Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Road to Short Story Publication

Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize in the short fiction category, Deborah J. Ledford’s publishing credits include two short stories featured in Red Coyote Press mystery anthologies, one of which won the Indie Excellence 2007 Book Awards for short fiction. “For Katie” is published in the Arizona Literary Magazine and is also available at AnthologyBuilder. “Graves of Echo Canyon” will be presented via podcast through Sniplets later this year. “The Troublesome Drawer” was recently acquired by Twisted Dreams Magazine for their June 2008 issue.

Deborah’s literary short story “For Katie” won first place in the Arizona Authors Association 2005 National Literary Contest. “Graves of Echo Canyon” won third place in the Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine (FMAM) International Flash Fiction Contest. Deborah is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (AZ), moderator for the Scottsdale Writers Critique Group.

The Road to Short Story Publication
by Deborah J. Ledford

Are you having trouble receiving the respect you deserve as an as-of-yet unpublished novelist? Agents and editors appreciate writers who are dedicated to the craft, but how do you prove your worth while finishing your work in progress? My advice: Take the time to create short stories and submit them for publication. Published credits add professionalism to your resume and look great in a query letter when it comes time to approach agents with your novel.

Novel excerpts are acceptable for many markets. As long as a chapter from your novel works as a standalone, a chapter will qualify for submission to a number of publications. And if the piece is acquired, you will receive invaluable advance publicity for that novel.

Perhaps you’ve written a compelling passage or fascinating character that doesn’t quite fit in the novel you’re writing. Can you flesh out the details in order to create a short story? We all have little jewels crying to be polished.

There are many markets out there looking for flash fiction pieces (short stories under 500 words) to fill their white space. Although flash fiction can be quite the challenge, to me, they are the most fun to write.

Best foot forward: As with long fiction, short stories adhere to proper formatting. A good template has been created by William Shunn. The piece is written as a short story using Industry Standard Formatting, with one exception: most publications now accept 12 pt Times New Roman Font rather than Courier. And some pubs have varying guidelines, so be sure to check their websites for the most updated submission guidelines for each market you plan to hit. Their sites will also state reading periods as to whether or not they are currently accepting submissions.

Most markets want pieces in the 1,000 to 7,000 word count length, but I advise not to go over 5,000 words. Most print magazines only feature 3-4 fiction pieces per issue and they need recognized writers to provide one of these stories for sales purposes, so don’t thwart your chances with a story too long in length.

Okay, so now you have a polished short story ready to submit--where do you start? The best resource I have found is Duotrope which touts over 2,100 markets to choose from. By accessing their homepage you can target your search for ideal markets by genre, length, payscale, media (print or electronic) and submission type (postal, electronic). Duotrope also features a website function that will take you directly to the publications site in order to check out their submission guidelines.

Print publications are of course the most prestigious credit, however many E-zines are being recognized as legitimate markets, and with print costs on the rise publications are going electronic more and more.

Keep in mind that most markets pay only nominal fees (if anything at all), but the gold here is adding a publishing credit to your professional experience.

Contests are another route to take in building your status. There is a great list of legitimate and recognized contests on the Poets & Writers website. You will however be required to pay an entry fee to most contests (generally $15.00), but your odds of being singled out are much better with a couple hundred entrants vs. thousands of submissions made to print publications. Money is awarded to the winners and if the contest is sponsored by a magazine, the first place winner will oftentimes be printed in this publication. End result: 2 professional credits.

Once you have published a story or two (and after your contract has expired with the publisher) you may then load them onto your personal website. To add legitimacy, be sure to note the publication where the piece first appeared. I also suggest you mention within your query letters that your published pieces are available to be viewed via your site.

A bit of caution: Many writers don’t know that if their short story is loaded on the Web and available to be viewed by anybody, the piece is considered “published”. So, if you want advice or critiques from readers before you submit the short story to legitimate markets, be sure to delete them from any sites where they appear. This goes for your personal websites as well. Instead, request that critiques be carried out via a private source, such as personal e-mail. And unless your work has been previously published, don’t feature stories on your website.

There you have it--one route to successful publication you may take.


Deborah’s suspense thriller novel STACCATO was one of 25 semi-finalists in the truTV (formerly Court TV) Crime Writers contest, featured on You may view two of these chapters at: STACCATO – Chapter 1 STACCATO – Chapter 2

To read three of Deborah's previously published short stories, please visit her website.


s.w. vaughn said...

Excellent advice, Deborah. Thanks for being our guest!

Kim Smith said...


so glad to hear all your wise words. i feel like i am doing as you have recommended. it is such a hard thing to get recognition sometimes. i am very proud that you have obtained such status, and aspire to be your student :)

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Superb advice, Deborah. Thank you so much!

Deborah J Ledford said...

I appreciate the opportunity to present a bit of kind advice to SS writers here on MB4.

Marta, Aaron, SW and Kim: I have learned a great deal from the articles presented here--especially from what you as authors offer to writers.

If anyone visiting this article are interested in receiving more information regarding short story markets or anything else relating to this article, feel free to contact me via my website.

Marta Stephens said...

Think I may have to dig out some of those short stories and old chapters that will never be used and see if I can do anything with them. Thanks for your great insight, Deb!

Pat Bertram said...


I never considered going the short story route, but after reading your advice, I think I'll try it. I'm sure I can find an excerpt from one of my novels to make into a short story. It can't hurt and, as you say, it might help with getting the books published.

Congratulations on being a chosen for guest blogger!

Pat B.

Pat Bertram said...

I came back to bookmark this article for future reference and to tell you thanks for the information.

Deborah J Ledford said...

Pat-I'm so pleased you found the information helpful.

pat said...

Hi All...thanks Marta for hosting Deborah...And I think I have sleuthed out ALL 4 answers! Love the contest!

Deborah, what a wealth of knowledge for one like early into this process. I am looking forward to reading your work!And will visit your site!

Happy St Pat's all....Happy Birthday, Aaron! :)

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Isn't this a great article? Makes you think a bit differently about all those reject chapters you might have lurking in your files. ;o) Thanks for the birthday wishes, Pat! And good luck in the contest! ;o)

Unknown said...

Deborah, this was a fantastic article. I found it to be very informative and am going to bookmark it for future use. Thank you for inviting me over to read it.
I still have Aaron's book on my wishlist :)

Marta Stephens said...

Rendab,wish no more. Enter our contest (check out the "Free Stuff" link along the right side and enter our contest. Winner gets an autographed book of Lazar's Tremolo.

BookingAlong said...

Excellent reminder to work on this part of our writing.

Author Kathryne Kennedy said...

Wonderfully informative article! (Although the Duotrope link didn't work for me.:{)
Your Gather friend,

Kate said...

Great advice, Deb -- and great resources too! Thanks very, very much!

I hardly ever write short stories, but I do have some (okay, a LOT of) unfinished bits and pieces of things that might be adaptable to that form...hmmmmm...

Julie Ann Shapiro said...

What a very informative article. Thank you, Deborah. I love the extreme of writing flash fiction and novels. I test out so many ideas in a small space and then play around with them as longer stories. Some of my favorite characters in stories have found themselves in my novels. One of my whackier ones was a story I wrote about a manikin head on a dumpster. As strange as it maybe that character ended up being in my third novel.

As some of you know my novel, Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries started off as a poem that grew into a short story, then a series of interconnected stories before morphing into a novel.

The publishing aspect of stories is a nice reward too. One of my stories in my new collection was just published in Reflection's Edge. The chance of a quick publication with a short story is so much greater than it is with novels. It's all the more reason to write short stories on the side of novels. Lately, I'm working on getting excerpts of the novel published as Deborach suggested.

I think excerpts make more sense once the novel is published. Then they serve as an additional marketing vehicle.

Julie Ann Shapiro

Deborah J Ledford said...

I see that you, too, are a Pushcart Prize nominee. Kudos to you. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Julie Ann Shapiro said...

Thank you. In December I was pleasantly surprised when Her Circle Ezine nominated my story, Eucalyptus Moonlight for a Pushcart. They placed it in the poetry category although I think the story is a bit of a hybrid between poetry and flash.


Pascal Marco said...

This is great advice but best of all it's presented in one place in a very concise and helpful manner, something step-by-step that often times we writers especially need in order to advance ourselves forward. :-)

Thanks for taking the tinme to put this together for us and share your tips for success.

Deborah J Ledford said...

Pascal-I'm pleased you found the article helpful. Best of luck with your submissions!

Nancy N. said...

Thanks Deborah,
Very good advice here and super helpful. I'm going to check into those templates.
Nancy N.

Heid Horch said...

Great advice. As someone trying to put together a query letter that looks suspiciously devoid of any credits, a short story is a fantastic way to start. Good practice, too.
Thanks also for including helpful websites to get us started.
Was your spooky brooch story an example of "flash fiction?"
Thanks and see you at the Library!

Deborah J Ledford said...

Thank you for joining us, Heidi. My brooch story (to appear in Twisted Dreams Magazine June 2008) was a bit longer than a flash fiction piece. At 512 words, it actually qualifies as a short short story.