by Paula Gail Benson
We’re fortunate to be going through a time when short stories are in demand. The opportunities for publication online as well as in magazines and anthologies are excellent. In addition, the resources for identifying publishing venues, such as Duotrope, The Submission Grinder, the Short Mystery Fiction Society (SMFS), Sisters in Crime and its affiliated chapters, and Mystery Writers of America (MWA), are plentiful.
Perhaps the best testament to the renewed interest in short stories are the number of excellent mystery authors whose primary focus is upon short fiction. To name a few, these include: Michael Bracken, O’Neil De Noux, John Floyd, Barb Goffman, Eleanor Cawood Jones, Toni L.P. Kelner, Robert Lopresti, Robert Mangeot, Josh Pachter, Travis Richardson, Art Taylor, Mark Thielman, Joseph S. Walker, James Lincoln Warren, Stacy Woodson, and Elizabeth Zelvin. These folks prove that a career writing short stories is both viable and respected in the mystery community.
No matter what stage of your career you are in, writing short stories may be beneficial. If you’re a beginner, publication in a competitive or peer reviewed market provides writing credits and places to refer potential readers. If someone wants a taste of your work, you can direct them to your website, but sending them to an online or published journal with other authors shows that you are serious about the business.
While not a paying market, the online magazine Kings River Life (KRL), based in California, features many mystery stories and book reviews. In addition, KRL has developed a Mystery Rat’s Maze Podcast, where authors read their short stories or portions of their novels. “Just Desserts for Johnny,” by Edith Maxwell, published in KRL in 2014, was nominated for an Agatha award. KRL is an excellent and respected place for debut and later publications.
A number of established authors publish short stories between the release of their series novels. Several are available on Amazon. Gregg Hurwitz has three Orphan X stories, “Buy a Bullet,” “The List,” and “The Intern.” Robert Dugoni explores his protagonist Tracy Crosswhite’s earlier history in “The Academy” and “Third Watch.” Sasscer Hill’s “Racing from Evil” is a prequel novella for her Nikki Latrelle series. Because the prequel follows the protagonist at age thirteen, it is written to appeal to young adult readers and introduce them to her other novels.
By publishing shorts about a serial character, an author can take on hybrid status, being both writer and editor for the work. In “Low Tide at Tybee,” fellow blogger James M. Jackson (aka Jim) has his Seamus McCree visiting the South. Jim also has combined novels and short stories in Seamus McCree UP North: A Compendium.
Short stories offer writers the ability to experiment by trying out different genres or types of mysteries. Blogging partner Debra H. Goldstein writes the Sarah Blair cozy series, but in her short stories, like “The Night They Burned Miss Dixie’s Place” (nominated for an Agatha), she explores darker territory. Dana Cameron’s Emma Fielding novels have gone from being successful traditional mysteries to a Hallmark televised series. She began writing about her werewolf Fangborn characters in short stories and has transitioned to novels about them.Why might an author want to be more selective about the market for submitting a short story? Certainly money may be a factor. Paying markets like Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, The Strand, and Woman’s World will be more competitive, but they are recognized and more frequently read by mystery readers. Also, the editors from these magazines often look for additional stories from authors they have worked with and admire.
Appearing in these magazines builds a solid professional status in the industry. The stories in these periodicals along with those in anthologies published by Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and Sisters in Crime chapters are often on the nominated lists for Agathas (Malice Domestic), Anthonys (Bouchercon), Derringers (SMFS), and Macavities (Mystery Readers International). Some awards have a best anthology category. Even if your story is not nominated, being in an award winning anthology can be prestigious.
NOTE: Dana Cameron’s Macavity for “Disarming” tells the story of 16th century tavern owner Anna Hoyt, a historical figure that Cameron’s archeologist Emma Fielding might have studied.
NOTE: Murder Under the Oaks, the 2015 Bouchercon Anthology edited by Art Taylor, won the Anthony for Best Anthology at the Raleigh Bouchercon.Short story writers may be associate members of MWA, but unless they have been paid at least a cumulative total of $200 from publishers ($25 per work) on MWA’s approved list, they cannot participate as active members. While associates receive newsletters and may attend functions, they are not eligible to be elected as national or chapter officers or to vote on certain matters. Again, becoming an active member through publication in approved markets elevates a writer’s status within the community.
As with any endeavor, an author should consider what goals may be achieved by writing short stories. Perhaps, if writing is a second job, short stories may offer the best means of publication. Alternatively, an author may find writing shorts useful for taking breaks from longer projects or for trying a different genre or style.
Often writers are urged to use dialogue for several purposes. Similarly, if crafting and publishing a short story can teach as well as help build a career, why not aim for the multiple benefits?