So, you’ve written a short story, sent it around to readers for critiques, and now you’re ready to submit your work to FIYAH. Before you hit send on that submission email, take a moment to look over some tips from us on how to make your story stand out from the crowd.
Before we begin, a disclaimer: none of these tips will guarantee that we’ll choose your story out of the slush. But they’re great general things for you to know, and mastering them in your submissions to us will help you out as you shop your stories around at other markets.
Ready? Let’s go.
1. Keep submitting!
Have we rejected you in the past? Have you received multiple rejections from us? Do those rejections chafe and tear at the deepest recesses of your writerly soul? Don’t worry. We don’t hate you.
In fact, we understand. Everyone on our team is a working writer who’s seen their fair share of rejection from magazines, agents, editors, and publishers. We try to send every writer whose stories we don’t accept a reason why we didn’t accept their story, and guidance on how to make it better. We don’t just want you to get published by us, even though that’s our main goal. We want you to become more strong in craft, in submission practice and volume, and in confidence. We’re here for you.
We know what it’s like to lay your heart bare only to have someone poke it into oblivion with small forks. But your voice is essential, which is why we want you to keep writing and submitting to us. Write past the pain of rejections and the odds that say your story has a low chance of making it into our magazine. A low chance is still a chance. And we’d rather you keep writing than quit. So don’t quit. In the words of our poetry editor Brandon O’Brien: Write, revise, submit, repeat.
2. Make sure your story is speculative.
For clarity: speculative fiction is defined as narrative fiction that includes fantastic or supernatural elements. Think ghosts, werewolves, and family photos that can communicate with you through gestures. Sometimes those speculative elements are subtle, sometimes they smack you in the face from the page. Either way, if your story has that speculative element, we would like to read it and, perhaps, pay you for the rights to publish it.
However, if your story does not have that speculative element, we DO NOT want it. If you submit a story to us that does not have a speculative element, it will be rejected. There are other markets for general fiction and literary fiction that would be happy to review your non-speculative work. Nothing against your story in particular, you see, but it would cause a lot of confusion if we, a speculative fiction magazine, were to start publishing literary or general fiction. We think that there is great value in black literary fiction, and we are fans of it, but we are not interested in publishing any of it ourselves.
3. Your story needs to have a beginning, middle, and end.
Short stories aren’t novels but they do follow the conventions of narrative fiction: they have characters who want things and the story follows their pursuit of the thing that they want. This journey typically isn’t linear, and has lots of twisty, turny parts that add value and thrills to the story. Not everyone’s journey is the same, but everyone’s fictive journey does have to start somewhere, crescendo at some point, and end either with the character’s triumph or miserable failure. Along the way, the reader is entertained and, hopefully, satisfied.
Your story must have those beginning, middle and ending pieces, and they need to work well enough to keep our interest all the way through. We often see stories that start entirely too early, giving us several pages to read through until we reach the story’s true beginning…right the middle of the fifth page. Or, we see stories that just kind of plop to an ending instead of having a definitive conclusion. We also see submissions that have a great beginning but spend the middle of the story over-explaining the world or whatever elements that they’d like for the reader to understand instead of moving the entire narrative forward.
Remember, your story can typically stand to be shorter rather than longer. Try cutting the first page or two and seeing if that can help your beginning. Try releasing essential information throughout the story, and see if that keeps your middle from dragging along. Try to make some notes about how you want your story to end before you start, or write the ending out completely before you even get started on the main story.
4. Don’t make your story overly complex.
Short stories are short for a reason. In a novel, you have thousands of words/hundreds of pages to tell the story you want to tell in just the way you want to tell it. There is space for plots and subplots, lots of different characters, and strange or thrilling story ideas. Unfortunately, in short stories, ain’t nobody got time for that–least of all you. We often get short stories that attempt to juggle several plot threads, are are chock full of characters, or try to tackle ideas that are just too broad or complex to fit in a single 7,000, heck, even 15,000 word short story.
Think of a short story as a snack, rather than a 12 course meal. You want to have all the elements of a good meal (in this case, great characters, a compelling plot, beautiful prose) but you don’t want to try and fit a 12 course meal into a snack because you’ll get indigestion, and nobody likes indigestion. It’s okay that you’ve had to leave out some bits of worldbuilding! It’s okay that you didn’t get every single idea out on the page. Did you communicate the essentials well enough? Is your plot tight? Do you have a complete story? If so, you’re good!
5. Don’t get too experimental.
We love stories that play with form, or genre, or character. We love interstitial stories, poetic, lyrical prose, and mind-blowing ideas. We love weird, and we want you to go there in your work. Above all, though, the stories need to be sensible, understandable, and have some sort of discernable plot that moves forward and has a beginning, middle, and end.
Don’t take this as us meaning that you shouldn’t try to tackle complex philosophical concepts, or write mind-altering good prose. We want you to do those things, but we also want to be able to read and understand your story.
In the words of Mother/High Priestess/Queen Erykah Badu: “What good do your words do if they don’t understand you?”
6. Follow our submission guidelines.
Pretty self explanatory, right? We have such detailed submission guidelines for a reason. Be easy on our readers and editors. Package your submission the way that we’ve asked. This step won’t guarantee publication, but it won’t make us irritated with you either.
And that’s it! We hope these tips were helpful. See you in the slush.