What’s In Your Shorts?

by Rob Brunet

Stories, I mean. Short stories. Yeah, I know. Click bait’s a menace. But how else would I get you to read a post about short crime fiction? Wait! Don’t flip away. It’s not like I’m gonna make you read one. It’s just…there’s something going on in short story land that may be worth a few hundred words, in spite of our rapidly shrinking collective attention span.

Which is kinda the point.

When was the last time you read a short story? When was the last time you wrote one? Was it a way to get published along the road to becoming a real author? Or do you see it as part of your platform?

Even if you consider yourself more of a novelist, honing your short story skills makes sense. Writing is rewriting, and rewriting three thousand words five times is a lot easier than successive passes through a fully-drafted novel. Besides, learning to tell a full story in a tight space can only benefit your longer-form prose. Depending on how you write, you may even find material you cut from a manuscript can find new life in short fiction—like a secondary character who needs more room, or an interesting back story that stands on its own.

Whatever your approach to writing them, there are a lot more markets today for short crime fiction than there were a few years ago. Could be the appetite is driven by a need for quick reads—in transit, on smart phones, or during lunch at our desks. Or maybe it’s just that digital publishing makes it easier. Chicken or egg? Doesn’t much matter. The appetite’s real. The question may be, why bother?

As a source of income, short stories don’t cut it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t belong in a writer’s business plan. Think marketing, not sales.

Short stories can reach new readers who might not otherwise discover you. Or help you stay in touch with the ones you already have while they await your next book. If you’re looking for an agent or your first publisher, having a backlist of published shorts shows you’re serious about getting into this game.

Digital publishing in all its guises has created an explosion of opportunity for short crime fiction relative to the recent past. Sites like Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, and Spinetingler are great examples of venues where new writers can cut their teeth alongside seasoned pros. I know there are many more: share your favorite haunts (or a link to your story) in the comments.

Traditional publishers are loath to publish short story collections for any but the most established authors. But indie houses like 280 Steps, Down & Out Books, All Due Respect, and many more taking them on. And magazines like Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and The Strand publish both established and new voices.

Thuglit stands out as a market where often grittier crime fiction finds a home, and editor Todd Robinson can lay claim to being the first to buy a story from plenty of authors who’ve since built strong careers. Since they take eight stories every two months, there’s an appetite for fresh voices all the time. (But sorry, they now pay with cash rather than T-shirts, which means if you’ve got one of those you’re, like, venerable or something.)

Conference anthologies and charity-supporting collections like Protectors and Exiles: An Outsider Anthology offer another way to get in front of readers. Or maybe your local Sisters in Crime chapter publishes an anthology, and promotes it to new readers every chance they get.

With quick turn-arounds from most of these markets, you can rework rejected pieces and resubmit, keeping a cycle of material in front of editors at all times. Sure, it’s a ton of work, and you have to decide how much time you’re willing to take away from your weekly word count to pursue it. But if one of the pleasures you take from writing is knowing you surprised someone with your voice in a place they didn’t expect it, getting out your shorts can be its own reward.


ROB BRUNET writes character-driven crime fiction laced with dark humor. His debut novel STINKING RICH was listed on Crimespree Magazine’s Book Picks for 2014 and named one of the year’s top debuts by Mystery People. Brunet’s short crime fiction appears in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Crimespree, Noir Nation, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, and numerous anthologies. He loves the bush, beaches, and bonfires, and teaches creative writing at George Brown College in Toronto, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and son.