How to format and submit short stories

First of all, just to let you know that there won’t be an opportunities post this Wednesday. In fact, there won’t be any more posts this week. But my accountability post for June will go up on Sunday and then normal service will resume.

As I’ve been posting up short story opportunities every week for the last month, I thought I’d do a little something about how to submit short stories.

You’ve written your story. It fits with the publication’s word count and genre requirements, you’ve edited and edited until you’re blue in the face, and it’s ready to go. Now what?

Read the submission guidelines

Whatever I say in the post can be trumped by whatever the publication has in their submission guidelines. Follow these to the letter. No exceptions.

Format your story

Unless stated otherwise in the submission guidelines, the majority of publications like stories sent to them in the standard format. I know, this left me puzzled to begin with too. But have no fear!

The most famous example of the standard manuscript format is explained by William Shuun:

Font: Courier or Times New Roman
Font size: 12
Line spacing: Double

On the first page of your manuscript:
Place your name, address, email and phone number (if applicable) on the top left along with any relevant memberships (like the British Fantasy Society if you’re submitting a fantasy, sci-fi or horror story).

On the top right, type your word count, rounding up or down to the nearest hundred.

Type the title of your story about a third of the way down the first page and centre it. One double space below that, type your name or penname. If you’re using a penname (as I do), your real name should be in the top left and your penname under the title of your work.

Your story then starts two double spaced below your name.

Indent the first line of every paragraph. Do NOT use the tab or space key to do this. Instead, highlight the line and use the indentation option under ‘Paragraph’ on MS Word and click the option ‘first line’. Your Mac should have a similar, easy way of indenting your paragraphs.

Replace your line breaks with a single # on its own line, to break up your scenes.

This goes on the top right of every page except the first (under the options for headers when using MS Word, click the option for ‘different first page’). Your header should contain your surname, the title or important words from your title, and the page number.

Your story:

  • Dialogue should also be indented, each time someone new speaks. And yes, this can take a lot of time to do (grr!).
  • Only put one space after your full stops, not two. (This can be easily fixed using the Replace option.)
  • If using Courier, then underline any words that should be in italics. But if using Times New Roman, actually put the word in italics (as it’s easier to spot than in Courier).
  • Use two hyphens — where you want an em dash.
  • Don’t justify your story. The left side should be straight but the right side should be jagged.

To finish:
Type END at the end, so the editor knows nothing’s gone missing.

 The cover letter

Yes, I heard that annoyed sigh. And yes, even your short story submissions require a cover letter. Everything requires a cover letter of some sort. But don’t worry, the short story cover letter is so easy. It’s like a massive piece of chocolate cake compared to that novel query for agents you’re spending months on.

Chocolate cake copyright J E Nice

Mmmm cake!

Many publications now use a specific online programme for submissions. Basically, you create an account, fill out a form and attach your story. As so many magazines use the same programme, logging in to check the status of your submissions is easy and quick.

A basic template for your short story cover letter as an email or via a submission form is:
Dear (editor’s name)

Please find attached/below for your consideration my previously unpublished, 3,000 word story, ‘Title’, for publication in Magazine Title.

Thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely (faithfully if you can’t find the editor or submission manager’s name)



If you’re sending an actual printed letter then just turn this into a proper letter with addresses at the top, and remember to send an SAE envelope for their response.


A few other little things:

  • You don’t need to mention anything about yourself. When it comes to short stories, editors just want a good, strong plot and characters. That’s all.
  • Unless, of course, it’s relevant to the story or publication. For example, if the publication only publishes unpublished authors, you might want to mention that you haven’t been published yet. Or if they’re looking for writers from diverse backgrounds (which a lot are these days), you might want to mention how you fit into that.
  • You don’t need to pitch your story. That’s the great thing about short stories, they pitch themselves.
  • Try and get the editor or submission editor’s name. If it’s not on the website, check Absolute Write or your copy of Writer’s Market. Google it. It’ll be somewhere! Try to avoid putting Dear Editor. Also avoid using first names, unless you’re already pally with the editor.
  • Above all, keep it simple, short and professional. Let your story do the talking.


See? Nice and easy. It makes submitting short stories a joy, so what are you waiting for? Get storytelling!


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