9 Secrets of Publishing Your Flash Fiction, in 1,000 Words or Less
By Andrew Winch
As senior editor for Splickety Publishing Group, how do I select a story for publication in our magazines? Well, that's easy. I pick the best one.
But since you've all—hopefully—read your weight in craft books (I know you kids love your e-books these days, but try to use your imaginations), let me spend some time sharing what I've learned in my four years as an acquisitions editor. I'll focus on submission tips-n-tricks as well as a few elements specific to flash fiction.
First, about submitting to a magazine, specifically one of Splickety’s imprints, Splickety Prime, Splickety Love, or Havok. Since all editors have different personalities and preferences, these suggestions are what influence my decisions, though I suspect other slush-pile divers would tend to agree.
1. First impressions
Submission e-mails are rather unfair. A perfectly-formatted, appropriately-labeled submission will usually go right into my "to be read" file without a thought. But a cluttered, vague, overbearing, or otherwise annoying sub will immediately make a negative impression and influence my thoughts on the actual story.
To avoid this, be clear that you are submitting, tell me the magazine you're submitting to, the issue/theme you're shooting for, and whatever other information will help you sleep better (word count, synopsis, influences, hopes and dreams…). As long as I know how to sort it and what to expect, your submission e-mail has done its job. After that, the story needs to speak for itself.
This goes into that "other information" category. I may be alone on this, but I don't even read bios until I've already decided whether to acquire or reject the story. Most editors probably like knowing the author's platform and audience (in the interest of magazine sales), but I prefer going into the story unbiased to assure Splickety continues to showcase the very best flash fiction.
Now the caveat: if I'm undecided on a piece, your bio may tip the scales in your favor, but only if you actually have something that makes you stand out. Your third-grade blue ribbon for writing is better left unsaid.
3. Repeat offenders
Tell me if you've been published in Splickety before. Chances are I'll remember your name anyway, but make sure. And once you become a Splickety alumnus, you can start bending the rules of the straightforward submission e-mail.
Remind me of your author voice. Be quirky and funny if you write comedy, be a little creepy if you write horror, but please don't hit on me because you write romance. Again, be clear about where your story belongs (which magazine/theme), but remind me why I published you before.
4. FOLLOW THE RULES
Editors and agents beat this dead horse more than any civilized person should, but some people will just never see the light, and thus, their story will never see the inside of a magazine. Every publication is different, but Splickety follows general Chicago Manual of Style rules. We have a few preferential exceptions (ellipses, possessives ending in "s," semicolons…I hate semicolons…), but those quirks are always addressed during the editing phase and never counted against a story.
So, catch up to the twenty-first century and send in a double-spaced, Times New Roman, 1" margin, .5” indented first paragraph, one-space-between-sentences story (All of which is listed in our submission guidelines). To all those who are rolling their eyes at my pedantic dogmatism, know that I, too, was once a man-cub just like you. That is, until I started reading ten submissions a week, every week.
Nowadays, if a story is formatted incorrectly, I get vertigo. Seriously, it's like reading italic wingdings written in crayon. Once I finally adjust to the change, I don't have the brainpower left to focus on the actual story.
Now, to the craft of flash fiction. The beauty of flash is in its lack of rules. The blurred boundaries between prose and poetry. The creative maelstrom that can come from a 1,000 word limit is surprisingly freeing, so the last thing I want to do is muzzle your artistic voice.
That said, it pays to know the pitfalls of writing a complete story in two pages before you dive in. So, here are five tips to keep in mind when crafting your flash fiction. Following them, at least at first, will keep your story tight, minimize your frustration (and mine), and maximize your chances of success.
1. Minimize characters and scenes. One character and one scene for every 300 words is usually a good guide.
2. Eliminate "had, was, were, seemed" words, and their cousins. Write actively, all the time (unless you have the word count to do so and you feel that it contributes to rhythm, style, or voice).
3. Avoid all backstory. You would be surprised how well a story does without any backstory. It gives the reader a sense of realism and intrigue with the character motivations.
4. Don't overextend your beginning or ending. Start as late in your story as you can, and give us just enough ending for a sense of resolution (more on that in #5), but cut it off as soon as possible.
5. Leave us on a good note. Flash fiction is about the silence after the last line. The imprint burned into our retinas after the lightning strike. Above all else, make sure your ending is revealing, unexpected, poignant, or otherwise memorable. Fail to do so and your audience will forget your story in less time than they took to read it.
I'll finish by reinforcing my opening statement (which is a great way to end flash fiction, by the way): Write a great story. Give me something unique, clever, and memorable, using every tool you've picked up along the way. And with just a dash of luck, it won't be long before your story lands in a published magazine. Or an e-zine, for all you techno-nerds.
Andrew is a young adult author who writes backyard adventures with an otherworldly twist. When he's not creating worlds, he's helping others polish their own writing. Andrew has edited multiple New York Times Best-sellers, and is the senior editor of Splickety Publishing Group, a flash fiction magazine dedicated to bringing quality stories under 1,000 words to the masses. Check out his weekly adventures at raisingsupergirl.com, follow him on twitter @andrewjwinch, like him on facebook.com/andrewjameswinch, and find out what all the fuss is about at splicketypubgroup.com.