Writing to Order

Submitting stories to magazines (print and online) is part of a fiction writer’s life. I usually think of it as requesting rejection letters. Knowing the odds, I’ve found it’s best to have expectations that are lower than the basement floor. Reading the specs — length, genre restrictions, etc. — very carefully is also a good idea.

The same goes for contests. There are a whole lot of writing contests out there. Some offer a coveted spot in an anthology and royalty payments, others offer a book contract and some nothing more than your story appearing on their page.

Exposure to new readers is the name of the game.

Contests and anthologies often have very specific requirements. Sometimes the restrictions knock me over before I can even contemplate writing a story, but there are other times when the crazy requirements inspire me to write outside my usual territory.

I love this.

It’s how I wound up writing a mystery focused on a time-traveling cat for the Times Yarns collection “Cats Cradle.” Other contest and anthology “rejects” often turn out to be good stories that I’ll use elsewhere down the road.

Recently, I submitted a vampire romance to a paranormal competition. My story is set in Argentina and revolves around Tango dancers. I really enjoyed writing the story and, as you may have guessed, the subject matter is not outside my wheelhouse.

The length of the story was the challenge this time. My short stories tend to be very short. (Not all of them, but most would be considered short, short stories.) This competition required the story to be between 5,000 and 10,000 words. That felt very long until I got rolling. The “Infinite Tango” weighed in at a little over 7,000 words. We’ll see if they take it. If not, I’ll find another way to invite readers to spend a little time dancing Tango in the arms of a vampire.


  1. I love short stories. Call it short attention span theater if you want. I like being able to finish a story in one sitting. Novels are great too but sometimes they just take too long.

    Playing the contest game with shorts can be fun. It gives you a chance to play around with different ideas to see what you can come up with. The limits make you think and move within the framework a bit more. You don’t have the space to make your impression like you would with a novel.

    Your story in “Cat’s Cradle” was the first time I had read your work. I enjoyed “Locard’s Tale” it did what short fiction is meant to do. It makes you think outside the realm of just the story itself.

    • Candy

      I couldn’t agree with you more!

      From the reader’s point of view, a short story is like meeting at a party. You find the writer charming and may pursue a further connection. From the writer’s point of view there is the possibility of charming readers AND the amazing opportunity to write OUTSIDE your usual arena.

      I think that’s why I love writing short stories.

      I’ve been posting short stories on my freelance writing website for years. It’s my way of showing potential clients that I really can write — beyond the sales sheets, newsletter articles etc. that they need. It’s also fun.

  2. I love the challenge of a short story. To be concise really is an art form. So many novels have lots of filler. I haven’t read your story in the Cat’s Cradle selection yet, though the other night I was thinking about it when scrolling through the stuff on my iPad 😉 My favorite short stories (and longer fiction for that matter) tends to be the ones that take most of their power from what’s left unsaid.

    • Candy

      A few years ago I attended a lecture on musicality given by a major Tango musician. He talked about the beat that is not played and, as a dancer, that stuck in my head. What left unsaid, unexplained & unexplored is part of the territory in a short story. What’s left out is often, like the un-played beat in the music, the thing that makes the story sing for a dancer.

      Just FYI… I have seven stories in a collection entitled “Unexpected Tales from the Ends of the Earth.” These were stories I wrote without a specific agenda/instructions. The cat story had to be about a cat(s) and include some aspect of time travel. It was quite a challenge. Right now on my freelance writing site, http://www.sweetcopy.com, I’ve got my version of a enchanted fairy tale/fable about a pair of dance shoes that are more than what they appear to be.

  3. I envy you the ease with which you come up with short stories. I rarely get an idea that will work in short form. And made to order? Gah, just the thought scares me.

    • Candy

      Not all my stories turn out so well, but the experience of writing them improves the longer form work. As for the ideas… LOL… a designer friend says I’m a machine gun shooting them out when we work together on freelance projects so the short stories origins are natural for me. I think it’s in my genes. (Using genetics in the one I’m writing, right now…)