Minor Contest: Who Wears Short Shorts?

May have just dated myself with that question (anyone else remember those L'Eggs commercials of the early eighties?), lol. Anyway, I mentioned this topic a few weeks ago on the QueryTracker forum, but I've been thinking about it, so I'm bringing it up again. I'd LOVE some input from other writers out there (please, oh please comment? Pretty please? I need some insight.) Small bonus: if you submit a comment on the topic and follow my blog, you'll be entered to win your choice of four writing books: 1) Chris Baty's NaNoWriMo bible, otherwise known as NO PLOT, NO PROBLEM, 2) Anne Lamott's classic BIRD BY BIRD, 3) the incomparable Sol Stein's HOW TO GROW A NOVEL: THE MOST COMMON MISTAKES WRITERS MAKE AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM, or if you're thinking about writing paranormal or dark fiction, 4) ON WRITING HORROR, a handbook by the Horror Writers Association.

So, the question (well, three questions) concerns short stories:

Uno: Do you think they're necessary to a long-term career? They seem to be, especially in horror, especially when it comes to building a name for yourself, and also for telling an agent that you're serious and professional. For the longest time, I just haven't messed with them, figured I wasn't any good at the short form. But maybe I need to be. What do you think?

Dos: How  long does it take you to write one? I know it varies from person to person, but I have a couple of short spec or horror stories percolating - and it just seems like I can't take the precious writing time and focus away from my full-length WIP to write them. So I'm curious as to how long it takes other writers to pen a short (including revisions.) A weekend? A week? One day? A month?

Tres: Does anyone out there have a short story writing & submission strategy? If so, what is it? What's your ideal submission cycle like? Do you strive to always have a certain number of pieces out on rotation at any given time? Do you use sites like Duotrope's Digest?

As for myself, I still just don't know. I have a story that's been tugging and tugging at me, but, again, if I'm writing, I want to spend the time finishing up my WIP. Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions?



Lydia Kang | March 29, 2010 at 12:13 PM

You're asking the wrong bird here, I don't write SS. But I'm interested in everyone else's answer....

Zoe C. Courtman | March 29, 2010 at 12:24 PM

Thanks for the comment, Lydia! I need to tweet this out, I guess, to get some advice :) This is an issue I always struggle with.

Lisa K. | March 29, 2010 at 12:34 PM

I don't know that short stories are essential for building a career, but I think they're a great way to start building a platform and getting credits, particularly for speculative fiction writers. I think the caveat to that is that a short story writer should be selective about the markets to which they're submitting. I try to stay with paying markets and those that have some name recognition in the genres I write.

My roots are in short stories, and I love to write them, but sometimes now that I'm concentrating more on novels, I find it difficult to switch gears back to the short form. It takes me anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks to write one, and sometimes I find myself moving between projects. I do strive to have at least 15 short stories submitted at any given time. I figure the more I have out there, the better my chances. And my strategy is essentially that whenever I receive a response, I do the market research and get that story right back out. I also spend at least a few minutes every week watching the markets, to see if there are any new anthology calls-for-submittion or markets reopening to submissions. I do use Duotrope, but for speculative fiction markets I also like Ralan's (www.ralan.com).

Zoe C. Courtman | March 29, 2010 at 12:40 PM

Lisa - EXACTLY the kind of feedback I was looking for!! Thanks SO much! Question: do the sites like Duotrope and Ralan's mention calls-for-anthologies? If not, where to find? THANK you!

Lisa K. | March 29, 2010 at 12:58 PM

You're welcome, Zoe! Ralan's is great for anthologies. If you head over, you'll see on their home page that they have all the markets broken down into paying, nonpaying, contests and anthologies. Then at the top of each section, they show new and updated markets so it has that great at-a-glance benefit.

I don't find Duotrope quite as good for anthologies, although I always keep my eye on their "What's New" section for new anthologies. Also, their Deadline Calendar (also one of the tabs at the top) is a good way to watch for themed anthologies. I also find that a great source of inspiration, by looking at what the upcoming themes are for some of the publications.

And I LOVE to talk about short story markets and submissions, so feel free to holler in my direction any time. :-)

Zoe C. Courtman | March 29, 2010 at 1:05 PM

Thanks so much, Lisa - trust me, I'll be hollering! :D

cipherqueen | March 29, 2010 at 1:46 PM

Write what's on your mind. ;D Otherwise it will take longer to write the normal stuff.

Your questions:Uno: Do you think they're necessary to a long-term career? Ack! You mean I need to get on it to? I've only started freelancing! I don't intend to make it a job... I hope I won't have to... but then, I'm not seeking a long term career writing articles and such.

Dos: How long does it take you to write one? Hmm. Depends on the idea I have. Usually 1~2 days, then I edit. If I'm super excited, it'll be done in a few hours.

Tres: Does anyone out there have a short story writing & submission strategy? I sent my first freelance article out yesterday. Not the same thing, but.... I'd recommend havin 4~5 out at a time for story submissions, writing maybe two a month?

Hope that helps. Keep writing! ;D ~Cipherqueen

Danyelle | March 29, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Short stories are a great way to get your name out and get credits, but I'm not sure they're essential. Jim Hines just did a recent survey where he set about debunking some publishing myths. The sample was taken from mostly SF and F writers, so results might be a little skewed, and this was one of the questions.

Shain Brown | March 29, 2010 at 4:28 PM

Sorry, I dont have any input, but the post was so good. Maybe you would consider posting the answers to your questions that way all of us may learn from your inquizativeness (uh you get the idea).

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) | March 29, 2010 at 4:38 PM

I'm on the side of not being sure if they are essential. But I can see how they are a good way to get credits.
I sometimes write short stories to clear the cobwebs from my brain if I'm stuck on revisions or I just fancy a short burst of writing.
I also find they help me focus on my pacing.

Anonymous | March 29, 2010 at 6:23 PM

Looks like you've gotten some great feedback!

My answers, unfortunately, are incredibly lacking.
Uno: I don't know.
Dos: I don't know.
Tres: I don't know.

LOL! I'd guess SS aren't ESSENTIAL, per se, however, writing them would be fun and great practice! ;)

JustineDell | March 29, 2010 at 6:57 PM

I write romance, so yes, I've written short stories along with the longer ones. Most of the books I read in my genre have short stories...but I guess that depends on how "short" you mean. My short story was 46K. It took two months to write and just a couple of weeks to edit once I really stuck my head into it.

As for the submission cycle, that's more difficult. Most romance publishers (or agents) like the longer ones unless you do catagory and that's not what my short story is. The process would be the same, but more difficult to publish because of the length. I think, though, if I manage to get the longer ones published, then maybe the publisher will pick up the shorter ones? I'll cross my fingers.

I don't know how much that helped, because our genre are different, though. Good luck!

Ian | March 29, 2010 at 7:10 PM

I like short shorts.

I get what you mean about pulling yourself away from your wip, but sometimes for me they’re a nice way to recharge my enthusiasm for something that might have started dragging on a bit (speaking for myself only here), and still keep writing.

Plus, they tend to be done pretty quick once I've got the nugget of an idea floating around in there.

It usually takes me an evening or a day to rattle off the first draft (anything from 1500 – 5000 words). Then I do a quick once over, for glaring errors and leave it for a while.

Then, once I’ve given it some space, I’ll go back, change the font and print it off (I got this from someone else’s writing tips, I’m so sorry I can’t remember who, but it’s great advice), then read it aloud and see if the story still grabs me and the sentences flow. Then I’ll make comments on the paper and re-draft with those comments, and print and re-read again. When I think it’s okay, I get someone to read it for me and get their comments on clarity and any errors I’ve missed.

Then I send ‘em out and wait for all those sweet, sweet rejections to roll in.

I keep a spreadsheet of what I have out and where and when I sent it because my memory is godawful and I would forget and double submit otherwise.

Do I think they're necessary? No idea, sorry.

Deb Salisbury | March 29, 2010 at 9:34 PM

I recently read an article that said that shorts only count if they are in a well-known publication. So just having shorts out there won't add much - unless you give them away for free on your website (according to a different blog.)

I dislike reading *or* writing short stories, so my memory is likely skewed. And horrors - I do remember short shorts. Shudder. ;-)

Zoe C. Courtman | March 30, 2010 at 10:27 AM

Thanks so much - man, some great advice rolling in! I'm keeping this open for another day or so, then I'll randomize the winner and contact him/her to get their chosen free book mailed out.

Cipherqueen: I think 1-2 days is about what I was expecting. Thanks! And I think you're right about writing what's top of mind.

Danyelle: THANKS for the Jim Hines info. I checked it out (great article!) and was relieved to know that almost half of the authors got a novel pubbed without a prior short story sale. That's a big *whew!*

Shain: Thanks for popping by and making me feel good about this post :D

Lindsay & Laura: I'm so with you on being on the fence! I'm thinking I'm probably okay either way, which is a relief!

Justine: Thanks for commenting - and, wow, 46K? That's an epic short story! You go!

Ian: Thanks for making me giggle twice in one comment ("I like short shorts", and "sweet,sweet rejections," lol)! Thanks also for sharing your strategy. I like that it only takes you about a day to complete one; that's about how long I'm aiming for. And you also made me remember that there's a lot of revising for shorts, too - ack.

Zoe C. Courtman | March 30, 2010 at 10:29 AM

Deb - thanks for your insight. I, too, tend to approach reading short stories a little skeptically; some are so pretentious, and others just plain bad. But a few, man, I've come across a few lately that really shine. But complicating things is my already towering to-be-read novel pile, and I'm just not sure how much time I want to spend reading OR writing shorts. Hm...

Tahereh | March 30, 2010 at 11:11 AM

hey bestie!! great post! wanted to let you know i left you an award on my blog :D

Zoe C. Courtman | March 30, 2010 at 11:27 AM

Tahereh! You rawk. Thanks for the blog award (and DIGGin that energy over on yours :D)

Alleged Author | March 30, 2010 at 7:26 PM

Hey, I just joined your blog as well! I answered your SS question on mine under the Too Risque heading you posted a comment on...hope it helps!

Zoe C. Courtman | March 31, 2010 at 9:30 AM

Thanks, Alleged! I commented over on your blog - great advice!

K.Hinny | March 31, 2010 at 1:43 PM

Zoe, Hi! I came over to your blog from Moh. I do write short stories as well as work on my WIP. While it does take some time away from the WIP, sometimes it's just necessary for me to take a break from one world and produce a new world in a short form.

I don't have a submission strategy, I'm still learning that process, I have gone to certain writers I know to ask them questions about certain magazines. And sticking with what people know on other forums I trust tends to make me feel a little safer.

As for how long it takes, it does vary for me. I wrote a flash piece in a week, including revisions and subbed it out. Other times it takes me longer to get back around to the story because I have to let it stew for a while.

Hope this helps. I really enjoy writing short stories, I highly recommend it, even if you don't know how. It just helps tone your writing muscles I think.

Zoe C. Courtman | March 31, 2010 at 3:10 PM

Thanks so much for the comment, Kara! I responded to you over at MoH. Congrats on the short story pub by the way :)

S.P. Miskowski | April 2, 2010 at 3:55 PM

1. Short stories are easier to get published than novels. There are more markets for stories. So yes, being able to write stories will help an author's career.

2. A first draft of a short story is something I can write in one day, maybe two. I have many ideas for stories. I write them down and keep track of them in case an opportunity comes my way. But I am writing stories all the time, so I have many of them in various stages of revision.

3. I bang out the first draft, then set it aside. In a few days I go back to it and make additions, fleshing out any areas that seem too thin. Then I have someone read it, usually my husband because he is a writer and a fine editor. I take his notes and consider which ones match my own suspicions. Then I revise again. And again. When the story seems to stand on its own, I look online and find magazines that publish this kind of story. If necessary I make changes to fit length requirements, revising a bit as I go, to fit the market. Then I send it off, and look for another publication.

A word of advice: The prolific writer always has an advantage, so write as much as you can. But edit your stories ruthlessly, kill off your darlings, and don't be self-indulgent. Don't wait to see if you get published. Write another story and send it out, and another. Stay busy.

Good luck!

Lee | April 8, 2010 at 2:03 AM

Hi Zoe, Lee from MoH.

Uno: Do you think they're necessary to a long-term career?

Yes, there are important; I believe. A standard short story with meat in it is 3000-9000 words. That's not a lot and it forces a writer to condense their work, choose words carefully and to describe setting and character asap and get into the action of the story.

I usually describe the character's traits during the story, so a reader learns of a character as the action progresses.

SS are important, not just as a learning tool but for credit and (hopefully) a few dollars.

The more you write in the short form, the better you will get at it. I've noticed deeper storylines and complex ideas coming out into my stories recently. And you will too, the more you play with the short darlings, you'll discover you'll both grow as years pass and you just get better and better.

Dos: This is a loaded question. I recently wrote a werewolf story and had it accepted in under 24 hours. But that was a one off. The last short I wrote was accepted last night and it took 3 weeks and was only 6000 words. But the story was detailed. I think the more detail you get into a short and the corrected wording can take time. With short stories the draft is usually the finished version, I just go through it for spelling checks, read it aloud, clean up the smoothness and then whack it a tape and play it back. I don't make note, I don't re-write entire sections (I do clean up sentences if needed).

Tres: Back in the day, I used to write short stories that popped into my head and then looked through Ralan for a place to submit it. Four years ago I stopped that and started to write stories after finding a publisher doing an anthology and looking for certain stories. This is better than racking the brain looking for an idea to pop up. They tell you what kind of stories they want and are usually themed.

When I started I wrote heaps of shorts and sent then out and got my fair share of rejections (still do) but I find writing a short for a particular antho/mag is better then writing a story and searching for a place to place it. There are times though when an idea MUST be written and a writer is blind until that story is done. I have a couple of stories like this and couldn't find a place for them so they sit on my HDD.

most of my short story ideas come while working on a novel or when I decide to take a break on a current WIP. I don't have a submission cycle.

Take care

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