Monday, September 29, 2014

I Just Finished a Short Story! What next?

By DeAnna Knippling

(Editor's Note:  This post is in response to a reader request.  We do listen to you!)

So you’ve written a short story. You’re not sure whether it’s any good. You’re not sure whether it
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matters if it’s any good. You’re not sure whether you need to cut your story down to a specific length, or to pad it out. Should you send it to a professional editor? Or should you just delete it? Is it really even a short story? You’ve asked yourself so many questions and done so much research online and head so many conflicting opinions that it doesn’t even matter anymore.

First: whatever choice you make, it’s the right one.

Whether you decide to submit or not submit, where to submit, whether to self-publish; those are choices that nobody else can make for you. How do you make those choices? Trial and error. Lots of error. Whatever choice you make will be a learning experience, all right.

Second, some practical suggestions:
  • Use standard manuscript format. One, it’s more professional. Two, you might as well make the process a no-brainer. Three, if you format all your stories the same way, you’ll start seeing paragraph pacing better. Six huge paragraphs in a row become blatantly obvious. And for goodness’ sake, do backups and save your files with a different version number every time you open it. 
  • Filter your readers’ feedback down to two things: satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Most readers will tell you they like or don’t like something...then proceed to give you a reason for that that has nothing to do with the real strengths or weaknesses of the story itself. 
  • Decide whether you’re going to submit to markets or self-publish (a discussion beyond the scope of this blog post). The easier, lower-risk choice is probably submitting and will thus be the focus of the rest of this blog post. 
  • Find your short story markets. I use Duotrope.com, because I have to track a lot of short stories. But I hear good things about Ralan.com and the forums at absolutewrite.com, or you could check out the current Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market from Writer’s Digest. You could also check out the websites of the markets listed in any reprint anthology (e.g., a Year’s Best collection), or, as a last resort, get involved with the short story community for your genre(s) and read the markets yourself. <sarcasm>
  • Write up a template cover letter. I recommend using standard business format, even in email. First paragraph: States that you’re sending such-and-such story, at so many hundred words. Second paragraph: Brief publication credits and/or bio of relevant-to-writing details. Don’t provide a synopsis unless requested. 
  • Pick a short story market and research the editors’ names and titles, the types of stories they’re looking for (read an issue or two), and any wonky formatting requirements, like straight quotes. If you don’t know how to switch to straight quotes or what straight quotes are--look it up. You’ll need that feature fairly often. 
  • Skim through your story one last time, not to edit but to make sure you’ve done a spelling and grammar check and that you have the right version. 
  • Assemble and send your short story package--cover letter and short story--as instructed by the submission guidelines of your market. 
  • Track your submission, either in a spreadsheet of your own, on a site like Duotrope, or both. You need to know a) where you sent the story, b) when you sent it, and c) when the panic date is. The panic date is about thirty days after that market's estimated response. If the market doesn’t give an estimated response time, then I’d go for 180 days. Send a query letter to the query address (if there is one) after the panic date. If you don’t hear back thirty days after that, send them a note withdrawing the story and move on. 
  • Keep sending out the story and getting it rejected. When it comes back in, send it out again. Don’t edit it unless you plan to delete and rewrite. Given a choice between writing new words and fussing with old ones, you learn more with new ones. 
  • When you get accepted, look over the contract. I’m not a lawyer and this isn't legal advice, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that any short story market that tries to get more than the rights to publish the story in the formats in which it currently publishes is writing a sloppy contract. You don’t have to turn down the contract; just say that you aren’t interested in selling translation rights or movie rights or audiobook rights or whatever and make them update the contract. Read The Copyright Handbook, which is the legal guide to covering your butt as a writer. This is not optional. 
  • Keep an eye out for when the rights revert to you. Two years seems about the maximum for the current short story market. You get to sell short stories as many times as you can get away with it. You have to call them reprints, but if you want to sell them after your rights have reverted, more power to you. And -- perfect time to self-publish, if you’re into that kind of thing. The Copyright Handbook, I’m telling you. It’s there to help you make money. 
  • Don’t work for free until you’ve exhausted the paying options. “Exposure”.  It’s the reason that writers, artists, and musicians have such problems making a living at their profession. Please try not to contribute. Ironically the places that pay in “exposure” have the least amount of “exposure” to give. 

Third, a sense of perspective about short story submissions: you’re going to get rejected. A lot. More than a dozen times per story, easily. And editors, no matter how much they complain about the quality of the submissions they get (the really good ones don’t), know all about the learning curve, and how much work it takes to get to be a professional. So if you’re worried about submitting a bad story--well, I won’t tell you not to worry. You will. But the good editors just blow the bad stories off. Besides, it’s often the stories you hate that sell the quickest.

 And finally, no regrets. You wrote, you finished. Send it out, publish it, and keep working.  No matter what else happens, you're ahead of every single wannabe out there who has an idea for a story.  Plus it all gets easier as you go.  Not soon.  But it does.

About the Author: DeAnna Knippling started freelancing in May 2011 and wouldn’t be able to do it without her wonderful family and friends, especially her husband. In fact, she owes a lot to Pikes Peak Writers for helping her be a better writer, especially through the Write Brains, both in the lectures and in meeting lots of other writers.

Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself. She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.

For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog at www.deannaknippling.com or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit.



2 comments:

  1. Great advice! I like to track mine on both Duotrope and a spreadsheet. I put different information in my spreadsheet (and much of the same), and I do sometimes submit somewhere that doesn't show up in Duotrope. And it gives me two regimented things I have to do when I get that rejection, which helps to distract me for 2.5 seconds.

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  2. Great tips! My mom writes short stories and she has a hard time finding markets for it. With a novel, you write it and send it to agents but it isn't the same with short stories.

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