As promised last week, here's the second part of that longer article, this time looking at why publishing those short stories is a good idea, even if you're certain writing novels is what you really want to do.
The scary thing is that moment when you know you’ve done as much to your story as you can. Because where do you go from here? Publishing feels like a big step, but writers write so they can be read, and a story hanging out on your hard drive is only going to be read by one person – you. I’d jumped the gun with publishing, and had sent out a couple of those early, awful novels only to have them rejected, probably (hopefully?) unread.
Before submitting a story to a publication, it’s a good idea to take a look at some other issues of that publication to get a feel for what they like. It’s also a good idea to look at things like how often they publish new work, especially when it comes to online publications. A site that publishes a new story each day is going to need far more content than a publication that might only publish one piece of short fiction per month or quarter, so is probably an easier place to get accepted.
I’m not going to lie to you. Your story is very likely going to be rejected. But this isn’t a bad thing. Publishing is full of rejection (I’ve logged over 300 rejections in my career), and if you’re serious about being a writer, it’s something you need to learn to deal with. And it’s way better to have a short story that may have taken a few days to write rejected than a novel that may have taken a few years. I’m not saying it won’t hurt, or that it won’t be disappointing, but after the first few times, it does get easier. Honestly. I wouldn’t lie to you.
And while your story is out in the world, waiting for its chance to shine in that literary journal or anthology, you can get to work on your next story. Or your novel. Just remember, the more publications you submit to, the more chance you have of getting published. Rejections are just one of the stepping stones along the way.
As well as toughening my hide against the pain of rejection, publishing short fiction helped me build some publishing credits. When querying a novel, having a publication history shows agents you’re serious about writing, and if you’ve been published in a well-known magazine or journal, it speaks to the quality of your writing. It also helps to build an audience for your long-form work. If readers have enjoyed a short story you’ve written, they may also like a novel. After reading the story, they might do some research to find out if you’ve written something else.
I don’t actually know for sure if any of the readers of my short stories have read my novels, or vice versa, but it’s certainly possible, right?
Which is a reason why it might be a good idea to continue writing and publishing short fiction even after your first novel is published and available. Writing a novel takes a long time, and readers may be impatient to hear from you again. Publishing short fiction keeps your name and your voice in the minds of your readers so they don’t forget you between novels.
Some publishers regularly compile anthologies of short or novella length fiction partly for this very reason – to keep their authors in the spotlight between novels. But also to discover new writers who might have unique and interesting voices. I’m lucky enough that my publisher is one of these, and last year I got to stretch my writing muscles with a novella-length story (Run to You) in an anthology of stories each of which started and finished with a kiss. It’s called Kissed if anyone’s interested…
So, there are any number of reasons why writing and publishing short stories is not a waste of time for novelists. So get out there and write yourself some short fiction. I'd love to read it.