Publishing a Short Story


Getting a short story published (especially if you want to get paid) can be as hard, if not harder, than getting a novel published. Simply because there are so many more people writing short stories than there are people writing novels. And even though there are a number of magazines publishing short stories the market they cater for is small. Nevertheless, many people manage to realize their dreams of getting their short stories published. Read on to find out how. 


  • Internet Vs Print
  • Know your market
  • Follow the guidelines                                           
  • Multiple Submissions
  • Track your submissions
  • Make your story publishable
  • Cover letters for short stories                                    
  • Format your stories properly
  • Writing competitions
  • General rules for submitting short stories



Internet Vs Print


Decide whether you want to get your short story published online or in a printed publication. Internet publishing can be great in that you can get your story out more easily. The draw back is that most Internet short story publishers don’t pay. However, if you eventually want to submit a novel or a collection of short stories to a regular publishing house, it can be tremendously helpful to have a list of internet publications to your name. This is especially true if you have an online following. 



The good thing about publishing in print is that you are more likely to get paid, although it might not be much. It is very hard making a living off writing short stories – even if you are prolific. The bad thing about publishing in print is that it is much more difficult to get published. The literary standards are often much higher than those of online publishers and there is a lot of competition.  




Know your market


Without knowing who publishes the kind of short stories you intend to write, you are as likely to succeed as a blind man trying to thread a needle with his teeth. This is true whether you intend to get paid or not, because the chances of a magazine or publisher publishing your short story when they have never published any short stories before are slim indeed. So first, find out who publishes the kind of short stories you have written or intend to write. This can be done by reading Writer’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books) or visiting their website Also check out search engines like, which can help you locate suitable publishers for your work, simply by typing in the details of your story.


Look up magazines that publish short stories in the genres you are interested in. Most of these magazines have online submission guidelines, which, of course, you must follow to a tee. Bear in mind that it would help you tremendously to read the magazines you are submitting to. This will give you a better understanding of the kind of, lets say, fantasy stories they publish as there are many sub-genres in each genre, for example: urban fantasy, romantic fantasy, horror fantasy, sword and sorcery, and so on. It will also help you understand how they like their stories set out – something they usually don’t tell you in their submission guidelines. For example, if all of the stories in the magazine have happy endings it would be a bad idea to send them a tragedy. 




Follow the guidelines


If the magazine’s guidelines indicate that they only take stories up to 3000 words in length then sending them anything longer is asking for rejection. Or if, for example, it is a science fiction magazine and the guidelines say they only want stories with hard science in them then submitting a story where the scientific element is only brush over is again soliciting rejection.  


Most magazines tell you in their guidelines how long they will take to respond to submissions. Do not hassle them until the response time has come and gone and even then be polite. Write a formal letter asking them about the status of your story. Many new writer ask how long should you wait for a response. I would say double the response time – twice as long if you are submitting for a foreign country. If you do not hear from them by then send your story off to someone else. 




Multiple Submissions


Most magazines and anthologies of short stories will tell you in their guidelines that they do not accept multiple submissions – in others words they won’t consider a story that has not been sent to them exclusively. Most professional writers though ignore this aspect of the guidelines (and only this aspect) and send their story off to a many magazines simultaneously. There is a slight risk in doing this should a magazine want to publish your story only to find out it has already been accepted elsewhere. The magazine might unofficially blacklist the writer. However, the chances of being accepted at two magazines simultaneously are extremely rare. In fact, your story is more likely to get rejected at 90%, if not more, of the magazines you send it to.


Should you go the route of multiple submissions be sure to track your stories. That way you will know which magazines to withdraw a story from should it be accepted somewhere else. Just make sure you let the magazine know you are withdrawing your story (by simply calling or writing to them), so that you don’t waste their time and avoid getting on the editor’s bad side. 




Track your submissions


It is important to know where your stories have gone and when. That way you won’t mistakenly send a magazine a story they have already rejected, thereby making yourself look unprofessional. Tracking your short story will also help with multiple submissions (see above), because you will know exactly who to withdraw your soon-to-be-published-elsewhere story from. Having a list of where your story has been will also be useful should you rewrite the story, because you will know which magazines have only seen the old version.


Tracking your story is easy. Simply dedicate a page (either in a file on your computer or in a counter book) to every story you send out. Have the title of your story as a header and fill in the details below. Be sure to include the date you submitted it and the date you got it back or, if you’re very lucky, the date it was accepted. This will also help you understanding how long it takes a specific magazine to respond. 





Make your story publishable



The only way to sell a short story is to have a fast, well written, exciting piece to offer. This means that you must write and rewrite your story until it is flawless. Check out our other page Perfect your Stories – to see how. Slack grammar, inconsistant plot or a loose unplanned structure is sure to leave you open to harsh criticism or worse still – outright rejection!



The critics

 Cover letters for short stories


A cover letter is your introduction to the magazine’s editor. An editor’s office often houses enough manuscripts to fill a dump truck, which is why editors sometimes reject a story based on the cover letter alone. The point is to take great care over your cover letter. Often the decision on what is to get published rests in the balance – a good cover letter gives you the edge. Short story cover letters differ slightly from cover letters for novels. Here are the basic aspects your short story cover letter should include.


  • Your contact details in the upper right hand corner. Name, surname, physical address, e-mail address, and phone number if you wish to include it.


  • Include a word count under your contact details.


  • As in a usual letter, now comes the salutations. Here though you must be sure to research the magazine you are submitting to and get the correct spelling of the editor’s name.


  • Now introduce your story in no more than one paragraph. If you want you can tell them a bit about your plot but not too much. Don’t hype the story up. Let it sell itself.


  • Include a brief biography. Mention any previous publications and writing awards – don’t worry if you don’t have any. If you have any work experience or qualifications that somehow relate to your story, mention it. For example, Stephen King’s Carrie (NEL) was set in a school. At the time of submitting it he was working as teacher. He probably mentioned that in his cover letter. He also surely mentioned that his subject was English, as this would emphasis his aptitude at language. Get the picture?


  • At the end of the letter, thank the editor (again by name) for their time and for considering your story. 


  • Finally, always check your cover letter thoroughly for grammar and punctuation mistakes. Some editors won’t bother reading the attached story if cover letter’s grammar has already put them off.  





Format your stories properly


Most magazines tell you how to format your shorts stories on their websites, under submission guidelines, so it is best to look up the individual magazines requirements. However, here are some standard guidelines that most short story magazines adhere to: –


  • Only submit typed manuscripts.


  • Use clean, good quality 4 paper, with your story printed on one side only. Do not submit your story on fancy, coloured or patterned paper.


  • Use a Times New Roman font in a 12 to 14 point format.


  • Double lines space the entire manuscript.


  • Justify the left hand margin only.


  • Note rights on offer in the bottom left hand corner of the first page.


  • Place your contact info on the top right hand corner of the first page: name, physical address, phone number (if you feel comfortable including it), and email. 


  • On every page but the first use a header in the right hand corner. The header should contain your last name (or your pseudonym’s last name), one or two words from your title, and the page number. For example: Hemmingway / A Farewell to /11


  • Make sure the manuscript itself is in good nick. A shabby manuscript will give the editor the impression that the writer is unprofessional. It will also make him or her think that this manuscript – being old and worn – has already been rejected elsewhere and might not be worth the read.





Writing competitions


Short story contests can often be doorways to publication, as most contests publish anthologies featuring the winning stories. To find out more about short story contests check out our page on – Short Story Competitions -.

General rules for submitting short stories


  • Always include a self-addressed envelop along with sufficient return postage in your submission package. Without these you won’t get your manuscript back and are unlikely to receive a reply.


  • Use international reply coupons if the magazine you are submitting to is in another country.


  • Keep a copy of your story in case something happens to the one you send.


dealing with book publishers

If you are lucky enough to receive advice or criticism from a editor take it to heart. Normally you will receive no feedback whatsoever on your short story. When you do get feedback, even negative feedback, it is usually a sign that the editor thinks your writing is good enough to merit comment, even if it is a long way from being publishable.

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