D. L. King has published dozens of short stories and is the editor of several erotica anthologies, including the Lambda Literary Award Finalist, Where the Girls Are: Urban Lesbian Erotica and the Independent Publisher's Award Gold Medalist, Carnal Machines: Steampunk Erotica.
1. Edit yourself first.
A lot of people call this rewriting. Stephen King says in his wonderful book, On Writing, that after he’s finished a manuscript, he cuts ten percent of it in the rewrite.
After you’ve finished your story, put it aside for a while. When you come back to it you’ll be able to pare it down to its essential core; cut the extraneous bits that have nothing to do with the story. What you should be left with is a tight piece of writing that can’t be cut any further without losing part of the story line.
2. Don’t head hop.
Keep your point of view straight. If we’re privy to your main character’s thoughts about the guy she’s just picked up in the bar, don’t tell us what he’s thinking about her. Remember who’s head your in and what that person could possibly know. The main character couldn’t know what the guy was thinking unless she was a mind reader – and that would be a different story.
The rule about head hopping doesn’t mean we can’t ever know other characters’ thoughts (although it’s often easier to have a single point of view in a short story). As long as you don’t confuse your characters’ points of view in the same paragraph, section or chapter, you’ll be okay. And when you do change points of view, make it clear who’s doing the thinking.
3. Proofread your work before submitting to an editor.
Because editors are lazy, you want to submit the cleanest copy possible. Make sure you’ve gone over it with a fine-toothed comb for typos and copy errors. I don’t know why, but for some reason errors that go unnoticed on the screen, appear on the printed page, so do your copyediting from the printed page.
4. Follow directions.
Read the call for submissions or the style guide carefully and make sure you follow the directions. Editors don’t put those directions in just to see if you’re paying attention. If asked for double-spaced text in a specific font and point size with paragraphs indented and no extra space between them, don’t give your editor single-spaced block text with a double space between paragraphs.
There really is a reason an editor requests a specific format and, by the way, if no format is specified, it’s always best to go with standard style (which is, if you haven’t already gathered, double spaced, 12 point, Times New Roman or Courier New, paragraphs indented one-half inch, pages numbered and one inch margins all round).
Oh, and pay attention to word count. Word count is related to page count, which is close to a publisher’s heart (because more pages means higher printing costs). If an editor specifies a short story word count range between 2,000 and 4,000, she doesn’t want to see your 8,000-word opus, no matter how brilliant it is. Trust me on this.
5. Fit the Call.
If you’re sending work based on a call for submissions, make sure your work actually fits the call. Don’t send a vampire story if the call is for a zombie anthology. Okay, that one’s simple. But what if the call is for a “sex at work” anthology? You wouldn’t want to send the vampire story to that call either – unless the main character worked as a vampire slayer. The bottom line is: make sure your story fits the call, and if you’re not sure, query the editor.
It’s always a good idea to ask questions if you’re not sure about something. Trust me, an editor would rather answer a question up front than read a story that doesn’t fit the call.