Blog Series: How to publish short stories Part III

Photo courtesy of that same old typewriter I used in Part I and Part II.

Part III – How to Submit

Okay, so if you’re on part III, you’ve perfected your manuscript (or at the very least, you know you need to), you’ve gathered a list of targeted publications, and you’re itching to get your work out there. That’s awesome, but don’t blow it right at the finish line. You’ve got one more thing to get right.

Your submission plan.

As we discussed in Part I: The Manuscript and in Part II: Where to Submit, you need three primary things to be successful:

·      (Quality) Manuscript: Most important.

·      Market research: Where to submit.

·      Submission plan: How to submit.

Part III of this blog series focuses on the submission plan. Cover letters, queries, follow-ups, submission managers, and more. If done right, you can build a repeatable submission plan that will save you hours in the process.

Let’s take this last step, shall we? You’re getting close.



Let’s start with Submission Guidelines. Every publication has them. Many are similar, but don’t assume they’re all the same. It’s important to remember that editors put these guidelines in place for a reason. They’re busy people. Publications that pay receive a lot of stories. Many editors don’t get paid. Many have full time jobs on the side.

Editors have guidelines to streamline the process and to mitigate their risk. Trust me, no one will read your short story and say, to hell with my submission guidelines, this is pure Shakespearian gold! Nope, they probably won’t even read it if you disregard their instructions.

Take the time to read the Submission Guidelines of every publication you intend to submit to. Duotrope and The Grinder provides some standard information, but they are not Submission Guidelines. Navigate to the publication’s website. More often than not, you’ll be glad you did.

Submission Guidelines tell you exactly what the editors want and how they want it. It’s typically a list of criteria such as the subject matter or genre, any specifics around font or format (most times, they’ll refer to the Standard Manuscript format – see Part II of this series for more information on that), cover letter information, and a host of other possible things.

Many publications are now using Submission Managers, such as Submittable to manage the submissions they receive. Submittable is one of several electronic submission trackers – Submittable is the most common one I’ve seen. I love these things. You can log in and keep track of your submission, but you’ll only know this if you read the Submission Guidelines.

So Submission Guidelines – follow them to a T!




Let’s talk about cover letters. Cover letters are a key piece to any submission. Whether submitting snail mail, email, or through a Submissions Manager, it’s important to have the right cover letter. You can find dozens of examples on-line. I’ve included an example of mine in this article.

The key is – keep them short and concise. Don’t forget to change the editors name. Don’t send it to the wrong publication, or send it with the wrong story title because you copied and pasted and forgot to change it. Those of you who’ve been doing this a while might’ve winced right there.

Yep, most of us have screwed it up at one time or another. If that happens, correct it, write your most sincere apology, and move on.

Your Cover Letter should contain 6 primary data points (unless Submission Guidelines specify differently):

·      The editor’s name

·      Story title

·      Word-count

·      Previous publication credits (preferably, paying ones)

·      Your name and contact information

·      Your website link (if applicable)

Keep in mind, you’re not querying for a novel here. That’s a different market and different audience. Short story editors (usually) do not want a query letter, they want the story. The cover letter should do nothing more than introduce them to it.

Here is an example of my cover letter:

Dear <Editor Name>,

My short story, <Title>, (<Word Count>-words) is attached as a .doc. It is the story of a lonely man’s descent into madness.  

Other published work:

  • “The Thing in the Graveyard” Crypt-Gnats Anthology (Jersey Pines Ink)  Upcoming - Spring, 2019

  • "Loop" Strange Fictions (Vagabondage Press)  Jan, 2018

  • “Last Day” Strange Fictions (Vagabondage Press) Mar, 2017 

  • "Hallowed Ground" Inwood Indiana "The Pop Machine Anthology" Q2, 2017

Thank you for your consideration.


David Odle


Some Submissions Guidelines will ask for a short bio, but most don’t. In my opinion, the most important data points in the cover letter are the editor’s name, the word count, and publication credits.

Sometimes the editor’s name can be tough to find on the publication’s website. I can typically hunt it down, but there are a few who remain elusive. On occasion, it becomes a Google journey. And on very damn few I’ve had to address it to “Dear Editor”. God help you if you have to do that, but it’s happened to me.

Word count is easy. You know what that is. Just put it in there.

Publication credits can be tricky. Some advice states that non-paying publications shouldn’t be added. I happen to agree with that. Some advice states that you should put the amount you were paid for the story. This I’m not sure of. I’ve done both and haven’t seen much of a difference either way. Recently, I haven’t included payment amounts simply to prove I was actually paid, otherwise, how would they know? Publication credits accomplishes two major things with the editor:

  • It establishes that you’ve written several stories and that other editors have paid money for your stories, which means there may be some value in them.

  • You may have some readership since you’ve been published before, which means people may purchase their magazine if you’re in it.

Those are the two main things I’ve seen editors comment about. So, if you have publication credits, don’t leave them out!

If you don’t have any publishing credits, keep right on submitting. We all had to start with nothing. You can’t earn publishing credits if you’re not submitting anything!




Before I wrap this up, here are a few things you may find helpful. I’m not claiming that they’re the right thing to do, but it’s what I do, and I’ve published four short stories and been paid for all of them. Granted, that’s not Hemingway status, but it’s something.

Go in bursts of 3 – 5 submissions. Gauge the reactions. Course correct where necessary. As an example, if you find twenty potential publications on Duotrope or The Grinder, you could submit to all twenty at once and hope at least one of them snags your story. I don’t prefer doing that because if there’s something wrong with your manuscript, you’ve submitted that wrongness to your entire market potential. I like to submit in chunks of 3 – 5, then gauge the reactions. Did I receive all form rejections? Any personal rejection notes? Any interest or short-listing?

Also, know when to follow-up if you haven’t received a response. Typically, the publication’s Submission Guidelines will tell you this. But, if the follow-up timeframes aren’t specified, and there are no expectations on when to expect a response, I’d recommend no sooner than three-months, no later than six-months.

Keep your cover letter short. Don’t ramble. It’s not a novel query and it’s not a get-to-know you exercise. They want the story. If they like the story, they’ll ask for more.

The last thing I’ll mention here is about what editors select for publication. Some stories get chosen and some don’t. If there is a secret recipe, I don’t know what it is. I’ve submitted stories that I felt were bull’s eyes and I loved them, only to be completely rejected by everyone. Other stories, I wrote on a whim and bamb, they got picked up.

So, if anyone tells you they know the secret to this thing, I think they’re full of shit. I have no idea what makes one story publishable and another not. It’s a subjective industry. You’ll get rejected. Sometimes harshly. Don’t give up.

Never give up.

Good luck, my friends! If you found this helpful, I’d love to hear from you. Or if you have further questions, please reach out. And, if you get a story published, please let us know!