Saturday, April 4, 2015

Publishing Short Stories

Photo credit: Marcus Hansson.

Writers hate outlines. Of course! Writers want to write, the way painters want to paint and dancers want to dance. But the finished product of any art is the presentation, and presentations require lots of preparation. A well-considered and flexible outline can do wonders to make a story effective. But what about the story of your stories?

Zoom out and add another level to consider: what does your publishing outline look like? A publishing outline is a plan for publishing your stories, and it's always better to plan ahead. Here's how to start:

Know Thyself (and Your Readers)

Write what you love to write. That's where the passion is, right? But if you want people to read what you love to write, you'll need to have a publishing strategy.

Strategies have goals, and yours will depend on your desired audience. Who is your ideal reader? How is your dream readership different from your current readership (if you have a current readership)? What publications does your current readership read? Where do they find their reading material?

The first step to success will be to make sure you're writing what your dream readership wants to read. Get feedback from other writers and fervent readers, or hire a professional editor to critique you. Next, write a cover letter.

Publish Small to Build Your Cover Letter

When you start writing, it will be hard to fill up a whole page talking about yourself. Many publication decisions are made on cover letters — where you will sum up your experience and writing history in a single page — before the submitted material even earns a glance.

Yes, there's an art to fluffing up résumés and cover letters, but at the end of the day, any discerning reader will be able to see that your fluff is just fluff. You're going to be sending in a lot of white space with your early submission cover letters. That's okay. Your chances of getting published in larger, more influential publications will depend on filling up that space — with actual publications, not filler.

But there's good news: The number of publications available to you is nearly limitless. Check lists and find more niche markets, who may already be looking for exactly what you're writing — theme, genre, plot, style, tone, form, number of characters, time, and place!

Just keep submitting your stories, and you'll get published. Take the good pieces of advice given to you (and learn to discern the bad advice), and you'll get better all the time.

Get Involved With the Community

Creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum, and celebrity doesn't happen in isolation. LinkedIn, NaNoWriMo, Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, and Wattpad all offer great ways to find other writers to interact with. Read their stories, send them your comments and feedback, and make yourself known. Be charitable with your time and advice to other writers.

Join local writers' groups and associations. Ask about readings and meetings at libraries and bookstores. Attend expos and conventions. And everywhere you go, put your best foot forward and make a good impression. Make sure people know you write — and what you write. When you get published, let people know. Don't hide your successes when they happen, but don't gloat about them, either.

Publish Larger & Build Influence

One by one, you'll slowly grow your list of publications, and the more you have under your belt, the easier it will be to get into larger magazines, journals, and anthologies. You'll be recognized more often as your name becomes visible in tables of contents, and the network you've built in the writing community will support you and vouch for you.

Eventually, you should be able to fill up that entire page of your cover letter. You may even need to start choosing which publications to list and which to omit, based on who you're submitting to. That's a great problem to have. By then, you should have an audience of readers who want to read more of your stories. Give them what they want.

As you achieve more success, publishers will start seeking you out. When this happens, it's your "made it" moment. It's time to turn your writing into a career. Stay involved in the writing community and use the influence you've acquired to help other writers find their own paths to success.

Be Smart, Be Successful

Think about your publication strategy long-term. Achieving success requires strategy and incremental progress. Build a list of publications you'd like your work to appear in and rank them by their size, influence, selectiveness, etc. Start at the bottom and work your way up in small steps. Stay organized, and keep track of who you send your stories to and what sorts of responses you get. The smarter you are about your approach to publishing, the more success you'll have.

So what's your publishing outline?

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