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How to Write a Story for a Magazine


Whether you have a stash of unpublished stories awaiting their chance to be read on the virtual or glossy page or you seek inspiration to write a new story for hopeful publication, you have options. With the proliferation of online magazines and journals, and the number of online and print magazines accepting unsolicited submissions, you stand a chance of being published if you edit your writing ruthlessly, read guidelines carefully and submit your stories widely. Most importantly, do not give up. Most writers receive significantly more rejections than acceptances.

Research magazines that publish the length and type of stories you write. Some magazines specialize in memoir or personal stories, while others prefer "genre fiction" such as horror, romance or mystery. Others appreciate news stories, travel narratives or other informational nonfiction pieces. Some magazines prefer short or short-short stories, while others will consider novella, travelogue or novel excerpts. Consult writing magazines such as Writers Digest and online databases such as the one managed by Poets and Writers magazine to get ideas for which magazines fit your style.

Read sample pieces from magazines that interest you to get an idea of what they publish. Some magazines publish samples online at their websites; others sell a sample issue at a discount to interested writers. Check each magazine's website for ordering instructions and study the sample before submitting. Save yourself and the magazine editor time by submitting elsewhere if your stories do not fit the magazine's target readership.

Visit the websites of magazines that interest you and click on the link that reads "guidelines," "submissions" or similar. Some magazines list calls for submissions here, telling you what kind of stories they will consider and their deadline for submissions. Whether you have a story on hand or have time to write a new one, check whether the magazine asks you to query first. Some magazines prefer a query, which is essentially a cover letter for your story, while others do not.

Read the magazine's full submission guidelines for formatting requirements and submission protocol. Details such as where your name should go on the page, how long your submission can be and what size margins to use can make or break your submission. Note whether you should submit using an online submission manager, by email or by postal mail. Also note whether the magazine considers simultaneous submissions, meaning you may submit your story elsewhere at the same time, or if it forbids the practice.

Write a brief cover letter, or, if appropriate, a query addressed to the appropriate editor at the magazine. Introduce your writing background briefly and explain what your submission includes. Thank the editor for her consideration. Following the magazine's submission guidelines, submit your query or your cover letter and story.

Wait to hear back from the editor and only follow up after the amount of time listed in the magazine's submission guidelines. If no response time is given, wait at least one week to follow up on a query and at least two months to follow up on a story. Be patient; major magazines receive a large number of submissions and inquiries daily.

Tips
  • Note that not every magazine pays for stories; in fact, most creative writing magazines pay in "author copies" or subscriptions rather than cash.
  • Proofread every submission multiple times before submission. When an editor sifts through a pile of stories, the ones with the gross spelling and grammatical errors are often the easiest ones to pass over.
Items you will need
Computer with Internet connection
Word processing software
About the Author

Darla Himeles is a freelance writer, editor and poet living in Castine, Maine. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College's English and education programs and a current student in Drew University’s MFA in poetry and poetry in translation program, Himeles writes frequently about education, wellness, writing and literature.

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