Before I get started, I want to thank all the folks at Magical Words for the warm welcome. Thanks. I also want to let you all know that I’m at Philcon right now and have limited/no computer access, so my responses to any comments might not come until Monday. Sorry about that, but I will respond. Now on to business:
Writing short stories can be every bit as artistically rewarding and frustrating as writing novels. To do them well often takes a large commitment of time and energy, when it’s finished it never comes out as good as what was in your head, and then you get to face lots of rejections. What a wonderful business we’re in!
Short stories are a great place for beginners and seasoned pros to explore what you can do with your writing. It’s a place to experiment, to learn, and to develop or hone your personal style. It’s a great form to tell a compact story without forcibly padding the tale to make it fit a longer form. It can teach you not to waste words, to understand why three adjectives is two too many, and it can be a way to build name recognition and even a small following. Oh, and did I mention that many editors do take note of what is being published in the genre magazines? Did I also mention that if you win an award for a short story (a Hugo or Nebula would be nice) that just might, you know, help you get an agent? Not a guarantee but think of it this way — when an agent or publisher sees you’ve had several short stories published in decent venues with good responses, you have become a tested material. You’ve proven that you can write something people enjoy. Whether you can translate that into a novel-length work will remain to be seen, but in some cases, it’ll get you a reading of your ms that otherwise would have been rejected. All good things towards a longer career. Also in the good news category, there are tons and tons of outlets to place your work. Check out ralan and duotrope. These sites are excellent, up-to-date sources for anthologies, magazines, and e-zines in genre publishing.
What short stories can’t do — make you rich. Or, for that matter, make you much money at all. The short story market is not a place for lucrative financial fulfillment. There are a few venues — Playboy use to pay around five thousand dollars for a short (if your name was Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, etc) — but for us mere mortals, you’ll be lucky to get five cents a word with a cap at two hundred or so dollars. When I’m paid for a story, I get to take my wife out for a fancy dinner and, perhaps, a movie.
But the point with short stories isn’t the money. It’s simply a unique form of storytelling that, for some of us, demands to be written. Some writers hate the form. Some love it but can’t write it to save their lives. And some can turn it into a wonder.
Finally, anyone who has been involved in publishing novels in anyway for even a short period of time learns fast that publishing is slow. Sometimes very slow. Glacial might be too rapid a word. Well, the world of short stories can be just as slow. I’ve had short stories sitting with magazine editors for over a year. Of course, when I do hear, if the answer is “Yes, we’ll buy it,” then I forgive them. If the answer begins with “Alas…” I grumble and curse and send it back out.
And then there are the truly slow moments, the moments that shine a light of perspective on this crazy business. I found out a few weeks back that my story “Mrs. Donovan” had finally made it to print in the anthology Under the Rose. It came out in October. Nobody told me. I just stumbled upon it while having a little ego time googling my name. Hopefully, I’ll get my contributor’s copy within a year (did I mention this is a slow business?). What makes this tale so odd is that I sold this story in 2004. That’s right. Five years ago. And since short story authors generally don’t get paid until the story is actually published, I’m hoping a check will come along soon. Probably around the same time the contributor’s copy comes. Now, in full disclosure, the editor had told me of various production problems and offered me an out back in 2005, but the story was a hard sell (it’s a bit too R-rated for most magazines), I liked the editor (still do), and I figured the anthology might take another year (okay, I was off on this one). I let him keep the story, and I forgot about it. So, sometimes, the monumental slowness of this business can deal you a little surprise — as in Surprise, you got published this year!
What does this mean for all of us? It means that when you send that story, query, partial, full, or completed work, don’t go marking days on the calendar. Get moving on the next thing. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear back in a reasonable amount of time. If not, who knows? But don’t bet all your heart on hearing back in a week or a month. I know that’s hard. You’ve slaved over this work for so long, and you just want a crumb of feedback from somebody with an unbiased, professional opinion. Unfortunately, if it’s a rejection, chances are you’ll get no such crumb. The best thing to remember is that you are a writer. Your job is to produce stories. So forget about that work you put your heart and soul into. It’s out there. It’s speaking for you. Now, you need to get moving on the next story burning in your brain.
And maybe you’ll hear back in one to five years!