How can I get my short fiction published?

We are thrilled to have Stephen Parrish, editor of The Lascaux Review, guest posting on “Ask an Author.” Steve is the author of two novels, and has been a big supporter of culturally diverse narratives, including championing my own novel, Painted Hands.  – Jennifer

Question: Thanks for doing this feature. I have a question about getting short stories published in literary journals (print or online). I have some stories that have been workshopped, but I’m finding myself scared to send them out. The rejection rates for literary journals are so high. How does anyone make it past the form rejection stage? Any tips you have for submitting to journals would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Answer: Yes, the rejection rates are high.  In the more prestigious journals, the rejection rates are stratospheric.  But you can’t let that scare you.  First, because there’s no shame in getting rejected.  I’ve been turned down or ignored at least two hundred times.  Author Joe Konrath keeps a spiral notebook filled with the more than 500 rejections he received before landing his first acceptance.  Go forth and fail.

There are reasons for submitting your work even if you suspect it isn’t quite good enough or you believe your chances of placing it are slim.  Writers tend to improve their games when showing their writing to others, especially to editors.  And they tend to improve their games even more when they imagine their work being read by hundreds or thousands of journal readers.  Sending your stuff out makes you a better writer.

If you’re getting your stories workshopped you’re already taking the most important step toward publication, after the writing itself.  Demand that your crit partners be harsh.  In my experience many if not most writers who show their work to friends and colleagues are seeking validation, not criticism.  I tell my crit partners that if they say even one nice thing about my story I’ll track them down and sit on them.

When submitting, follow the guidelines to the letter.  Be polite and authentic in your query, not boastful, condescending, or affected.  Save the details about your pets for your annual Christmas letter.  Editors are prospecting for gems in the gravel.  If you won’t follow the instructions, or you cop an attitude, or your cat’s name, “Admiral Snuggles,” is the one that sticks in the editor’s mind, you look like gravel.

After your story is rejected, take another look at it, and send it out again.  Keep sending it out.  I can’t count how many times a piece I’ve rejected, or would have rejected, was accepted by another journal.  More often than you might guess, it’s just a matter of finding the right home for your story.  Having said that, keep writing new stories, too.  Experienced editors recognize tired submissions, the ones that have an over-polished feel about them, the feel of having been around the block.

Never give up.  Ever.  I’ve noticed a funny thing about this business.  Every one of my friends who has quit writing, because he or she felt like a failure, was, in my evaluation of their writing, on the cusp of breaking through.  Don’t quit.  If you do, I guarantee that on the very next day this is what would have arrived in your inbox:

Dear You: I love your story, “Admiral Snuggles Defends the Patio from Chirpy Flying Beasts.”  If it’s still available, I’d like to take it for the Review . . .

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 Stephen Parrish is the editor of The Lascaux Review.  His cats are named Blacky and Rusty.

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