By Connie J. Jasperson
I’ve always been an avid reader, and one of my favorite things to talk about is what I am reading. Right now I’m reading several excellent anthologies, one of which was published recently by a collective of Northwest Indie writers, several of whom are NIWA members. Each of the stories I’ve read so far have been well-written and the anthologies were edited well. The cover art was awesome, but what was inside the book is what really intrigued me.
When I think about it, over the years most of the works that stuck with me as a reader have been short stories.
Writing short stories and submitting them is important if authors of any stripe, indie or traditionally published, want to get their names out there. Millions of readers subscribe to online magazines, and also millions still get their reading material in hard copy form. Readers all over the world are reading works written in English, especially in Asia and Europe.
Having your work accepted and published is more than just balm for the ego—it establishes your credibility as a writer and your author name shows up on google searches in more places.
Something to think about—it is through writing short stories that people like Anne McCaffrey and Isaac Asimov first began to find acceptance in the publishing community.
In the 1950s and 1960s, magazines focusing on speculative fiction were popular and at that time, there weren't many authors writing in that genre. People didn't have the internet, but they did have limited free time and short attention spans. Not only that, thanks to the space race, they wanted science fiction.
Magazines offered surprisingly high-quality short fiction in lengths that fit into the busy lifestyle of the time. My father subscribed to four magazines as did my mother. Magazines or books would arrive in our mailbox each week, as my parents were also members of the Science Fiction Book Club and the Double Day Book Club. This meant that besides the eight magazines, four new hard-cover books would arrive at our house every month.
Frequently, those books were anthologies of short stories.
Times have changed and so has the publishing industry. But writing short stories is still the way to get your foot in the door and not only gain visibility, but you will grow as a writer. Magazines are springing up all over the internet, and they are accepting submissions.
It is a good idea to begin putting together a collection of short pieces in a variety of genres and in as wide a range of topics as you can think of. The following is a list of on-line sci-fi/fantasy magazines, and many in every other genre are also accepting submissions:
Fantasy Scroll Magazine
Asimov's Science Fiction
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Analog Science Fiction and Fact
The ones I've listed here are only the tip of the iceberg—there is opportunity out there for indies to gain both visibility and credibility by publishing short works through traditional routes.
But what if you don’t write speculative fiction? I writ in any genre I am in the mood for. Much of my published short work has been mainstream, although my novels are epic fantasy. But here is a good list of places accepting more mainstream work. Some may not be accepting submissions, but many are: BookFox Top 100 Journals Accepting Online Submissions
I hear the Ghost of Rejections Past wailing in the background, "But what if I get rejected?"
Rejection happens. I could wallpaper the inside of an outhouse with them. Step back, take a good look at the story, and if you still think it’s your best work, shop it to a different magazine. Every story I’ve ever sold was rejected at least once before it was accepted elsewhere. Sometimes, the place you submitted it was not the right market for that particular story. Read their guidelines carefully so you aren’t trying to submit a fantasy to a magazine like Analog—they won’t accept it, and won’t tell you why.
The thing is, magazines are not the only reason you need a backlog of short stories--consider CONTESTS. Many are free and have reputable histories. The Write Life posted this article on 27 Free Writing Contests.
Not all contests are free, and not all contests are reputable. Exercise "due-diligence" here. I enter the Lascaux Review contest every time a new one pops up, simply because it is highly reputable, is one of the friendliest to indies, and has a reasonable entry fee, usually $10.00.
Yes, that is cheap, and I know that entering contests can be far more expensive. I hear you asking if you must pay to enter and can't be guaranteed a prize, why should you do it?
It will develop your writing chops. Because you must write to the parameters of the contest, you grow your writing muscles each time you exercise them. Being forced to work within the confines of an arbitrary external limit forces you to become more creative if you are (as I am) of a naturally rebellious nature.
You have to use common sense here. If you can't afford it, don't enter that contest. Find one you can afford and see what you have that fits their needs. Every contest has rules and limits for the work they want to see in their submissions.
Writing short stories forces you to write more: more often, more widely on a wide range of topics, and more creatively using a variety of style. Using and building these writing-chops can only grow you as an author.
And the best part is, once you have a back list of articles and short stories you can draw on, you have an edge. When a submissions open for a contest or an anthology, or for that sfwa affiliated magazine you’ve been dying to get your work into, you will have an entry all proofed and ready to submit.