Author Resources
Free Publishing Guide

Short Stories

In today's fast-paced world, there's something to be said for a quick and entertaining read. In fact, many popular authors, including Stephen King, got their start writing short stories.


Short stories usually share the following characteristics (Keep in mind, your story does not have to include the following. Many short stories don't.):

  • Quick start. Since space is limited, the story must take off as soon as it begins, leading to the action.
  • Limited characters and scenes. The story usually doesn't move from one setting to another and rarely contains more than two main characters.
  • Only one problem. There are rarely side stories or tangents.
  • Short time period. Usually, short stories take place in a day's time or less.

Catch Attention

When beginning your story, start with a catchy first paragraph. In today’s fast-moving world, the first sentence of your short story should catch your reader’s attention with an unusual or unexpected action or conflict. This begins your story with tension and immediacy that will hold the reader’s attention.

Remember that short stories need to start close to their end. Your readers won’t be spending as much time with your story as the would a novel so you need to hook them quickly. Creating interest at the onset of your story is key. Set the scene for an interesting occurrence that makes the reader believe that reading your work will be worthwhile.

Characterize (for yourself)

In short stories, there isn’t a lot of room for characterization. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the time to know your characters. Develop them in your mind or on paper, even if you aren’t going to use all of it in your story. Your thought will make your characters consistent and believable.

Dialogue is a great way to convey characters’ personality. Instead of telling your readers who a character is, let your character tell the reader. Knowing your characters well will allow you to write dialogue that precisely conveys their personality without having to explain it to the reader in narrative.

Set the Scene

Remember, with limited space, every word counts. Use imagery and setting, but make sure that it’s relevant to your story. Vivid description that conveys a scene in a few words is best. Minute details will only weigh your story down and bore your reader.

Don’t bog your writing down with back story that doesn’t further the story of your characters’ current situation. Your reader doesn’t need to know everything that has happened to your characters. Give the reader only what he or she needs to know to understand the predicament that your characters face.


Short stories attract a special type of market. Before starting any type of marketing, it’s important to figure out who will be interested in your subject and why. Be sure to think outside of the box when considering a possible target market. Then tailor your marketing plan to attract those individuals.

Create Marketing Materials

One of the most important elements of your marketing campaign will be your author Web site. The Web site does not have to be complicated, but should contain information potential customers need to learn about your book, hear what others are saying about the book, and purchase it. Your Web site is an excellent place to post reviews and information about upcoming author events.

Author business cards or book-specific bookmarks (including your ISBN, Web site address, and other important book information) are also excellent ways of reaching your market. Local bookstores will probably be willing to place your bookmarks or business cards close to the register for patrons to pick up. Also, contact book fairs or conventions where individuals may be interested in your subject about getting your promotional items placed in gift bags. These materials act as a reminder of your book to potential readers.

Build Relationships

Make a list of privately owned bookstores in your area. Owners usually love to get to know writers, and can be your greatest ally when it comes to selling your collection. If the store holds book signings or other author-based events, be sure to become a familiar face during them.

Building relationships with bookstore chains can be more difficult. Self-published authors should contact the Small Press Department at the chain to find out how to get the book considered for placement in the store. You will most likely be asked to send your collection and a detailed marketing plan, so be prepared before you call.

Most areas have book groups that are open to hearing from authors about new books to read. Contact groups to suggest that your book (or one of your stories) be added as one of the selections, and then try to attend the discussion of your book. Creating a list of questions to guide the conversation can be especially helpful to you.

Make all trips that you take marketing opportunities. Bring some business cards or bookmarks when you visit friends or family members elsewhere. This gives your book more exposure than it would get in a local market.

Remember to network. Hang out where other writers do, and build strong relationships. These alliances can help you market your book. Other writers may have thought of things that you wouldn’t have on your own, and vice versa. Stick with your fellow writers to make your book successful.

Get Press

Start building a list of magazines, newspapers, and Web sites that might review your book. Literary magazines are especially relevant for short story writers. Publishing your stories within lit magazines can definitely be one of the most successful methods of marketing your writing and your collection. Remember to submit your stories to a literary magazine that is interested in your genre and will reach your target market. Research is the key to finding the correct magazine for your stories.

Reviews in magazines and newspapers can help create buzz about your collection. Many publications may also consider writing a feature instead of a review. This is also helpful in getting your name and book title out to the public. Remember, many authors request reviews and features. Be prepared to offer the reviewer reasons why your book is interesting and why you are worth reviewing or featuring.