Your First Flash Publication? 8 Amazing Writers Respond (with advice for your first)
My advice to young writers of flash fiction would be to begin by writing poetry. Write a poem every day for a year, in conjunction with writing flash fiction or as way to learn flash. Read as much poetry as you can. The ability to condense and tell an emotional story in a very short space cannot, in my opinion, be learned in a better way.
It is about word choices and condensing, cutting every unnecessary word away. Keep in mind that your poems may be turned into flash or be considered flash later, when published. Prose poetry and flash fiction are often inseparable. I began as a narrative poet, wrote poetry for twenty years but felt they were not good enough to send out. I worked at poetry constantly, kept them all in journals. After a long and life-changing illness, in 2008, I went back to all of my poems (there were over 100) and turned them into stories. I expanded them.
My first flash fiction acceptance was at 971 Menu. “Leaving Hope Ranch” had been a poem. I could not believe it worked as a story, but I guess it did. It was chosen for the Wigleaf Top 50 that year, as well.
Second published flash fiction piece was in SmokeLong Quarterly, “California Fruit” also a poem, originally.
On the bios, you will see a lot of “work is forthcoming” which was true. My stories were getting accepted a lot then, but I was sending them out in droves, feeling so excited, and unlocked.
There are so many magazines now, for flash, but I’d recommend a few very highly: 100-Word Story and Camroc Press Review and NANO Fiction (print)–and, of course, Wigleaf! There are honestly too many great ones to mention. I would suggest sending out to many magazines at a time, so you do not put too much weight on one rejection. Expect 7 – 10 rejections per one acceptance. It is a numbers game, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
My favorite quote about pursuing ones dream: “Never give up. And never, under any circumstances, face the facts.“- Ruth Gordon
MEG POKRASS is the author of Damn Sure Right (Press 53), a collection of flash fiction. Her stories, humor pieces, and poems have appeared in close to 200 online and print publications, including and forthcoming in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Pank, Green Mountains Review, The Rumpus, Smokelong Quarterly, The Literarian, Wigleaf, Failbetter, StorySouth, NANO Fiction, and Gigantic. Her story “Like A Family” from Juked was recently selected for the new W.W. Norton Anthology of International Flash Fiction (Shapard, Thomas, and Merrill, 2015). Meg has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations and selected as Wigleaf’s Top 50 [Very] Short Fictions. Currently Meg is working on an original screenplay with veteran writer/producer Graham Gordy. She serves as an associate editor for Frederick Barthelme’s New World Writing. Learn more about her at megpokrass.com.
MC’s Note: Like Meg, Joe Kapitan hit the jackpot of firsties. His first published flash “Sleepless #3” was in one of the most revered flash journals–Wigleaf. Here’s Joe’s advice:
I wish I would have known, starting out, that the world of writing/publishing is not rational and follows no laws of reason that I know of, other than better work stands a statistically better chance out there. I’ve been accepted at a collegiate journal with an acceptance rate of 0.05%, and rejected by online venues with a 35% acceptance rate. It is a numbers game, a war of attrition. You will be bountifully rejected, and so I vowed to send two or three submissions for every rejection I got. An acceptance is usually the result of the right piece in the hands of the right editor at the right moment. That’s a lot of “rights” to get lined up, which explains how tough it can be at times.
As far as a recommended venue for first publication, I’d just say this to newer writers: do your homework. Almost every journal, certainly all the online ones, feature free content. Read some of the things they’ve published. If your work is polished and seems to be in the same aesthetic solar system, go for it. I’d also mention that for me, Duotrope is worth the user’s fee. It’s a writer’s database of market info that has a ton of helpful content and is very searchable for things like genre, paying vs. non-paying, short form vs. long form. It also doubles as my tracker. Once you get going and submitting a lot, tracking all your submissions is a must.
JOE KAPITAN: Architect. Consultant. Cyclist. Husband. Dad. Neatfreak. College football fan. Microbrew drinker. Good teeth. Ugly feet. Writer of short fiction. Online publications (past and pending) include PANK Magazine, elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, Annalemma, Necessary Fiction, LITSNACK, Emprise Review, Corium, Metazen, The Northville Review, Eunoia Review, Apocrypha & Abstractions, Used Furniture Review.
Firsts: My published flash appeared in 2012 as the winner of Sundog Lit’s “Photogene” contest. I learned about the contest via Twitter. Prior to fall of 2012, I’d never written flash, and I’d never been on Twitter. I’d had, however, some luck with writing contests, and the Sundog Lit prompt—a photo of a dilapidated shed with paint cans at the center—sparked a memory of a senior in my high school who’d locked himself in his family’s bathroom with a gun. In real life, the boy’s suicide generated both gossip and awkward silences. In flash, the story began with those paint cans and the words “Someone said”— and I followed the first line until I’d hit the 500-word contest limit.
Networks and Markets: On social media like Twitter and Facebook, I follow journals, small and independent presses, reviewers, editors, writers, The Review Review, Poets & Writers, and Submittable. On Twitter, I nose through people’s “Following” lists, and enlarge my own network for announcements and calls for submissions. In fact, one recent flash contest required, as its only entry “fee,” a “follow” on Twitter. I encourage my own “Followers” to nose through my lists, too.
What I like about contests are constraints—deadlines and word limits— as well as, generally, complimentary issues of journals, which helps market research. Another benefit is that even if your work doesn’t win, it might still find publication. Recently, a number of contests— including Gulf Coast’s Barthelme Prize for Short Prose, Gigantic Sequins’ Flash Fiction contest, and Indiana Review’s ½ K Prize— motivated me to write three new flashes. None won, but one found publication.
Risks and Rejections: For every flash rejection, I send out the work again the same day. It’s like that line from Glengarry Glen Ross: “Always be closing”: Always be sending.
I’ve also learned to greet rejection with a little risk. A headline on Mitt Romney led to a flash piece that felt (to me) “very McSweeney’s” (at the time, all of my flashes felt very McSweeney’s—though the editors kindly, repeatedly, disagreed). Once rejected, on a whim, I sent the piece to Paper Darts, which is one of the most gorgeous web/print/omnibus arts sites in human history. And they took it. Likewise, a piece rejected from a nonfiction-only flash journal is now forthcoming in Carve’s unique and wonderful “Poefictiontry” feature.
Finally, when submitting work in sets (journals often allow up to 3 flashes per submission), I’ve found success by disconnecting the parts. For months, a set of three, interrelated flash pieces was getting good feedback, but couldn’t land publication. A contest for a single 800-word piece made me rethink the set —and break it up. Ultimately, while, again, my work didn’t win, the pieces were published in separate journals.
REBECCA MEACHUM’s short story collection, Let’s Do, was published in 2004 as the winner of UNT Press’s Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction. Her flash fiction and other works are linked at http://rebeccameachamwriter.com. She tweets at @ibeccanne.
Although others may refer to my pieces as flash fiction, I consider them prose poems. This is more than a matter of semantics. Conceiving of the pieces as poems means that I’m not constrained by conventional definitions of character or plot. I can make unexpected leaps of logic — or abandon daytime logic entirely.
I can’t recall now where or when I had my very first flash — or prose poem — published. I do know that when my series of 19 related prose poems was published as “My Heart Draws a Rough Map” by Blue Hour Press in 2009, I realized for perhaps the first time that I had found a form that was particularly congenial to my outlook and talents.
It’s tricky to offer advice to other writers. Every writer’s development is different. It can’t be predicted or dictated. We each must find our own way. But if I had to make one recommendation, it’d be that young writers be willing to take risks. They shouldn’t be afraid to experiment — and fail. Trial and error can be a pretty good teacher. Refining my writing has proved to be a never-ending process. It’s searching in the dark for a black hat that isn’t there.
I also think it’s a good idea for young writers — and “young” isn’t a matter of age, but of experience — to submit their writing for publication sooner rather than later. Whether the work is accepted or rejected, the submission process toughens you up for the inevitable bumps and bruises of a writing life. Perseverance is as important to a writer as talent — maybe even more important.
Online publications that welcome flash from what they call “emerging writers” include Metazen, A Minor, Dogzplot, and Storyacious. They have different aesthetics, but share a commitment to quality writing and an affection for flash.
HOWIE GOOD, a journalism professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is the author of 12 poetry chapbooks. He has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and five times for the Best of the Net anthology. His first full-length book of poetry, Lovesick, was released in 2009 by Press Americana.
My first publication was at a lit mag that I ended up working as Fiction Editor for, Black Heart Magazine. “We Do It Big in Texas” is silly, but it got me in the door because the editor appreciated my humor and grossness.
My advice for novice writers who want to publish is: Read and write like mad. Read every single lit mag/journal, novel, short story, fridge magnet poem you come across, and write like you’re going to die tomorrow. Don’t feel bad about writing something specifically for one lit mag/journal.
Also, pick up a copy of Elements of Style, because the rules truly do not go out of style. My author friend, Richard Thomas, wrote this article on LitReactor, and I use it and Michael Chaney’s lists as my bibles.
Submit to the highest tiered lit mags/journals you feel comfortable with, wait for answers, then continue to the next tier down. Or, begin as low as you feel comfortable with, rack up a bunch of those, then start shooting for the bigger ones. Hey, it’s your life. Good skill! (I don’t believe in luck.)
H.L. NELSON is Head Cheese in Charge/Chief Cud Thrower of Cease, Cows mag, Editorial Assistant for Qu Literary Journal, and a former sidewalk mannequin. (Yes, that happened.) Pub credits: PANK, Hobart, Connotation Press, Metazen, Red Fez, Bartleby Snopes, blah blah blah. She is working on an anthology, which includes stories by Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, xTx, and other fierce women writers. h. l.’s MFA is currently kicking her ass. Find her at hlnelson.com
My first piece of published flash fiction is called “Five Sketches of a Story about Death” and it was accepted by the lovely editors over at matchbook. Up until that point, I’d been working on short stories for my collection and most of the stories I’d written were around six or seven pages long. I’d also written a decent YA novel and an awful first draft of another novel. I started writing flash for the excitement of getting something done without too-too much commitment involved word-count wise.
Writing that first piece and getting it published sorta unzipped something inside of me and made me feel free(er) to write whatever I wanted, even if someone didn’t like it or “get” it. It was rejected by two literary magazines before it was accepted at matchbook and one editor who rejected it didn’t like the repetition of the phrase “what matters.” The repetition of “what matters” was my favorite thing about the story.
There are things I’m stubborn about when it comes to certain lines/phrases in my stories and I won’t change them even if an editor suggests it. I think it’s important for a writer to listen with one hand open and one hand closed; writers should know both their strengths and weaknesses. I know mine.
What I have learned from writing flash and getting it published is that it’s okay for me to write about whatever I want to write about. In “Five Sketches” I have written about one family and the tiny ways people love one another and let one another down. It was greatly influenced by my own extended family.
My advice to writers new to flash fiction is to work work work on being the best you can. And read the most breathtaking pieces you can find, the kinda stuff you want to write, the stories that make you go oh when you get to that last line. In my opinion, SmokeLong Quarterly and Word Riot are two of the most consistent places for finding well-written, heartbreaking flash online. We also publish a lot of flash (and have now become strictly flash-only) over at WhiskeyPaper, the literary magazine I run with my husband. We publish a lot of first-timers!
LEESA CROSS-SMITH is the co-founder of WhiskeyPaper. Her debut short story collection EVERY KISS A WAR will be published early 2014 by Mojave River Press. Her work has received Editor’s Choice in Carve Magazine‘s Raymond Carver Short Story Contest, been listed as a Notable Story for storySouth‘s Million Writers Award and been a finalist for both the Flannery O’Connor Short Story Award and the Iowa Short Fiction Award. (A detailed list of Leesa’s published work/recognition.)
Here are a few links to my first flash (or hybrid) pieces:
“Ballad of a Bumble Bee Trapped in Honey” from Contrary
“Ballad of a Wingless Butterfly, Torn Asunder by Unforeseen Windstorm” from The Dirty Napkin
“Consequence of Splitting The Atom” from Kill Author
I guess the thing I would’ve liked to hear when I was first starting out is to be bold, don’t imitate what everyone around you is writing (“There is only one way. Go into yourself,” Rilke once wrote) and ignore the urge to always label your work.
I remember when I was first starting out I’d always decide beforehand whether something was to be fiction or poetry – it was always black and white — and I’ve found this can be extremely limiting. Later on, I learned to let the language guide me, and to not worry so much about what it would ultimately be called by other people. Even in the few pieces I listed above, you can see a clear evolution from strict fiction to something more akin to poetry but not quite fully poetry either. Today when I see a category for ‘indeterminate’ work in submission queues, I rejoice. I think all magazines should offer that option.
MATTHEW BURNSIDE is managing editor for Mixed Fruit. In addition to the works listed above, he has published in decomP, apt, Hobart, Word Riot, Ninth Letter, Necessary Fiction, Monkeybicycle, and in many, many other journals and magazines. Follow his list of sins at matthewburnsideisawriter.
My first publication was in NANO Fiction. I found out about it because one of my classmates was published in their first issue, and it was founded in Houston (where I did my undergrad). I was published in one of their earlier issues, a very short flash called “The Best Thing.” It’s a surreal little allegory about a guy who gives birth to a blob with teeth. It’s a great journal that I feel lucky to have been published in, and I started subscribing a couple years ago.
I don’t know how unique this publishing advice is, but I have three suggestions.
The first is to try not to think about publication while writing and revising. Focus on making the piece the best you can, and that will give you the best chance of finding the right home for it.
The second is to view the submission, and rejection, process as the search for the right home. A rejection doesn’t mean the editors necessarily dislike the story or you, it just means their journal isn’t the right home for it. And you want the story to be in the right home, with editors who will champion both the story and you. It’s worth the wait, and the long list of rejections, to get a story in the right place.
And, finally, pay attention to writers who are a little ahead of you in the game and with whom your writing shares an affinity. Their bibliographies are a great resource for finding publications that are friendly to writers at the beginning of their careers and who are interested in stories similar to yours.
Publications to Try: NANO Fiction (I regularly see “first publication” notes in their bios), Jersey Devil Press, and Short, Fast, and Deadly. These are all publications I’ve found to have friendly, kind staff and a willingness to look for interesting work from a variety of sources. But of course, read what they publish and subscribe if you are able. Two are online, which makes the latter pretty easy.
KELSIE HAHN holds an MFA in fiction from New Mexico State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, Matchbook, Barrelhouse, 1/25, NANO Fiction, SpringGun, and others. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Award twice. She lives in Houston, TX with her husband, Stephen Cleboski.