Short fiction submissions and publications in newspapers and literary magazines used to be one of the most popular and widely used ways for authors to demonstrate their talents to publishers and even grow a readership before they’d published a full-length book. While technology has transformed the print publishing industry’s landscape in innumerable ways (a lot of which has to do with various small periodicals releasing fewer editions or going out of business altogether), authors can still gain access to a wide variety of online forums and e-media that are regularly searching for well-written short fiction, and will even pay good money for it.
What is “Short Fiction?”
A generalized definition of the term of “short fiction” or a “short story” is a piece of prose with a word count that is less than that of a novel or a novella—typically between 1,000 and 10,000 words (although some magazines classify a short story as being up to 20,000 words). Aside from its obviously shorter length than a novella (approximately 40,000 words or so) or a full-length novel, short stories still contain many or all of the elements of fiction: a setting, some form of plot/inciting incident and climactic resolution, and a character or characters involved in this plot. Some say that this shortened form of this style of writing is best executed with a strong “mood,” in that the author makes quick work of inciting within their reader a particular emotion(s) rather than to spend time on a detailed and lengthy plotline.
Why Should Authors Try Their Hand at Writing Short Fiction?
As was just stated above, mastering the art of short stories can be exponentially beneficial in a writer’s understanding of plot structure, character development, and world building. With such a limited space for exposition, writers must really understand how to hook their readers right away, say much with little, utilize dialogue to define characterization and toggle the line between setting description and plot propulsion (which are all necessary components of a well-executed novel).
Additionally, you’re not only writing short fiction—you’re submitting it to a periodical to be considered for publication. This is the slush pile that every hopeful author reaching out in the hopes of traditional publication must wade through, but there’s an upside to short fiction submissions to magazines: you do not need agent representation to sell your short fiction! That’s right; due to their length and the publication forum (mostly online versus printed copies that require a sizeable investment up front), any author can submit to any periodical currently accepting submissions with no agent representation. That’s an incredible opportunity for authors to receive a platform for their work in a much speedier timeline than with a full-length book that must first be accepted by an agent before it’s ever shown to the publishing “gatekeepers.”
More Upsides to Selling Your Short Fiction:
- Accolades and the potential for awards. Many online magazines in a variety of topics (literary as well as genre fiction like science-fiction/fantasy) are well-regarded in the field as accepting only the best; in fact, many of the genre short stories published on websites such as Tor.com and ClarkesworldMagazine.com are submitted to (and win!) top awards in the genre.
- Money. While it’s nowhere near as large an amount to sell a short story as an advance for a novel would be, top-tier magazines still pay for your work—oftentimes hovering around six cents a word (which means a 5,000-word short story would bring in $300).
- Clout and a platform. Perhaps the most important facet of short story writing is this: selling your work to these magazines bolsters your reputation as a worthy author to invest in with future publications. If you can tell an agent or publisher about several stories you’ve already sold to these markets, you can quickly ascend their slush piles for a real opportunity at a big-time book deal. Just look at Rebecca Roanhorse, whose short story Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience was published in Apex Magazine in 2017 and went on to win a Nebula Award, Hugo Award, and many other distinctions—before the first book in her award-winning the Sixth World se