Do ignore me at the beginning when I say it’s the 19th of September. It’s definitely October 🙂
This week I had the pleasure of talking to horror author Beverley Lee about writing short stories and getting them published in anthologies. Beverley has published four books so far and has been featured in several anthologies this year alone, and she shares her top tips in this episode.
Want to write short stories for anthologies?
- Do your research – if you have a fantasy story, don’t submit it to a pure horror listing
- Write to the brief – if it’s asking for graveyards, make your short story about graveyards
- Set a goal – find one or two anthologies you want to submit to, and get writing or you’ll fall down the submission rabbit hole.
Not used to writing short stories? Here are some prompts for you:
- Write a short story that includes a scarecrow in a graveyard. (thanks, Beverley!)
- Write about an object that has personal meaning to you.
- Scientists announced they’ve discovered the secret to immortality. Write a petition letter to save the event of death.
- Write down as many cliches and aphorisms as you can think of. Go back and star the ones you actually say. (not the kind of prompt we were expecting, but I promised to include it, so here you go!)
Keep your story under 6,000 words. Have fun!
Writing prompts 2-4 are from the book 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers Grotto. (Disclaimer: this is an affiliate link)
Find places looking for submissions on:
The Horror Tree
Cemetery Gates Media
We also mentioned Forest App, a productivity timer I use to stay focussed.
You can find Beverley and her books on her website.
Listen to the Episode
Read the Transcript
Sarina Langer 00:06
Hello, and welcome to the Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started! All right, hello friends and sparrows and welcome back. It’s the 19th of September 2020, and this is Episode Seven. I’ve got horror author Beverley Lee here with me on Zoom, nicely socially distanced. And we’re going to talk about writing short stories and submitting them to anthologies, because that’s something that she’s really excelled at this year. So hello, Beth, welcome first of all.
Beverley Lee 00:52
Hi, Sarina, thank you so much for inviting me to take part.
Sarina Langer 00:55
You’re very welcome. I’m very excited to have you. Well, as I’ve just mentioned in the brief introduction, you’ve been doing really well this year with just generally writing horror stories and getting them into anthologies.
Beverley Lee 01:08
I know, it’s been quite a surprise for me, actually. Because now that I’m actually a horror novel writer, the short stories kind of came about because I moved house this year. So I didn’t have the focus to really work on anything longer. So I started messing about creatively with short stories. Yeah, and I’ve just been really surprised at how well people have taken to them.
Sarina Langer 01:33
I’m not, I know how great you are. But I also know just how long your move has taken. So I know that it was, you had quite a lot of time to write short stories and get used to that format.
Beverley Lee 01:44
Yes, the whole move, I could write a horror novel on the whole move.
Sarina Langer 01:47
I mean, moves are never great anyway, but I noticed how much of a nightmare yours has been. So to start with, I’ve tried to write some short stories, and I find it to be a very different format to writing full length novels. So my first question will be how do, you how do you approach it? Is it very different for you? Do you approach it in a similar way?
Beverley Lee 02:11
What you have to remember is that there’s not a lot of room for sort of endless rambling or world building in a short story. You’ve got a specific number of words, and it’s very important to keep to that number of words. Don’t go under and don’t go over because obviously, the people that put the ontology out have set the word count for a reason. But like a normal story, you do need a beginning, a middle and an end, it’s just an abridged version of that. You’ve got to keep your pacing even, you can’t really start off slow and then build up. And the most important thing is the ending, you have got to satisfy your reader. At the end, you can’t leave them thinking, well, what was this all about?
Sarina Langer 03:01
No. Definitely, I mean, I’ve read some, well, I’ve read quite a few short stories this year. Actually, I’ve been reading a few more anthologies as well, because I, I would like to try doing what you’re doing. Maybe get some of my short stories into maybe some anthologies. And for me, it’s been, well, writing, it has been a very different process, but also quite exciting. And I think when I’m reading short stories, you can really tell the difference between an author who’s really researched how to do it and someone who’s just approaching it in exactly the same way as a full length novel, because they’ll build it slowly, as you said, and they end up getting carried away a little bit. And you know, you sit there as a reader thinking we don’t have time for this.
Beverley Lee 03:43
That, that is very true.
Sarina Langer 03:46
Yes, I think it’s quite… not, not difficult as such, but I think you definitely need to… but it’s almost a whole new thing to get used to, isn’t it?
Beverley Lee 03:54
It is, it is. And I know that when I’m reading short stories, if that first paragraph grabs me, I know it’s going to be good and that’s much like a novel. It’s the, it’s the hook, you know, you don’t just want somebody in a room talking about something, you want something that’s making me to go and want to carry on.
Sarina Langer 04:15
I’m not sure if this will apply to you so much because I know that you’ve actually been approached to write for anthologies rather than you having to find them yourself and then apply to them. People are approaching you to write for anthologies, which is incredible. But if you, if you look at various listings of anthologies looking for more stories, they tend to ask for a specific kind of theme. Do you, do you write to the theme specifically?
Beverley Lee 04:45
I do. I’m very, I’m very aware of the brief. I mean, there’s not much point, you know, if they’re asking for say, a story set in a graveyard, when the graveyard is only mentioned in one paragraph. No. They’re asking for it for a certain reason. And I think it also applies that do your research on your genre and the anthologies you wish to submit to. It’s not any point, you know, submitting a dark fantasy to a proper horror unless there’s a crossover. And as they say, there’s a crossover because it’s just a waste of your time and a waste of their time.
Sarina Langer 05:22
Yeah, definitely. I’ve tried doing a bit of both this year, I think I’ve tried just writing a short story just for the sake of writing a short story and then see if I could possibly fit it to-
Beverley Lee 05:36
I’ve done that as well.
Sarina Langer 05:37
Yeah. But then I also, I can, god, I can get so carried away with this. But when I look at the listings, and what the various short story collections are looking for, I get quite… it’s almost like falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole where you think, that sounds exciting, I can write something to that. And then suddenly, you feel inspiration to write something for like 10 anthologies, and you don’t really have time to write anything for two. So-
Beverley Lee 06:02
It is a bit like those, like being in a sweetie shop, isn’t it?
Sarina Langer 06:04
Yeah, I was just thinking it’s a bit like being in a candy shop. It’s, it’s very exciting. It’s almost like a writing prompt, really, isn’t it?
Beverley Lee 06:13
Yes. Oh, it is, it is. And once you find one that really gets you excited, you kind of know that yes, this is, this is what I want to do. And quite often though, when I start a short story, I have no idea how it’s going to pan out, I’ll just start with an idea and know I have to have a certain thing in it. And then I’ll just let whatever character that I’m writing kind of show me the way. And that’s really very exciting. Because when you’re writing a novel, sometimes it takes a long time to get to know a character, whereas in a short story, you have to instantly know what my character wants.
Sarina Langer 06:48
Yeah, I think for me, that was another thing that I wasn’t quite sure about, is when, when I start writing a new novel, I do quite a lot of plotting beforehand, I need to know that I know the characters, at least, at least the main character and the main villain, so that I know how they might influence the story and how they might end up influencing each other. But when I sit down to write a short story, I almost feel like I should still do that kind of level of getting to know my characters first. But then on the other hand, you’re only writing something that’s maybe at most 5000 words long.
Beverley Lee 07:19
Sarina Langer 07:20
So I’m never sure if I still want to put in that same amount of work beforehand, if I should really just start writing and just go for it.
Beverley Lee 07:28
Well, you can. Again, you can get a first draft down and you can look at it and you can go, hmm, this isn’t working, and then just take out the elements that you would do if you were editing a novel, take out the elements and put them into the second draft and then, and then just rewrite the bits you don’t like.
Sarina Langer 07:46
Yeah, I think I’m gonna have to do some more experimenting with that. I haven’t written too many yet, but I’m seeing how well you’re doing with yours. And another friend of ours, Villimey, she’s starting to get into quite a few anthologies as well.
Beverley Lee 08:01
I noticed that. I noticed that on Twitter, I saw that Villimey was, so that’s, that’s really good.
Sarina Langer 08:06
I said to her it’s, it’s, it’s I’m having what I’m calling like, like this Pokemon moment where I go, you know, I put up my sleeves and I go right, I’m going to try my best as well. Seeing you guys, that’s it. I can almost picture Ash doing it.
Beverley Lee 08:24
But, but, but again, it just springs around about. I mean, I’ve just been incredibly lucky this year that every bit, everything I’ve submitted whether they’ve asked me to submit it or whether I’ve actually submitted it cold, they’ve accepted and nobody’s more surprised than me.
Sarina Langer 08:42
That’s gone extremely well. So have you been approached to submit your short stories for all of those anthologies, or have you approached some of them yourself first?
Beverley Lee 08:54
The first one, which was by, released through Kandisha Press, which is Graveyard Smash Volume Two, I was approached by the editor for that one. The second one, which was the charity anthology in aid of COVID research, Diabolica Britannica, I was approached for that one as well. The one that has just released, In Places We Fear to Tread from Cemetery Gates Media, that, that, that was a cold submission. I just followed the brief. And I’ve also had a flat horror accepted by them for the beginning of next year. That was a cold submission. And the one that’s coming out, I believe at the end of this year for another charity anthology in aid of women’s refuge, We Are Wolves, which is edited by the lovely Gemma Amor and Laurel Hightower, I was approached for that one as well.
Sarina Langer 09:53
And the list just keeps growing longer, doesn it? That’s amazing. Erm, well, normal mortals like me, erm, you know, we’re probably not going to just get approached to just submit to an anthology. But I think what you’ve already said is probably going to be quite helpful for that. One, do your research. Follow the brief as you said you’ve done, and also just stick to the theme, cause there’s a reason it’s there. So if the theme is graveyards, then there’s no point writing a story, getting carried away with it, have nothing at all to do with graveyards, and then just quickly put in one line, like, when I was five, we went to a graveyard once, and then hope that that ends up meeting the brief because it probably won’t.
Beverley Lee 10:41
I’m not quite sure they would accept that.
Sarina Langer 10:44
Maybe not. Even if it is really good. And even if you end up… well, maybe if you were famous enough, because then the name is going to-
Beverley Lee 10:52
Yeah, maybe. Stephen King, you could maybe get away with it.
Sarina Langer 10:56
Yeah. Yeah, maybe. But we probably can’t.
Beverley Lee 11:00
No, definitely not.
Sarina Langer 11:03
You know, as you said, it’s basically a writing prompt, isn’t it?
Beverley Lee 11:05
Yeah, it is!
Sarina Langer 11:07
Yes, I mean, I think for me, that’s easier to write than to just sit and just start writing something completely out of nothing, because I need to have at least some idea of where I’m going.
Beverley Lee 11:17
Yeah, you have to have an idea. It’s very hard just sitting down and opening up a Word document and then just staring at the blank page and the cursor flashing, and thinking ooh, I have to do something, because nothing is guaranteed to make your muse run in the corner and hide than something like that.
Sarina Langer 11:34
No, definitely not. I’ve tried that a few weeks ago, when I first thought, right, I’m gonna try doing some writing shome… erm… writing some short stories… that’s weirdly hard to say, it’s like a tongue twister. But you know, I just, I think I put into my bullet journal, write two or three short stories that week, which, obviously is going to be quite ambitious anyway. But I had lots of free time. And I was feeling really pumped up to do it, you know?
Beverley Lee 11:58
I can do this! I can do this!
Sarina Langer 11:59
Yeah, so I thought I was really excited to just get down some short stories. And I sat down, and I think because I had no idea of what to, what to go for. My enthusiasm died very quickly.
Beverley Lee 12:12
Yeah, I mean, that’s what happens, though, isn’t it? You’ve just got to kind of grit your teeth and just get some words down. And sometimes you can’t get 100 down, but sometimes they just flow out of your fingers. It’s just one of those things about being a writer.
Sarina Langer 12:27
Yeah, I mean, every story is always going to be different, you know, whether that’s going to be a short story or a full length novel, they’re all going to be slightly different. And one approach that’s worked for your last story may not work for the next one.
Beverley Lee 12:39
Sarina Langer 12:41
Which is not helpful.
Beverley Lee 12:44
Sarina Langer 12:45
If we could like just have one process, and then just stick to that, and it just works for every story that would be brilliant and really useful.
Beverley Lee 12:53
And I mean, you kind of learn as you go along as well. I mean, you kind of learn what format works for you. And then sometimes you’ll think about… I mean, I submitted one, and they’ve asked for a rewrite, because it’s not… they like, they like the idea. They like the theme. But they don’t like the way I presented it. And that, and that was just, that was just an experiment on my part to see if it would work. And it doesn’t. So I’m in the middle of rewriting that one. But hey, I mean, that’s how you learn, isn’t it?
Sarina Langer 13:23
Yes. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I always think there was something like what we did with writing books, the best and really probably only good way to learn is by doing it. You know, you can read all the theory books that you want, hundreds if you, if you like, but you’re not really going to see what actually works for you until you sit down and make yourself write the words.
Beverley Lee 13:43
That’s it. Um, I mean, in regards finding markets for submissions, which I’m assuming is going to be one of your next questions, I’m pre-empting this, I use, I use Twitter a lot, because you will find that a lot of people, authors that write short stories will actually mention that there’s an anthology coming up. The Horror Tree is a very good one to follow. And they do weekly links to the short story anthologies that are wanting things, and also follow accounts that produce the short stories like Cemetery Gates, because they’ll often have links to say that they’re accepting submissions.
Sarina Langer 14:27
See, that’s where I then end up getting carried away. It’s on the Horror Tree website. I’ve had a look and they are listing all the various places that are currently looking for submissions on there. And you see this story is looking for something with ghosts and witches and lots of gore. So and then the next one is just looking for something that’s a bit more lighthearted but obviously still horror related, and it just needs to, it just needs to have something somehow to do with regret of some kind. So you start going through all of those and you think, Oh, this one’s exciting. I can write something to that. And then suddenly, before you know, two hours have passed, and you haven’t written anything, but you identified about 20, or 30, anthologies that you really want to submit to, and you don’t really have the time to do any of it, because you just end up browsing more instead of writing anything.
Beverley Lee 15:15
Again, it’s like falling down that black hole of Pinterest isn’t it. I think what you have to do is you have to kind of limit yourself, you have to go on and you go, I’m going to find three, say, that I want to submit to and then when you found your three, leave the site, go away.
Sarina Langer 15:30
Yeah, just close it. I mean, I’ve got the Forest app installed, even on my browser so that I can just, I can start planting a tree. And then I can’t open anything while I write, which is really useful, because I can tell while I’m writing, I get carried away so often that I think, I just quickly just see if I have an email. It doesn’t say that I do, but I just quickly look at my inbox for no good reason other than procrastination, and it won’t let me. Say, the amount of times that I have started writing and I thought I was quite focused but that I then just had to open the timer instead.
Beverley Lee 16:08
Sarina Langer 16:09
Really makes you realise how unfocused you can be when you think you’re being really focused.
Beverley Lee 16:15
Yeah, it’s not it’s almost like these people that said that they, they turn off their their WiFi when they’re actually writing so that, you know, they can’t get any emails and things and but then we tend to think, what if somebody needs me urgently. It’s ridiculous.
Sarina Langer 16:29
Yes. See, I wouldn’t be able to do that, because my partner works downstairs, and he needs the WiFi for work. So I wouldn’t be able to try that theory, but I can see why it might work. I mean, I always figure, you know, what if you have an email, say, if you’re, maybe you’ve gone shopping, or you’re out and about just going for a walk, and maybe there is no WiFi, then whoever’s emailing you can probably wait for half an hour.
Beverley Lee 16:53
It’s not a matter of life and death, is it.
Sarina Langer 16:54
No, I mean, it’s unlikely to be, so it’s probably okay if we ignore it just for a little bit, you know, it’ll still be there afterwards.
Beverley Lee 17:02
Yeah, but with that we’re very good at going I’ll just check Instagram, I’ll just check Twitter, and you can’t just check it, you have to scroll, answer a couple of tweets.
Sarina Langer 17:12
Because the next post that comes up might be important. And then what if you miss it? But I started telling myself more now that because the Internet has widened everything so much, you know, I mean, most of my author friends end up living in America, or maybe in Australia, like Jaynelle who I’ve just interviewed the other day. And they, you know, on the one hand, it’s great that we can talk to each other so easily, thanks to the magical powers of the interwebs. But on the other hand, we end up being in so many different time zones, the chances are, they’ll end up emailing me, just as I’m going to bed which I won’t see for eight hours or more. And by the time I do see it finally in the morning, after all the time, it’s still fine and nothing has burned down. And there haven’t been any catastrophes. So, you know, it’s probably fine if we just focus on writing for just half an hour.
Beverley Lee 18:09
Yeah. I think I think the worst thing though, is when you, you have a submission, you’ve submitted it, and you’re waiting for that email to say whether you’ve been accepted. It’s like, I know, they’re not going to do it immediately. But maybe the day after the day after that, and you’ll find yourself looking through your inbox and then look into your spam box in case it’s gone into spam.
Sarina Langer 18:31
Well, it can happen quite easily, can’t it? I’ve had an experience with that it’s maybe worth mentioning is that the first short story that I’ve submitted was to a rather large online magazine. And I, by the time I submitted it, I think we only had like two weeks left or something before the deadline. So I thought I quickly get into that. But it told me that I was I think roughly the 860th submission or something in their queue. And I think it only went down by about five or six stories a day. So they weren’t getting through submissions overly fast. I think finally by the last day before the deadline, I think I’d made my way up to spot 300 something. And then suddenly, overnight, I don’t believe for one second that they suddenly read 300 stories in one day. And then I then got the email to say we’re very sorry but your story isn’t for us right now. And you just sit there and think there’s no way you’ve read suddenly so many stories, you’ve just run out of time.
Beverley Lee 19:35
They probably just filled their slots. Yeah.
Sarina Langer 19:38
So, so I think it’s probably also worth considering just how large the publication is that you’re going to submit to but also in this case, it was for a magazine, you know, which could probably only take one or two stories at a time. Whereas of course with anthologies, you tend to have 9, 10 authors in the book at the same time. But it still may be worth just making sure that the publication or the anthology that you’re choosing isn’t so large that your submission might just disappear.
Beverley Lee 20:10
Kind of like a little minnow in a huge pond, aren’t you. I think maybe start small, start smaller is probably a better way to go.
Sarina Langer 20:18
Well at the time it was an easy one, it was right there. The submission was easy enough. And again, I was in that mindset of I’m really excited to do this now, I’m going to submit to them and we’ll just see what happens.
Beverley Lee 20:30
You have that, you still have that story and that story you can submit somewhere else.
Sarina Langer 20:35
That’s it. You know, it didn’t, it didn’t get into it on this occasion, but it might get into the next one. You know, you never know. So if you do get a rejection, don’t think in any way that it’s not, that it happened because your story isn’t any good. Or even just that, even though they told you that it didn’t, that it wasn’t right for them, it might actually have been perfect for them. It’s just that they ran out of time.
Beverley Lee 20:59
So you’ve got to treat it like every rejection with a kind of a pinch of salt. It wasn’t right at that time for that particular publication. So yeah. And then just find somewhere else for it, just market it somewhere else.
Sarina Langer 21:11
Exactly. I mean, at that point, you’ve also already then got the cover letter for it. And you’ve already got it formatted. So actually, if anything then the second submission you do is even going to be easier, because you’ve already got all that sorted, you then just need to adjust it a little bit. So that also helps. All right. Do you have any, any tips for writers who want to do what you’re doing with all the short stories be that writing related or submission related? We’ve already touched on some parts, like really sticking to the criteria that they’re looking for and doing the research.
Beverley Lee 21:47
Maybe just start with an idea of your own. And see if you can keep it say, under 6000 words. Just practice getting the whole story down in that brief amount of words, making sure that again, you have an exciting beginning, a solid middle, and a fabulous ending that’s going to leave your reader very, very satisfied. Just see if you can do that. And if you can do that and you really like what you’ve written, get it to a couple of people that can beta read it for you, and can tell you if they think it’s any good. And then you actually have something to go by, you can try and find a market for it. But if there isn’t a market just leave it be, there will be a market eventually. But then you’ve got that form, right, you’ve actually done it, you’ve completed one which will give you the confidence then to start looking through proper submissions and applying with brief.
Sarina Langer 22:47
I think that’s very good advice. And then I think what people tend to struggle with is to just start if I haven’t got an idea, so I thought what we could do maybe is leave them with a writing prompt.
Beverley Lee 23:00
Sarina Langer 23:00
And then if they do want to give it a shot, they can dive straight in. So I don’t know if you’ve got something in mind. Probably not because this is improvising on my part as well. I’ve just thought of this.
Beverley Lee 23:13
This is definitely improvising! Just let me have a think.
Sarina Langer 23:17
I do have a book here, we can run with that.
Beverley Lee 23:21
Okay, go on, pull something out of there while I have a think.
Sarina Langer 23:23
Shall I just open it on a random page?
Beverley Lee 23:25
Open it on a random page.
Sarina Langer 23:26
Alright guys, so your, your writing prompts, this is from a book called 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers Grotto. It’s exactly what it says on the title. And your, your test writing prompt just to get you started on something is, write down as many cliches and aphorisms as you can think of. Go back and star the ones you actually say. That’s not a writing prompt.
Beverley Lee 23:55
That’s not really a prompt, is it.
Sarina Langer 23:56
That doesn’t work. Let’s do another one.
Beverley Lee 23:57
Let’s try another one.
Sarina Langer 24:00
Here you go. That might Yeah, this one might work: Scientists announced they’ve discovered the secret to immortality. Write a petition letter to save the event of death. Over to you people.
Beverley Lee 24:15
That’s actually quite tough.
Sarina Langer 24:17
Yeah, yeah. Well, maybe we should have gone with something easier. This is, that was just me opening it on a random page. You also get very simple things like write about an object that has personal meaning to you.
Beverley Lee 24:31
Yes, maybe just do that.
Sarina Langer 24:35
I’ll include all three in the show notes and then you can pick your difficulty level that you fancy that morning. Have you thought of anything?
Beverley Lee 24:46
Oh, I’m just trying to think. I’m useless at doing these off, off the spot thing but as, as it’s nearly Halloween, you could possibly write a short story that includes a scarecrow in a graveyard.
Sarina Langer 25:03
There you go. Doesn’t have to be complicated. See, I’m overthinking it. That’s what happens when I don’t plan.
Beverley Lee 25:10
So you can do anything you want, but it must include a scarecrow in a graveyard.
Sarina Langer 25:15
There you go. Any genre, anything you want, but try to keep it under 6000 words because I think that’s what most anthologies are looking for, might even be shorter than that. But I think for a start, just see if you can do that. Now remember to include a clear beginning, middle, and end. That’s all we need to do. All right, well, I think we can leave it on that. I will definitely link to all that in the show notes as well. I’m gonna link to Horror Tree.
Beverley Lee 25:43
Well, thank you very much for hosting me. It’s been a pleasure as always, Sarina.
Sarina Langer 25:48
Always, always. And we’ve had tea! No cake this time. Thank you very much for having a chat with me. And I hope that it’s helped you guys get started with writing short stories. Thank you very much, Bev!
Beverley Lee 26:02
Sarina Langer 26:06
If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time! Bye!
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