Saturday, June 18, 2016

How I Published A Short Story

This month a short story I wrote was published in the Australian Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine, Aurealis. I thought it might be interesting to talk about how that happened so, here we are, and here's my story about getting a short story published.

About two years ago now I decided to sell a short story. The wording of that is important. I didn't wake up and say "I'd like to try and sell a short story." I said "I am going to sell a short story." And yes, I more or less did just wake up and make the decision. That decision was birthed from the same thinking that has been responsible for many decisions I've made. I hadn't done it before, I figured I should.

So that's the decision I made. Almost two years ago. It wasn't exactly a quick process.

The first thing I did was look up magazines taking submissions. If you've never done this, let me tell you there are a lot of them. The vast majority are now digital publications and the vast majority are for fantasy and science fiction, with a few for literary, young adult and mystery. Well I'm a fantasy author so no problems there. But I also discovered something else. Most of them don't pay.

If you're going to try and publish a short story in magazine or similar collection, you'll have to face the same kind of decisions I made. The two big questions for me were: Will I give a publication a short story for free? Will I pay for the privilege to submit? My answer to both was no. If I want to give stories away for free, I'll do it here on my blog. I already do that. I also wasn't going to pay to submit. I understand why some publications might charge, but I expected to get a lot of rejections and plenty of editors were willing to reject me for free.

So with this criteria, I collected a list of magazines that had large submissions windows totalling about 10, put them into a spread sheet and went onto the next phase of my master plan.

To sell a short story, I needed to write a short story. If you've been keeping up with me since those long ago days when I was a member of Deviant Art, you'll know I used to write a lot of short stories. But like so many a working author, I realised somewhere along the way and that short stories don't make money. My time is more is better spent writing novels. Yeah, that's mercenary, but a guy has got to eat. So I needed a short story and all I had were old, old, old. I've improved my writing by leaps and bounds since those days and I had to put my best foot forward.

So I sat down and started writing and what I found was... I had forgotten how to write a short story. Well, fortunately, the solution to that was easy. I began reading a lot of short stories. When you want to learn to write anything, the first thing to do is read. The success of others is often the best lesson. So I found myself a bunch of short story magazines and I read them. This not only reminded me how a short story is meant to be written, it gave me a better idea of what the magazines I was submitting to were interested in. My goal was to have three compete and ready to sell stories at any one time that could make the rounds. After a few months I achieved this.

But, to be perfectly honest, I kind of cheated. I had two stories done and ready to go around but I was floundering on getting that third. So I dove back into my most recent (and by recent I mean 12 months+) short stories to see which one sucked the least. I found one that hadn't made it online and wasn't complete pants and I edited the shit out of it. So I had three. Two completely new and one mostly new story ready to go.

And then came the waiting. I had become one of hundreds of hopefuls sending their short stories to editors. I was in the big slush pile and some of those slush piles are three months long. Rejections came in. Mostly form letters, occasionally a personalised comment, occasionally some critique. I checked me e-mails obsessively, I started and scrapped a couple more short stories and then remembered I had a novel I really, desperately needed to finish.

And after about six months, I kind of forgot. I just forgot that I was doing the short story thing and the last few rejections came in and I filed them away in my rejections folder (because all writers have one, right?) and kept on keeping on with my other projects. And I did that for almost a year.

And then one day late last year or early this year - I forget exactly when - I woke up and decided I was going to publish a short story. But, wait a moment, didn't I make that decision already? Oh yeah. Whoops...

Back to step one. I went through and checked the magazines on my list. A couple had folded in that time, a couple had gone on indefinite hiatus from taking submissions. So I dove back into the Googles and found some replacements to pad out my list. I wrote a couple more short stories and I started the process again. But I had a decision to make about those earlier stories. Do I keep sending them around? They never did quite complete the list. It's over a year since I wrote them, it's several years for one of them. I'm better now. Are they worth it?

And then, ladies and gents, I said those two magical words.

Fuck it.

And I sent them off again, along with the new stories. And the rejections started coming in again, like they did before, like I expected.

But then something magical happened. An editor at Aurealis said "Hey, that one. We like it. We'll publish it." And soon after that I had a contract. And soon after that I had some copy editing to approve. And soon after that it was published and there was excitement and rejoicing.

And the story that made it? The story titled 'Why I Hate Tuesday.' It's that oldest story that I almost gave up on. That story that I almost didn't sent out at all. It's that little story from an era and a skill I'd since surpassed. But I rewrote it, and I worked on it again and again to make it the best I could. Because, age aside, it's a fine little story.

And that's my story. It's not an unusual story. I did the work, I followed the rules, I played the game, I received rejection after rejection. And in the end, it all worked out.

So the message? The lesson? The take away from this adventure?

Fuck it. Just do it.

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