September 8, 2016

10 Things to Consider Before Submitting Flash Fiction

To be clear, Flash Fiction is a Short Story, only smaller. The word count hovers between 500 words to 1,500 words (though few Literary Magazines accept Flash Fiction over 1000 words).

I took a couple weeks to browse through what felt like hundreds of Literary magazines and online journals hunting for open (year round) Flash Fiction submissions (without entrance fees). There are so many to choose from, but they're all looking for something specific. If you plan on submitting, make sure you read their guidelines ... and their legals rights! Seriously, read the fine print! Giving away first printing rights is good (how else would they print it), but signing the piece over entirely, not so much.

So ... after reading hundreds of articles on it over the last few weeks (Okay, you got me. Dozens.) I thought I'd pull it all together in one place. A mish-mash list of tips, tricks, and points to consider. So here's what to keep in mind if you're looking to write Flash Fiction (and do it well).

  1. Good Flash Fiction is short but it is still a story. Not a vignette. Not a blurb. Not a summary. Not a chapter. It is a piece of short fiction. It has a beginning, middle, and end.
  2. Flash Fiction, by necessity, cannot delve too heavily into complex subplots or backstory. Don't overdo it. In the words of Donald Draper, "Make it simple but significant."
  3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Cut down the wasted phrases and unnecessary words. Chuck 'em. Or save them for another story. It doesn't matter, as long as the story you're working on is succinct and concise. 
  4. Use your voice. In an effort to condense, I stripped a story down to the bare bones, but when I reread it, it sounded bland and decidedly not like me. Obviously Flash doesn't give you the same space to play with words that a novel will but that doesn't mean it can't sound like you. In fact, it should. A strong voice is often sought by the mags and it makes your piece stand out in the pile. Cut down the words but don't overdo it or the text will lose any semblance of poetry it had in earlier drafts. 
  5. Watch your content. Being bold does not mean being gratuitous with sex, violence, coarse language, incest, rape, abuse against women, or other objectionable content. Though you might have some luck finding a really amazing fringe journal like Trigger Warnings (dedicated to horror, the dark, and macabre), most journals and magazines are looking for pieces open to a general audience. So keep it light and clean. Bummer, I know. 
  6. Be bold. Be daring. (Avoid saturated tropes on the market- most notably Young Adult Paranormal Romance... vampires, werewolves, zombies etc.) Be different, but for the love of all that is good, make sure it fits with what the magazine or journal is looking to publish. Not sure what that is? A great place to start is cracking open an old issue and reading what they're all about. In fact, some even require you to purchase an old issue in order to submit. Also, go to their website and check out the What We're Looking For or the FAQ's (if they have one). 
  7. Experimental Lit has a time and place. If that's your cup of tea, more power to you but make sure the magazines or journals have similar tastes... especially if your form would require nontraditional formatting. 
  8. Get an Alpha & Beta reader. More seasoned writers can get away without critiques (maybe) but for beginners I'd recommend joining a critique site. My personal favorite is Scribophile. (No, they don't pay me to say that. I just really love the site and the community there.) I got seven critiques on the last Flash Fiction piece I posted. That means I had seven separate people point out the strengths and flaws which is a tremendous help during the next draft. 
  9. Reread your piece. Don't embarrass yourself (and every English teacher you've ever had). It'd be a shame to be rejected for a few typos. Proofread before you submit. 
  10. Don't overthink it. Have fun. It's just a story. The worst that can happen is that it gets rejected. You'll sigh (maybe cry a little), take a deep breath, and move on. It's not the end of the world so don't treat it like it is. Write. Edit. Submit. Repeat. 


  1. A great, informational post! I don't think I could ever write flash fiction. I'm amazed at the people who can. I have a hard enough time writing a book that's within the acceptable length limits haha.

    1. Thanks for reading it Kristen! Keeping an eye on wordcount is tricky stuff :)

  2. Great post, Stephanie! I love writing flash fiction, although I haven't in a while. It can be a struggle to fit a story into the word count limit, but it's also incredibly satisfying when you do.


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