Playing the Short Game: How to Sell Your Short Fiction (Part 10 in series)

Dear Editor…: How to submit short fiction

Welcome back to my on-going and generally (kind of, sort of) weekly series on how to market and sell short fiction. These posts are written in a very specific sequence, with each entry building on earlier ones. If you haven’t already, you can read my earlier posts here.

In Part 7 and Part 8, I provided resources and a process to help you develop your own list of top markets that you will be targeting for your stories. Last week, in Part 9, I explained how to determine which of the top markets on your personal list is the best fit for the story that you’re planning to submit. This week, I discuss the mechanics of submitting your story to the market that you’ve selected from your list.

The Common Ways of Submitting

The submission guidelines page of your target market’s website will explain the process to follow when sending them a story, which will be one of the following:

  • By email, with a cover letter in the body of the email and the story as an attachment;
  • By email, with a cover letter AND the story in the body of the email;
  • An online form, where you cut and paste your cover letter and story into the form;
  • An online submission system, such as Submittable; or,
  • By snail mail (yes, believe it or not, not all the dinosaurs died off).

Currently, the most common method is by email with an attachment, but online submission systems are becoming more common.

The market’s guidelines will provide you with specific instructions. I shouldn’t have to say this, but given the number of editors who complain about it, I will: follow the market’s instructions for submitting exactly. If they ask for the story pasted into the body of the email, and you send it as an attachment, you’ll win a quick trip to the delete folder for your story.

Also, be sure to send only the type of attachments that the market will accept. For example, many will NOT accept .docx files out of MS-Word, but will accept .doc files. RTF (rich text format) files are usually accepted by any market that takes attachments, but read the guidelines.

The Dreaded Snail Mail Market

If you’re submitting to a market that only takes postal submissions, you will likely see a reference in their submission guidelines along the lines of “Please include a SASE with your submission if you wish a reply.”

SASE (pronounced “sassy”) means Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope–an unsealed, letter-size (#10 works) envelope with your address typed neatly on the front AND with the correct postage affixed to it. “Correct” postage means both the amount and the country. I’m in Canada, so when I submit to a snail mail market in the US, I need to attach US stamps (not Canadian) to my SASE, and I have to ensure that I’m attaching sufficient postage for international mail from the US to Canada. You can check postal rates online for the following English-speaking countries:

So how do you get stamps from another country? One way is to have a friend living in that country buy them and mail them to you. You can also order them directly via most of the above websites.

Another option, especially for overseas markets, is to include an SAE (Self-Addressed Envelope, with no postage attached) and an International Reply Coupon (IRC). You can purchase IRC’s in your local post office (usually). They act like a voucher that can be exchanged for postage in the market’s country. It may sound easier, but be warned that they are expensive. You can sometimes avoid the need for a SASE if the guidelines state that they will respond to your submission by email.

If you want them to not only reply regarding rejection or acceptance, but to return your manuscript, then you need to do all of the above but with an envelope large enough to hold your manuscript (and obviously, more postage). My advice is not to bother with this. You’re not saving any money (ok, you’re saving some trees), and after a few rejections, your much-travelled manuscript is going to look much rejected as well, which is not the first impression you want to make when you send it out again.

All this adds up to snail mail markets being a pain to submit to, which is why I’m glad that the number of these markets has dwindled.

Cover Letters

No matter what method a market uses for submissions, you will need to include a cover letter, which provides your next opportunity for making a bad impression.
Here is a sample cover letter based on one of my recent submissions:

Dear <editor’s name>:

Please find <attached / enclosed / below> my 5,100-word story “The Red Bird” for consideration for <market name>. This story has not been previously published.

My stories have appeared in thirty countries and twenty-five languages, including InterZone, Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, On Spec, and Cicada, as well as numerous professional anthologies. I have three short story collections, Chimerascope (ChiZine Publications), Impossibilia (PS Publishing), and La Danse des Esprits (Dreampress, France). I have twice won the Aurora Award and have been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the juried Sunburst Award, the CBC Bookies Award, and France’s juried Prix Masterton and Prix Bob Morane.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your response.


Douglas Smith

Some points to note:

  • For <editor name>, put their actual surname with the appropriate title: “Ms. Jones” or “Mr. Brown.” You’ll find their name on the website and usually on the guidelines page. If–and only if–you know the editor (from a convention, from a prior acceptance, from regular correspondence), you can use their first name. Use your common sense–don’t be familiar if you haven’t earned it. If you can’t find their name, simply say “Dear Editor”.
  • Since we’re dealing with selling first rights at this point, the declaration that the story has not been previously published is redundant, but it doesn’t hurt.
  • If you have publication credits, include only professional and highly regarded markets. No matter how proud you are of your sale to some non-paying market (and you shouldn’t have been submitting there to start with–read Part 7 in this series about selecting markets), including them will hurt your credibility, not help it.
  • If you have a lot of publication credits, select only a few of the best.
  • If you’ve been published before in this market, make sure that you mention that in your first paragraph: “I am a previous contributor to Amazing Stories (issue #595, Winter 1999).”
  • If you don’t have any professional publications credits yet, just drop the second paragraph. Don’t worry–editors are buying your story, not your resume.
  • If you have any special credentials that are relevant to the story, then you can include them. An example might be that you’re an emergency room doctor, and this story is a medical thriller.
What Not to Include in a Cover Letter

Well, the simple answer is nothing beyond what I show in the above example. But since editors still cite these mistakes in cover letters, I’ll list some of the more brain-dead examples:

  • Do not attempt to describe or summarize your story. Sorry, but your story has to do that for itself, just the way that it will have to for a reader if this editor publishes it.
  • Do not include information about your personal life. The editor doesn’t care. No, really–they don’t care. Especially, don’t talk about your cats.
  • Do not tell the editor how this story idea came to you or why you wrote it (“This story was inspired by the tragic death of my possum, Clyde…”). Again, no one cares. Not even Clyde.
  • Do not tell the editor how you wrote this story or the pain involved in its birth. More not-caring involved.
  • Most particularly, do not explain how your <spouse / mother / BFF / kids / cat / possum> love this story. Awesome amounts of not-caring for this one.
  • Worth repeating: No cats. Or possums.

Basically, your cover letter is “Here’s my story. It’s this long. Here are my creds. Thanks for listening.” That’s it. That’s all you need. If you add more, you’re probably making a mistake.

Next Week

Next week, I continue this topic on how to submit short fiction when I deal with manuscript formatting, including calculating word count.

Next week: Dear Editor…: How to submit short fiction (conclusion)

As always, please feel free to add comments and questions, and I’ll respond as best (and as soon as) I can.



I am thrilled to announce that I have now repackaged the 32 separate posts that make up this blog series into a book titled Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction. The book is completely updated and reorganized, with new material not in this blog series, plus an introduction from multi-genre, multi-award winning writer and editor, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Here’s an extract from Kris’s intro:

Douglas Smith is the best person to write this book. … He’s one of the few people who has probably published more short fiction than I have, and in more countries, and more high-paying markets. He loves the short story as much as I do, and he’s good at writing them.

He’s just as good at the business side of the profession. He knows more about marketing short stories to other countries than I do. He understands how to manage short fiction contracts very well. He’s up-to-date on 21st century publishing practices, and he has a toughness that the best business people need.

We short story writers have needed a book like this for decades. I’m glad Doug decided to write it. Read and reread this volume. Because you’ll learn something each time you do. And take Doug’s advice. It’s spectacular.

—Kristine Kathryn Rusch

More information on the book, including full buying links for all major retailer sites, is available on my website here.

As a special offer to Amazing Stories readers, I’m offering discounts in my bookstore. Get the ebook or print edition at a discount by using the coupon codes AS-SHORT-E or AS-SHORT-P respectively at my website bookstore. Enjoy!

Please take a moment to support Amazing Stories with a one-time or recurring donation via Patreon. We rely on donations to keep the site going, and we need your financial support to continue quality coverage of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres as well as supply free stories weekly for your reading pleasure.


  1. I was starting to pick a market now (before my story is even done) and I got nervous when I saw cover letter, so I came back here. Sure thing the post after I left off talks about cover letters with no real credits.

  2. Thank you for this series, Doug. It is inspiring as well as informative. Without your post I would never have dreamed of starting with my top market and the market lists you gave us are wonderful..

    Just wondering whether you would include contest results? For example, if the story you're submitting received an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest.

    1. Sue, great question. I would definitely include an Honorable Mention from WotF. WotF is a well-regarded contest, and many WotF winners have gone on to professional careers. Any editor would definitely count that as a "pro" credit.

      I wouldn't extend that recommendation to other contests, however. In fact, although I didn't cover this in any of these posts on selecting markets (and probably should have), I discourage new writers from submitting to any market that requires the writer to pay to submit, and that includes practically all contests. Again, Writers of the Future is the exception because of the cred it has in the profession (and that is cred for the writing contest, and most definitely not to its ties to L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology).

      In general, folks, remember the rule: money flows to the writer. If you have to pay money to submit your story, either to enter it into a contest or in the form of a "reading fee," don't submit to that market (WotF aside). Most contests are just money making exercises for the market, and reading fees are just a way to keep the slush pile smaller (more the slush pile in part 14).


  3. Really excellent advice, Doug. I remember when I started writing, this kind of information was so hard to find. You and Michael J. Sullivan are doing such a wonderful service to new writers, and writer embarking on a serious career.

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