How to Sell a Short Story

by Emily Weller; Updated September 26, 2017

The best short story can be as engaging and enthralling as a novel. Though many writers set their sites on the novel, selling short stories can be a way for a writer to get his feet wet and gain exposure. The process of pitching a short story is similar to that of pitching an article or approaching a publisher with an idea for a novel.

Find a Market

Literary journals, magazines and online publications publish short stories. It pays to do your research before you submit a story. If a magazine interests you and seems to fit with your style, read several issues of the magazine before you send in your story. For example, if your genre is fantasy, read a few issues of your fantasy magazine of choice. You will learn the general style and length of stories that the magazine publishes. You'll also figure out if the magazine has previously published a story similar to yours, in which case, it might not want your story. Before you submit a story to a publisher or magazine, ask for the company's guidelines.

Consider E-Books

The e-book market can be a boon to short story writers. According to David Coe of "Science Fiction and Fantasy Novelists," the earnings from publishing an e-book version of a short story are similar to those from a traditional market. Coe also notes, however, that self-publishing might not advance a writer's career as much as pursuing sales through traditional markets or publishers. If your goal is to earn money rather than pursue an agent or publication with a larger publishing house, self-publishing e-book versions of your stories might be the route to take. You can self-publish through a number of online publishing companies.

Polish Your Story

Once you've determined where you want your story to go, focus on the meat and bones of the story itself. Ask people you trust to read the story and provide feedback. Consider joining a writer's group or workshop to get feedback from other short story writers. Make sure your story fits the guidelines of the publication. Don't try to submit a piece that is over the word limit or considerably shorter than the requirements.

Craft a Cover Letter

Always include a cover letter when you submit your story to a magazine or website. The cover letter should tell the editor what you are submitting and its length. You don't need to include much else in the letter. For example, you don't need to include a synopsis of the story or share its submission history, especially if the story has been turned down by other publishers, according to C.M. Clifton of FreelanceWriting.com. If you are sending the story via email, make sure to attach the file to your letter and use the proper file format.

About the Author

Based in Pennsylvania, Emily Weller has been writing professionally since 2007, when she began writing theater reviews Off-Off Broadway productions. Since then, she has written for TheNest, ModernMom and Rhode Island Home and Design magazine, among others. Weller attended CUNY/Brooklyn college and Temple University.