Writing short stories is a great way to build a portfolio in order to submit to publishers. My first short story publication credits are what helped me get a literary agent and first publishing contract, and then I was able to publish all my previously published and award-winning stories into my short story collection.
Crafting an Intriguing Tale
- A strong narrative voice. Doesn’t matter if it’s first or third person, the narrator needs to be strong, consistent and distinctive.
- An intriguing opening. Ideally the opening will set up the short story and intrigue the reader to keep reading.
- Changes. If it’s a long story it needs to go through different moods and shifts. While it is the one story it needs to grow.
- Characterisation. While it is a short story and therefore a snapshot of a moment in time it is still important to have consistent characterisation. This means your characters need to act in a plausible manner and the reader needs to be able to believe in what the character is doing.
- Tension. The tension should escalate throughout the story as the reader tries to keep pace with the action. To do this you need to foreshadow action and then deliver the goods, and keep doing this throughout the story so that on the one hand you are satisfying the reader, you are also keeping them hanging.
- An ending that resonates. The ending should paint an image that stays with the reader. While it can be a happy, sad or open-ended ending, the reader needs to have an image that stays with them.
Navigating the Path to Publication: Finding Markets for Your Short Stories
There are numerous ways you can find markets for your writing.
- Join a Writing Centre or Writing organisation in your state. You will receive a monthly newsletter that will list submission opportunities and guidelines.
- Go on-line and research submission opportunities by googling short story competitions or going to websites that list this information.
- Buy books like the Writer’s Marketplace or a directory listing writing opportunities. The downfall with this is that the information will become outdated.
- Do a writing course through a TAFE or university where you will be introduced to market opportunities and taught professional practices.
- Submit to short story competitions. Once you are on their mailing list they will send you entry forms to future competitions.
Finding Markets for Your Short Stories
Short story competitions are the way to gain exposure. There are numerous short story competitions sponsored by local councils, universities, publishing companies, journals, bookshops and writing organisations.
Submitting to short story competitions is good practice. You learn how to professionally prepare submissions, it motivates you to write, and you have more opportunity of placing in a competition and thus including a line on your bio.
Some of the short story competitions have an entry fee, some don’t. In some instances you will need to weigh up whether the entry fee is worthwhile compared to the prize involved.
To maximise your chances when submitting to short story competitions you need to do some basic research. Read previous winning entries on-line. Some competition organisers sell anthologies with the winning stories that includes the judges report. Wherever you can buy these anthologies and examine them.
Research the judges. Read their work and find out what their writing style is and what type of themes they explore in their own writing. Submit a short story that you feel best matches their personal style to maximise your chances of winning or being shortlisted.
In most instances organisers will only inform entrant winners. Track the date that the winners will be announced so that you know whether you have won or not. If there is an awards ceremony set aside your sour grapes and attend. You will find out what the judges were looking for and hopefully hear the winning entries. This is part of the learning process.
Some short story competitions have an opportunity for publication attached to them. If not, don’t despair. It is much easier to gain the interest of a magazine or journal editor by submitting a story that has won, been placed or shortlisted in a short story competition, than one that is not.
If your short story does not succeed at a short story competition, re-read it, revise and re-submit. If you have submitted the same short story 5, 10, 15 times and each time you have revised it, applying crafting techniques you have learnt through time, then this story and the submission process have served their process.
Writing Organisations for support and information
Writing organisations provide resources, information, courses and link you with writing groups. Become a member of your local writing organisations and connect with other writers.
Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Website: https://asauthors.org/
Writers Victoria Website: https://writersvictoria.org.au/
Queensland Writers Centre Website: https://qldwriters.org.au/
New South Wales Writers' Centre Website: https://writingnsw.org.au/
South Australian Writers Centre Website: https://writerssa.org.au/
Northern Territory Writers' Centre (NT Writers' Centre) Website: https://www.ntwriters.com.au/
Tasmanian Writers' Centre (TWC) Website: http://www.taswriters.org/
ACT Writers Centre Website: https://actwriters.org.au/
Varuna, the National Writers House Website: https://www.varuna.com.au/
Writers' Centre Norwich (Australia) Website: https://writerscentrenorwich.org.au/
Australian Writers' Guild (AWG) Website: https://awg.com.au/
Society of Editors (NSW) Website: https://editorsnsw.com/
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