Get That Short Story Published

By Gemma Webster

If there are two pieces of advice you will most want to remember from Lit Fest 2016 it might be these:

  • Submit your work often.
  • Get comfortable with rejection.

At the brown bag business panel, The Science of Publishing Short Fiction, panelists Rebecca Makkai, Renee Zuckerbrot, Jacob Appel, and Lindsey Drager agreed that submitting often, especially good work, will get you noticed and remembered the right way by editors. Even if they send you a rejection slip (read on) you'll be building a relationship.

Drager had a great checklist that you should use once you think your story is ready for submission:

  • You want to be sure that your story is creating and maintaining tension on a variety of levels. Readers and editors notice right away if this isn’t happening.
  • In short stories, your paragraphs are your increment of measure. They must have arcs.
  • If you have become blind to your work, Drager suggested hard breaks (full line returns) between paragraphs so that you can evaluate each on its own. If you need to further defamiliarize yourself, consider using a weird font—just don’t forget to reformat once you're ready to submit!
  • Your short story should not read like a screen play with only action and dialogue. Use language to take advantage of the narrator. This is where literature flexes its muscles.
  • Finally, before sending, ask yourself: why MUST this story be in the world? Flannery O’Connor said that stories should seek to "reveal as much of the mystery of existence as possible."

Other good advice from the panel:

  • Short story collections must have some previously published work inside before you query an agent.
  • Invitations from editors to resubmit are always sincere. A Tin House study seemed to demonstrate that men have this figured out, but women are more hesitant to submit again, for a variety of reasons. Don’t be shy.
  • It's good to enter contests because established writers don't usually participate. The playing field is more level.

And finally, some resources to consider:

  • Not sure how to interpret your rejection letter? Check out Rejection Wiki for a breakdown of rejection letter levels by journal. WARNING: Contents of this site may cause mental distress; explore at your own risk.
  • Visit Clifford Garstang’s website for a ranking of Pushcart Prizes by journal.

Gemma Webster is a graduating member-in-denial of the Lighthouse Writers Workshop Book Project in Fiction. She is a contributing editor for the speculative fiction blog, FictionUnbound.com