Want to get a novel published? Write short stories.

It's a big market.
Magazines are a big market and a entry point for many writers.

Today I’d like to focus of helping you with your writing goal of getting published, and how you can increase your chances. If you are looking to become a novelist, short stories could be a good way to begin. I can’t find the statistics, but I read once that the number of authors who had a novel published (via a traditional publishing house) without first writing for magazines was incredibly small. This could be based on any number of factors, but if we use this as a formula it shows that writing for magazines is a good way to increase your chances as a published novelist.

When you first start writing for magazines it feels as though your chances of finding success are just as difficult as with any big publishing house but in fact it is quite possible to get a hit with a magazine quite quickly if you approach it the right way. Most magazines are actually crying out for writers – usable authors that is. While they receive many submissions, the number of quality authors who stay writing for them tends to diminish as those authors go off to look for more substantial successes with novels. This means that there are many new openings being created within that market and it would be a good idea, wouldn’t it, to try to get in on that opportunity especially considering how it is increasing your chances of a major success in the future.

confusedSo how do you gain a hit with the magazines? Well I use the word hit for a reason, you need to think of it like this: You have a pack of playing cards, you place a glass a few feet away from yourself and you try to get as many cards into the glass as you can. Lots of cards are going to fall on the floor but a few will hit your target. I think you know where I’m going with this. Fact is, to gain hits with the magazines you must submit a lot of work. But whoa there, not just the contents of your bottom drawer, remember what I said about magazine publishers getting a lot of submissions? A lot of those submissions are from writers submitting any old short story they’ve been harbouring in their desk drawer for many years. Not that these can’t become hits but they will need work first (and probably a lot of it).

Check what the magazines are already publishing. I advise you not to be too judgemental here, if you look at what’s out there, and try to reproduce the same effect with your own stories, you will soon find that it’s not as easy as it looks and you will be humbled, which is good. Many people make value judgements about what is quality and what is not. There are some excellent short stories to be found in magazines just as there is some dross lording about in emperor’s clothing on the literary novels lists. Come on, you’ve seen them too. Read what the magazines are publishing and try to write something similar. Note things like viewpoint; first or third person? Is the tone playful, thoughtful, humorous? Look at subject matter, audience, word count – be exacting here, magazines issue guidelines (available on request) on what they will or won’t accept, and you need to pay attention to what they ask for.

For a really useful guide to writing short stories for magazines I would like to bring your attention to a lady who has had a great deal of hits, and most specifically to her guide;della  The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed – Your Quick Read, Straight-To-The-Point Guide To Writing and Selling Short Fiction, available on Amazon. Della Galton has been published in many magazines and is the agony aunt for Writers’ Forum. Della knows what she’s talking about and you would do well to listen. On the subject of success rates Della says on her website: “I sell 40% of my work first time out.  Overall, I sell approximately 94% of the stories that I write.  If I gave up after the first time out, I wouldn’t be able to make a living”. From this you can see that being ready to rewrite a story is vital but it shows you, most encouragingly, that the successes can be many IF you can stomach all those rejections. I think this is encouraging news, how about you?

As a final thought, remember this from Mark Twain; “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay”. There are numerous publishers out there who have little or no cash to invest in you, but who need your writing for their publications. You can happily help each other out till you make it big time. Last of all, if the thought of all those rejections is making you feel down or too scared to carry on trying, think on this formula: Rejections = success (eventually), it’s true if you think about it.

The best of luck to you.

That’s it for now, but if you’d like to see more on this subject do drop me a line. If you have any advice on writing for magazines or any thoughts to add please fill up that box below. I love getting comments from you.

Published by Jill London

Hi, I’m Jill, a writer and teacher living in the UK, usually behind a desk but sometimes on a sofa with a book or a film. I began writing at around age three, legibly by five, although I didn’t write any stories until I was older. Aged eleven, I began writing children’s fiction, mostly middle-grade fantasy and I’m still doing it to this day. I have had stories published online and in My Weekly magazine. The best bit about writing is when ideas pop into your head (from the writing fairy presumably?) and everything starts clipping together like a jigsaw puzzle. The worst bit? When you start to get the feeling there's a piece missing from the box...

2 thoughts on “Want to get a novel published? Write short stories.

  1. “I read once that the number of authors who had a novel published (via a publishing house) without first writing for magazines was incredibly small.” Wow. that’s good to know. Helpful post. Thanks Jill!


    1. I’m always so pleased and encouraged to hear that something I’ve written has proved helpful, so thank-you for that, Melissa. Lovely to hear from you again 🙂
      When I read that fact you mention there was a little accompanying graph that showed actual numbers of published authors with the numbers of times they had been published in magazines, and even those who’d had a single story published had improved their chances. Now it could be coincidental, of course, but it could show that agents and publishers want that ‘guarantee’ of another publisher’s approval.
      I figure anything that raises those chances is good!


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