How to Publish a Short Story

Aligning Your Goals with Your Publishing Strategy

Photo by  Water Journal  on  Unsplash

“Publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle and hurling it into the sea. Some bottles drown, some come safe to land, where the notes are read and then possibly cherished, or else misinterpreted, or else understood all too well by those who hate the message. You never know who your readers might be.” ― Margaret Atwood

Naturally, you want people to read your short stories. You need to publish them in some form. There are many ways to do that which I will explore in this article. With some, I’ve had success with others I haven’t. This comes with the trade of course. You’ll have to try and see what works for you.

First and foremost you must decide what your aim is. Do you want to be featured in literary magazines? Do you want to get yourself on the radar of agents and publishers? Do you just want people to read your stories and get feedback? Do you want to earn money with your writing straightaway? Do you want to see where your journey may lead? These are all things you might consider.

Then there’s a traditional way of publishing or self-publishing.



The Traditional Route

As a writer, it is not easy to get published through the traditional channels of publishing. If you are able to find your way down this path, it would probably be great. But it will not guarantee you of a place in the top charts or even in the hearts of many a reader. However, neither can self-publishing perform such a miracle.

With short stories, it’s even more difficult. There aren’t many publishers eager to publish collections of short stories. Sure, if Stephen King wants to put out one, his publisher would probably hurry to the printers.

The best option you have is to send your story to literary journals. There are tons of them out there. Just check Writer’s Market. In their yearly book, tons of publications and their focus are listed.

Through websites like Submittable, you can upload your story to these publications. Most of them charge you for this and you’re never guaranteed to get published. Publications offer prices for your work if you get published. Sometimes thousands of dollars. I’ve tried this for a while, however, without any luck. I picked a handful of publications that fit the themes and styles of my stories. If you want to give this a go, I suggest you do your research first and then start submitting some of your stories.

If your story gets published (and it’s a big IF), you might get noticed by agents and publishers, but it is never a given. 

Authors like Bukowski and Stephen King started out their careers with short stories published in magazines. Magazines like Esquire or Playboy even used to publish short stories. Those days are gone.


3D Mockup copy 2.png

New eBook:

How to Write a Short Story. A complete guide for $2.99 on Amazon.


The Self-Publishing Route

We live in a new time and age of publishing. There’s been a huge shift. ‘Unknown’ authors have made a name for themselves through eBooks, mostly sold via Amazon. Blogs emerged, as well as Medium.

There are new ways of presenting your work to the public. The landscape changed and as an author, you have to do more than just writing your creative gems.

Through self-publishing, you are dependent on you. If you place your work in enough (and the right) places. If you can build a relationship with people who enjoy your work. 

Self-publishing may give you more financial and even creative control. But the road is paved with many obstacles. And it is difficult to be a creator, an editor, a marketer, a social media strategist, give “customer-service”, to be an entrepreneur and all-around hustler. With a $0 budget.

With self-publishing, you can’t enjoy the benefits of having a publisher with marketing power and industry knowledge and connections. With traditional publishing, you will end up having a professional editor. In addition, a publisher can make sure your work is sold at the big bookstores. You get a small cut and hopefully, you get to earn your advance. 

With self-publishing, you have more control and you can start right away. You can publish eBooks via the Amazon Kindle store through Amazon KDP. Amazon even allows you to produce paperbacks, with their awesome print on demand service. You have all the control and get to decide upon your book cover, pricing, and distribution. You get to keep 70% of the royalties (depending on what price you set for your work). However, you are responsible for making sales. You have to decide who your audience is and find them.

Here are some resources I found helpful on self-publishing:

  • John Locke — How I sold 1 million eBooks in 5 months. Slimy title, but it’s not about that. It takes a while before you get to the practical, good stuff, but Locke shares some great insights, also for building a platform and how to connect with people online.

  • Follow Hugh Howey’s journey. Best known for the Wool series. A very prolific writer. Wool started as an eBook novella until his readers demanded more. Howey made up the rules for self-publishing and did so quite successfully.

  • Follow Andy Weir’s journey. Author of the Martian, a book that became a global phenomenon when released as a Hollywood movie starring Matt Damon. Weir published the Martian in parts on his blog, gaining feedback from his readers. He used the feedback to edit the Martian. (Listen to an interview about his self-publishing journey here).

  • Creativindie.com: A great resource full of (free) courses, eBooks and webinars about self-publishing. I’m diving in at the moment, and I must say, it’s been really insightful so far. I just watch and read the free stuff by the way.



What to Do?

The route you take should reflect your goal. What do you want to achieve with your short stories?

I wanted to reach as many people as possible with my stories. I wanted people to think about certain subjects in a new light. Eventually, I would like to earn money with my short stories (which I already do to a modest degree). In all fairness, if earning money is your goal, you might want to consider writing non-fictional articles as well.

For me, the route of self-publishing made the most sense (more on what I did in the next paragraph). Please consider the previous two paragraphs and determine what it is you want. Of course, you can test both waters, depending on how much time you want to put into it.

Please note, the market for short stories is small, unfortunately. We have to be realistic here. People prefer novels over short stories. I hope your main goal is to introduce people to your talent.

I love writing short stories. They allow me to fine tune my craft and introduce my work and ideas to the public. From here I’ll try to step up and continue working on my novel.



What I did

About two years ago I started taking writing short stories seriously. I finished my first two short stories, The Money Tree and The Sapien Zoo, two years ago.

In September 2017 I launched my own website. I had 0 readers at first, except for friends and family members. The first thing I did was reaching out to other blogs. Every story has a different theme and topic. I figured these topics must match what other bloggers write their non-fiction posts about. So with The Money Tree, which is basically about greed, I made a list of finance blogs that were all about helping people to stay out of debt and manage their finances. I sent about 50 emails and got featured on two websites. One of them decided to include my story in their newsletter. I had 3,000 views that day. I kept refreshing my Google Analytics stats. I was so happy.

I continued doing this for a couple of months. Sometimes no one replied, other times I got featured. It’s a lot of work, but it kickstarted my website for sure. I now have about 4,000 monthly website visitors on an organic basis, which is crazy!

I put my short stories on Reddit too, but that was too intense for me. People on Reddit are quite negative - to put it mildly. It’s just not my thing. And then I turned to Medium.

I started posting my short stories on Medium. At first, no one really read it. Then I thought about all the things I learned in the first 6-8 months of writing short stories and navigating the writing world. I wanted to share that. So I started writing non-fiction blogs about my writing journey. My stats went up, I got more followers. The combination of publishing my fiction and non-fiction on both my own site and Medium have resulted in even more readers. Plus, I found something I thoroughly enjoyed and could earn some money with.

Back to short story writing and publishing. Another thing I did, was publishing eBooks through Amazon. Small bundles with 4 short stories at first. After a year, I put out my first 13-story collection of short stories in both eBook and print format. I’m amazed at the fact that I keep selling them every month. Trust me, the sales are nothing to be envious of and I should probably do more in terms of marketing. However, holding my first paperback with my fictional work was one of the proudest and satisfying moments in my life.

If you want to know how to market your stories, I will dedicate another post to that soon.

If you want to know more about how to publish through Amazon KDP, I made a guide for that.



Conclusion

The first thing you need to decide is what your goal is for your short stories. Then, you need to align that goal with a publishing strategy. There are many options available and I know it can be overwhelming.

Depending on how much time and effort you want to put into promoting your stories, I would at least suggest doing the following:

  • Start a Medium page and publish your stories there

  • If you have time, set up your own blog (I opted for Squarespace and picked a template and literally had a site in about two days)

  • Find out which traditional magazines publish short stories and enter contests

  • If you have some stories collected, publish them on Amazon and learn the ropes

Good luck!