Ten Ways to Write Short Stories That Sell

by : Theodora Cochrane

Research your target market. Do they use the type of story you want to write?

Stick rigidly to the word counts they accept. Don’t think they will make allowances for you. Remember that you are just one of a great number of hopefuls. Ensure that you give your manuscript the maximum chance of success. If it’s outside the guidelines busy editors will probably return it unread.

1 The most difficult part of being a successful writer of short stories is NOT writing them – it is selling them. Short stories can be of any length from a few hundred to several thousand words. Make sure you aim at the length required by your chosen publication.

2 Before you start decide whether you are going to write this piece in the first or third person. It doesn’t matter which as long as you are comfortable with your decision, but don’t switch from one to the other. It is important to remember that if you write in the first person you can only include what that person sees, thinks and feels. Don’t switch about from one to the other in the same scene, don’t do it too often and only do it when it is essential to the plot.

3 Don’t bother too much about length in your first draft, you’ll lose spontaneity. You can edit down to the correct word count when you’ve finished. It is better to do this than try to pad out a piece which is too short.

4 Having written the story the first thing you should do is read it out aloud. This will show you words and phrases that you have used too often.

5 Limit the number of characters in your story. Two or three are perfect. Four is acceptable but any more are too many unless you are writing a long short or a novel.

6 Most editors love humour. (That is humour – not slapstick comedy.) They also like a work which ends on a hopeful or upbeat note. They like the main character to win out in the end because readers tend to identify with that person. The reason for this is that editors of magazines want their readers to go on buying the publication. They are not going to do this if, after reading it, they are left feeling miserable, deflated and depressed. Readers are not particularly interested in your skill as a writer. They are only interested in how the result makes them feel. Of course you have to be skilful but the important thing is how it leaves them feeling.

7 Now you need to start editing for length. At this stage it is better if it is too long rather than too short. Your end product will be better if it is pruned not padded. Look for long sentences and paragraphs.

8 Print out your story. On the cover page put the title and word count and your name, address, phone number and email address. Write a brief covering letter.

9 Now address it to the fiction editor of your chosen magazine. Use the correct postage and a sae. Then you wait – and wait. Don’t expect a quick answer.

10 Get back to the computer and start work on your next submission.