Friday, October 23, 2009

Can My Shorts Get Me a Novel Deal?

Chelle Martin is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, The Cassell Network of Writers, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. She’s a past Vice President of Sisters in Crime-Central Jersey and creator of the Clued In Press Award for short mystery fiction. Chelle has also been a mentor for MWA’s Mentor Program and a judge for RWA’s Golden Heart and other writing contests. She is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including the New York Chapter of RWA’s Love & Laughter Contest. She is currently working on a humorous mystery novel series.

First of all, thanks to Rhonda and The Stiletto Gang for allowing me the opportunity to be a guest blogger. I love writing short stories and it’s great to have the opportunity to encourage others to write as well as read them.

From a writer’s standpoint, short stories have many advantages over novels as recently discussed by members of the Yahoo Group, Short Mystery Fiction Society. Writing shorts allows a writer the occasion to explore various genres. A short story takes much less time to write than a novel. And shorts also allow writers to change characters and setting and use a different voice.

Additionally, the turnaround time can be shorter and you can see your name in print a lot sooner.

Before you wonder if you could actually make a living writing nothing but short stories, look at author Edward D. Hoch, who over five decades published over 900 short stories. Most impressive is that for the last 35 years of his career, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine published one of Hoch’s stories every month from 1973 until his death in 2008.

My first short piece was published in an anthology called Romance Recipes for the Soul by Pisces Press. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see my name in print. Our publisher also hosted a signing party at our local Borders Books. It’s quite a feeling of accomplishment to see people buying your books and asking for your autograph. The fact that I was signing with a dozen other writers made no difference.

Getting that first publishing credit opened the door to other opportunities. After joining the Short Mystery Fiction Society, I discovered editor Michael Bracken was looking for mysteries for an anthology called Small Crimes. After selling my first mystery story to him, I was invited to submit to another anthology of private eye stories called Fedora III. I’d never written a PI story before, but gave it a shot and sold that story, too.

I had won a writing contest online and the prize was my own page on a website for writers. There I met writers and publishers from all over the world.

From that point, I established quite a resume with contest awards and publishing credits with various small presses. I’m now published nationwide.

Once when discussing writing with Mary Higgins Clark, she told me she got her start writing short stories. I told her I found them easier to write than a novel. She suggested looking at writing a novel like writing a bunch of short stories—each chapter should convey a beginning, middle and end of that portion of the novel. I’d never thought of it that way, but it made the idea of writing a novel less intimidating.

Another advantage to short stories is getting your name out there, especially if you find your story in an anthology with well-known authors. I live in New Jersey, yet I’ve networked a great deal in California with various Sisters in Crime Chapters. The San Joaquin chapter knows me quite well. I’ve taken second place twice in their annual Dead Bird writing contest.

While the publishing market is shrinking, there are still some good places to submit your shorts. As in novel writing, be sure to follow submission guidelines.

Chelle Martin


  1. Chelle, I have never even considered short story writing. To me that's so daunting! You showed a totally different avenue for writing. Very interesting!

  2. Chelle, your absolutely right about short stories being the key to unlocking a career or even just a full length book. I was always daunted by the idea of writing a short story but I've learned more and gotten more success from my efforts there. I definitely feel that it is a wonderful talent to possess and cultivate.

  3. Hi, Chelle,

    I enjoy writing short stories as well as novels too. But I'm more experimental with short stories, which in many ways is a much more free art form. I love writing mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror and the occasional literary story. Life is short; it's important to keep open to new writing experiences.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star/Gale 2009
    THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star hardcover, Wheeler large print 2008

  4. Though I write short novels, I've never mastered the short story form. I have had a couple of short stories published in anthologies--but I wrote them in blood. Much harder writing for me.

    I commend you for being able to write short stories.


  5. Congrats, Chelle on your successes and for the heads up on short stories. I've been doing some novellas of varying lengths lately, and just love the shorter format. Hope to see you soon!

  6. Chelle,

    Good to see you on here! As past Chief Editor of Crime and Suspense ezine, and as the editor of five anthologies, as well as being a contributor of short stories to other anthologies, magazines and ezines, I guess you can tell that I like the short story form!

    When I speak at writers' events, I always bring up people like Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Mark Twain, and so many others who broke into writing with their shorter work. If an author comes to me with a novel to publish, it really increases his or her viability in my eyes if they have a history of published short pieces in the same genre.

    Of course, my own personal idol in the world of short stories is John M. Floyd (whom many of you know), who regularly has stories accepted by Woman's World and Ellery Queen--both very difficult markets to break into. I know because I've had none accepted by EQMM, and only one out of the five I've submitted to Woman's World!

    Great blog article, Chelle.

    Tony Burton
    Wolfmont Press

  7. Hi Chelle: So wonderful to hear of all your accomplishments in writing. Short stories do sound like a fun way to go with a lot of freedom in your choice of topics. I look forward to hearing and about your first novel! Elaine Z

  8. I live and breathe short fiction, Chelle, having sold more than 800 short stories--and having published a pair of yours!--so I can second your comment that there are still some good places to submit your shorts.

    I'll go a step further, though, and note that for writers willing to work in multiple genres, there are many good markets for short fiction. For example: Beside me as I type is a binder containing calls for submissions from 34 anthologies to which I hope to submit--most of them open calls--and these are only the anthologies I'm interested in, having culled out the non-paying and those asking for stories I'm not interested in writing.

    Continued good luck with your writing. Maybe someday we'll have the opportunity to work together again.

  9. Chelle,

    Great post! As we shared a spot in Murder New york Syle, you know I am addicted to writing and reading short stories, and I have to agree with your thoughts.

    Nice to see Tony and Michael commenting here as well, as I admire their work.


  10. Hi Chelle,

    A very inspiring post for aspiring writers. I'll just second your idea that short story form is a fantastic way for a writer to begin testing the literary waters for a series character.

    You can use the short story form as a vehicle to develop not only your main character but also your literary voice and your setting. You might even think about the short form as a prequel, introducing your main character in a story that takes place many years before you want your series of novels or mysteries to begin.

    Prose examples have been well covered here by you and the wonderful comments above me, so I'll just given an example from theater: Some of Tennessee Williams' one act plays were basically character studies for the iconic casts that ended up populating his later full-blow theatrical masterpieces.

    Thanks for the literary food for thought, Chelle!

    ~Alice Alfonsi who writes
    The Coffeehouse Mystery series
    for Berkley as Cleo Coyle

  11. Chelle, short stories will always be my first love. I like to explore and experiment in writing and each story is a new opportunity to do so. To have as many opportunities in writing novels would take three lifetimes. Thanks for stating it so well and it's always a pleasure to see you out and about.

  12. Chelle, I'm with Earl on this one. Short stories are not only fun to write, but read as well. Having a magazine of book of short stories is a must for doctor's offices where you usually have to wait awhile.

    I never leave home without some kind of short story/stories in my bag.

  13. Hi Chelle,
    Thanks for your thoughts here; I enjoyed the commentary.
    Sorry I haven't seen much of you lately, but I know your are never far away.
    Be well and let's stay in touch.

  14. Enjoyed your article, Chelle! Found Mary Higgins Clark's comment informative, too.

  15. Great idea and I've got a track record already! Been a while since I thought of writing short stories, but I might just give it a fling since that was the first thing I sold!

  16. Thanks for the encouragement. Short stories are a great way to improve one's writing. I never really read shorts until a year ago when I picked up "Murder for Christmas". I've been a fan ever since.

  17. I agree completely. I had the fun of seeing my name in print several times before I sold my first mystery, Sweet Man Is Gone. Now I'm writing short stories featuring my series sleuth as a way of promoting the series.

  18. Chelle,

    I think it is so cool that you have discussed writing with Mary Higgins Clark! Thank you for your insights regarding short stories. It was a great post!