Submitting Short Stories to Magazines

Have you ever written a short story and tried to get it published in a magazine? Chances are you have. Many authors, both traditional and indie, write short stories and try to get them published in print magazines, on e-mags, or in anthologies. I’ve been published in a couple of magazines and I’m hoping for more in the future (though with my writing schedule these days, it’s hard to make time for short stories). And there are benefits to doing so, including:

  • Short stories are a whole different beast to tame than novels, so writing and sending out short stories lets you know what works and what people look for in a good short story. Sometimes magazines will even give you feedback if they decide to reject your story, so you get an idea on how to improve it.
  • At the very least, you’ll get some exposure from having your work published in a magazine. At the very most, they’ll pay you some money for a nice dinner out.
  • For those critics who accuse indie authors of trying to skirt around hard work and just put any old book out, this is a way of saying “Hey, we can do it your way too.”

If you haven’t ever sent a short story out to magazine, this might give you some help in going about it. If you’ve already done it before, then maybe this’ll be a useful reminder. And like I said, you should try it. You never know what’ll happen if you do.

1. Find a publication. Once you’ve written a short story and edited it to the utmost perfection, it’s time to find a magazine. Publications like Writer’s Digest’s Short Story & Novel Writer’s Market contain may useful listing of magazines in all genres, as well as contests and agencies and conferences. You can also get info from friends or family members who write. Another blogger told me about a magazine she published a short story in, and I think that I might have a short story I could submit to them, I just have to make sure it’s ready before I send it out.

Also, it’s helpful sometimes to read the short stories they publish. This generally gives you some idea of what they tend to publish, so you’ll have a better idea of what might be accepted.

2. Read over the rules. Every magazine has its own set of rules about submitting to them and the terms you’ll get should you be accepted. They may want the short story sent in a particular attachment, or they may prefer the story in the body of the message. There may be restrictions on length, subject matter, or a hundred other things. And being published by them might mean signing over all rights to the story to the magazine, or only first North American publishing rights. So know what you’re getting into when you decide, “I’ll send it to this publication.”

3. Write that query letter. A query letter is a letter stating who you are, what you’re sending, and why you’re sending it. Once you’ve done your research, write up a query letter and send it along to the magazine with your short story. Here’s an example of me sending a query letter to a fictional magazine:

Dear Darkness Abounds magazine,

I am submitting my manuscript “Hands” (5,732 words) to your publication for your consideration. I decided to submit to your magazine because your website said you were into “dark, creepy fiction with an interesting twist on old stories” and I thought my short story matched your description.

I am a self-published novelist with two novels and a collection of short stories published, as well as short stories published in Mobius Magazine, The Writing Disorder, and the Winter 2011 issue of TEA, A Magazine (now The Daily Tea). I also write for two blogs, Rami Ungar the Writer and Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors. I am also a senior at The Ohio State University double majoring in English and History and expected to graduate in May 2015.

I look forward to hearing from you and would like to thank you for your time and consideration.

Hoping you are well,

Rami Ungar
[contact information, including address, phone number, and e-mail address]

Make sure to include the word count of your story (that’s an important factor in many publications), why you’re selecting the magazine, and any relevant publications. Also, don’t make your biography too long. Just keep the relevant stuff and don’t give them your life story. You can save that for your memoirs.

4. Wait. Every magazine has its own quoted turn-around time, so you might as well be patient. However, it’s not uncommon for a magazine to let work pile up and miss your short story entirely, so if you find two or three weeks have gone by and you haven’t heard anything, it might be helpful to send an email asking politely if you are still being considered for publication (I’ll write a post about that another time).

5. How to handle the reply. Assuming the magazine didn’t lose your work in the pile of submissions they get and you get a reply, the important thing is to be grateful one way or another for their reply. If you’re accepted, that’s wonderful. Talk terms with them and then decide if you want them to publish you. If you get rejected, possibly look at getting published somewhere else, and take into account any feedback you might receive on your short story as a possible way to improve the story.

What tips do you have for submitting to magazines your short stories?

Categories: General Writing, Marketing & Promoting, Publishing Basics, Short Stories, Traditional Publishing, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Success” Doesn’t Guarantee Happiness…Your State of Mind Does

Success (however you define it) isn’t going to guarantee happiness.

© Icefields | Dreamstime.com - Happiness Formula Photo

© Icefields | Dreamstime.com – Happiness Formula Photo

I understand how lack of sales, lack of positive reviews, not winning an award, hateful email, and other things we deal with as writers can bring us down.  This is normal.  We’re in a roller coaster business.

But the opposite isn’t going to “finally make you happy”… at least not longterm.  You might get a boost from it.  There is a certain high in reaching a goal, especially if you did even better than the goal you set.  But the high doesn’t last.  It peaks and then fizzles.  The high, just like the lows, are like a roller coaster.  Often right after going through a couple days of a “wow, I did it!” high, I find I spend a day or two feeling down in the dumps–and there was nothing bad that happened to make me feel bummed out.  I think this is the body’s way of leveling out our moods.

My point is that there is no external thing in our lives as writers that will truly satisfy us in the long run.  No matter how many books you sell, you can always sell more.  If you made it as a NYT or USA bestselling author with one book, you want to make it there with another one.  If you win one award, you want another one.  If you get one great review, you want another one.  It’s normal.  Once we get a taste of something, we want more.

If we don’t get it, we’re disappointed.   Why?  Because these things don’t sustain us.

You could have everything you’ve ever dreamed of as a writer, but that doesn’t mean you will be happy.  Happiness is something that comes from within.  It’s a state of mind.  The good news is, this is one area you have control over.  You decide how to respond to things that happen around you.  The older I get (I’ll be 40 in October), the more I’m convinced that the way you think has a huge impact on how you feel.

A quick disclaimer before I continue: you will not be happy every single day for the rest of your life.  There will be days that suck.  But overall, there could be an underlying sense of joy in your life if you start focusing on the positives.

Okay, now to continue…

You reap what you sow.

Focus on what you can control.

If you focus on things you can do (realistic goals such as improving your writing or getting a little more writing in during the week), you are more likely to find contentment than if you’re running all over Facebook and Twitter to promote the heck out of your book with the hope you’ll hit a certain number of sales.  Why?  Because you can’t control if someone buys or reads your book.  That is out of your control.  And if you’re looking for other people to do something to make you happy, it’s not going to happen.  It might give you a boost (and you should enjoy the boosts when they come), but it won’t sustain you.

Another principle of reaping what you sow…

The way you treat others ends up coming back to you somehow.

I don’t fully understand why this works out the way it does, but time and time again, I’ve seen people get what they’ve given.  Generous people seem to get more than those that are stingy.  People who reach out and help others often end up being liked by a large group of people.  I think it’s because positive attracts positive and negative attracts negative.

In regards to writing, I would say treat your fellow authors and your readers with respect.  That doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat.  There are times when you have to say no.  You can’t do it all.  But you can be positive when you engage with others.  Save the “I’m bummed out” for your close friends and family who go through life’s ups and downs with you.  Publicly, be happy.  When you are happy in public, it has a tendency to lift your spirits.

***

If you can get to the place where you’re content with your life, I think it’ll go a long way in being a better writer.  You’ll have more creative energy and enthusiasm for your work.  You’ll be more passionate about it.  You’ll naturally do better without consciously trying to.

And if you do hit an accomplishment you have no control over, like selling X number of copies in a month, you will be grateful for it, but you won’t base your self-worth as an author on it.  You’ll be humble about your accomplishments.  When good and bad times happens, you’ll bounce back a lot quicker, and you’ll level off easier to an overall sense of joy.

Categories: The Writer & Author | Tags: | 7 Comments

Are Pre-Orders Right For You?

I’m sure you guys have already gotten the KDP email announcing pre-orders for all indie authors.  If not, it’ll probably be coming in your inbox soon.  Basically, you can do a pre-order up to 90 days before your book’s release.

It’s up to you whether or not you want to do this.  But from my understanding, the pre-orders on Amazon won’t work like they do at Apple.

Apple will let all of your pre-order sales build up.  Then when the book is released, all of the pre-order sales adds to all the sales you make on your first day.  For example, let’s say you sell 20 books in pre-order, and you sell 40 books the day the book is released.  Apple will make it count your ranking as if you sold 60 books that day.  The higher ranking will give you added exposure and possibilities for getting noticed.  That’s the biggest benefit to doing pre-orders from a marketing perspective, in my opinion.

Amazon, however, doesn’t operate the same way with pre-orders.  So you might sell 20 books in pre-order.  Then the day of release, you sell 40.  For ranking purposes, it will look as if you only sold 40 books.  This makes you more vulnerable to a dip in sales.  If all your fans pre-order your books, then those sales won’t boost your ranking on the first day your book is available.  Quick note: You will still show on your dashboard that you sold 60 books.  You just won’t have this reflected on the Amazon ranking on your product page.  (I hope that makes sense.)

After studying up on what other authors are saying, this is my understanding of how the two systems (Apple and Amazon) works when dealing with pre-orders.  If I am wrong, please let me know.

Anyway, the question might be, are pre-orders worth it?  Only you can answer that question.  It might be worth it to you, or it might not.

Here are some things to factor in when looking at pre-orders.

1.  Pre-orders force you into a deadline

Deadlines are an awesome thing.  I love them because they force you to stay on track.  If you know you have to get the book done by a certain date, you’re more likely to do it.  Otherwise, it’s too easy to keep putting it off until sometime later.  To me, this is one of the most compelling reasons to do a pre-order.  I love deadlines and having things ready to go before they’re due.

The drawback, of course, is real life.  Something might pop up that throws you off track, like an illness or job loss.  To rectify this, you could have everything done and ready to go when you put something into pre-order.  But this requires a great deal of patience.

2.  Pre-orders allow you to promote more in advance since you have everything ready advance.

This can free up time working on the pre-release promotion of your book.  What type of promotion you do is up to you.  I mainly blog sample scenes, character interviews, and updates to promote my work before it’s released.  Some people prefer social networking sites to gain excitement for their book.  Some people do blog tours or look at running ads.  There is no right or wrong on this.  You should do what you’re comfortable with and enjoy.

3.  Readers might want to buy a pre-order instead of going back to your blog or social networking site or the bookstore to see if your book is out or not.

The argument can be made that new release emails notifying fans that your book is available will relieve them of the need to keep checking the sites listed above.  I’m on the fence about how effective the new release emails are.  I use MailChimp to send out information on new releases, and it seems that a little over half the recipients open them.  Less than half click on the links.  I don’t know if people are also following my blog and go through those links instead or what.  To me, it seems to be one of those “it doesn’t matter” promotional tools.  Perhaps if I didn’t regularly blog and announce new released on Facebook and Twitter, I’d see more of a benefit from it.  I don’t think it hurts to do it, and it’s not like it takes a lot of time to set up.

Others might have a better experience with new release emails.  Keep in mind that what works great for one person doesn’t always work the same for someone else.

But pre-orders are a way readers can reserve your book then totally forget about it until they get an email from the bookstore telling them the book is now ready for them to read.  If nothing else, having a book in pre-order will answer the question, “When will your next book be out?” that you might get from a reader.

4.  Pre-orders and rankings.

Given, Amazon doesn’t apply pre-order sales to the actual release date when calculating the ranking, and that could hurt your ranking (and potential sales) if you don’t sustain regular sales on day one of the book’s release.  But it’s also possible there might be an awesome rank in other channels on release day because of the pre-orders that built up.  If all your fans pre-ordered the book, you need people who are new to your work or on the fence about it to buy the book to keep your ranking up.

However, if you didn’t have pre-orders, then all of your sales start on the first day of the book’s release.  It might take time for the news of your book’s release to trickle through all the promotional avenues of your choice, and this could buy you a few days to weeks of steady sales, which could help with ranking and exposure.

***

So will pre-orders help or hurt you?  I don’t know.  Sales are like a roller coaster as it is.  Things like time of year, promotions, ads, word of mouth, etc can effect your sales throughout the life of your book.  All I’ve learned from this business is that there are no guarantees.  You might write the book you believe will appeal to a wide audience.  You did your research.  You put in popular character types (ex. alpha hero), popular situations (ex. a scandal), got an attractive cover (one that is way better than your other books), and have a description with popular keywords in it.  But when you publish it, the book sinks…fast, and it never recovers.  Then you write a book you don’t think will appeal to many, and it does better than the one you thought would sell great.  I’ve had that experience several times.

What makes one book sell well and not another is a mystery.  People keep asking me for a magic bullet, and there is no magic bullet.  You write, throw it out there, and see what sticks.

Pre-orders is another promotional tool at your disposal.  You can use it or not.  If it works for you, use it.  If it doesn’t, then don’t.  Just like everything else in this business, tailor your strategy to what you enjoy and what works best.  If someone tells your what you’re doing is wrong, ignore them.  They aren’t in your shoes.

Categories: Book Promotion, Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting | Tags:

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