Monday, January 27, 2014

Writing Short Stories

by Paula Gail Benson

My writing life shifted into high gear when I joined the online chapter of Sisters in Crime called “The Guppies.” Sisters in Crime is a national organization founded by Sara Paretsky and others to bring attention to female authors of crime fiction. (It now has many brothers as well as sisters.) “Guppies”  stands for “the great unpublished,” but it’s such a genial fellowship that many remain members after their work sees print.

Being a Guppy particularly helped me because: 
  1. I began receiving notices about anthologies accepting short story submissions.
  2. I had the opportunity to join a short story critique group. 

Most people don’t think about writing short stories as a goal, but there is a thriving community of short story authors. Certainly, noted Canadian short story author Alice Munro’s winning the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature has brought notice to writing short fiction. Interest in this field also has increased with the growing number of online markets. Short stories in all genres—literary, inspirational, romance, mystery, fantasy, science fiction—are actively being sought.

The encouraging aspects of writing short stories are: 
  • You can write a story in a shorter time frame than a novel.
  • You don’t need an agent to submit.  
  • You hear fairly quickly if your story has been accepted or rejected. 

Often, if you ask nicely, an editor will respond personally and tell you why your story was rejected, which gives you valuable information and also may help you make a contact in the publishing business. Frequently, you can make online submissions, thus avoiding mailing costs.

Published short stories are eligible for awards, so they can bring you not only writing credits, but also a higher profile in the writing community. I have a number of friends who are well known mystery writers and primarily write short stories. Take a look at the websites for Barb Goffman, B.K. Stevens, and Art Taylor

Short story writers have their own societies and list servs full of members who may offer advice and support. Joining the Short Mystery Fiction Society (SMFS) is free. Details are found at its website: As with most writing organizations, the SMFS offers a wonderful forum for writers at all levels.

The down side of short story writing is this: 
  • Crafting a short story may be as complex as developing a novel. 
  • Often the only payment for a short story is publication or a very low per word rate.
  • With renewed interest in the market, there is significant competition.

If you are interested in writing mystery short stories, I wrote a series of 13 messages on the topic in 2013 providing information about markets, resources, classes, awards, and craft for the blog Writers Who Kill. The complete list of messages I wrote for WWK is found with hyperlinks on my personal blog, Little Sources of Joy. Sandra Seaman’s blog, My Little Corner, announces opportunities available for short story writing and is a great resource. Ralan, at, provides market information for short speculative and humor fiction.

Have you thought about writing a short story? You might want to consider it. I hope you will.

A legislative attorney and former law librarian, Paula Gail Benson’s short stories have been published in Kings River Life, the BethlehemWriters Roundtable, Mystery Times Ten 2013 (Buddhapuss Ink), and A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder (Dark Oak Press and Media, released January 20, 2014). She regularly blogs with others at Her website is


  1. Nice post, Paula. Thanks for the shout-out.

    1. Barb, I always enjoy your stories and learn so much from them. Thanks for being a wonderful writer and friend.

    2. Brava! I am one of the many Guppies & so I have learned about FishTales, the anthology & am playing around with a short story in progress. I expect to follow the links here. Its quite the timely ticket. Thank you.

    3. Jan, good luck with your writing, particularly for the anthology. I think short stories are a great way to learn the craft and keep improving. Hope you'll soon be hearing good news on your submissions!

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  3. Great summary of the short story market, Paula. I'm keeping this blog. The links along make it a valuable resource. Thanks for all of your research. The deleted comment above proves that I need another cup of coffee!

    1. Thanks, E.B. How terrific to hear from such a wonderful short story writer. I always enjoy your work. Your interviews on Writers Who Kill are top notch and keep readers and writers up-to-date with authors and recent publications.

  4. The Agatha nominations, for best mystery short story in the tradition of Agatha Christie, have been announced. Two stories by Barb Goffman are nominated: "Evil Little Girl" in Don't Get Mad, Get Even (Wildside Press) and "Nightmare" in Don't Get Mad, Get Even (Wildside Press). Also, Art Taylor's "The Care and Feeding of House Plants" (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine) has been nominated. The other nominees are: "The Hindi Houdini" in Fish Nets by Gigi Pandian (Wildside Press) and "Bread Baby" in Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold by Barbara Ross (Level Best Books). Congratulations to all! The winners will be selected at the Malice Domestic Convention in May.