When Good Stories Go Unpublished
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It's the Good Stories that Bug MeYes, that sounds odd, but it's hard to live with a good story remaining unpublished. I have a few stories, some of my best ones, that fit this situation. Why? They're too long.
Most short story journals and contests set word count limits at 2500-3000 words. My unpublished ones fall between the 3000-7000 word mark. I've tried cutting them down, that's how I got one of them under 5000 words, but cut any shorter, they won't work. Two have done well in the Faulkner-Wisdom contest--one of the few contests open to all fiction genres with higher word maximums and few content restrictions. Faulkner-Wisdom is one of the largest contests in the country, so to make it through several rounds of judging before elimination is a big deal. My stories did that.
Maybe It's the GenreStill, I can't find that elusive publication offer for these stories. If this happens to your work, after awhile, you start looking for other reasons.
That's why I participated in a small writing workshop a few years ago--it was taught by a literary writer. I am not a literary writer. I don't plan to change that, but I hoped this workshop might reveal some elements I'd missed that might improve my chances of publication. I gained some interesting techniques and learned a few rules I didn't know about, so I don't regret participating, but the knowledge gained didn't change how I write.
Prior to the workshop, each participant submitted a short story of up to twenty double-spaced pages. That's a long story. I started to bring in an existing story but, at the last minute, wrote a new one. I love this story, by the way, but it's my longest short story, yet.
During the workshop I asked the others why they wrote long stories when no one wants to publish them. They stared at me in surprise and insisted contests and journals existed for longer stories. They had never heard of contests requiring less than 3000 words. They argued anything under 5000 words fell in the flash fiction genre. (FYI, flash fiction tends to be under 1000 words.) I asked them to share their sources with me, and they promised to send me information. They forgot.
Submission Restrictions Still Thwart MeArmed with their insistence that contests existed that allowed longer stories, I searched harder. I found a few contests open to longer submissions, but other requirements canceled me out:
- you have to live in a specific state
- you must be a certain age
- you're pursuing an advanced writing education
- you're willing to move for a short period of time (6 weeks to 6 months) to accept the position of writer-in-residence
- your story fits a particular theme
These restrictions cancel me out.
I haven't lost hope. Three of my best short stories still await publication. I will find a home and audience for them, but it's frustrating to revisit them, knowing they exist only on my computer.
As for me, I have experienced the same sort of thing as you have. The few writers who still talk to me despite my curmudgeonly demeanor and have dealt with short story contests have all gone through what you have. To be sure, you ain't alone. Restrictive contest rules and the constraints of submission guidelines so often border on the prohibitive.
Have you thought about abandoning the contests and submitting to mags who publish short stories. Many ask for and nearly all accept submissions from authors who have not been previously published. Most of them are far more liberal with regard to length. Your 3K to 7K work would be welcome with many. With most, there is a nominal stipend that accompanies acceptance.
If you haven't already, I would suggest you Google "Where to Submit Short Stories: 25 Magazines and Online Publications. I'm certain there are publications listed where your work would fit nicely. There are, of course, other such website also listed. Perhaps it's time you abandoned the contest route for a bit.
It's only an opinion. Since it's mine, it might be of dubious value. I would think, however, some publishing credits on a query letter when looking for an agent would be of value.
There's lots of markets for longer stories. You can limit the searches by genre, length, and pay rate. If you enter your story information, you can even search for markets individually for specific stories.