Writing Short Fiction and Getting it Published
This page features some advice that I found useful when starting to submit short fiction for publication. Since then the encouragement I've had from editors has inspired me to keep going and become more ambitious. Here are some tips I found extremely helpful in getting started...
Do your research
Know the genre you are aiming to publish in. How would you define your writing? Is it sci-fi? Slipstream? Horror? YA fiction? Find out who publishes your type of fiction. There are a lot of presses out there, but many have a focused market. Take the time to research who publishes quality fiction in your chosen genre too. That's important. Look for presses with a solid track record in publishing writers you admire.
Small presses can bring huge benefits for emerging writers
OK, you won't be able to retire on the money they pay you, but you will get the benefit of personal attention, editorial advice, prompt feedback and some personal guidance, all of which is very precious to the emerging writer. My first submitted (and accepted) story was taken up by Hic Dragones Press for their Impossible Spaces anthology, and from this I was invited to the launch, to give a public reading, to meet Ramsey Campbell (whose short story was published in the same anthology) and to participate in a blog tour to promote the book. An amazing experience. I've also had a great experience with Fox Spirit Press who released The Girl In The Fort in 2017 (prompt, efficient, givers of good editorial and proof-reading feedback) with Black Shuck Books (who published New Music For Old Rituals in 2018), and the Sinister Horror Company who re-released The Unheimlich Manoeuvre in 2018.
Keep an eye out for anthology submissions and for writing competitions
Both of these are excellent avenues to getting your fiction read by a wider audience. I find these websites particularly good for up-to-date calls for weird, horror and speculative fiction- Horror Tree, Dark Markets and Paul McVeigh's blog.
Make time to write
This is especially relevant if you have a full-time job. (I run a fine art department, a research centre, and an art collective. I teach and wrote my first collection while working on a PhD. At any given time I'm working on papers and articles, as well as organising conferences and events). I hugely recommend K.A. Laity's How To Keep Writing With A Full-Time Job
Lots of writers find writing groups helpful, or online peer reviews. I personally find that these are too time-consuming - for me, simply sitting down and writing is generally the best way to work out what I wanted to write, though having beta readers is excellent..
Stick EXACTLY to the format recommended for submissions.
I cannot stress this enough. From talking to editors, one of their pet hates is a submission that deviates from the given format. The stipulations are there for a reason, whether they are to do with word count, inclusion/non-inclusion of author's name, or even font and spacing specifications! This goes double for short story competitions, where often work is disqualified outright if it isn't in line with the mandatory submission format.
Always write a thank-you note once work is accepted. It sounds a little Victorian, but a note of thanks is always appreciated. Even if your work is rejected, a short 'thank you for considering it' is always appropriate, especially in the case where the editor has complimented your work or regretted that it cannot be included. Don't be dejected - editors will often have a very specific idea of what they are looking for, and will not want to take in work that, while of good quality, is a little 'off' in terms of the theme they are focussing on. Sometimes a very generous editor will offer to help you work on your story further. Always accept!
So - in brief - Smile. Say thank you. Never be querulous.
Promote your own work
You need to do this unless you are lucky enough to have a publicist (and to be honest, if you're reading this, you probably haven't - yet). Set up a web-site, a Facebook page, a Goodreads page, a Twitter account. Link to as many writers and publishing houses as possible. Get yourself involved in the relevant networks. It's time-consuming, but in this digital age, it's necessary to build a brand...
Stephen King said in his introduction to Night Shift - 'You read everything with grinding envy or a weary contempt'. Books are your best teachers. What grips you? What makes you read on, compulsively, into the night? Whose style do you envy? Find writers that you aspire to be like. It's always good to have role-models and prose-models.
Find your own voice
This one is a bit trickier. We all have our own interests, pockets of knowledge, and specific and personal experiences. Scarlett Thomas in her interesting book Monkeys With Typewriters suggests filling out a matrix that outlines these core areas of experience and knowledge in order to define what you can write about with ease. When you're starting out, the more natural and relaxed your writing style the better, so it's logical to focus first on areas and ideas you feel familiar with. Exercises like this also help you figure out your own unique selling point- what's interesting about you? What are you interested in? It's also useful to get a critique of your writing style. What are the positives? What do you write well? - is it dialogue, descriptive writing, plot, or character development? Try and write to showcase your skills. A voice that is distinctive and confident gets noticed.