of markets that will accept pieces of that length. Once you go above 5,000 words it’s often harder and harder to sell things because there are less markets open to buying them.
Once you finish writing your first draft you’ll probably want to put that aside for a couple of days to let it breathe, and then do some edits. You might also want to ask someone else for some feedback on your story. I’m lucky enough that my wife is also a writer, and she’s also a trained editor, so she’s the first reader for my work and she can tell me whether I’ve made any typos or whether there’s something in my story that doesn’t quite make sense. I, personally, don’t do a lot of revision. I am a slow writer but I tend to have my drafts come out pretty clean, and I also edit as I go. Even if you don’t do a lot of revision, like me, you will still want to go through your story and proofread and make sure that it is as clean as possible.
Once it’s nice and polished it’s time to submit your work to the magazines, journals, and anthologies that you’re excited about. The way that I find 95% of the markets that I submit to is through Duotrope, which allows you to search for publishers and also track your submissions. I personally love Duotrope, but it does require a service fee of about $50 Australian per year. If you’re not keen to pay, The Submissions Grinder is a free service and is very similar. With these sites, what you can do is plug in the details for your story. So for instance: its genre, its word count, that I want to submit electronically rather than through physical mail, and how much I want these markets to pay me, and it will spit out a list of potential publishers that meet my search criteria. I can then go through that list and decide who I want to submit to.
When submitting, always read the market’s guidelines to confirm that your piece is a good fit, and to understand if they have any other requirements like formatting or what they want to see in a cover letter. Most markets will want short fiction submitted in Standard Manuscript Format, but not all of them do, and some of them want a variation on that like an anonymized version. Other markets will also want to consider your piece exclusively, which means that you can’t send it somewhere else while you’re waiting to hear back.
So you’ve submitted your piece. That’s great! Depending on the market you can expect to hear back in two days or over a year. In my experience, most markets will get back to you within about 30 to 90 days, but some markets are much faster or much slower than that. Duotrope and The Submissions Grinder both keep records of response times, which can give you a general idea about when you might hear back from a particular market, but it’s not something to set your calendar by. When you do hear back it will probably be a rejection. That is normal. Once you get that rejection, log it in Duotrope or The Submissions Grinder and send that piece right back out again.
If you’re persistent with your writing and submissions and you’re choosing the right markets, you’ve got a decent chance of getting that acceptance before too long. Congratulations! Now it’s time to sign the contract. Many markets will want you to print, sign, and scan back the contract to them, and others will just want you to reply to an email saying that you accept their terms. Always make sure that you read the contract and that you’re happy with the rights that you’re signing away. Most markets will want first electronic or first print rights, but they might also be asking for other rights as well. You’ll also want to note if there’s an exclusivity period, which means that you can’t publish that work anywhere else for 90 days, or a year, or two years. I’d be wary of anywhere asking for more than two years, because that’s usually the longest kind of reasonable time that they can ask for. Markets should also note in their contracts whether they will pay you on acceptance / receipt of contract, or whether they’ll pay on publication.
Then, of course, it’s a matter of waiting for your piece to get published. Closer to its expected publication date, most publishers will reach out with some edits, which are usually pretty minor for short fiction, like changing a word here or there or fixing some grammar. They’re all negotiable, but 95% of the time I’m fine with what they’re suggesting. A little later it’s a wonderful feeling getting your piece published in anthology, or going to a well-known website and seeing your story up there. Share it and celebrate, and then keep writing, keep getting better, and keep getting published in other markets.
I’ll leave it there for today. If you enjoyed this video, I’d love it if you could give me a like to let me know, and subscribe if you want to see similar videos in the future. I’ll go into a lot more detail about writing and publishing short fiction, and probably some other mediums as well. If you have any questions or particular topics that you’d like me to cover, please let me know in the comments.
Thanks so much for watching and see you next time. Bye.