Short Fiction

Short Fiction

Writing short fiction helps you develop your craft. You learn the structure of a story, how to develop a character, and how to keep a story focused. A short story is usually between 3,000 and 7,500 words. Of course, this depends on your market. Some print and online magazines have their own ideas on short story length and the lengths can vary widely.

On this blog, I’ve posted a short-short story and a short story (See Amy’s Lesson and The Gift). These are not sellable, stand-alone stories that would be picked up by a print or online magazine. I wrote them to help bridge the gap between Nasty Leftovers and the third installment of the Spirit Missions series (in progress) and provide some seasonal stories.

Sometimes, you have to write something short to help develop something longer. Those two short pieces helped me set the stage for the third novel, and helped mature the characters a little. From Sudden Mission to this third novel, the main characters Paul and Amy go from age 14 to almost 18. What happens in the third book needs older characters to make the action and events more believable.

I have other, unrelated short fiction, including one published (New Kid in Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine). Another story I think is promising, but it’s out to a market that doesn’t seem viable any more. I may withdraw and move on.


That’s another strength of short fiction. There is a huge market for it, but it is competitive. Write your short fiction, get some beta-readers for it if that helps, and submit to appropriate markets. And, keep submitting. When you get a rejection, don’t take it personally. Look the story over, make any edits or corrections that seem right, and send it back out. One rejection is not a judgement on your story or the quality of your writing. It just means that whoever screened the submissions didn’t think your story fit their needs. Move on.

You get two things from this: 1) thick skin from dealing with rejection and criticism; 2) practice. Keep writing those short pieces. Keep submitting them. The more you write, the better you get. One day, you’ll get a response that has constructive criticism. That’s a good thing. Eventually, you’ll get an offer to publish one of those short pieces. New Kid cleared the bar, and at an award-winning small magazine. But it had been around the market for about a year and collected several rejections before acceptance.

Short fiction is hard work, though. Harder than longer work, like novels. Keep your language precise. Keep your descriptions spare. And, you have to hit the reader with a strong story line. Granted, that helps a novel, too. But, you hone the craft in the short pieces.

I know I spend more time on the three-to-five thousand words of a short story as opposed to the 60+ thousand words of a novel. I play with point of view and voice. First person seems to fit short fiction better. I rewrite the drafts more, edit between submissions, spend more time re-reading it and analyzing it. It’s all part of the process.

Go on, write that short story. Write several. It’s good practice.

Keep writing.



Pitching and Wooing

A few weeks ago, I attended SpoCon, the Spokane Science Fiction Convention. One of the items on the agenda was a pitch session with a medium size publisher from the Northwest. I thought I’d attend and see how it worked. There are a few things I learned from the experience.

One. Never go to a pitch session (or a convention) unprepared to pitch your work. Whether it is a novel or some shorter work, be ready. Always have notes and key points ready and practiced. It turns out I ended up pitching my first novel. I was unprepared and didn’t have a good pitch strategy in mind. Still, will all the stumbling and scattered thinking, the publisher still asked to see the first 5k words and synopsis. Fortunately, that was easily provided.

Two. Practice your pitch. If you can, practice in front of someone. It turns out the publisher asked questions I hadn’t thought of and I was unprepared to respond well. I still tried and I think that helped. But, for future reference, I will practice and try to get outside question on the pitch to sharpen the responses. It doesn’t hurt to be professional and prepared when you go to pitch your work.

Three. Work on your platform. One of the things that smaller publishers want today is that the author is ready to promote their book. That means a Facebook fan page with more than a handful of likes; at least one Twitter account for keeping folks informed of your publishing schedule, promotions and all; and a blog/web site (like this one). One of the first questions the publisher asked all the folks pitching was about platform. The main reason is that publishers don’t do as much marketing as one would think. Without an author platform, the work doesn’t get enough reader attention and traction. Smaller publishers (the non-traditional) usually pay a larger percentage of royalties, but the author must do more of the marketing and promotion.

So, part of the novel is in the hands of a publisher who may or may not want to see the rest. I’m waiting to hear one way or the other. It gave me hope that the story had some merit when the publisher still wanted to read some of it after my botched pitch. Still, I would rather have been better prepared and polished. I will be, next time.

Keep writing.