So you finished drafting your short story? Fantastic! Now comes what’s perhaps the hardest part to get used to with writing: getting feedback.
Let me warn you before you go emailing your reader friends for their advice, not everybody knows how to give constructive criticism. And you shouldn’t necessarily listen to all the criticism you come across. A full-time editor friend takes time out of their busy day to give you some feedback? Of course you should weigh their opinions more. But if a friend just gives it back to you, shrugs, and tells you they didn’t like it but it isn’t their preferred genre? I wouldn’t weigh criticisms as heavily. Remember it’s impossible to write a story that everybody will love (unless you’re J.K. Rowling, then maaaaybe).
There are a LOT of genres out there and plenty of different kinds of readers. It’s totally fine if your writing doesn’t work for everybody – that’s why writing is so unique! The more flavors out there, the more different the tastes will be.
So how do you find people willing to critique your work and give useful feedback? Here are some things I’ve tried:
Proof it yourself – This may seem kind of silly, but you will be surprised if you shelf that story for a couple of weeks or even a month then get back to it. You’ll find problems you never even noticed. Try reading it aloud – especially the dialogue. Does it sound clunky? Another trick is to read the story backwards. Check each sentence for grammatical errors as you go. It forces you not to get distracted by the story and to really focus on the words. It’s good practice if you find yourself getting distracted by some really juicy scenes.
Friends & family – Find the people you may have already been bouncing ideas around with. These people might have even critiqued other writing for you in the past. This is the best way to get detailed feedback, but depending on who you find to do this, it may not always be completely honest. People try to sugar-coat advice when they’re afraid that a friendship will be in jeopardy. Keep that in mind as you get feedback.
Scribophile – This is a great place to go, especially for first-time writers, or even writers who haven’t had their work widely read yet. On this site, you critique other peoples’ work, earn credits, then post your own work to be critiqued. You can have your story put into a queue to be read by anybody on the site, or join some of the groups to have reviews from people who might be more interested in the genre, but it’s going to take a long time to get more feedback on. If you’ve never tried it out, it’s definitely worth doing for a bit. Just be careful not to get overwhelmed in editing other peoples’ words. Sometimes you have to take a step back to make time for your writing again.
Once you’re sure your story is as good as it can be, then it’s down to formatting it and sending it off to find a home! I’ll cover where to find the publishers to get your work published.
First off – congratulations! You’ve taken the first step by doing your research!
I can’t tell you how important that is. As a writer, you should probably get used to doing research. It doesn’t matter if you write pure abstract space fantasies or historically accurate murder mysteries, research is a necessity. So brush up on your search engine and library skills! Let me just preface this by saying that you won’t only need it for story facts and finding that word that’s on the tip of your tongue.
Next up is writing the story. This is of course the biggest hill when you start. How do you find the time to do it? Well there’s a lot of motivational options out there. Here are a few that I’ve either tried or heard works well for others:
#5amwritersclub – A Twitter hashtag for all those early risers who try to get their words down before work or before the kids wake up. Grab that cup of coffee (or tea!) and join your fellow authors!
NaNoWriMo/Camp NaNoWriMo – You’re probably thinking wait, aren’t those for writing novels? I’m only ready to tackle short fiction thank you very much. Don’t worry. These challenges are flexible. One Camp NaNo I set my goal to be 20,000 words and I plotted out 4 short stories at around 5,000 words each. And for NaNoWriMo? Set a goal for x number of stories to be written, or get some editing in. Check out the Nano Rebels section on the forums to find others carving their own paths.
Inspiration Through Reading – If I’m in a deep writing slump, I’ll go find a good book that discusses the process of writing (Stephen King’s On Writing is a good example). Or I’ll listen to an audiobook of various short stories. I know the library had a whole collection of classic horror authors and their short fiction. There are also respected collections of short fiction online that are available for free, such as The Sirens Call for dark fiction or Heroic Fantasy Quarterly for heroic fantasy.
If you can’t really get into a short story, then try listening to others review them. I’m a big fan of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast and have been supporting them for years. They do a great job of breaking down the sometimes complex themes and churning your imagination in the process. If none of those sound appealing, then try listening to authors talk about their processes. There are a bunch of excellent author podcasts out there including The Outer Dark and Deadman’s Tome. I suggest trying each one to see what gets your imagination moving.
Once you have your short story finished, then it’s off to find a home for it. I think I’ll look at covering that in the next session on how to make sure your story is as good as possible.
I’m pleased to announce that my Instagram followers have just unlocked a new story!
Against Our Better Judgment
It sounds like the beginning of a joke: A vampire and a werewolf meet in a New Orleans graveyard to settle an old score. Then things go horribly wrong. When their scuffle is interrupted, the two are forced to put aside their differences and try working together for once. The results are a mixed bag of action, deception, and a sprinkle of humor.
Congrats to my Instagram followers for unlocking the first story in my Story Unlocked series! Check out the link in my Profile page to read it. 💖
What happens to stories that are lost or forgotten? Sometimes they can be picked up in a reprint anthology, but most writers will tell you that unless you are a huge name, that is not common. For those quirky stories that don’t fit cleanly into those anthologies, they get lost to time. Out of print means that the book isn’t even printed on demand any longer, and the only sellers are the ones who have copies of their own to sell. So the price goes up, and the chance to read those stories goes down.
I don’t like that. I want my work to be accessible to as many as possible. Even my older stories which may not be as refined, but are just as fun. What about if I mixed it with new stories, ones that are homeless and don’t quite fit what editors are looking for? That’s when my Story Unlocked series was born. The more milestones I hit in Facebook and Instagram (my main hunting grounds), the more stories I’ll post. What are those milestones? That part is a secret. You’ll know once they get hit. 😉
Part game, part unearthing, part sparkly and new, I hope this series is as fun for my readers as it is to put together. Eventually I’ll probably collect them into an anthology, but who wants to wait for that?
We stand in line waiting our turn. There are only a few people in front of me with a long snaking trail still behind me. The woman passing out tickets only had a sliver of them left and I worry that I won’t get one in time. One, two, three, the tickets disappear and the sliver grows smaller. When I reach the table, and the final blue ticket is placed in my hand, I’m giddy with relief.
I step aside and hear cries of pain and outrage behind me, but I clutch that ticket to my chest and don’t turn back. With one hand on my suitcase I head to the tunnel. I pass by a child crying on the floor, a glaring old woman grinding her teeth, and two armored guards with guns on their hips. Still I don’t turn back. I don’t want to see the ones left behind or their desperation.
When I exit the tunnel, I gasp. The ship nearly fills the sky. Families cry and hug one another here in the fenced in yard, in stark contrast to the tension outside. When the ground trembles beneath our feet, a frightened hush falls over us. We might be safe soon, but the others won’t be. I allow myself to turn and see the long snaking chain of people. From here I can’t see the fear and hatred in their eyes, but I know it’s there. I can’t blame them.
As another tremor shakes the ground, I know none of those people will make it off this ruined planet in time. Regardless of what ships are scheduled to come, regardless of the promises that were made, this will be the final ship to leave.
I almost return my ticket and let someone else take my place.
My glass of whiskey shatters on the floor as I feel the pressure around my throat. I’m pulled back in my office chair and out of the corner of my eye I see a flash of blond hair and red lipstick. It’s Julia, the intern we just hired with the warm smile and fashionable dresses. Her resume was excellent, I should have questioned what made her want to apply. I should have questioned how she could afford such lovely outfits too.
I’m seeing stars now and there’s pain building in my skull. I don’t have much time before I black out. The gun in the drawer is too obvious, so I fall forward over my desk in a pretend coughing fit to reach for the bottle at my feet. Julia struggles to keep her grip tight on the rope. The office chair is tall and she has to step around it to get close enough. She’s determined though, just like I am.
I slip my fingers around the neck of the bottle and sit back in the chair again, locking her hands behind me momentarily. It gives me just enough time to bash the whiskey bottle against her skull. Blood mingles with glass fragments as she wavers, then collapses to the floor. She might be dead, but I’m in no hurry to check.
I pull off the garrote, gasping, panting, and coughing out the pain. In my hands is the bright red necktie Julia had worn with her smart polka dot dress. If she wasn’t working alone, then there would be others. Despite a pounding skull I check out Julia. She’s pouring blood all over the dingy carpet, but she’s alive. I know she’ll need to be questioned, but still, I wish I’d swung harder.