Writing Short Fiction

The market for Short Stories

There used to be a time when mainstream magazines had fiction sections that were open to anyone with the right skills.

Those days are now over, and it is exceedingly difficult to publish short stories, and pretty much impossible to make decent money from the endeavor.

Nevertheless, those truly passionate about short stories may still be able to place them in specialist magazines, win (sometimes quite lucrative) competitions, and the very best may even be able to publish a collection. Our brilliant short story editor, Tania Hershman, has done them all, and is here to tell you how it's done.

Tania Hershman

Acclaimed short fiction author

  The only thing that a short story must be is short. Roughly under 10,000 words, but often much, much shorter. There is no minimum. Apart from its length, a short story can be anything at all. It can fall under any "genre", from literary fiction to erotica, humour to science fiction, chick lit to horror or crime. It can be told in the first person, the third person, or even the second personal plural. It can be in the past tense the present tense, or a mixture.

Because a short story does not have to be a certain length, the greatest short stories are those where everything is relevant to the story the writer is trying to tell. There is no padding, nothing is extraneous. And yet, within this small space, a whole world is conjured up. A great short story grabs the reader with the opening sentence and doesn't let go. A short story is very often about what is not said as much as what is; it is about the space in between the words. A great short story writer does not tell the reader everything, they trust the reader to fill in the gaps, to use their imagination. To learn how to write short stories, read short stories, as many as you can, and see how it is done.

If you want to publish a collection of short stories, you need to build up your writing "CV" by getting some of those stories accepted for publication by literary magazines. There are now thousands of literary magazines, both on the Internet and print magazines, that call for writers to submit short stories, and many of them are interested in new writers, new voices.

Don't try to get a literary agent at this stage. Literary agents aren't interested in one-off short stories, because there's not enough money in them. They may be interested in a themed collection of short stories ... but even then, you'd do well to have had one or two of them published in magazines first.

Also don't pick a very prestigious publication that is impossible to get into. Find a magazine whose stories you enjoy and send something to them, following their submission guidelines to the letter. You will be rejected. Rejection is an essential part of the writing life. But persevere, and you will be rewarded.