Write Fiction? Why You Should Try a Short Story

by Jami Gold on December 22, 2011

in News

Silhouette of person doing a bugle call

My regular readers know I typically write novel-length stories.  However, during one crazy four-day stretch, I wrote a long-ish short story/short-ish novella (novelette?).  For those of you following along at home, I’m referring to my story inspired by spam.

I’ve blogged before about how the experience was a great way to stretch myself, but even beyond that, attempting shorter length fiction can help us understand the basics for novel writing.

A novel is big.  Really big.  So big it’s hard sometimes to see the full picture of the story and know how best to shuffle the pieces.

But a short story is…well, short.  By necessity, short stories don’t use complicated subplots.  They don’t contain several reversals.  They are story structure at its most streamlined.  And by working in the short story format, we can learn to recognize and strengthen the structure of all our stories.

Why All Writers Should Try a Short Story

The lack of subplots and complications in a short story makes it easier to see the story’s bones.  In a short work, we can more easily see:

  • the three acts (setup, confrontation, and resolution)
  • the first turning point (where the story world gets turned upside down and the reader is introduced to the big story question)
  • the second turning point (climax/confrontation with the antagonist)
  • the story question (with no subplots, there’s only one main question driving the story, and this can be as straightforward as “will the protagonist survive?”)
  • the steps of the hero’s journey

When we have issues with a shorter work, we can find the problem more easily because it’s not buried under the complexities of a novel.  And as we get better about recognizing structure, we’ll be able to solve problems with novel length work.  We’ll know if the bones of a story are good.

Once our stories have good structure, we can add length, fix sagging middles, and speed up pacing by adding:

  • Reversals: setbacks for the protagonist.
  • Pinch points (as defined by Larry Brooks): reminders of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force (how bad is the bad guy?).
  • Turning points: revelations that change the context of the story.

Understanding how to develop short stories also helps us develop story ideas.  We’ll be able to take a story seed and know what we have to do to grow that into a bigger story.  Novels are simply short stories with more subplots added and more of those aspects listed above.

The Best Reason to Challenge Yourself with a Short Story

(Okay, I’ll admit I’m biased here.)

Announcing the Pitch Your Shorts (hee) online pitch session!  *releases confetti*  Yay!

Several editors from Entangled Publishing will be visiting my blog in the second week of January to take pitches for shorter length works.  They’re interested in stories with strong romantic elements that end in a “happily ever after” or a “happily for now.”  They’re looking for stories in the 10-60K word range and are open to many genres:

  • Contemporary
  • Historical
  • Romantic Thrillers
  • Science Fiction, Dystopian, Steampunk
  • Paranormal and Urban Fantasy
  • Fantasy

If you have stories already completed that would fit those guidelines, get them polished.  If you have ideas along those lines or if you’ve thought about attempting a short story, get writing.  (Another great thing about short stories is they’re quick to write and revise.)

The editors have promised they’ll make at least one request from those who pitch on my blog, and for the pitch that excites them the most, they’ll offer detailed feedback.

Do you notice that phrase: “they’ll make at least one request”?  That means this isn’t a contest, where only one pitch can win. This is more like a writing conference, where editors can request every pitch that interests them.  Yes, really.

This is a fantastic opportunity, and I want you all to consider pitching something.  I’m asking for you to help spread the word about this so everyone has time to get something ready.  I love helping my friends and readers out, and this could be a way to start a publishing career, experiment with a new genre/point-of-view/verb tense, or try out a new format.

Even if you consider yourself a novel writer, try writing a short story for this pitch session.  Get a head start on a New Year’s Resolution to work toward a publishing credit with a buzz-worthy publisher.  Plus, this is a chance to improve our skills.  In one shot, we can practice our structure, learn how to write a short story, pitch to several editors, and have a chance at a request and/or feedback.  How cool is that?

Mark your calendar: Pitch Your Shorts will begin January 10th

Have you written a short story before?  Have you ever developed a short story into a longer one?  Is it easier for you to see story structure in shorter works?  Will you be preparing a short story for Pitch Your Shorts?  (Please say yes!)

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84 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee December 22, 2011 at 6:50 am

While I think short stories can be good tools, I disagree that everyone should try them. *g* Some folks are novel writers; some are short story writers. Some are novelette writers. (And historically, what we call a “novella” now once was considered “novel” length.)

At any rate, that Pitch Your Shorts event sounds fun! ^_^

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Jami Gold December 22, 2011 at 9:25 am

Hi Carradee,

LOL! Well, I may have some ulterior motives in encouraging people to try it. 😉

Seriously though, I always thought of myself as a novel writer, but I know I have some story seeds in my idea file that aren’t big enough to sustain 300-400 pages. My choices are to let those ideas languish in the file, hope I come up with a bunch of reversals, pinch points, and turning points to fill out a longer story, or turn it into a short story and get something out of it.

For the longest time, short stories didn’t have much of a market beyond anthologies or fiction magazines. And while those can be great outlets, the rise of ebooks and epublishing has opened a new market for short stories. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I’ve seen lately say that they’re starting to prefer the shorter works because of decreased reading time and shorter attention spans.

Personally, I like the idea of taking something that wasn’t going to go anywhere as a novel and turning it into something that we can make money with and potentially add to our publishing credits. But I promise I won’t twist anyone’s arm about it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Jami's Tech Guy December 22, 2011 at 9:49 am

Ooh, a short story contest. Thanks Jami & unnamed Entangled editors! That’s perfect for my short attention span and would allow me to cash in some of the ‘betareading chits’ I’ve accumulated.

*Shakes brain to see what rattles out*
Hmmm… Two business ideas, a decent plan for a jewelery store heist, and peeking out from under the ginormous To-Do list, a “Contemporary with SciFi & Romantic Elements” story. The protagonist is a little young but I should be able to age him a couple years.

-Jay
@jaytechdad

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Jami Gold December 22, 2011 at 10:10 am

Hi Tech Guy,

LOL! I’ll ignore the “plan for a jewelry store heist” and assume you’ll use the idea in a story some day. I can’t have my Tech Guy in jail. 😉

Oh, I’d love to see you write something for this. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Haley Whitehall December 22, 2011 at 11:45 am

Jami, what a great way to help writers. I’ve never heard of a short story pitch fest. While I am not going to participate I will definitely spread the word.

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Jami Gold December 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Hi Haley,

*sighs about your non-participation* LOL! Thanks for spreading the word!

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Gene Lempp December 22, 2011 at 1:05 pm

When I returned to writing years ago (how long doesn’t matter) I wrote a group of shorts, mostly fantasy, entered them in contests, failed badly and came to the conclusion that learning structure might be a good idea. I have to pass on the invitation mainly because I just don’t write romance that well and I’m already a bit buried in projects. However, I’ll definitely pass this on.

No frowning, Jami *cookie with extra chocolate*. This is a super cool opportunity and I’m uber proud of you for being involved with it 🙂

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Jami Gold December 22, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Hi Gene,

Yes, Entangled Publishing wants stories with strong romantic elements, but they don’t have to be a strict “romance.” Now that I’ve made that clarification, I’ll still give you a frowny face, but it will pass quickly as I grab the chocolate cookie. (You know me too well.) LOL! Thanks for the support!

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Buffy Armstrong December 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Jami,
This sounds like so much fun. I have short that I’ve been meaning to finish since the summer. This just might a fire under my, well, you know what.

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Buffy Armstrong December 22, 2011 at 2:07 pm

I got so excited I forgot a word! “This might light a fire under my, well, you know what.”

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Jami Gold December 22, 2011 at 5:58 pm

LOL! No worries.

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Jami Gold December 22, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Hi Buffy,

Yay! Yes, work on that short, and join the fun. 🙂 Good luck!

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Buffy Armstrong December 23, 2011 at 7:02 am

Mentioned it on my blog this morning to help spread the word.

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Jami Gold December 23, 2011 at 9:10 am

Awesome, Buffy! Thank you so much! 🙂

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Mari December 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I have a very small handful of shorts published, and I’m convinced they take a (slightly) different skill set than novel-length works. I find shorts difficult. BUT earlier this summer, I also started writing YA fantasy, and I find it flows a lot better from my mind and hands than adult fantasy. Maybe I should try some YA shorts … hhhmmm

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Jami Gold December 22, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Hi Mari,

Yes, the skill to write shorts can be a stretch from normal novel writing, but it’s good for us to stretch, right? 🙂 Good luck with your new genre and thanks for the comment!

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Amber December 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I was thinking that my Nano “novel” would be so much better as a “short story” (on the longer end of short). Maybe this is a sign? 🙂

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Jami Gold December 22, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Hi Amber,

Oh yes! Go for it. 🙂

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Sarah Pearson December 23, 2011 at 4:35 am

I will try my hardest to get this up on my blog next week, this news needs to be spread 🙂

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Jami Gold December 23, 2011 at 9:09 am

Thanks, Sarah! I appreciate it. 🙂

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Sonia G Medeiros December 23, 2011 at 10:51 am

How exciting! Thanks for doing this, Jami. What a great opportunity.

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Jami Gold December 23, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Hi Sonia,

My pleasure! I hope good things happen for my friends and readers. 🙂 I hope you give it a shot. *nudge nudge*

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Nancy S. Thompson December 23, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Happy holidays, Jami! I’m so glad I found you this past year!!

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Jami Gold December 23, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Hi Nancy,

Aww, thank you! And Happy holidays to you too. 🙂

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Melinda Collins December 23, 2011 at 9:58 pm

How exciting, Jami!! So excited that you’re having this on your blog! 🙂

I promise I will start thinking of some ideas and see what I can pound out over the next couple of weeks. I’m finally able to actually park it for longer than 15 minutes to where I can start writing again (darn day job!) – well, that should at least start on Monday. *crosses fingers*

Hope you have a safe and wonderful Christmas! 😀

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Jami Gold December 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Hi Melinda,

Yay! I’d love to see you pitch something. 🙂 Good luck with finding writing time and Merry Christmas to you too!

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Kaitlin December 24, 2011 at 12:00 am

Oh! This sounds like so much fun! I should hunker down and think of something. It’s been awhile since I wrote a short story that wasn’t part of something larger.

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Jami Gold December 24, 2011 at 12:02 am

Hi Kaitlin,

Wonderful! I hope you decide to join in. 🙂 Good luck coming up with something!

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Lena Corazon December 25, 2011 at 11:03 am

Jami, what a wonderful opportunity! Tackling NaNo twice this year has been a reminder of just how intense and demanding the novel-writing process can be, and while I enjoy it, it is incredibly overwhelming. It’s given me a new appreciation for short forms of fiction, and I’ve had a few ideas floating around for a prequel-esque short story for my steampunk novel. This will be a great excuse to try and hammer it out!

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Jami Gold December 25, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Hi Lena,

Yay! I’d love to see you pitch something. 🙂 Good luck with it!

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Angela M December 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Heck, yes! I’m all over this! Thank you for hosting such a great opportunity. I’m told Entangled is wonderful to work with 😉

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Jami Gold December 25, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Hi Angela,

Great! Yes, I know many people who have signed with them. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Heather December 25, 2011 at 8:43 pm

I LOVE writing short stories and novels; however, somehow my short stories always turn out to end rather morbidly. I kind of love how short stories capture a character without delving into all his/her motivations, usually primarily through action. Kind of like poems, sometimes the short stories pack more pow for the punch than a novel.

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Jami Gold December 26, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Hi Heather,

I understand what you mean. I’ve heard that many Hollywood types prefer working with short stories because a) they pack that punch, b) there are less plot complication to try to squish into a 2 hour movie, and c) the tendency to have more action (i.e. showing) than backstory makes them easier to translate to the screen. Great observations and thanks for the comment!

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Kate December 26, 2011 at 2:20 am

Sounds fascinating! Let’s see if I can get the romance-less one I’m working on out of the way. If I can, I’ll jump in. 🙂

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Jami Gold December 26, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Hi Kate,

Great! I’d love to have you join us. Good luck finishing your other story to clear your to-do list! 🙂

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Teresa Robeson December 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Wow, sounds like a really terrific opportunity for your readers! Thank you and the editors for offering it.

Alas I probably can’t play because I actually write short stories…and when I say short, I mean approaching flash-fic short. I curse my ADD for making it so hard to write even novellas, let alone novels.

Have a very happy New Year!

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Jami Gold December 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Hi Teresa,

Yes, I know a few other flash fiction writers, and my “short” story of 16K sounds long to them. 🙂 I can try sending subliminal messages to your muse. LOL! Have a great New Year and thanks for the comment!

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Patsy Collins December 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I love writing short stories, so I’m tempted to give this a go.

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Jami Gold December 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Hi Patsy,

Yes, go for it! 🙂 I hope to see your pitch. *waves pompons*

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Claudia December 28, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I will for sure try, but where shall I send the story assuming it is finished? 🙂

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Jami Gold December 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Hi Claudia,

On January 10th, I’ll have a post here with the instructions. Hope to see you give it a try! 🙂

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Claudia December 29, 2011 at 6:06 am

Wonderful, I’ll pop around since I am following you 🙂 Thanks!

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L'Aussie December 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Hi! I’m so glad I found your post via Sarah Pearson! Love this topic as I love to write and publish short stories. Not sure I agree that they’re easier to write than a novel – I write both! Writing short stories is more than just practise for novel writing, I believe it is an art all by itself.

I may have something suitable for this challenge. Looks like I need to get polishing!

Thank you so much for the opportunity.

You have a wonderful blog and I’ll be back to read more. I’ve followed you so I’ll be able to keep tabs on you!

Happy New Year! Much writing success!

Denise

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Jami Gold December 28, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Hi Denise,

Yes, you’re right that short stories are an art all by themselves. In some ways they’re easier, while in others they’re harder. 🙂 I’d love to see your pitch on January 10th. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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Sondra C December 28, 2011 at 8:38 pm

I am glad to have found this as it might help. I have been writing all my life, but do not consider myself a writer. Who am I and what I am has yet been determined. I write what I think and feel but not yet a writer.

I wrote a Flash Fiction called The Woman in the Window. It is on my blog and in an article in AC. If you can find it, I am too tired to search, please let me know if this Flash Fiction is what it should be and if I can use it to write and join you in your writing journey.

I am serious. I am a great grandmother, and serious about writing. I do not recall any part of my life that did not find me with a pencil in my hand. I would like to leave the article writing and things of the heart, to leap into becoming a writer, “the topic of my last article on my blog’. If you or any one of you giants in the writing field care to help me take the leap, it would very much be appreciated.

Thank you. Sondra C

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Jami Gold December 29, 2011 at 1:04 am

Hi Sondra,

If your story is a true flash fiction piece, that wouldn’t be long enough for this pitch session. Most flash fiction is in the realm of hundreds of words, maybe 2000 words. But the minimum for this pitch session is 10,000 words.

As for how to start on your writing journey, Google is your friend. 🙂 Or try the Writers’ Knowledgebase, a “Google” for writers. Search on any topic and Elizabeth S. Craig has thousands of blog posts and articles in her database with information. Hope that helps!

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Aldrea Alien December 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm

10-60k?
Darn, I’m 6k too long on one (fantasy/with a bit of romance), another’s only just beginning, and I’m half-way through a revision of the one I’d self-published (paranormal/bit of historical/romance) which would be smack in the middle when it comes to word count.

Ah well, I’m still popping over to see what crops up. ^_^

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Jami Gold December 29, 2011 at 1:08 am

Hi Aldrea,

Darn is right. 🙁 Oh well, maybe next time. Thanks for the comment!

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Susie Lindau December 29, 2011 at 8:34 am

Sounds like fun! I write 100 word flash fiction every Friday and have written a lot of short stories, but nothing in the 10,000 word range….I would have to expand something.
Thanks for sharing!

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Jami Gold December 30, 2011 at 9:31 am

Hi Susie,

Good luck with getting something ready for this! 🙂

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Cherie Reich December 29, 2011 at 9:18 am

I think short stories (and flash fiction) are great tools to learn how to concise words as well as focus on the elements in a longer work. I love writing short stories, especially since I can get a short story written, edited, and polished quicker than a novel. 🙂

That’s awesome Entangled Publishing is dropping by to listen to pitches. *skips off to finish that space fantasy romance novelette*

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Jami Gold December 30, 2011 at 9:35 am

Hi Cherie,

Great point about how short stories can be a great way to teach us how to write concise and focused stories. And I’m with you about they can be a fun detour from novel writing. I’m glad you’ll be joining us! 🙂

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Laura December 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Oh wow! I’m in – what an amazing, exciting idea! I’ve been playing with writing shorter-form work for the past few months – but this is a great excuse to work up something new – so Glad I found the link to your place over at Empty Whit Pages!

Catch you soon
Laura x

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Jami Gold December 30, 2011 at 9:59 am

Hi Laura,

Yay! I’m glad you heard about this too. 🙂

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Tania. F. Walsh December 29, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Great opportunity… Thanks for sharing…:)

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Jami Gold December 30, 2011 at 9:59 am

Hi Tania,

I’m happy too! 🙂

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Tom Wisk December 30, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Love writing short stories. They appeal to my ADD nature and keep me honest. It’s great training for story telling. It makes you tell the story and keep on track.

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Jami Gold December 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Hi Tom,

I agree. There’s no room for fluff in short stories. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Linda December 31, 2011 at 10:43 am

This page was like gold to me! Glad I found it!

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Jami Gold December 31, 2011 at 10:46 am

Hi Linda,

Oh good! I hope you’ll be joining us for the pitch session. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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k~ December 31, 2011 at 10:48 am

Well, I’m going to give it a go. I love never before’s, and this will be one of those tasty morsels to at least attempt. The “happily ever after” or “happy for now” requirement will take some effort. FINISHING a story of any kind, will be a good challenge for me, but I love a healthy challenge.

Here’s to a wonderful adventure for the New Year!

k~

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Jami Gold December 31, 2011 at 10:51 am

Hi k~,

Yay! Here’s to taking on challenges. 🙂 *waves pompons* Good luck!

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Deena Anreise December 31, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I’ve always found that writing across genres and “lengths” is one of the best ways to flex creative writing muscles. I love that you’ve done such a thorough post. Cheers to all that go for the pitch!

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Jami Gold December 31, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Hi Deena,

Yes! Sometimes we get too comfortable with our voice, or our storytelling rhythms, or our genre, and our work becomes stagnant or repetitive. Stretching ourselves keeps our writing fresh. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Anna of Annas Adornments January 2, 2012 at 5:54 am

January 2nd, 2012
Hi Jami,
I found link to you on Denise (L’Aussie)’s blog. I would love to submit a story, but I don’t know if I’ll get it finished in time.
I’ll give it a try.
Best wishes,
Anna

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Jami Gold January 2, 2012 at 8:53 am

Hi Anna,

Yay! Definitely give it a try. 🙂 I’ve asked the editors to let me leave the pitch session post open for several days, so January 10th is just the first day we can pitch, not the last. Good luck!

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Anna of Annas Adornments January 2, 2012 at 5:56 am

Sorry about the typo! I’m used to Blogger which is easier to make corrections on comments.
Anna

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Jami Gold January 2, 2012 at 8:55 am

Hi Anna,

No worries. 🙂 Yes, I wish everyone could edit their comments as well. There are a few plugins that let people edit comments for WordPress (like Intense Debate and Disqus), but I’ve heard mixed reviews on them. *sigh* Thanks for the comment!

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Cecilia Gunther January 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Second week of January. OK. I have one in particular, it is too short though. I will work on it. The ‘Happy Ever After’ is my problem. Wonderful that you are able to host this. Actually I may go back to my own blog and ask my readers which of my stories I should present. That might be a better idea and also a few of them may join in too. Thank you and how lovely to stumble across your blog at this exact moment! c

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Jami Gold January 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Hi Celilia,

I hope you’re able to find a great story to pitch! 🙂

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Leonard White (@leonard_white) January 5, 2012 at 8:23 am

I just found this and will get busy but today is the 5th. When will this end? 10 to 20K in five days is doable for a part timer like me but polished and proof read will be hard.

How long do I actually have?

L. E. White

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Jami Gold January 5, 2012 at 9:15 am

Hi Leonard,

Thanks for the question. As I mention in today’s post on story openings, the pitch session post will be open for comments (a 2-sentence pitch and the first 100 words) from 8:30am Eastern time on January 10th until midnight Eastern time on January 16th. So the pitch session will be open for almost a full week. You have time. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Michael Di Gesu January 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Hi, Jami,

It is so nice to meet you and host this for us.
It is AMAZING! I just popped over here from L’Aussie’s site…. I have THE perfect short story, but it’s only 5200 words… Would they consider something this short?

Personally I find 10-60,000 words more like a novella and novel.

Happy New Year and I will see you on the tenth. I will also advertise this in my sidebar at my blog.

Michael

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Jami Gold January 5, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Hi Michael,

I know for this pitch session, they’re looking for stories of at least 10K because they’re looking to fill certain imprints with standalone novellas. However, you can always keep an eye on the submission page for Entangled Publishing. They frequently run special submission calls for anthologies, which might take shorter stories. Hope that helps and thanks for spreading the word! 🙂

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LisaDiane January 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm

I wanna participate but I didn’t realize the story had to be at least 10k words. I have one I’d like to submit but it’s only 2K. It’s really short. 🙁 I’ll see if I can lengthen it by the 16th.

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Jami Gold January 10, 2012 at 5:45 am

Hi LisaDiane,

Yes, they’re looking for stories long enough to be sold on their own. Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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