So, you want to be a published writer. And not just any old published writer, oh no, not in this day and age when publication is as easy as copy-pasting your masterpiece onto livejournal or offering it up on – you want to be published by a third party, your writing selected from the slush pile and acknowledged as the thrilling story you believe it to be. But how?

Submitting short stories for publication is easy enough once you get the hang of it. Having sweated blood and bled mucus making your story the best it can be, you need only to find a series of markets to apply to and present a believable front.

Finding a Market

There are two major databases for fiction markets on the web that I know of: and While is essentially one big alphabetic list of markets, Duotrope has the advantage of making its contents available via a very neat search engine. Here, you can refine your search by genre, story length, even payscale! But whatever way you go about it, there are likely to be hundreds of markets that seem to fit your story. Using the entirely fictional fiction story “Agapanthus Pox and the Plague Unicorn,” I will walk you through the steps of finding a publication to fit your needs.

Firstly – take note of your story. This means word count, genre, possible rating given content, and so on. “Agapanthus Pox,” my piece d’oeuvre, is a 3,500-word humorous fantasy story that features an abundance of exploding pustules and disease-ridden flakes of glitter, but no real horror, violence or sexual themes to speak of.

Secondly – find a market that fits your specifications (for the purposes of this exercise, I’ll be using markets as fictional as my story). I am looking for something that publishes things from the shorter end of the short stories spectrum, and has a target audience of kids who like laughing at icky stuff as well as educated adults who will be able to distinguish the scathing social and meta-fictional commentary contained within “Agapanthus Pox.” Seeing as I live pretty damn near the bottom of the Earth, it’ll also need to be something that accepts electronic submissions. I visit Duotrope, select the relevant options in their search engine (Fantasy, 3,500 words, payscale of “token and up,” electronic submission), and voila! I have a list of possible markets. Here are a few of them:

I’ve given myself a theoretical ten choices here – depending on the sort of story you’re looking to publish, you could have dozens more available to you. But now to start narrowing down the field.

Rather than just start sending off submissions to whichever market tops the list / catches your attention right off the bat, you should do a bit of research and find out what they actually publish first. Remember, the only specifications I put into the search engine were word-count, wide genre, submissions method and payment levels: there’s so much else I need to know. The best way to do this is to visit the market’s website and, if possible, read through a few back issues to see what the editors like. Here’s what the theoretical me discovers when I look over those markets’ goods:

(Exaggerated, yes, and I doubt Duotrope would ever list such an obvious scam, but it’s worth noting that there are scam markets out there, and markets that are unreliable, so you need to be a bit careful. Read the fine text, see if you can find any warnings or recommendations from previous submitters)

So, I’ve now narrowed my options down to five possible markets. Excellent! Hopefully, at least one of them will love my story enough to let it grace their pages, whether they be paper or pixel. Unfortunately, before I get to that step, there’s another hurdle to cross …

Writing a Cover Letter

Here, I will momentarily put on my Editor Hat dons said rather dashing piece of headwear. I really hate it when authors send in a submission without any sort of cover letter, am happy when they send a submission with one, and get all joyful when the cover letter is particularly interesting, because that’s generally an indication that the writer has a good grasp on this whole literacy deal and may have therefore sent in a pretty good story.

So, what makes a good cover letter? You’ll probably get different advice from everyone you turn to, but I like them to be short, succinct, and preferably fun. A cover letter’s contents may include your name and address, a brief bio, a bibliography, and/or references to any writing awards you may have won. Be polite, professional, and wherever possible address the email to the person whom you know will be reading it. This information can sometimes be found on the Submissions or About Us page of a market’s website; if you can’t find it, though, a “Dear Sir/Madam” will usually suffice.

At last . . .

Now you’re ready to send it off! Pick your favourite market from your list of possibilities, email it to the publisher in the specified format, and wait. How long you wait depends on the particular market; some have an average response time of a few weeks, and some have an average response time of up to a year. You can use the wait to write, edit, polish, and maybe even do whatever it is you do when you’re not trying to become a published author. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself stagnate while you’re waiting for a response; don’t get sick of waiting a few days in and send you story someplace else (some markets do allow such simultaneous submissions, but it’s easier to go one-by-one); and don’t pester the editor for updates on your story’s progress through the system. If it’s a month or so past the expected response date, then you should email them for a check-up, but spamming will hinder rather than help you. Just relax, keep writing, and one day an email will appear in your inbox . . .

Dealing with Rejection and Accepting Acceptance

It is inevitable that some of your stories will be rejected, and it is likely that your very first submission will have a less than happy ending. When this happens, both etiquette and good sense demands that you on no account vent your anger on the editor who rejected your story (and also remember, s/he is not rejecting you, only your story). Believe it or not, word could easily get around that you’re no fun to work with, and that can damage your chances of publication – heck, hat, if I heard that Guy McGuyerson had cursed out my friend for rejecting his story, I’m hardly going to look on him favourably when something of his turns up in my inbox.

Instead, take a deep breath, and if you’re upset by the editor’s decision, go away from the computer until you’re in a better frame of mind. Then, you can choose either to respond to the rejection letter with thanks for considering your story and for any constructive criticism they gave, or go straight on to re-polishing the story and sending it to the next market on your list. Rinse, repeat, and always remember to keep up-to-date records on where and when you made your submissions. Double-ups are seldom fun and often embarrassing.

And if you’re accepted? Excellent! Be gracious in your success, thank the editor(s) for choosing your story, provide details for payment if applicable (alternatively, you may choose to donate your fee to the magazine), and wait to see your story in print. Again, though, don’t rest on your laurels too long: keep writing, keep polishing, and don’t think that you can sit back just because you have one writing credit to your name. Even if you take a break from submitting work, continue writing and honing your craft.

Now, get thee to, and let us all know how you do!


“Agapanthus Pox and the Plague Unicorn” was rejected by all five of the author’s selected markets, much to her horror and abject humiliation. Caught in the delirium of failure, the author completely reworked the manuscript, utterly altering the story’s tone and contents. As a result, “Agapanthus Pox” is due to be published in Cyclopean Circles next August.


  1. Undertow on 29 September 2008, 12:16 said:

    This is a wonderful, informative article which I am definitely filing away for future reference (and which I will again peruse as soon as I write something that is fit to be looked over — dare I say published? — without causing irreparable harm to its readers).
    Also, I would certainly read and love any story under the title of “Agapanthus Pox and the Plague Unicorn”. Even if a 2003 US census was filed under that title, I’d read the whole thing and think it was a beautifully clever prank. Meaning that I would REALLY like to steal your stroke-of-genius fictional story title!

  2. Ophelia on 29 September 2008, 15:40 said:

    I’m glad I could be of service! And I’d love to see what you can come up with regarding dear Agapanthus, who thus far sadly exists only for the purposes of this article.

    (liek, omgz, would that count as fanfiction? :P)

  3. SlyShy on 29 September 2008, 15:45 said:

    I can’t believe you went through this entire thing without promoting Semaphore. :P That must have taken a lot of willpower.

  4. Ophelia on 29 September 2008, 15:49 said:

    S-s-s-sema –

    No! I won’t do it!

    runs and hides

    But, really, I thought that might have been a bit unprofessional – this is supposed to be a how-to guide, not a vehicle for some free publicity.

  5. SlyShy on 29 September 2008, 16:09 said:

    I would wait for the site relaunch to promote it anyways. At which point I’ll put something up on ii. ;)

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