Finding A Home For Your Short Story with Author Anne Elliott
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Many of us learn fiction writing via short stories—and many of us fall in love with the form and stick with it. But how do we get our stories into the hands of readers, when agents aren’t interested in them? How do we know when a story is ready to send? And where to send it? What are realistic expectations with respect to response times, acceptance rates, payment, and editorial input? This class will go over the basic norms, procedures, and etiquette of being your own short story agent, review strategies for targeting markets and record keeping, and field questions. Your instructor has been finding readers via the slush pile for years—it can be done.
Anne Elliott is the author of The Artstars: Stories (Indiana University Press) and The Beginning of the End of the Beginning (Ploughshares Solos). Her short fiction can be found in Story, A Public Space, Crab Orchard Review, Witness, Hobart, Bellevue Literary Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and elsewhere. Elliott is a veteran of the New York spoken word circuit, with stage credits including The Whitney Museum, Lincoln Center, PS122, and Woodstock ’94. Her fiction has been awarded support from The Story Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, The Normal School, Table 4 Writer’s Foundation, and The Bridport Prize. She holds an MFA in fiction writing from Warren Wilson College, and lives in Portland, Maine. Learn more at www.anneelliottstories.com.
JULIE: It is my great pleasure to introduce to you all to Anne Elliot. Anne I’m gonna talk about you for a minute and you guys, I’m not even kidding Anne is one of the best writers I’ve ever seen. The first time I read her work, I was humbled to be in the same room as her. I was just in awe of everything that she did to string together words into magic. Let me read you some of her background. Anne is the author of the Art Star Stories , and The Beginning of The End of The Beginning. Her short stories can be found at A Story, A Public Place, Crab Orchard Review, Witness Hobart, Bellevue Literary Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal Fuchs, and elsewhere. Elliot is a veteran of the New York spoken word circuit, which sounds so amazing right now with stage credits, including the Whitney museum, The Lincoln Center and PS122. Her fiction has been awarded with support from The Story Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, Table for Writers Foundation, Tamale Day Writer’s Workshop in Normal School. She holds an MFA in visual art from UC San Diego and MFA in fiction writing from Warren Wilson college. She lives in Maine here with me and we’re still pleased to have you, Anne.
ANNE: Thank you. Thank you. I am so grateful that you have me on, is this a real treat for me. And this is something I love talking about. So thank you for letting me do this. I, I really hope it helps somebody. I really hope that somebody tonight will be inspired to, send a story and they send it to the right place and it’s a great fit and they get a yes and they get the thrill of seeing their short story in a magazine. Here we go. So I’m just going to let you know that my expertise is primarily in literary fiction and particularly the literary short story. So I know that a lot of you are writing in other genres, but a lot of these things I’m going to be talking about, apply to other genres when we’re talking about the short story. And I know that a lot of you are probably writing novels and, and the submission process for novels is very different than the submission process for short stories.
ANNE: So I wanted to go through what is normal submission process for short stories. A lot of this is going to be review for some of you. Nothing I’m saying is unique. A lot of it is my opinion, but my opinion is not that radical. So let’s just get into it. Is your story ready to send out yet? This is like the Holy grail question, honestly. And I’ll give you my opinion on what the best answer to that is. Ask yourself, do I like the story? And if the answer to that is yes, ask yourself, am I past the honeymoon period on the story? Has it seasoned? I’m the kind of person that once I finished a story, I’m like, God, I’m so excited about this story. I get obsessive. And then I’m like, I got to send it out right away.
ANNE: But I’ve kind of taught myself to wait a little while because with new eyes, maybe, maybe at least three months down the line, my new eyes are going to show me things that I didn’t see initially that I really would like to take care of before I send it out. So season it a little bit, let it rest, revisit it, and then maybe show it to somebody else. This is standard advice. Of course, show it to other writers. You all have a writers community, show it to them and make sure you find people who are going to be critical and not just supportive to make sure that your story is ready to send. And then this is a question I ask myself, have I done everything I know how to do to make the story good? So you always hear this advice. Don’t send it out under cooked.
ANNE: Well, how do you know if it’s under cooked? All you know is what you know how to do right now. So that’s what I asked myself. If I had done everything I can with my current skills, if I done that, I’m going to just going to go ahead and send it out. And then the other question, will I be able to live with this story in public in five years? So try to think about how well it’s going to age because publication is of course permanent. Those are the questions I ask myself. I can’t ask myself, is this story perfect because I really don’t know the answer to that. And honestly, it’s not my decision, whether the story is perfect for the publication, that is the editor’s decision. You’re just offering it to them and they have the choice of whether they want to take it or not.
ANNE: So, that’s my philosophy on it. And then the next big question is which publication is the right fit for the story? And here’s my process for that. Everybody says this, I am actually a little bit superstitious about this. Read at least one issue of the publication before sending to it. My best luck has been with publications I’ve actually read. Do I actually read every single thing that I send out to? Honestly, no, but the ones where things have gone well are the ones that, where I read it. So I think maybe it’s just a superstition. Maybe it’s magical thinking. I think if you read the publication, you’re more likely to be accepted by that publication. You can even talk about in your cover letter, for example, and ask yourself some qualitative questions about the publication. What are they doing Experimental or traditional storytelling, for example, is it funny or serious?
ANNE: Do they have a lot of political engagement? Are they doing genre? Maybe come up with five adjectives to describe your own work and five adjectives to describe the publication and do a kind of a Venn diagram kind of thing. And you might be close and then read the submission guidelines for the publication. Because often the editors will make specific comments like no talking animals or whatever their taste is. You can just follow their comments. And then you can research markets in annual prize anthologies, such as Best American Short Sstories, O Henry prize, Pushcart Prize Anthology. There are genre anthologie prize anthologies you could look at as well. So I’m going to be talking about the literary fiction stuff, but there are analogs in other genres. So research the markets there in the back of these books they have the list of the publications that these stories were originally published in. In my opinion, when you’re trying to find a fit forget status and just think about the aesthetic. Does this as the aesthetic of this magazine fit the aesthetic of my story?
ANNE: That is the most important question you’re asking yourself, forget about the status of the publication. And then keep in mind that the taste of a university sponsored magazine is going to change over time sometimes. So pay attention to the masthead on a university sponsored magazine because often it will be students. And that’s going to turn over every three, four years. So a story that might not fit the current staff might fit the future staff as new students come through. The nice thing about a short story is you can publish it many times, but you have to do it in the right order. So I’m gonna show you the best order, in my opinion, which is the standard order. Act one for your short story would be literary journals. The journals want to be first. They want it purchased for serial rights in general.
ANNE: And then the second act would be anthologies. And you can do the same story in multiple anthologies. You can submit to anthologies yourself. So you can find themed anthologies and submit stories that have already been published, or the journals will nominate for the prize anthologies. And then finally your own short story collection. You want this to be the last one, ideally because the publishers generally want to be last. And then from that point forward, any other publications of the story will be ones that are dependent on what rights you sell them. For example, a big publisher might take an excerpt or a short story from your collection and sell it to a big glossy magazine. So you do want to keep at least one story in your collection that hasn’t been published yet so that the publisher can do that.
ANNE: That’s good publicity for a collection, but, in general, think of the short story collection as being the last place. And your short story collection is probably also not going to get as many eyeballs as the journals will. So it’s where you can have the most control. You can make it your story the way you wanted it in your collection. Oftentimes there might be some compromise when you’re dealing with a literary journal or an anthology and big publishers generally want to buy in a bundle with a novel, but contests or micro presses would take all kinds of short story collections by themselves. I submit in rounds, a lot of people do this or tiers, and I would define a tear for the journal as the Journal’s value to you. If you get accepted. Your happiness level if you get accepted. You want to send out to a group of journals that are equal on this ground.
ANNE: You don’t want to get yourself into a situation where you’ve submitted to your favorite ideal journal and then another one that you’d kinda like to be in. And the one that you kind of like to be in says and then you gotta be like, Oh, I haven’t heard back from the ideal journal yet. What do I do? Well, you have to say yes to the first one, according to my etiquette rules anyway, which are standard etiquette rules. So what you base your criteria on is yours to decide. Are they submitting to prize anthologies? Do they pay professional rates? Are they famous? All that stuff Or do you really like the journal? Do you think the design is beautiful? Would you love to see your story in those pages designed by those people? That often is the criteria for me. And I’ve found some decent fits that way. Sometimes with journals that are not that well known, but are sort of rock stars to me, you know, and I would send one story to five to 10 magazines at a time, assuming they all allow simultaneous submission, which I will talk about in a bit, you have to pay attention to their submission periods.
ANNE: They don’t allow submissions year round. Often they allow only one submission per year per person and make sure all the members of that round are in the same tier. So you don’t end up with that disappointing and awkward situation where you haven’t heard back from the New Yorker yet. And somebody else says yes, and you, you don’t want to get yourself into a potential disappointment like that. And then wait a few months. And this is where the patients comes in. Some journals will take five to seven days to reject. Others will take over a year to reject. Some will reject quickly and take a long time for an acceptance. Others will accept quickly and take a long time for a rejection. So there is data out there on this stuff. And I’ll talk about where you can find that in a little bit. Contests, I believe in sending your short stories to contests.
ANNE: Other people might have different feelings on that. And that’s something we could probably discuss in the Q and a, but there are ethics for a contest. I’m going to talk about a little bit. The reason I believe in it is because they support the literary organization. So your submission fee for the contest is helping them to keep doing their good work. And you’re also buying an anonymous read. So you know that they’re not looking at your credentials or lack thereof.They’re not looking at things that you think might push you out of the running otherwise. If you’re worried about sexism or ageism or whatever in publishing, in theory, a contest is going to take that out of the picture because it’s an anonymous read and that said some contests out there are unethical.
ANNE: They might be charging you way too much to submit. And the prize is not very big, or they might not be awarding the prize at all. So do pay attention to that. So the typical dollar scenario, and this is in USD, the entry fee would be like 10 to $25. If the entry fee is high, like $25, you’re generally getting something in addition to your entry. Like a copy of the prize issue or a year subscription to the magazine, which I think is a great thing to do if you don’t know the magazine well you could just submit to the contest. So that’s like buying a lottery ticket with your subscription. Then you can get to know the magazine over the year. And then the following year, you could submit to the contest again, and your odds would probably be better because you know the magazine better.
ANNE: And then the prizes are generally between $500 and $2000 plus publication in the magazine. Often they have a first, second, third prize. That kind of thing. What’s nice is they often will also have a finalist list. So if you’re trying to build up your bio, that’s something you could put on your bio. You know, you were a finalist for XYZ prize. So it’s worth doing for that even. Okay. Here’s the etiquette that I believe in. This is all beliefs, but everybody else believes in it too. Follow the submission guidelines to the letter. Story length, formatting, (especially if it’s anonymous. You don’t want to accidentally put your name on it), the type of work they consider. Pay attention to there’s submission guidelines. The submission guidelines are generally right on their website or in the submission portal. If someone accepts, they’re the ones who get the story. Don’t play one market against the other.
ANNE: Don’t go, Oh, I’m not quite sure. Let me check with the other people. To me, the best form and the thing that is gonna keep you in good stead with all of these editors you want to develop relationships with over time is to withdraw promptly. If somebody sees that you’re withdrawing, then they know that you’re an ethical person and they might pay attention to your story next time around, but don’t play them against each other. And then if you do get accepted and then you do reprints, or you do your own short story collection, it is best practice to acknowledge the people who accepted your story in the past and helped you make it better in the editorial process. Maybe even by name, not just the name of the magazine, but the name of the editor, and be careful with names spellings. If you are corresponding with someone there’s a lot of autocorrect out there.
ANNE: I’m saying this because my name is often misspelled. So I’m very sensitive to that. And I’ve made this mistake and in my correspondence with editors. So just be careful of that. And it will generally cost about $3 for submission to a non contest submission period. This is absolutely normal. This is a replacement for what would have been the $3 in postage there in back for sending your story through us mail or whatever. So this is normal. It’s not considered, you know, an overcharging at all. And it’s actually expensive for these outfits to license the submission platforms. It’s very expensive. So this is offsetting some of that cost and don’t reply to rejections. That’s my opinion. Some people think it’s good to say thank you to every rejection. I think it might be just clutter for their inbox. So I don’t reply to rejections unless there’s something specific that they said to me that makes me think I should. This is just some terminology, simultaneous and multiple submissions. Simultaneous is when you’re sending the same piece to several markets at the same time. You want to make sure that these markets will allow that but we can assume that these places allow it most places do.
ANNE: It’s very rare that a publication will say no simultaneous submissions. And you know, like I said before, I’m drumming this in, make sure you like them all equally in a single round. And then multiple submissions are if you’re sending more than one piece to the same market during the same submission period. This is really common for flash fiction, you might be sending three or four flash pieces in one submission or for contests where you can send as many as you want. Usually each accompanied by a fee. You’re increasing your odds of winning by sending five submissions rather than one, but that’s also very expensive. So it all depends on your tolerance for that expense. For most short stories most places will only allow one submission per period per person. You got to keep good records.
ANNE: Well, the records would be like your submission date with story. What version, if you are revising in between submissions and what response you got and when. So I do this on duo trobe.com. I’m going to be talking about other websites at the end, but this, this is my favorite of all of them. You can share data anonymously with other submitters. So assuming that everybody puts the data in fairly accurately, it’s crowdsourced data, it cost you $50 a year. If this feels like too much to you ask to have this for your gift for the holidays, it’s certainly more valuable in a tea towel in a way. So yeah, for $50 a year, you get this so searchable database for magazinew. It’s a really smart search. You can omit all kinds of things in your search, including places that you are currently submitting to, or places that you’ve already submitted this piece to, and you can download the record of your submissions.
ANNE: And then you can monitor your own response times and also other people’s not specific peoples, but they’ll give you the averages. So it’s really nice to have all those stats. So you know where you stand it. They suggest when it might be worth contacting the publication to see where your story stands, that kind of thing. And good record keeping is essential for obvious reasons. You all are quite familiar with this. I’m sure because any submission requires good record keeping. You don’t want to submit to the same place. You want to be able to withdraw efficiently. You don’t want to repeat the same submission. You know, five years later, you don’t want to send the same story into the same place unless you give it a new title and revise it significantly
ANNE: Cover letters, so the cover letter for submitting a short fiction to a magazine is really different from a cover letter for a query, for a novel to an agent. When you’re writing a query, you’re pitching the story. When you’re writing a cover letter for short fiction, you don’t want to talk about the story at all. You want to pitch yourself. So basically keep it simple and professional, just the facts. So here’s an example of what I would typically do. I’m just saying it’s 7,500 words. Here’s what I’m submitting it for. Here’s my name and here’s who I am. I sometimes address the editor by name. In this example I didn’t. I was just generic. And by the way, you’ll notice I put the bio in third person after my signature. That’s because then they don’t have to ask me for a bio. If they say yes, they can just copy and paste that bio.
ANNE: They might ask for an updated one. If they say yes, two years down the line, I suppose. But I will only address the editor by name if I feel like I kind of know them. It can be really awkward and inappropriate I think if you’re not careful. I’m just not good at making that judgment. So I just don’t do it. I’ve paid attention to the kind of feedback that I’ve gotten on submissions. And I’ve gotten plenty of acceptances with this exact letter. Don’t explain the story at all. You might say the genre, that’s about it. Don’t say this is a story about so-and-so who fell in the whatever. Don’t be shy about selling yourself. We make your bio about 150 words at the most.
ANNE: And even if you don’t have a lot of publications, you do have credentials. Every single person has some kind of credential. Even a kid who’s submitting stories for the first time has credentials. They have hobbies, they have things that they’ve done. Well my hobby is feralcat management, other people have other hobbies. So if you have a lot of writing experience, definitely put that down. If you have education, if you’ve done workshops or conferences, put that down, publications, prizes, or finalists in prizes, get that in there. Also, if you have other jobs that are interesting put that down. I was talking to a writer who worked on a fishing vessel in Alaska, I was like, well, I would want to see that in a bio, right. That’s actually more interesting than I’ve been in these 10 magazines. Right
ANNE: So, so put whatever about you is interesting. This is your platform. Would you talk about a lot, probably on submission of other kinds of things with your publications tossed in, and if you have read the magazine and you liked it, it feels good for the editor for you to tell them that you liked it. These are human beings who this is their labor of love. This is their baby. Please tell them what you like. Let’s talk a little bit about what would be a normal acceptance rate. When I say acceptance rate, I mean, your acceptance rate as a writer. How many of your submissions would be accepted. I have seen on Duotrope that anything over 5% is considered above average. So if you’re sending out, you know, a hundred submissions, if you get five acceptances, that’s above average. The rate of acceptance is obviously going to depend on where you submit. The New Yorker accepts all almost no one.
ANNE: And online or independent journals are going to be more in reach. The size of the pieces you submit are also going to determine how easy it is to place. So anything that is less than a thousand words is actually going to be fairly easy to place. So that might be a good place to start. If you’re just starting out. Anything that’s over 8,000 words is going to be harder to place. I tend to write these 10,000 word stories. Most places have a cutoff of 5,000 or 6,000 or 7,000 words. So there’s no place to send these. And I do follow the submission guidelines to the letter. I mean, I do eventually find places, but it takes a lot longer. You just have to be patient. I wouldn’t write for the market. I wouldn’t tailor my word count to the market. I would write the story as it wants to be, but then just, you know, be prepared for disappointment.
ANNE: If you have lots of story. And then of course, rejection is a normal part of the business. But the question is when do you want to revise this story? If you’ve been getting a lot of rejectionswhen is it time to go back and fix it. If the editor says they might consider a revision. Yes, definitely. If the editor gives you critical feedback, that rings true in your gut. Yeah. Maybe. If you feel like you’ve grown and you’ve gotten some ideas for the story. Yes. Good time to revise, stop submitting, revise, and then send out the version. But I believe if the story has received dozens of rejections, if it’s received 50 rejections, that doesn’t mean you have to revise the story. It just means it hasn’t found its fit yet. If an editor gives you critical feedback, but you don’t agree with the editor that is not necessarily a cue for you to revise the story
ANNE: according to what that editor said. That’s just one person’s opinion. So trust your gut on revision. I have had better luck submitting things after revising them, but it’s always been when I’ve trusted my gut and gone, okay, I’m not doing this because somebody told me to do it. I’m doing it because the story needs it. So you got to ask yourself that question before you go back and revise. Okay, you get an acceptance. Whew. It’s really exciting to get that email or that phone call. A phone call is very strange because you think it’s spam and then it’s a person saying they want your story. It’s really exciting. So what do you get next is often the contract, but not always. So if you don’t have a contract, you can ask for one that’s okay. But some of these places might not have the means to give you a contract.
ANNE: So there is a good deal of faith in this game. Magazines will generally buy the first serial rights, meaning that you get the right to publish it immediately after they publish it. And the web or publicity excerpts may also be required. So they may publish it in print, but, want the right to publish excerpts on the web to publicize the magazine. And then if you don’t like something in the contract and cross it out, just like any contract or talk to them about it, renegotiate it. Some editors will want to collaborate with you. They might want to change it a lot. They might, they will definitely give it copy edits that’ll make it conform with their house style. That’s absolutely normal. All of it. And I tend to listen to editors who want to hack a story up.
ANNE: I had an editor cut a story in half, and she did a brilliant job. It was one of the best learning experiences of my writing life. So I highly recommend listening to an editor who is going to publish your story and doing what they suggest. When you put the story in your own collection, you can make it the way you want it. You can revert it back to the way it was before the editor made their suggestions. That’s just my philosophy on it. It’s not a matter of being obedient. It’s a matter of making a version of the story that fits both something I’m willing to live with and something that they are willing to live with because they are putting their money on the line and their reputation on the line as well. And, of course everything is negotiable. There’s some things that I will always push back on.
ANNE: And then typical payment. Small magazines, they’ll pay you in copies. Plough shares I think the going rate is about $250 right now. And then the huge magazines that’s when you’re going to start to get into the thousands. Contests will generally be at least $500. All right. Some general advice. So this is some recap, some new full philosophical stuff. Get organized. The minute you get organized your luck is going to improve. And set goals for what you can control. Aim high, but don’t be a snob. If you see a journal is beautiful submit to it. Maybe you’ll develop a great artistic relationship. Don’t reject yourself. If you hear one thing for me tonight it’s don’t reject yourself. That is the editor’s job expect rejection. That’s their job. They’re trying to make a beautiful magazine.
ANNE: Your thing might be beautiful, but it might not fit their magazine. That’s all it is. And develop relationships with the journals you love. Subscribed to them and/or develop relationships with the editors, especially if they give you a personal rejection where it’s an invitation for conversation. Then, develop that relationship. And don’t let submission take over in particular, after you’ve submitted don’t go on the submission portal and hit refresh constantly. This is like a good way to go crazy. I’m sorry if you enjoy doing that, do it, but it’s a good way to make your ego go a little nuts and try to take joy from the process of submitting and not the results. I think of it as like casting seeds onto the ground, some of them are going to sprout.
ANNE: Some of they’re not going to sprout. If you do it carefully and you read the package on the seeds, you might have better luck casting the seeds, but you’re not ever going to get a hundred percent. So try to take joy and just the hope of it, I guess. So here are the resources that I recommend using. Duotrope is number one. And like I said before, it’s $50 a year with the record keeping and then the searchable database. It’s invaluable. They also have agents now. The list of agents on there is probably not as complete as some other places, but it might be getting there. Submittable.com. This is free. This is the portal by which I would say maybe 80% of literary magazines out there. It’s it’s a great portal for both sides. The only problem with is it’s expensive for the magazines, but it’s a great portal for people who are reading submissions and for people who are submitting and you can search opportunities on there too.
ANNE: And the record keeping is free. Here’s a blog of a friend of mine who does an annual ranking of literary magazines based on the pushcart prize results. His name is Clifford Garstang. So go there once a year and you can see. He’ll just rank the magazines and it’s generally same magazines, but, similar thing with Erica Krauss, a blog where she ranks literary magazines and has a lot of submission advice. And I think her advice is really solid. So I would spend some time on that blog. If you’re looking for more advice, pw.org, or Poets and Writers. They have a searchable data database of contests. They vet their contests a little bit. I would feel confident submitting to any contest I see in this database that nobody is there just to steal my money. www.creativewritersopps.blogspot.com is a blog put out by Allison Joseph, a poet. So it’s a lot of poetry opportunities, but there’s also opportunities for grants, contests, and magazines that are looking for work. Sometimes it’s small magazines that you might not see any other way. So that’s exciting. So I check that once a week, at least. Those are the resources I recommend. And now I’m ready to take your questions and talk about and see if anybody disagrees. So my philosophy on any of this, or if I missed any important points, we’ll find out.
ANNE: All right. So I got to pull up these questions here. Hello. I’d like to know how to make an interesting bio with no previous pub pub cred? Thank you. I may have answered this a little bit, but if you were describing yourself in a job interview, that’s one way to think about it. The best job interviews are when you tell kind of a story about yourself, use your narrative skills. So, say I were me and I didn’t have any publications. What would I say? I would say, well, I worked on wall street for seven years and hedge funds for 13 years. And then I decided to throw it all away and go to maine where I can hike with my dogs. And that’s what I do now. So, you know, you could, you could give them a game like that.
ANNE: You could also talk about your hobbies. You can talk about your other careers. You know, a lot of people come from like the legal business, or if you have a career that’s unusual for a writer, definitely bring that up. You know, I was in the CIA. You want to, if you’re allowed to, bring that up, because that’s really interesting. That’s going to catch their eye. So I hope that answered the question. What are the best short story competitions to enter? That is really up to the individual, but there are some that are pretty prestigious, like the Fish contests.Those are out of Ireland, UK. I can’t submit to them because my stories are too long. So anything you see in Poets and Writers, I think are good competitions to enter. And if you look in the back of Poets and Writers magazine, you’ll see where they’ll list the winners of these contests. You can see who won them. So you get a sense of sort of what the caliber of writers are. So that’sa good place to look, but I think it’s really up to the individual. I hope that answered the question. How can you tell if a publication is the right fit to submit your story to?
ANNE: I have heard a number of ways to approach this. One really cool way to do it is to pick up a copy of the magazine. And if you don’t have time to read the whole magazine, read the first page of every story in the magazine and ask yourself, what style is this? Is it for grounding language? Is it for grounding character? Is there a genre to it? And then ask yourself the same questions about your own piece that you’re trying to place. And if there’s a match, then consider sending it to that magazine. How important is the cover letter Really? What should go in the cover letter? The cover letter is not important at all. The only thing that must go in it possibly is the title of your story and the word count of your story. They are likely to be looking at the story first and not seeing the cover letter at all.
ANNE: When you’re in Submittable, you just click on the story and go story, story, story. So what should go in it? I think, you know, put a bio in there and the name of the story, that’s it. If the story is part of a series, you might want to mention that as well. Is the three act structure necessary, even for flash fiction or short story, less than 2000 words? I don’t think the three act structure is necessary at all for a flash fiction. If you’re in any literary fiction. If you look at the work of Amy Hempel, for example, she told me once that she found plot almost a little bit boring. She does not use a three-act structure, that she’s foregrounding language, and there’s a lot of narrative propulsion from the language along.
ANNE: So, just make sure when you’re looking at a magazine to submit to that, that is what they are interested in, but this might be, for example, one of those criteria that you could use when you’re making that sort of Venn diagram of what you do versus what the magazine does. If you’re looking at the stories in the magazine and every one of those stories does a three act structure. It might make sense for you to send them a story that is a three act structure. But if they don’t use three act structures, if their structures are odd in any way and your structure is odd in some way, then maybe that’s a good fit for you. There are some magazines out there that do some wild stuff
JESSICA: Before we move on. I’m sorry. You’re friends with Amy Hempel?
ANNE: No, I’m not friends with her. I’m her fan. I’m a fan. I’m sorry. I took a workshop. So I’m taking this with her and I said,
ANNE: This feels really gossipy or whatever. It was just like a one week workshop. She asked us to talk about what we felt our weakness was. And I was like, well, I feel like I’m strong with language and weak on plots.
ANNE: She said “Plot, meh”. Oh yeah.
JESSICA: Very cool.
ANNE: And you might disagree with me about her stories. You might say they are very plot heavy.
JESSICA: But I think there’s so beautiful on a line by line level. I don’t care if there’s not plot, right.
ANNE: And I think especially with short shorts you can get away with a lot. It’s almost like a poem. There aren’t the demands of structure that you would get in, in something that is, conforming to a genre or something that has the rhythm of a feature film.
JESSICA: Well, very cool. I couldn’t let that go by. I wanted to thank you.
ANNE: It sounded like I was name dropping my friends and that’s not what it was at all. I paid money. I paid money to have a conversation with them.
ANNE: Which is better money-wise, to submit to magazines or put stories in a collection? So actually you could potentially make far more on the magazines, especially if you submit to a contest. The advance on a short story collection is likely to be very small. And if you win a short story collection contest, that advance is also likely to be very small. Maybe it’s a thousand dollars or so. Maybe we should consider that a big advance in today’s world, but the prize for one short story is also going to be about the same, or it might be more so I would say better money-wise you do both.So you can submit to the magazine and then later on, submit your collection.
ANNE: So do it in that order and you get the benefit of both. And the other thing you can toss in there is grants that don’t offer publication. There are grants out there or fellowships that would take stories that aren’t yet published. Andyou could win a prize for that story without any publication. Then it’s still available for you to send out for publication. So you can double up you can make a lot of money writing short stories. You’re not going to make a lot of money writing short stories. It’s not going to happen. That’s the sad news. Here I am to give it to you. I hope that answered the question. Anyway, let’s move on to the next one. Any tips on how to keep a short story actually short and make sure it’s still fleshed out?
ANNE: I still prefer long forum, but want to start creating shorter works too. Thanks. I’m telling you I’m the wrong person to ask this question. Every time I sit down and write a short story I’m gonna write, I’m like, I’m gonna write a 2,500 word story. Next thing you know, it’s 10,000 words that I’m trying to figure out how I got there. So I do not know the answer to that. I’m sorry. I’m from Victoria, BC, Canada. Can you please tell me where to sell humor pieces to magazines? I can give you a general comment that if you’re using Duotrope, you can specify humor in your search query, and it will give you a list of places that are looking for humorous stories. So that’s one place to start. And the other thing to do is to read some magazines and figure out which ones you think are funny because one person’s humor is not the same as another person’s humor.
ANNE: If your humor is simpatico with the publication, then that’s a good place for you to send. There’s some good ideas there McSweeney’s the rumpus points in case. Yep. Those are good ideas. McSweeney’s Internet Tendency is a great place to send a humor piece. Do you feel beta readers are an important thing to have even before sending a manuscript to an agent or editor? Yes. You want the beta readers for everything, everything. And when I say beta readers, I mean, you want to have somebody who’s going to read it for quality and structure. You want them to read it for your language. You want copy editors, and you also might want a sensitivity reader. So if you’re dealing with any topics that are regionally specific or racial specific, it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re not doing something unintentionally that would horrify you down the line.
ANNE: There are people out there who are sensitivity reader. You can exchange with them, or you can pay them to read your stuff and let you know just how misogynist or racist or, or transphobic you accidentally really are, which is really helpful. You really don’t want your stuff going out there with those flaws. Yes. The answer is, yes. I’d love some ideas about YA stories, what to send them, how anthologies are received? This is another thing that you can do on do a Duotrope. There are many genres that you can pick from, they do have a lot of YA markets in there. So that would be a good place to start searching. There might be, you might be able to search for them on Submittable to, I don’t know. There are so many literary journals. How do you even select those to start with?
ANNE: I love this. I love this question because you know, everybody’s journey is going to be different. And right now in pandemic, it’s not like you can just go to the bookstore or the library and start picking them off the shelves. Like, Oh, this one’s beautiful. I’m going to look at it. But I believe that’s the best way to do it. A university library is likely to subscribe to a lot of literary journals. You go spend some time in a university library and just pick them off the shelf and look at them when the pandemic’s over. I highly suggest that. But until then, what do you do? I would go on one of the databases. Do I duotrope, Submittable or research in the back of one of these prize anthologies, get the name of the journal, Google it. You can look at the journal and spend some time with it.
ANNE: Most journals have some kind of online offering and see if you like it. And if you like it, look for their submission guidelines. Sometimes they hide the submission guidelines. You’ve got to go into contact and then it’ll be in there somewhere. Or it won’t be along the top banner. You got to go down to the bottom and search how to submit. And then there’s a comment here. If this story have been published in a local magazine as a contest winner, can you still still submitted elsewhere? Yeah. If they’ll accept things that are previously published. Most places will stipulate only want things that have never been published before, but you can even use that as one of your search criteria on Duotrope. You can specify that it’s a reprint or something that’s already been published, and you can find all the anthologies that are currently taking previously published stories. Will higher level of literary journals accept stories that are not submitted by agents or publishers?
ANNE: You mentioned the new Yorker. The New Yorkers kind of a separate category from all the others. They’re likely to prefer a stories that are submitted by agents, or they will contract authors and they have first right of refusal with a contract and author, that kind of thing. So it’s a separate category, but, most of the higher level literary journals will accept from the slush pile. I was accepted by Ploughshares, from via the slush pile. I didn’t know anybody there so it can happen. Yes. The answer is yes, they do. Here’s a great example of story magazine. They like to be the first person to discover a new emerging writer. They love that feeling of having the bio and the bio we’ll say something like so-and-so has been an attorney and a cop and a judge.
ANNE: This is their first published story. They love that kind of thing. So yes. What’s the best way to order your stories for a collection? How do you emphasize their common threads? I think that’s a matter of what you think you want your book to be. What you want your readers to get from the book as a whole. And there’s so many ways to do that. I think it’s almost a separate conversation. What I did in my collection was I looked for common characters and I wanted to take the flip side. So somebody who you see one side of a person, maybe you want to see their story and see the other side of the person. So somebody who’s a tertiary character might become a primary character, that kind of thing. And last but not least, is there a market for commercial short stories or do magazines generally expect literary fiction? My expertise is in Literary fiction. If you call it it’s my expertise, but there are magazines publish all different kinds of stories. There are magazines that specialize in speculative or mystery thriller kind of stuff. So they’re all out there, all kinds of magazines. I honestly hope that this helps somebody and inspire them to send their stuff out. And then somebody says, yes, it would be really excited if that happened. And I would love to hear if that happened.
JULIE: Yeah. We love success stories. And I mean, I think honestly, you opened my eyes to so many possibilities that I hadn’t even considered. So I’m hoping that maybe some people out there are short story curiousthat this is something that you might want to try. I mean, like a thousand words and, and really like honing those like chops of like character and not plot, but then the sentence level of work is super interesting. And thank you. This was amazing. I am so impressed and I learned so much really appreciate.
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