How to Sell Short Stories to Magazines

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Seeing your name in print is a benefit of short story writing.
Seeing your name in print is a benefit of short story writing. (Image: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Selling short stories to magazines and other publications like anthologies or e-zines is a creative way to bring in extra money, but it's not quick cash. Writing takes dedication, persistence and patience. Consider your short stories as an investment in your future. After the first few are published, the process becomes easier and you'll develop a working relationship with editors. While fame and fortune is rare, many short story writers have gone on to write successful novels.

Things You'll Need

  • Printer
  • Copy paper
  • 9-inch by 12-inch envelopes
  • Standard envelopes
  • Stamps

Decide what genre your story falls under. Is it science fiction, horror, romance, fantasy, mystery, western, mainstream or literary short fiction? Is it a mix of genres, such as paranormal romance or a comedic horror story? Identifying what genre your work fits into will help you find the right paying markets.

Research the paying markets. You’re looking for magazines that accept short stories in your genre. Find the magazine's website and look for submission guidelines. You’ll need to know the editor’s name, the mailing address or email address for submission, what the pay rate is, what genre and story length the editor accepts and the preferred submission method, which is either sending a file through email or printing out the story and sending it via postal mail. Pay attention to any particular requests from the editors, such as when they are open for unsolicited submissions or what kind of stories they need most.

Format your manuscript using one-inch margins and double-spaced text. This makes it easier for the editor to read. Traditional formatting also includes spacing down to the half-page mark on the first page and typing the title of your story. The next line should include your byline, which says “By (Your Name here.)” Your story should start on the next double-spaced line after that. Also use page headers to list your last name and story title at the top right corner of each page. This identifies your work in case someone drops your pages or mixes them up. If you’re planning to send a hard copy, never staple pages together; they should remain loose for ease of handling.

Write a cover letter. The letter should be brief, introducing yourself and your story to the editor. Mention if the story has won any awards or if you are already a writer published in this genre. Don’t list anything unrelated, such as how much your mother loved your story. That will not impress the editor. If you don’t have awards or previous credits, simply say that enclosed is (Your Title) and thank the editor for his time.

Submit the story. If you’re sending your work via postal mail, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the editor’s reply and the return of your manuscript. Make sure the editor’s name is spelled right, the address is correct and you have sufficient postage. If you are submitting through the Internet, make sure you have the right email address and you are submitting it according to the editor’s preference. Some editors want an attached file, but many prefer receiving your letter and story pasted into the body of the email. This can make the difference between an editor reading your work or simply deleting your submission unread.

Wait. This is the most difficult part of writing. A magazine editor may respond in a few days, a rew months, or not at all -- check the magazine's listed response times so you have any idea of what to expect. Only follow up if you haven’t received a response at least two weeks past the maximum response time. Once you receive a response, it will either be an acceptance or a rejection. An acceptance will often include a contract for you to sign and return to the magazine. After the contract is returned, you’ll either receive your payment soon after or on publication of that issue, depending on the magazine’s procedures.

Tips & Warnings

  • There are several resources to help you find paying markets: both Duotrope's Digest and Writer's Market list magazines and their editorial requirements. Duotrope's Digest is free, and Writer's Market is available either as a monthly paid subscription or a one-time purchase of the annual print version. The website also offers a free newsletter listing a few markets or contests each month.
  • If you receive an acceptance, read your contract carefully and know what rights you are selling. If you sell all rights, you won't be able to sell that story again to a different publication.
  • If you receive a rejection, don't take it personally. Rejections are just part of the writing business. Consider any feedback the editor offers on your manuscript, rewrite if necessary, and send the story to the next magazine on your list.
  • When following up on a story submission, never call the editor. Follow-ups should be done through email or postal mail. A phone call takes up an editor's time and may annoy the editor enough to relegate your submission to the trash bin.

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