Getting Short Story Credits is Getting Easier (Sort Of)

When Writer Unboxed held their unpublished novelist search back in April ’10, the first post I submitted for consideration was called, “Do You Need Minor Writing Credits to Publish Your Novel?”

Back when I started writing my novel, I had a number of concerns about spending my time trying to get some minor writing credits:

  • Short stories are different to novels. What I really wanted to write was my novel, and seeing how the process of writing a novel and the process of writing a short story are very different, I didn’t think the experience would be that relevant to my long-term goals.
  • Snail mail submissions. The literary magazines I was familiar with took only snail mail submissions. What’s worse: I’m a Canadian living in Australia, and overseas postage was brutal. Even after I got my mom to send me a roll of Canadian stamps for my self-addressed envelopes, some of the journals still never got back to me about my submissions.
  • Exclusive submissions. The same magazines that only accepted snail mail submissions also had very definite policies against simultaneous submissions (where you send your story to more than one magazine at a time).
  • Long response times. With typical response times of 4-9 months, along with long mailing times and exclusive submissions, I figured I’d be 90 before I got a single credit.
  • Online journals=settling. Because at one time online literary journals were thought to be created solely for people who couldn’t get published in print journals, I was reluctant to bother trying those venues.

Essentially, after a handful of failed attempts to get my short fiction published, my position was that achieving print credits would be irrelevant, expensive, and potentially take years, and that online credits would be sub-par and not worth my time anyway. 

To make myself feel better about the situation, I quoted literary-agent-turned-author Nathan Bransford who once said:

If you don’t have publishing credits: do not worry. They’re not necessary. The ranks of people who have been published without a single credit to their name are legion…the focus should be on the project you are querying about, not on your credits.

Although I still agree with that advice, my tune has changed a whole lot.

Why?

Because getting writing credits is getting easier (sort of):

  1. More journals are accepting electronic submissions. Many magazines (perhaps even the majority) now have online submission managers for general submissions and writing contests. So while you can’t just shoot off an email with an attachment to an editor, you can fill out a short form, submit online, and avoid postage costs.
  2. Submishmash is taking over. Submishmash is a handy submissions manager used by an increasing number of journals and small publishers to keep track of submissions. When you submit to several journals at once, you can sign in to your Submishmash account and see the status of each of your manuscripts. So, the system benefits both parties.
  3. Response times are getting shorter. Although in most cases you’ll still endure long response times, online submissions makes it easier for editors to get back to you quicker, because you’re not waiting for the rejection or acceptance letter to arrive via the post.
  4. More journals are accepting simultaneous submissions. Online submission managers makes it simple for writers to withdraw pieces should they be accepted elsewhere, which means magazines are softening their policies against simultaneous submissions. Even Glimmer Train says, “Although we had a policy for 17 years against simultaneous submissions, it’s gotten harder and harder to support that position when it is so darned hard to get one’s work published.” We definitely appreciate that, Glimmer Train!
  5. Online journals are gaining credit. As the publishing industry moves toward the digital age, online journals aren’t just for newbie writers anymore. Sometimes print journals also offer online-only content, which means that if your work isn’t suitable for the print edition, it still might qualify for online. Some online-only journals are now doing Kindle versions of their editions, too.

Top off these reasons with Duotrope Digest continuing to offer a free database of literary markets, and you’ve suddenly wiped away most of the impediments to getting published in magazines.

So, what’s the ‘sort of’ bit all about?

There’s still the issue of writing an amazing story.

The bottom line is this: the process of submitting to journals and getting responses from journals is getting easier, but to get published:

  • You still have to write well. In fact, you may have to write better than ever because there’s more competition. All those literary geniuses, who for years had no postage money, are now forces to be reckoned with.
  • You will still face rejection. You’ll get even more rejections than you used to get, because you’ll be submitting to even more magazines than you used to. You might even get two rejections on the same day if you’re simultaneously submitting.

Sure, it may be relatively easy to get accepted by small start-up magazines or amateur online journals, but most still require the same sheer literary awesomeness they always did.

But the good news for writers like you and me is that when we achieve that sheer literary awesomeness, the opportunity to have our work considered for publication will have grown exponentially.

Now, instead of sitting on the sidelines and only focusing on my novel, I’ve got one short story in print, and two others on submission.

Although you don’t need previous writing credits to publish a novel, it’s a great feeling to finally see your writing in print, and it does give you a little something to put in your query letter.

Want to avoid the most common pitfalls? Lynne Barrett, editor of The Florida Book Review, shares this in-depth article about getting yourself published in journals:

What Editors Want: A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines.

In what other ways do you think it’s getting easier to get writing credits? Are there any ways in which you think it’s getting more difficult?

Photo courtesy of Flickr—Joel Bedford

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About Suzannah Windsor Freeman

Suzannah Windsor Freeman is a Canadian freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Writer, Sou'wester, Grist, Saw Palm, Anderbo, The Best of the Sand Hill Review, and others. She is the managing editor of Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing and Writeitsideways.com. She lives in Ontario with her husband and four children.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m also a writer who is more suited to novels than to short stories, but I do have a couple of short stories that I think are good (and by a couple I literally mean two). Every once in a while, I’ll submit one somewhere and then the whole process is so tedious that I decide my time can be better spent elsewhere (like you said).

    This post has a lot of very useful information in it, though. Thanks for putting it altogether. The next time I feel the urge to submit a short story somewhere, I’ll definitely come back here.

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  2. says

    Waiting to hear from literary journals – whether print or online – can take longer than hearing back from literary agents. Many have volunteer staff only. A few times it has taken over six months for me to get a rejection — and once I got a “we had this in our maybe pile, but now it’s a no” after one year. I had written off that pub months before. I do not submit anywhere that does not take simultaneous submissions unless they have an absolute “get back to you by” date.

    It’s a long road – but it is awesome to see your stories published!

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  3. says

    Until just recently I only focused on my novel, but as I read through other author’s blogs and visit writing websites I have started going the short story route.

    It feels good to be able to start and finish something in one sitting. (Though then it takes a long time to edit.)

    Great post!

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  4. says

    Like you, my feelings about getting short story credits has changed, and for the same reasons. It’s still hard to balance your time — between writing and submitting, between long projects and short — but it’s worth looking into, I think. Because short stories have “quicker” finish lines than novels, and getting published could provide a good boost for a writer who struggles with the long haul. Also, submitting to magazines is good practice for the querying process.

    Another great resource, in addition to Duotrope, is a Yahoo group called Creative Writing Opportunities. You join the Group, and ask for either Individual mailings or a Daily (or Weekly) digest, and then new listings of literary contests and calls for submission come right to your inbox. Good for poets, nonfic writers, and short story writers. Opportunities that have no fees are usually marked as such: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CRWROPPS-B/

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  5. says

    Thanks for a positive spin on submitting to lit jnls and the link to Lynne Barrett’s article (very helpful) . I look forward to seeing my work in zines like Glimmer Train (my favorite), Ploughshares, etc. and your post made me feel better about my efforts. Thanks again! – James Mayor (www.jamesmayor.com)

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  6. says

    As a newbie writer, this is so encouraging! I have been working on a couple of short stories but had felt discouraged. The literary journal market has always seemed to be like a castle and moat without a bridge. And there are big alligators in that moat. The moat doesn’t seem so scary now. Thank you! Much appreciated!

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  7. says

    I agree that it is now easier than ever to submit short stories to online journals, and Duotrope Digest is an incredible resource for short story writers.

    But it can still be a frustrating process and there is plenty of rejection awaiting the short story writer.

    I like to find humor in that situation so I recently posted: Reasons Why Your Short Story was Rejected, which you might enjoy.

    http://cdeminski.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/reasons-why-your-short-story-was-rejected/

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  8. says

    Hi everyone, and thanks so much for all of your wonderful comments!

    @Sonje: I know it’s such a long, tedious process. Every time I get a rejection, I wonder if I’m wasting my time, but I try to remember it’s good practice and something good may come of it soon!

    @Amy: I don’t submit anywhere that doesn’t take simultaneous submissions now, either. I figure that eventually, they’ll have to join the party :)

    @Kelley: I agree, it’s a wonderful feeling to finish something and send it off, even if it gets returned!

    @Zan Marie: Good luck! Hope your story finds a home.

    @James: I’m glad you found some encouragement in this article and the one I linked to. Keep going!

    @Carol: I agree, it’s still frustrating and there’s still a whole lot of rejection out there. But at least it’s not costing us as much money to be rejected, right?

    Thanks, everyone!

    @Hallie: They might say no, but they can never say yes if we don’t submit something in the first place :)

    @Kristan: Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll definitely check that out.

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