Anne R. Allen has a must-read post for both new and intermediate writers. She lists and discusses self-defeating practices of many newbies, such as: relying on well-meaning but uninformed advice from friends and family, overlooking the advantages of seeking out other writers for support and mutual critiquing, and failing to create and regularly UPDATE a writer’s blog.
But the mistake that stood out for me was “Writing Novels Exclusively.” Here’s what Anne says:
Once I decided I wanted to have a writing career, I dove right into writing novels. I left short stories and poetry behind. People told me they were for amateurs. …
I was short-sighted. If I’d had more publishing credits and contest wins, I would have found a publisher for my longer fiction faster.
I’d also now be sitting on a goldmine, since short stories, novelettes and novellas are hot commodities.
Anne’s absolutely right about this. I’m not claiming prescience here; in fact, I started out writing novels as well. (And I have the rejection slips to prove it!) I turned to short stories as a way to get the hang of writing for an audience as well as learning how to make my manuscripts stand out from the slush pile. I have to say it was a winning strategy — after getting a half-dozen short stories published, I tried long fiction again, and my book Aztec Midnight was finally accepted. Now, in addition to writing short stories, I’m again working on longer pieces.
But there’s another value to publishing short stories, one I learned in my previous career as a manager in the insurance industry. The most important thing you look for when you interview potential employees is a history of getting hired and promoted. A good record tells the interviewer that other professionals in the industry have put their stamps of approval on the person under consideration. Similarly, a consistent publishing history is a testament to a writer’s dedication and ability to write stories other editors like.
Seeing that other editors have accepted your previous manuscripts doesn’t guarantee an editor will accept your next submission, but it might just tip the scales in your favor.