How to Publish a Short Story
Part 3: Rejections and Acceptances
This is the third in a 3-part series on how to publish a short story, based on my experiences with publishing over the last two and a half years. In other words, here’s a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t know when I started. It’s been an enjoyable journey for me – and if I can do it, so can you!
So you found a call, submitted a story, and now you’ve heard back! Let’s look at the final steps.
You’re going to get a lot of rejections. Absolutely everybody gets rejected more than they get accepted, so fear not: you’re in the best of company. Writing is a funny occupation, because it kind of feels like it’s your job to get rejection letters – and it kind of is.
Let me get metaphorical for a moment. Publishing stories is like going to a nice restaurant. There are lots of different entrees on the menu, but you only have the time, stomach room, and money for one. Does that mean the rest of the entrees are awful? Of course not. You just can’t get them all. So when your story is rejected, it doesn’t mean it’s awful, and it doesn’t mean the editor thinks it’s awful. It’s just that publication’s space, time, and money are limited.
Rejections get easier with time, in my experience, except the submissions I was really hopeful about. It’s important to let yourself feel disappointed, but it’s not a sign you should give up. In fact, what makes me feel better after a rejection is sending the story out somewhere else. So with that in mind, here’s what I do when I get a rejection:
1. Write it down. Being organized makes this job so much easier. Among other things, I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of submissions by story and by press. So update your records first.
2. Possibly respond to the rejection email. If it was a form email, as most are, don’t respond. Publications get a ton of emails as it is.
But if it was a personal response, saying the story made it through several rounds of selections, or (even better) offering feedback, write a brief thank-you email. (Is it worse to almost make it to acceptance and fail on the last round? I can’t decide.)
Thank you very much for this lovely rejection letter! I’m so glad you liked the story. That’s very heartening for me. I so appreciate the feedback and the time it took to give it.
3. Possibly do some editing, especially if you were lucky enough to get feedback from the publication. (That’s free editor help!)
4. Find a new market and resubmit. That’s right, you’re back around to Article 1 in this series. I keep a list of good markets for each story, and I also use Submission Grinder and the other websites mentioned in Article 1. For info on submitting your story, check out Article 2.
Also check if you’ve got another story you can send to the publication that just rejected you, especially if you got the coveted “we’d love to read more from you” rejection. But even if you didn’t – remember, a rejection just means that story didn’t fit with that press. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or that the editor thinks you’re a bad writer.
And that’s it! Rejection processed and you’re back out there. Good for you!
And now, how to deal with an acceptance letter. Which you will get!
1. Stop screaming. Eventually.
2. Immediately withdraw the piece from other markets. You will need to keep good records to streamline this process. Look on press websites for details on how to withdraw – it’s usually replying to your submission email, writing a new email, or using some automatic service. Remember, you don’t have to tell a press why you are withdrawing. I usually go with I am writing to withdraw my story, X, sent on [date]. Thank you very much for your time.
3. Refresh your memory. If you have a lot of submissions out and/or it’s been a while since you sent this one, go back to the publication website and re-familiarize yourself with all the details.
4. Send a reply email. This first email from the press will probably not contain a contract yet. It’s just a “congrats.” Here’s what you want to include in your reply:
- Thank you! I’m so honored!
- Send them whatever they ask for: sometimes they want a snail mail address, some of your social media handles, paypal address, or your author bio/picture.
- If this is a podcast: tell them how to pronounce your name.
- Ask if they have any idea when the story might be published, but say no worries if not.
If they’ve answered you with a different email than the one you sent your submission to, whitelist this one as well. (That means setting up a filter to make sure emails from this address don’t go to the spam folder. You can search online for how to do it for your email setup.)
Do not share anything on your social media yet! Wait until you’ve either signed a contract or been paid.
5. The contract. I’m not going to go into contract specifics because I am not a lawyer. You can find online resources for that. But short story contracts are usually brief and easy to understand. They should always include payment amount and date you can expect to be paid.
But while you shouldn’t need a lawyer, it’s also important to remember that your emotions are probably running pretty high right now. So get someone else who is not currently screaming to check the contract over as well. Then sign, date, and return.
At this point, you want to ask for the exclusion period, if it hasn’t been specified. That means the amount of time after your story comes out before you can sell it as a reprint. Usually this is a year or less, but it can be more. Do not ever violate this…without permission. Publishers will usually give permission or actually encourage you to submit your story for “Best of the year” anthologies, because it’s good publicity. Your publisher may also give you permission to submit a reprint before the exclusion period is up if you ask politely.
6. Now share it on your social media, your website, your Linktree, etc. Everywhere, repeatedly. Reblog the press’s advertising and make your own. It doesn’t need to be boasting: you can say how honored you are to be included and talk up the publication as a whole, not just your piece.
7. Edits. Edits can come before or after the contract is signed. I’m not going to get into the specifics of editing here, just the big picture. Things to remember:
- Your editor is trying to help you. They love your story, or else they wouldn’t have accepted it. They’re not trying to tear it apart, they want to help it shine.
- Your editor probably knows more about editing than you do (unless you are also a pro editor, which some writers are). If you aren’t sure about a change, go with what the editor thinks is best.
- You can object to changes you really don’t like: politely. I have contested a change before, and the editor agreed to leave it in.
8. Be pleasant. Hit your deadlines. Answer emails. Because this is a job and you are at work. And remember, if you make a good impression on this editor, you may be able to sell them another story and/or get invited onto future projects. I’ve sold three stories by invitation, so this really does work.
9. A final note: seriously, get organized. Once you get rolling and start selling multiple pieces, you are going to get confused. Which ones are done with edits? Which contacts have I signed? Which ones sent me an author copy? Do I know the publication date for any of these?!?
Use a system that works for you, but Write. Everything. Down. Plus file your emails so you can easily find them. This will save you time and angst in the future.
Good luck, my friends! You’ve got this.
Looking for ideas? Get some weird writing prompts.