Do you suffer anxiety about whether your writing is any good? If you don’t, you’re probably not doing it right. You get lots of advice and encouragement when you start writing. Most of it is well-meaning. Much of it is wrong – at least for you. There’s one thing I wished I’d known when I started. Of course, like most well-meaning advice, it may not be valid for you. But my advice is write and publish short stories, even if your main interest is novels.
Why? Many reasons, but these were the main ones for me:
- Polish your craft.
- Boost your confidence
- Measure your ability.
- Build a track record.
Polish your craft
Short stories are short. You can write them faster than a novel and revise them more easily. It’s a simpler apprenticeship to serve.
Boost your confidence
Publishing and selling a novel is hard. It takes lots of work, and lots of luck. Mostly, you get negative feedback from agents and publishers (if you’re going the conventional route) or reviewers and sales (if you’re self-publishing). It can dent even the toughest hide and the most humble spirit. Self-doubt eats away at your confidence. It doesn’t have to be like that. It’s easier to publish short stories than novels – there are many more outlets, both print and on-line magazines. The website Duotrope lists 5,821 markets. There will almost certainly be one that will publish you. Nothing beats the boost of seeing yourself in print. If you’re just starting out, these magazines accept over half of the work submitted to them.
Measure your ability
Pick your market. Different outlets for stories have different acceptance rates. I didn’t know about acceptance rates when I started out. Until 2015 I was unwittingly submitting stories to prestige magazines that accept less than 1% of everything submitted to them. No wonder I wasn’t getting published. No wonder I was dejected and felt talentless. In 2015 it all began to change when I got hold of data on acceptance rates. Duotrope publishes these figures. Armed with them, I can target where I sent my stories.
Last year, I had stories accepted by Alfie Dog and The Opening Line. Not so hard to do since both accepted around half the material sent to them. I got bolder. Gold Dust, with an acceptance rate of 12.5%, accepted a story, Zhuang Zhu’s Dream, about a man who has memories he believes are not his own. Then this year Structo accepted Interstices, a slipstream kind of story, to be published in issue 16. At the time of submission, Structo accepted only 3.85% of the material submitted, and currently the number is (an impossible) 0%. Now I can place myself in the market, so I’m no longer anxious about whether I’m any good as writer.
Build a track record
The publications give me a track record. Now, when I submit book manuscripts to agents and publishers, I can claim some credits attesting to my ability. The outlets with 50% acceptance rates don’t help this, but the two below 20% do.