How To Win The Market: A Short Story Editor Report

Sep 18, 2023 | Editing

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Publishing short stories is a terrific way to break in as a new author. Finding the right market for your work can help boost your chances at conventional publishing deals, build credibility with a universe of ravenous fans, and help establish the kinds of worlds and characters that provide the backbone for memorable series. In this blog, I’m going to give you five important observations that I, a short story editor, see in the current market.

First, I think it is important to define what a short story is. You’ll see publications putting out calls, looking for short stories in their specific genres, but what does that mean?

The umbrella term “short story” can be broken down into small sub-categories. 

Flash Fiction:

While there is a category called micro-fiction, which is fiction at 100 words, flash is the most prominent short-short story. Growing rapidly, flash fiction is defined as a short story of under 1,000 words. 

Short Short Story:

Above 1,000 words, but shorter than 3,500, the short short story is a slim but complete tale. Think of it as something lacking in character and plot depth while at the same time, delivering a big punch.

Standard Short Story:

Reaching up to 7,500 words, this is, as the category definition suggests, the standard. When most authors (and readers) think of a short story, they’re imagining something with character depth and story heft that they can read in a single sitting. 

Beyond this, story categories get a little blurry. By that I mean, some publishers might be seeking novelettes, novellas, or something called a longer short story. These definitions are less rigid and, if you have a story of this length, I suggest looking at each market separately. One publisher might call a novella’s range 7,500-12,000, while another could push that to 15,000.

The point? Read what the publisher is looking for and conform to that. 

Short Story Editor Market Reality #1

AI is here and, as predicted, it’s disrupting everything. 

Publishers have already felt the crush of AI created stories and it is affecting how they do business. Earlier this year, Clarkesworld, one of the preeminent publishers of cutting edge science fiction had to temporarily shut down submissions because they were inundated with bot-created work. 

A lot of authors found this disturbing. I felt angry, as not only am I a fan of Clarkesworld, but I was shopping a short story that was ideal for their pages at the time.

The reality is that disruptions happen. This one, like most others, will pass and whatever new set of safeguards are created will lead to new realities. Right now, everything remains up in the air. 

Short Story Market Reality #2

You might have heard that people are reading less. Whether or not that is true is debatable, but the reality is, the market has never offered more places to publish your work than right now.

Taken as a whole, the market for short stories, including print trade magazines, journals, literary or academic magazines, eZines, anthologies and more, is absolutely exploding. Whatever your genre or category, the number of places you can find a readership is increasing. 

Short Story Editor Market Reality #3

On the flip side of the previous observation, which lauds the increasing number of outlets, I’m seeing the number of publishers offering professional payment is shrinking. 

Why is this?

There are a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the ever shrinking publication budgets. In my mind, the decrease in payment can be attributed to a number of factors. Traditional magazines have experienced a decrease in circulation, leading to lower overall revenue; those larger publishers are fighting against skyrocketing print and distribution costs; shifting focuses at established literary magazines (often supported by college literary programs). 

Can you make a living as a short story writer? I’m afraid not, but as a short story editor, I can tell you, there is more value in a short story now than just the sale cost.

Short Story Market Reality #4

The value in a short story is more than the money the publisher throws at you. In fact, I would say, short stories have more intangible value today than ever before.

What do I mean by intangible value? Let me try and explain.

Say you have written a short story featuring the main character from your series of science fiction novels. Maybe it’s an origin story. Rather than accept the $50 offered by a publisher (a fairly standard rate most authors would be happy to have) you can use the story as a loss leader. By posting a short story for free on your website, with a link to sign up for your mailing list, or to your novel, you can make more that publication fee in indirect sales. 

Is this for every author? No. You need that novel sell-through, something many authors are still working on. If you are in that position, however, the targeted give-away is definitely worth considering.

Short Story Editor Market Reality #5

You want to publish short stories for the prestige? Well, I’m here to say, that idea, however steeped in the traditional publishing market, still works.

If you look at a cross-section of newly signed authors (by signed, I mean, authors who have contracts with major publishers) a large percentage of them established their brand with a smartly placed short story. The scenario here is, they wrote a story, had it published in a major professional market and then used that prestige to rise above the noise. 

This is traditional publishing 101. Does it work for everyone? No. But as a short story editor, I’ve seen numerous authors ascend this way. 

You have to decide if it’s for you.

Short Story Market Reality #6

Genre is flourishing in many ways. Whether it’s in the terms of diversity, outlets, or fan passion, finding a niche genre is a great way to reach readers.

There was once a time when the mystery category was mystery, the fantasy category was fantasy, and, well, you get the general idea. That’s not the case though. Not by a longshot.

While those categories exist as umbrellas, what falls underneath are dozens of specifically defined subgenres, inviting writers – and readers – to push and expand the definitions. I attribute a lot of this to readers who, driving the on-line conversation about the fiction they love reading, have defined specific terminology that publishers are forced to follow. 

Gaslamp fantasy? Cozy mystery?

Odds are, you’re writing in a very specific sub-genre. As a short story editor, I recommend you figure out what that is and target it heavily.