It happened! Yesterday, issue 6 of Novel Noctule was published and with it, I finally became a published short story author. "The Mountain Under Vickwood" is my first work to be accepted for publication and I hope you'll take the time to check it out here on the Novel Noctule website along with my Writer's Spotlight.
I'm incredibly grateful to Novel Noctule's editor-in-chief, Mx. Jacqueline Dyre, for giving me this opportunity, and I'm newly inspired to take on even more writing-and-submitting challenges. When I started researching ways to get my work published, I searched out tons and tons of blog posts like this one. Naturally, it only feels right to throw out another "How I Got Published" blog post out into the universe so I can pay it forward. And that's what this is! It's my advice and honest experience getting from point A to point B, and I hope it helps someone.
There's no getting around this one. If you think you have a short story or a book in you, as most people do, write it. Start sooner rather than later, because the first couple of things you write probably won't be genius pieces of art right off the bat. I know. I didn't believe it at first, either. But as of right now, I've written and edited eight short stories, two books, rewritten one book three times and another twice (working on a third rewrite now), and I have one thing published. It's a marathon. Be ready.
For short stories, your attention to detail needs to be off the charts. Shorter work means there's less margin for error. There's a lower tolerance for typos and a nonexistent tolerance for bad storytelling—I should know, because I've done my fair share of both. Remember that longer isn't always better. "The Mountain Under Vickwood" is around 1600 words, and it sits comfortably in the range of what most short story publications are interested in.
Some publications have minimum word counts in the range of 1000-3000 words or maximum word count caps at 5000-7000. Don't build your whole story around a word count, but keep these numbers in the back of your head while you write. If length turns out to be a problem, edit yourself by cutting filler words ("that" and "just" are my biggest offenders).
So you've written a phenomenal short story with no typos! Great job! I knew you had it in you (you, specifically you). Time to find it a good home. There's no shortage of places to submit, but before you send your work anywhere, you'll want to get a good idea of what the playing field is like. I love using Horror Tree to find publications looking for dark fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. I think it does a great job of providing updated information, and it shows which publications pay for your work. Other great sources are Twitter searches (yes, really—even small publications have Twitter accounts), blogs with top-ten lists of new and open magazines, and your friends in the writing community.
As you whittle down your list of places to submit, keep an eye on the submission guidelines. Ninety-nine out of a hundred times, a publication's submission page will either say "no simultaneous submissions" or "simultaneous submissions accepted." If a publication forbids simultaneous submissions, you can only submit to that publication. Until you hear back from them, you better not send that story anywhere else.
If you're interested in publications that fall on both ends of this spectrum, I'd recommend starting with those that forbid simultaneous submissions. This gives you a chance to send your work to one publication at a time, get responses (and maybe feedback, if you're lucky!), and edit your cover letter and story accordingly. While some writers might not like the idea of only submitting to one place at a time, bear in mind that publications forbidding simultaneous submissions typically have shorter reading periods and will respond more quickly than those which allow simultaneous submissions.
Before submitting your work, you still have a few more steps to complete: your cover letter and your short story formatting. The cover letter for a short story is different (and a little less stressful) than the all-consuming query letter for novels. Here's the body of the cover letter I sent to Novel Noctule:
"Submitted for your consideration is “The Mountain Under Vickwood,” a short story of 1600 words. It is an LGBTQ take on cosmic horror, and I think it might be a good fit for your publication.
I have a BA in Philosophy, and I work as an English tutor and ESL instructor.
Thank you for your consideration."
Short, right? I included the title, the word count, a very broad overview of the story, some info about me, and a nice thank-you. If you have previous publications, mention them in the about-you line, but at this time I had never been published. Some submission guidelines will ask for additional information in the cover letter, and some will ask for less, so read the guidelines carefully. Nothing I say in this post should take precedence over an actual publication's submission guidelines.
That goes for formatting, too. While there is a standard, acceptable short story format that the vast majority of publications will want you to use (here's a good post on that format), follow the publication's submission guidelines first. Double-check what font they want, if specified. Double-check how they want their paragraph indents (some won't say, but some strongly prefer 0.5" indents rather than the tab key). Double-check where they want the title. Double-check everything. Get rid of any possible reason for an automatic rejection.
Submit and Wait
You've formatted your story, written your cover letter, and your dazzling short story is gleaming off the page. Now you can send your submission emails (or upload to a submission portal) and...wait. You'll probably be waiting for a while. When I submitted to Novel Noctule on May 4, I got my first response on May 25 and it was a very kind rejection for the upcoming issue...and a request to hold onto the story for consideration in the next issue! On June 21, I got an acceptance. That's a little under a two-month wait, which is still pretty quick by industry standards. Novel Noctule has a quicker turnaround because it's monthly, but submitting to an anthology or seasonal publication will often involve wait times nearing or exceeding six months.
Patience is key, and lots of publications have "nudge windows" listed on their websites, i.e. how long you should wait before asking if your submission was received or considered.
Wondering what to do with all that waiting time? Write another story. And another. And another. Rinse and repeat. Best of luck!
Are you interested in cosmic horror? Do you like baby bugs and psychological turmoil? Do you like snow covered mountain villages with golden lamplight and adorable effigies? "The Mountain Under Vickwood" has you covered.