How to Get Your Short Stories Published
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Nov 20, 2011

How to Get Your Short Stories Published

My Writing Book When I decided to start writing, I strode forth on a path many writers seem to walk:
  • Write book
  • Approach agents
  • Face rejection
The path is long. It winds from the stunning Mountains of Creativity, down towards the desolate Sea of Self Doubt. If you get to the end without throwing yourself from a cliff, the view is a disappointment and the sea smells of wee. You’re then faced with two choices:
  1. Grow skin as thick as Godzilla and think of an alternative route
  2. Build a sandcastle on the Beach of Woe, turn your Doom Siren up to max, then curl up and cry in a sandy corner for the rest of eternity
While seriously considering the latter, in the end I concluded that the former offered a more appealing future. After the inevitable arrival of hindsight, beginning a career in writing by completing and selling a novel seemed a little like realising you like climbing mountains and then deciding that your first project will be scaling Everest wearing only flip flops and a pair of Speedos.

Many writers, including the likes of Philip K Dick, Roald Dahl, Stephen King and Terry Pratchett, started out by writing short stories. These fine gentlemen seem to know what they’re doing, so I decided to follow their example and do the same.

Short Stories
are a lot easier to sell than books. They also require far less work and you don’t have to neglect your family and friends or turn to alcohol, drugs or tree-hugging (each to their own...) to complete one. Most importantly, they offer an excellent chance to share your work and gain feedback from editors, competition judges and readers.

There are many short story competitions which offer the opportunity of becoming a published author. Yes, truly, a realistic opportunity; something which might actually happen before you die.

My first published story was printed in Writers’ Forum magazine after winning their monthly short story competition. It’s a well circulated and widely read magazine and, if you win, three hundred quid is yours for the spending. I won by subscribing to the magazine and learning what appealed to the judges. Each month, the three winning stories are published and the head judge, Sue Moorcroft, gives detailed reasons for her choice of winners. I learnt from what I read in the magazine – they offer many writing tips and Sue seemed to like stories of all genres with hopeful endings. So, I wrote a few stories with this in mind. My third entry into the competition won. I was published. If I can do it, you can do it. I’m a drummer. It really can’t be that difficult...

The Different Types of Short Story Competition – Where to Start

There are many annual competitions, including some highly prestigious ones with some monster prizes, like the Bridport Prize or the BBC National Short Story Award. The problem with these competitions is that thousands of people enter them. This means, the likelihood of winning them, even if you write a Shakespearian masterpiece, is slim. The advantage of competitions like Writers’ Forum, which is run monthly, is that, just by nature of its regularity, there are far less stories to compete against. Therefore, your chances of winning are increased. And if you don’t win, rather than waiting a year, you can enter again the next month. In addition to this, when entering short story competitions of this nature, you can often request a critique for a small fee (usually around a fiver).

This is incredibly useful – it tells you what the judges liked / disliked about your story and gives you ideas on how to improve it. You can then make the improvements and enter it in other competitions – just because one judge doesn’t think a story is a winner, doesn’t mean others will agree. This is where the Godzilla skin comes in useful – just keep on going and never listen to the Demon of Doubt, who whistles his merry tune inside every writer’s head from time to time.

Writers’ Forum is the only reputable monthly competition I’m aware of, but there are other quarterly competitions, like Scribble Magazine and the Brighton COW short story competition. Both these are excellent competitions to start you on the road to publication. They are run by friendly people who want to engage with writers. Scribble is particularly good as the readers choose the winners each quarter. So, if your story is published in the magazine, the next month, readers comments are printed explaining why they have chosen their favourites and the winner is revealed. It’s a great way to gain constructive criticism and writing tips from other writers, and also gives you the opportunity to play God, influencing the outcome and giving your opinion on the stories in the magazine. This is valuable as it forces you to think like a judge. What makes a story stand out? Why is it good? You can then unleash your newfound perspective onto your own short stories and create something better because of it.

Keep writing my friends. Never give up. I’ve had three stories published so far this year. If I can do it, you can!

Written by Chris Fielden, a published author who enjoys sharing writing tips based on experience with other writers and using his own short stories as case studies to illustrate how to win short story competitions.