How to Publish a Short Story

in Articles On Writing

I’m astonished by how many writers are terrified to have others read their work. I’ve found that many people are happy to have a few readers. Some writers will post work on their facebook, myspace or web pages and let 100s of people read it, but they are afraid to get 1 rejection from an editor. This is silly. Writing might be a lone process, we may be alone in creating our worlds, but sharing your writing with others is one of the most fulfilling experiences of the literary process. See our literary magazine listings to find a magazine to submit your work to.

This is a short article about how to publish your short story. It’s not a perfect article. What I wanted to do with it is to give those writers out there who are somewhat afraid of this process, some reassurance. There is no magic here. Everyone does it the same way. Many professional even well-know writers still do this. Now don’t email me or post a mean comment and say Stephen King doesn’t follow this process. That’s true I’m sure. He has an agent. He doesn’t have to submit a short story really. I’m sure the magazines are looking for him, but some professional writers still follow this process.

1.      Spend time with your work

There used to be cost involved. You had to print, mail, and stamp your submissions. Imagine those of you who have never seen a typewriter, how it would feel to go through 5 or 6 hours of typing just to get your work in shape to send it out. Starting a new file meant crunching up the paper and tossing into the wastebasket.  The time and energy it took to create a piece ready for submission was substantial. Now it just tap tap tap and the mistake is all gone.

I believe computers tend to make the finished product better, but they make it much easier to overlook mistakes. A writer doesn’t have to labor over a sheet of paper to get his or her writing to LOOK professional. There is a lot of difference these days between looking professional and having a professional prepared piece.

But the point is here, you have more time to spend writing and editing and less time typing. It is easier, so check, check, check double check. (And I’m sure there are some typos in this piece, so do better than I did when you send your work to a magazine for publication, and don’t send hate mail!)

Just spend time with your writing. Like the days of old spend time reading and rereading. Labor with it. Spend time with your work. 

2.      Find a market: Find the Guidelines

In the old days before the internet writers dug through books like Writer’s Market to find a publishing solution for their writing problems. They spent a great amount of time reading entries to find the right place to send their work. It wasn’t difficult. It just took time.

Today most magazines and zines have their submission information listed on their websites. FIND THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES BEFORE YOU SUBMIT YOUR SHORT STORY.  Simply, if you write horror fiction do not send it to an erotic publisher. Learn as much as you can about the publisher first before you send your work. Write the work without influence. You’ll find a market. There is a place to publish for everyone.  Make sure you read the magazine. Writer’s used to buy many “sample copies.” It helped to keep magazines going. These days you just have to read the examples on the website (most of the time, don’t send hate mail!)

3.      What does the editor want?

Does the magazine or zine take online submissions? Many writers now simply send out there work before they look. If you know a little bit about the market, the first thing you learn is that many magazines take email and some do not. Do not send your work without being absolutely sure. Sites might not specify. Query before you send your work. Some magazines take months to respond about a work of fiction.  If you send your work to a site that does not take online submissions, you might be waiting a long time to hear back from them just to find they disregarded your submission. Most editors will delete unwanted work without ever reading it. Make sure you know first.

4.      Format

The format for most submissions is pretty simple. You can use 1 inch or the default settings in Word or a word processing program, and most of the time it will be fine. Just make sure to look for any special requirements in the submissions section of the magazine or zine. The most important part of formatting today is making sure what file format to send the work in. Most zines or magazines specify this on their site. Many times sites avoid viruses by restricting file submissions but some sites want a .doc or .pdf attachments. It is all up to the editor and preferences vary greatly. If you do not know which format to send your work in, email and ask. Most editors will be kind in their responses. If they are jerks move on to the next publication. Find out first. If you send a file in the wrong format it will be disregarded. Make sure your name, address, phone number and email are on the top of the first page of your short story.  There is NO NEED FOR A TITLE PAGE.

5.      Writing a bio

Write your bio in the 3rd person. Keep it short, and list your publications if any. You can follow this short bio scaffolding if you are having trouble.

Keep it simple and to the point. Some magazines create almost gag like bios, but before you make it to that point you want to make yourself look good. Honestly it should be based solely on the merit of your work, but small zine editors are trying to build a name. Sometimes you do see work published just for the bio. It happens much more now than ever before. It won’t matter with larger better established publications. They won’t really give a frog who you are.

6.      Write a cover letter

It is good practice to write a cover letter even for a short story submitted through email. You need to tell the editor a little about yourself.

7. Wait

Zines and magazine editors tend to be busy people. They take an ungodly long time to respond. Just sit and wait. Usually it is okay to follow up after a couple of months, but do not email, call, mail, or fax everyday asking if you’ll be in next months issue. Just wait.

             8. Don’t be ashamed.

I hear many writers shaming themselves for not sending in their work. Don’t be ashamed just do it. The worst thing that can happen is you getting a rejection letter.

             9. Repeat

This article was moved from another page to here. It was updated and edited with changes. 

Richard Edwards has a BFA in Creative Writing and Journalism from Bowling Green State University and an M.S. in Education from the University of Akron. Managing editor of Drunk Duck, poetry editor for Prairie Margins, reporter for Miscellany, Akron Journal, Lorain Journal...check our About Us page for more. Also here is info on our On Classic Articles


  1. “Many writers now simply send out there work before they look.”

    My first inclination was to think that this sentence contains a typo.

    My second inclination was to think that this is a brilliant sentence construction without a typo.

    First thought best thought? Not always. Not always at all.

  2. Good advice.
    It’s still much of a lottery to get a story accepted. Ive a few things published but so far no short stories!

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