I’ve Finished Writing a Short Story – Now What?

This is my entry for the monthly Insecure Writer’s Support Group – a monthly opportunity for aspiring writers to have a whinge about the roadblocks we’ve came across while developing as a writer, and to offer each other support and advice. You can pay some of my fellow IWSGers a visit, and sign up yourself.


Between December and February I wrote a short story, from beginning to end – a 7500 word Victorian era mystery. Roughly halfway through February I reached the point where I was happy with the finished version – the period details felt authentic to me, there’s a conflict between characters, and facts held back from the characters and the reader are slowly revealed as the mystery unravels.

Since then I’ve shared the ‘finished’ version with a few people, and received bits of feedback to refine it slightly, but I’m not sure whether to go one way or the other. The additions will mean expanding what I’ve written, but I was trying to stick to a word count for a magazine’s submission guidelines, and I’m already significantly over.

Generally I’m more inclined towards aiming for traditional publishing than self-publishing (either in hard copy or as an e-book), as I’d prefer the greater publicity of an established audience (in this case a magazine) and I’d prefer to have the publicity dealt with by someone who specialises in that area (for a novel). But on the other hand, there are practical considerations that mean I might not be able to publish my ideal version of the story… even if it’s accepted.

Part of the reason I’m wary is because of an experience with an earlier finished manuscript. In March of last year I completed a short supernatural story that I called The Eternal Hunt, which I sent to a few magazines for publication – they all either rejected me or didn’t reply. I’ve thought about self-publishing my latest story as an e-book, maybe through Smashwords or something similar.

For now, I’m working out a second story led by the same characters. Maybe I’ll be able to cannibalise some of the character elements for the second story, as a way of making the first story shorter without having to eliminate things from the larger world I hope to eventually create. And more importantly, I should strengthen my idea of what themost important parts are of the stories I’m trying to tell, which elements of the larger world and themes are most important, and whether there’s anything I can get rid of entirely.

I’m aware of the importance of compromise, and it may well be that the magazine make editorial changes that improve the story. But there’s also the possibility that the interests of the magazine in question and my story may come up against each other. An editor of a magazine that publishes short fiction will naturally want a story of X thousand words that enthrall and entertain their readers… but fitting into that limit will probably be more important to them than having the thematic depth and character insight that I want it to have.

Given that this is my IWSG entry, I’ll throw the comments section out for advice. Those of you who’ve self-published, would you go down the traditional route if you could? And have you faced the challenge of having to cut something you really like to fit a word count?

25 thoughts on “I’ve Finished Writing a Short Story – Now What?”

  1. Self-Publishing is very tough; you may get more money, but only do it if you think you can market your own work.


    1. That’s mostly what I’m worried about – I’m not a natural salesman, and I’m a bit reluctant to bug people to read things I’ve written, even when I’m not charging a fee to go along with it.

      Maybe I need to sub-contract the marketing out to someone…


      1. It depends who you go with; amazon will give you a book cover and 70% royalties, but Autharium will give you 85%, a wider platform but no cover or publicity. I don’t normally mention that I took my book off the market, but it’s become my ice-breaker “say something interesting about yourself” line ever since!


  2. I’ve followed lots of discussions on this topic on Goodreads and other places.

    The dream scenario is for your work to be picked up by a publisher and it ends up being as widely loved as someone like JK Rowling… but it’s an incredibly rare scenario.

    You might earn a bit of pocket money by getting it published in a magazine, assuming you manage to get it accepted.

    These days you can actually earn more money by going down the self published route. The only benefit from getting traditionally published comes from being signed by one of the five big publishers and having a nice advance fee in your pocket… but your chances of success are still very slim and you lose the rights over your work (depending on the contract).

    Getting picked up by a small or independent publisher results in a very small advance fee (or none at all), even slimmer chances of success, and you lose the rights to your work.

    Although self-publishing means you have to do everything including writing, editing, making the cover, and marketing, it means you retain complete control and your cut of the royalties is massively higher. Smashwords offers you about 60% of the cut from a sale and Amazon offer up to 70%… traditionally published authors might get around 5%.

    I know of quite of few authors who have made the move from traditionally published to self published and they earn far more as a result.


    1. I should have come to you first – I wasn’t expecting such a detailed reply!

      Regarding losing the rights over your work, I thought the idea was that the advance goes as far as the equivalent of X number of sales, and then the author earns a percentage from then on?

      I was looking at one magazine in particular that would be a perfect fit for the story, but even the higher end of their fees would be pretty low – I’d effectively earn probably less than half of minimum wage for the hours I’ve put in.
      But the prestige and publicity might help me make a name, and sell subsequent stories, even a collection eventually.
      So maybe a combination of the two would work best.

      I think my idea’s quite marketable, which would take away some of the pressure were I to self-publish – it’s something to consider anyway!


      1. Yeah, you’re right about the advance.

        Getting short stories published in a magazine certainly isn’t a bad idea and doesn’t come with the risks associated with signing a contract with a publisher. After I published my very first book (which was more of a leaflet of nonsense than an actual book and I ended up unpublishing it about a year ago…) I realised that the process was a lot easier than I had imagined it to be – so getting your story in a magazine might give you the same boost.


  3. I don’t have any advice as I’m still trying to work all this out for myself, but I want to wish you luck with whatever path you decide to take in getting your stories out there! I am with a small press now and have had a great experience but I am also interested in doing some self-publishing and seeing where that takes me. It’s interesting that there are so many avenues for us now.

    Great to meet you through the IWSG!


  4. Publisher or no publisher, the majority of the marketing will fall to the author.

    As for the story, will cutting/trimming it down make it a better story? If yes, then by all means trim away. If not, then I’d suggest not cutting it to fit a magazine/anthologies word count. Of course, it can make it harder to find a home, but some places do look for longer short stories to publish as well. Or perhaps a magazine would be willing to serialize it.


    1. I’m drawn towards the idea of refusing to compromise, but if it’s the difference between an ideal version of the stories that’s seen by about a hundred, or a good version of the story that’s seen by thousands, I’m not sure that refusing to back down would be worthwhile.

      Obviously I wouldn’t submit a version of the story I’d be ashamed to associate my name with…but I’m not sure how big the middle ground is.


  5. I know a couple writers who’ve made a career with short stories in magazines. It is a good way to get a start in the business.
    I’ve never had to cut anything major, but my publisher did ask me to add a prologue to my first book.


  6. I haven’t published anything at all yet, self published or traditionally (and I’m trying very hard not to feel insecure about that right now! 😉 ) but my inclination is still to aim for traditional publication. I think there is a lot I can learn by going through that process, from writing a tight query letter to the art of compromise in a final product. And honestly, it would mean a lot to me for my stories to be available on a shelf at a bookstore.
    As for cutting stuff for word count, I’m aware of my tendencies toward wordiness! So I have no trouble jettisoning parts I like– as long as someone’s paying for the end product. 🙂


  7. Happy IWSG post day. 😀 Have you considered making it longer to be a novella? It’s worth kicking around the idea, especially if you have another or more to the story (same characters) floating around in your head. But shortening it to fit an anthology or magazine is an option as well.


    1. For the moment I’m sticking with the original plan of having it be part of a series of short stories – I’ll see how the idea evolves as I develop it.

      PS Sorry about taking so long to reply!


  8. I guess you already know you’ve got your work cut out for you. But hey, if you’re determined, more power to you. I self-published book #1 then went with publishers for the next 2. The marketing required almost did me in. It’s never ending. And I mean never!


    1. I think it’s the marketing that I fear the most. I know the basics of how to use social media, but figuring out how often to bug people, where to target etc. all seems like a massive pain.

      Ideally I’d like someone to offer me payment for the right to market and publish my book, but that’s still a bit of a dream, unfortunately.

      PS Sorry about taking so long to reply!


  9. You might want to try for an anthology. They have more relaxed word counts and very specific demands. Google for an open call and see what happens.

    When it comes to feedback, take it seriously. They are only sharing because they want to help. Good Luck. I’m sure whatever decision you make will be right for you. 🙂

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette


    1. At the moment I’m just working on developing and improving ‘the product’, and leaving all the sales stuff till a bit later. It would be nice (and encouraging) if a publisher were to sweep in with a seven figure book deal though…

      PS Sorry about taking so long to reply!


  10. I haven’t published as of yet, so take my two cents for what it’s worth. I believe that beginning with the magazine is worthwhile while continuing to work on part two. If you can’t come to terms with them, and you work out how much of part one can end up in part two, then you’re closer to making an informed decision. Self publishing may be a good move, but it sounds like you still have more questions than answers about the end point of the story itself.

    Great IWSG post!


    1. Part of what I’m thinking is that if the first story is of a decent standard, then having it published in a widely read magazine could encourage readers to search me out, which would obviously help any subsequent collection of the stories.

      PS Sorry about taking so long to reply!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s