The Short Story Market

Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in December, 2008. Due to the passage of time, some information in the article may no longer be relevant. Please ensure you research your chosen genre thoroughly before submitting.

Go into any large newsagency – heck, go into the super- market even – and flip through the women’s magazines like Woman’s Day. You’ll often find romantic short stories within.

UK magazines like Women’s Weekly report that fiction is a major draw for its readers. According to their writers’ guidelines, Our readers talk about “relaxing” with our short stories. 

Why write short stories?

Short fiction can earn a writer between $90 to $1,000 per story. Shorts also work as a cross-promotion if you’re a novelist. If the reader enjoyed the story the reader may seek the novels out and vice versa. Also, if you’re an aspiring novelist, published stories look good in your query letter.

Sandy Curtis has published stories in Woman’s Day, Take 5, Fresh and Australian Women’s Weekly. She “wrote short stories before I started writing novels. Writing short stories is also a refreshing change from writing novels – you get to the end so much quicker :)”

With over 50 short stories published, novelist Janet Woods finds that writing them is “completely different to writing novels. The effort it takes is intense, but less sustained, so I get the feeling I’ve achieved something in a much shorter time span.”

In 2008 Anna Campbell published stories in Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day. “Actually I find short stories really difficult and I think I’d rather write a whole book! I like immersing myself in a whole world which is hard to do in the shorter format.”

Anna Jacobs has published stories in Woman’s Day and elsewhere since 1994. “I get ‘little’ ideas that wouldn’t make a whole novel, but are nice incidents, so I tell them in short story form.”

Types of Stories

Women’s magazines publish short stories in several genres, including romance, women’s fiction, and confessions or trues. Trues’ writers do not get a byline.

Sandii Manning, published in Woman’s Day and True Story notes, “Another market that is easier to break into is the True market. True confessions, True Story and True Romance. These stories are told in first person as if you’re sitting down with a friend, telling all.”

Word Count

Stories published in the weekly magazines usually have a tight word count of between 800 to 2000 words.

Janet Woods says, “Story space has shrunk. When I started out it was easier to place longer stories of about 3,000 words.”

Fiction Specials

Longer stories of up to 6,000 words can be found in the specials. Depending on the magazine, 10 to 25 stories are published at one time. Specials include:

  • That’s Life! Fast Fiction, published quarterly
  • Women’s Weekly (UK) fiction special, published bi-monthly.
  • My Weekly has just started to publish fiction specials of around 15 stories.

Serials

Sandy Curtis has published two-part serials in Woman’s Day. “As a child I loved reading the long serials in the women’s magazines and lamented their demise.” Some markets for the serial remain, and these include Woman’s Day, My Weekly, People’s Friend and Women’s Weekly (UK).

Serials are divided into parts. For example, Women’s Weekly (UK) accepts submissions of two-part to five-part serials.

Anna Jacobs is attracted to writing serials because, “Some of my ideas make for longer ‘short’ story ideas and I find putting them into a serialised form very interesting. It’s challenging to find a way to end each episode on a cliffhanger and keep up readers’ interest.” Around February 2009 she will have a historical serial tale published in My Weekly to coincide with release of her novel Freedom’s Land, which has “the same era and background”.

First Serial Rights

First serial rights (FSR) are where a magazine buys the right to be the first to publish the work. After publication the writer is free to sell the work elsewhere.

Janet Woods says, “Ten years ago I’d pursue multi-markets, and sell overseas rights to the same story I’d had published in Australia.”

Sandy Curtis addresses FSR in her cover letters. “I keep it professional, and make sure I give the genre and word length. Don’t forget to state which rights you are offering, e.g. first Australian rights. Some magazines want New Zealand rights as well.”

Researching the Markets

Look at the entire magazine to see how the stories fit in. Examine the advertisements too, as these will suggest the magazine audience. In People’s Friend advertisements for stairlifts suggest an older reader demographic. But read the fiction too. A recent issue had characters at grammar school through to retirees.

Sandii Manning says, “My advice no matter who you’re submitting to is send away for the guidelines. A lot of the info on the Internet is outdated and incorrect. Also read, read and read the magazine you’re targeting. I know that can be hard if you’re submitting from another country but it really does help.”

Janet Woods says, “Before approaching any magazine or writing the story, you should take time to analyse the target market for content and style, and try and pinpoint the age range of the readership. If you can tailor your story to the publication, it will have a much better chance of acceptance.”

Competitive Markets

Publishing stories in women’s magazines is, as Anna Jacobs notes, “fiercely competitive”.

The Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s World (US) are tough markets to enter. Woman’s World pays $1,000 for an 800-word romance. From Woman’s World, Sandii Manning received “some encouraging feedback from the Editor saying that although my story was lovely it wasn’t suitable for their market and requested that I submit any others I had.”

Easy? Maybe not. Achievable? Yes.

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7 Comments

  1. Oh I found this very interesting!! Another market to try and break into =)

    Reply
  2. Thanks, Mel,

    Good to know the archived stories are still valid. 🙂

    Reply
  3. What a great article, Sandra!

    I’m agree with Anna Campbell that short stories are hard work. I have to admit that in attempting to write a couple I found my editing skills had a severe workout – and that’s a good thing for any writer.

    Another really effective use of short stories is making them available as free downloads from your webpage or blog. Readers can check out your writing voice and hopefully then go in search of your novels! The caveat there is just make darn sure the short stories have been polished to within an inch of their lives!

    Reply
    • Writing short stories is definitely an art form in itself, alright, Helene. And what a good idea to have free short story downloads. That’s a good tip. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Justine Fox

     /  January 22, 2012

    This article was fantastic. It has lots of informaion for the beginner writer to think about…I did not realize the short story market was alive and well….This is good to know

    Reply
  5. kate

     /  December 16, 2012

    thx i have been looking and looking for an Australian publisher for short stories and the mags are a great way. i current self publish on amazon but have been wanting to try new markets.

    Reply

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