You have created a literary masterpiece, a gem of a short story. You just know you’re destined to be the next Great Thing in short fiction, and the money will be rolling in. Just a short word of caution: I’ve heard earning a living from writing short fiction can be done, but I’ve also heard people have seen a Sasquatch.
There are few writers who make a decent living from writing short fiction. There are plenty of markets, but to consistently place enough short fiction to make a living is a full-time job, above and beyond the creative process. This is when you start to realize writing is more than creating – to make a living, you have to learn how to market. How do you improve your odds?
Hint #1: Research your market. Don’t send your romantic love story to a horror magazine, unless your protagonists are dripping with blood or eating body parts. Sending a science fiction story to a publication that specializes in benefits for the elderly won’t work, either. They’re going to reject your story. Familiarize yourself with your chosen market by reviewing a few of their issues, either online, in the library, or hanging out in Barnes and Noble. It’s unprofessional to send a story to an inappropriate market, so find a good fit.
Hint #2: Read the guidelines. For the love of all that’s good and holy, reading the guidelines is not enough. Following them is what really matters. The highest paying markets receive hundreds, nay thousands, of submissions. Why should they read yours, when you haven’t taken the time to read and follow their guidelines?
Unfortunately, there is no universal standard for formatting manuscripts, but this site will get you started. Pay attention – some publications require your piece to be an attachment, and others want it in the body of an email. Still others have online submission forms. Your story might be of the caliber of Ernest Hemingway, but if it’s not formatted correctly, chances are it will end up in the trash bin.
Hint #3: Keep your correspondence personable, but professional. Editors are people, too. They’re not some three-headed Gorgon to be slain by your Magic Pen (or keyboard.) Indicate in your cover letter your admiration for their publication (but don’t cross over to Kiss Ass Territory.) Let them know you’ve done your research by citing articles or stories you admire, but keep it short. Editors don’t have a lot of time.
Hint #4: Get organized. If you’re going to make a habit of sending out your darlings, keep track so you’re not sending them to the same place multiple times. Duotrope is great for this and for researching markets, and I also keep an Excel spreadsheet updated.
Hint #5: Don’t give up. Stephen King had over 300 rejections when “Carrie” finally sold. Granted, he’s a prolific writer and his success is the exception, rather than the rule. However, you’ll never get there from here if you just lie down and quit. Keep it out there until it sells – researching your markets and following the guidelines are just the start. Perseverance is probably one of the best attributes you can have as a writer – if you believe in your work, if it is the caliber you believe it to be, there’s a place out there for it.
There’s more to this writing gig than writing. It takes guts, it takes heart, and it takes a lot of hard work. Your odds of seeing a Sasquatch are slightly worse than making a living writing short fiction, and that’s the good news. Improve your odds by researching and following the prescribed guidelines, and hopefully you’ll see your story published before you see Bigfoot traipsing across your lawn.