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How Long is a Short Story?

In terms of competitions, short story length is usually between 1,000 and 5,000 words, although I have seen short story competitions with a 17,000 word maximum. Some people might regard this as a novelette or novella. If you write a story of under 500 words, most people seem to regard this as flash fiction. Below is a guide to story lengths and how they might be named (there’s a fair bit of overlap as research shows that opinions differ greatly):

  • Flash fiction: under 500 words
  • Short story: 500 to 17,000 words
  • Novelette: 7,500 to 25,000 words
  • Novella: 10,000 to 70,000 words
  • Novel: 50,000 words or more

I’m of the opinion that the correct name or length is whatever any publisher, competition judge or magazine editor deem it to be. Just write within the parameters they ask for and you’re more likely to win competitions and be published.

How to Write a Short Story, book by Christopher Fielden

By Christopher Fielden

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Gill R
Hi Chris, I have written 3 children's books, I guess you would say Novellas. I self published one for charity (I am recovering from cancer and wanted to raise money) but after Lulu took their cut, there was very little left for the charity.  It's still up there, called Arrowroot the Goblin. 

I've written 2 more, one of which is 10,500 words and I think better than Arrowroot, but have no idea what to do with it. I did try a few publishers. Most said they did not accept manuscripts from new writers, so not sure how you're meant to ever become anything else! And no one AT ALL was interested in charity projects. Any advice much appreciated. Regards, Gill

Chris Fielden
Hi Gill, sorry to hear you've suffered with cancer, but great that you are recovering :-)

Charity projects are tough, unless you're really famous so the publicity is worth it for the publishing house. Sounds harsh, but that's how business works unfortunately. I'd also imagine that the amount of charity projects a publisher receives means they just can't support all of them. 

Have you tried approaching the charity you're fund raising for to see if they can help with publicity? I'd imagine that's more likely to gain a response as there is something in it for them.

You could try approaching agents, rather than publishers, as they will consider previously unpublished authors, but the children's market is incredibly competitive, so you need a VERY thick skin.

I'm not really sure what else to say. It's a tough problem all writers face. That's partly why I started writing short stories - they're a lot easier to complete and there are plenty of publishing opportunities for them and competitions to enter. If you are published through these mediums, people start to recognize your name so you start to sell a few books. It's a long game to play, but I'm afraid I can't think of anything else to suggest!

Anyway, hope that's helpful. And best of luck with your writing and finding an outlet for your work :-) Cheers, Chris

Nicholas S
Hi Chris, I am just nearing the completion of my book (45,000 words at the last count). I hope to reach 500,000 at least. My brother is helping with the editing. It is a fantasy adventure that is written in the first person. I have based a lot of my characters on friends and family (with their permission). I will self-publish through Amazon. Is this a good idea? My brother has already published his book (Mark S) so his input is a great help.

Regards, Nick

Chris Fielden
Hi Nick, sorry a bit confused by numbers - I guess the 500K is a typo?! So 50K words? If not, you have Lord of the Rings on your hands - quite an achievement :-)

I think Amazon is a good way to go, if you don't want to approach agents or publishers. You'll need to market the book well to make many sales, though. If your brother has had success with that in the past then that is likely to be a great help. I think Amazon has more exposure than Lulu (which is the other self-publishing site I've used), so will probably be better, but Lulu is a lot more user friendly and intuitive to use when setting up your book and monitoring sales etc.

Hope that's some help :-)

Nicholas S
Oops, yes its around 50 thousand. I have ended the book with the begining of the next, so I am am also working on that one, it's all go. I wish I could afford to just write as that would be fantastic.

I lived most of my life in Southern Africa and have used a few of my real life adventures in the book. I am now back home in Wiltshire with my family, but one day i hope to return to my adopted continent.

Thanks for your feed back.

Chris Fielden
Sounds perfect Nick, always good to have a series - look at Harry Potter...

I think most writers wish they could afford to just write. If you persevere, at least you have a chance of achieving that dream. Never give up, that's the key!

Best of luck with the books, mate. And enjoy Wiltshire - it's a lovely part of the country. 

Nicholas S
Hi Chris, just an update about my book as you said a while ago. It is now on sale yippee. It is called Shumbachena, Nick

Chris Fielden
Excellent news, congrats Nick :-)

Emani M
Hello Chris, I think it is really great that you have this website.  I think it really helps those who are interested in writing, but have no real idea about how to go about the whole process.  I am one of those people :)  I am going to enter my short stories in some of the competitions you have listed.  Is it okay for me to enter the same story for various competitions?  I would think so.

Okay, keep up what you are doing Chris.  You are great!!

Chris Fielden
Thanks Emani :-)

It depends on the competition - you'd have to read the rules for each. A lot of them ask you not to submit elsewhere while a story is under consideration, but some allow it.

Best of luck with your writing!

Frances D
I like to write short articles from my experiences.  All are non-fictional.  I have written two children's stories.  I don't know what to do with these or who might publish them.  What do you suggest?

Chris Fielden
Frances, I'm not very familiar with non-fiction. Try looking at my short story competition page and see if any of them accept non-fiction submissions. I know some of them do, but you'd have to look through them and see what is most suitable for your work. You will also find competitions for children's stories.

Hope that's helpful. Best of luck with your writing.

Nidhi M
I've written two novels in the Indian language. I've also written a short story. I need finances for my daughter's education. Please can you guide me? How can I send my short story to magazines? It's in English. I had never thought of taking writing as a career but now I think I should, for my daughter.

Please guide me. Thank you.

Chris Fielden
Nidhi, you will have to research magazines and see what their submission guidelines are like and whether your work might be suitable. It's best to read back issues so you can see the style the editors prefer. Try this page where I list a lot of magazine opportunities.

Hope that's useful and best of luck with your writing!

Ron A
I have a short story just over 5,000 words in length and I would love to publish it. Can I get some advice? I'm considering three follow ups in the series. I also have a short contemporary drama and according to your words a children's adventure flash story ready for competitions. This will also be a series more like 1,000 words each. I would like to hear from you.

Chris Fielden
Ron, if you check out the short story competition list and the magazine list under the Writing Advice section of my website you will see lots of publishing opportunities for your work. The best bet is to look through them and see which competitions / magazines might be most suitable for your stories.

Best of luck with your writing!

Ron A
Thanks Chris, I actually started going through some of them and reading your advice before signing out and got a couple of key take-aways from it. Thanks again, I am now a fan and will continue to read your stuff. Ron.

Lynn C
Do you have the names of magazines that write in this fashion?

Chris Fielden
Lynn, if you look at the short story magazines page and the short story competitions page (the links are in my comment replying to Ron above) you'll find loads of different opportunities for submitting your work :-)

Lynn C
Chris, thank you so much for the information.

Chris, I would like advice on stories from the Far East (not exactly a genre that is the flavour of the day). My stories (short and novellas) are based in Malaysia/Indonesia. Are there any publishers who specialise in this genre? Since Maugham, Orwell, Burgess no one seems interested in this part of the world.

Am I killing myself for nothing? Thanks, Yin

Chris Fielden
Yin, I don't know of any publishers who specialise in stories based in the east I'm afraid. That's not to say that publishers wouldn't be interested in them. In my experience, it doesn't matter where a story is set. Publishers are simply interested in strong stories. So it really depends what the stories are about and how good they are. If I were you, I'd try submitting them to magazines and competitions and see what kind of feedback you get. If they're already written, it's certainly worth a try - you have nothing to lose!

I hope that's helpful :-)

Anne M
Christopher, I recently lost my job in the Banking sector and,  as I have always loved reading books, I decided to try and write a short story myself. It's something I always wanted to do anyway. Would it be possible to email or post a copy of my short fiction story to you for  you to look over and perhaps see if it's any good?

Kind Regards, Anne

Chris Fielden
Anne, I'm afraid I receive a lot of requests like this and can't offer to proofread other writer's work for free. Having a full time job and running this site leaves me very little time! However, I do offer a paid proofreading service that might be of interest to you.

Best of luck with your writing :-)

Catherine N
I published a short narrative of 13,300 words as an eBook on Amazon in time for Mental Health Awareness Week. It was promoted during that week by Anxiety UK, Bipolar UK, International Bipolar Foundation, Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Sane, Rethink, Relate, Time to Change, YoungMinds. Claudia Hammond from BBC Radio 4 also tweeted its presence on Amazon. They were all able to advertise the narrative when it was free.

I'd like to work towards promoting it for World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2014. One way would be to find translators so it could be read worldwide.

The narrative is for anyone who supports someone with a mental health problem and those who experience such difficulties. It was described by the Director of Operations at IBF as "a wonderfully unique perspective" as it does not judge or blame any aspect of being ill and shows a journey towards recovery which doesn't shy away from living daily with a mental health condition.

The narrative has taken me 20 years. I don't think there is another piece to follow but I may be wrong. The journey I'd like to take is to help people through illness and into work. Against all odds I am a special needs teacher and I love my work. I don't have experience or contacts in publishing or marketing, nor do I have funds to publish the narrative alone.

Please would you offer some guidance about how to move forwards with the story. It's called The Flight of the Bumblebee by C. C. Neish.

Yours, Catherine

Chris Fielden
Catherine, it sounds like you've already had a good amount of success with your eBook - having all those institutions promoting it is really positive, so congratulations.

I'm not sure I can help with this, as I don't have the right kind of contacts. Most of my contacts run writing competitions and writing websites - they aren't publishing companies. It might be worth investing in the latest Writers' & Artists' Yearbook as that will contain up-to-date contact information about many different publishers.

Sorry I can't be of more help. Best of luck with the book and please let me know how you get on with publishing it :-)

Bruce G
I have written a fictional story. It comes to about 50 pages. It is basically a novelette.   Which magazine would most likely accept my story?   Much appreciated if you can suggest one.

Chris Fielden
Bruce, I'm afraid you'll have to undertake some research and read magazines' submission criteria and see which is most appropriate for your work.

I list a lot of magazine opportunities on my short story magazines page, so that's a good place to start.

Best of luck with getting your story published :-)

Anton A
Dear Chris, great website.

I have written a story about a dog who wants to fly and finally gets his wish. It could be a magic realist story for adults or a simplified a tale for kids - the message is diversity and daring to dream. Theres are two competitions I'm thinking of. One, the Katherine Mansfield, which, if I win, will get me noticed, or with alterations the Dutch Diversity Prize mentioned on your page. I hope I don't sound too cocky, it's my best work so far and I've won a haiku prize and got a bit of poetry published, but I had to quit my job because of pd so I'm looking for another career.

Chris Fielden
Anton, that sounds great. Let me know how you get on with the competitions!

Best of luck with getting your story published :-)

Lyn P
Hi Chris, great to find your website. Really pleased to find a website about writing that doesn't takes itself too seriously! At the same time though, you have a lot of good advice. Looking forward to entering your next competition.

Chris Fielden
Thanks very much Lyn - I'll look forward to reading your entry :-)

Tyvan J
Hi Chris, I too have decided to go with the Amazon route, but want to publish a few short stories first before unleashing my series on the world...

I was thinking about offering my first short story for free to get some exposure, and then start charging for my second and so on.

I guess my genre could be called Supernatural Fiction...

Allie L
Chris, really appreciate the word lengths printed above. This tells me that I have either a short story or a novelette (8,500 words).  I would love to find a home for my ms, however, I haven't found a publication that will look at anything of this length. I'm surprised by how short the word cut-offs are. Any suggestions?

Chris Fielden
Tyvan, that's great, best of luck with publishing your work"

Allie, try looking through my short story magazines list. Competitions usually have shorter word-count limitations, but magazines do sometimes consider longer works.

Hope that's helpful!

Subroto S
Hello Christopher, I have submitted a novel of 40,000 words, which was the minimum prescribed for the competition.  If I want to get it published, is it better to get short excerpts of the fiction story published in some magazines?  The fiction story is a thriller.  Which magazine would you suggest?

Awaiting your guidance. Thanks, Subroto

Chris Fielden
Hi Subroto, you could try, although many publishers prefer that writers submit previously unpublished work, so it will depend on who you are approaching with your book and what they say in their submission guidelines.

Some magazines will consider publishing novel excerpts, but not all. You'll have to do some research and see which ones do and don't, and which ones a thriller might appeal to. I'm afraid I can't really advise as it is dependent on your style of writing and what each magazine is looking for.

The other thing you could consider doing is using the characters in the story to write a short story and tailor it towards the magazines you're considering submitting to. That way, your novel remains unpublished, but you have work in a similar style and using the main characters published, which will look good on your writing CV.

I hope that's helpful, and best of luck with getting your work published.

Kathy P
I have written numerous short stories, articles and poems. I am currently writing a book. I was wondering if the short stories that I have written for the Lancashire Evening Post would be of interest to you. Their word limit is 1,500 words, so they are quite short. I have a wealth of articles, which I have written about Eating Disorders as I am currently suffering from anorexia. Again, I am unsure whether or not they would fulfil any writing competition criteria. I look forward to hearing from you. I just love to write.

Chris Fielden
Kathy, I'm afraid I'm not currently publishing any stories from other writers other than through my short story competition. You can find details here.

There are some non-fiction competitions that might accept your articles, so it might be worth researching that on Google.

Hope that's helpful and best of luck with your writing.

Dean J
Hi.  I'm working on a collection of short stories, of which ten of the stories have been completed.  I'm aiming for fifteen, and at this stage I'm looking for a publisher.  My work includes a number of allegorical works and humorous stories.  Can anybody recommend a good contact?

Chris Fielden
Dean, sorry, I don't know of any. The best bet is to check out the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook and do some research that way.

David B
Hi Chris, I have been writing a Science Fiction story since Feb 2014. It's been a bit hit and miss but I'm up to 36K words and it's not finished yet. However, I am now getting to the point of thinking how do I get it published.  I've seen Amazon's site but I'm still not sure of what I need to send to them or anything like that (total novice). Have you any suggestions, or advise?

PS do I need a cover illustration?

Chris Fielden
David, if you look at the Amazon Novel Award submission guidelines they will tell you exactly what you need to do. Generally, most publishers will expect to read a finished novel if they like your initial submission. There are exceptions to this rule, so you will have to research each individual publishers' / competitions' submission criteria, but that is generally the case. So I'd advise that you finish the book before submitting.

You do not need to have a cover prepared for your book (unless you intend to self-publish) - it's the story that matters.

You could also check out my book and novel competition list - there are lots of opportunities listed there. Best of luck with finishing your book!

Marie A
Hi Chris, I'm from the Philippines and the publishing industry isn't exactly very supportive of writers. I've tried submitting my manuscript (roughly 40k words) to some agents in the US and London and I have received some replies that said that it did get their attention. But I'm afraid that distance may also have stopped them from even considering me. Do you have any advice? Thanks, by the way. The website is really very helpful. Thanks again in advance :)

Chris Fielden
Hi Marie, I don't think it matters where you live in the world - if a publisher likes your work they'll publish it! The key is not giving up. Rejection is just part of the job. Each time you receive a rejection, reread your work, improve it where possible and then send it out again. That's how I do it. Sometimes my stories are rejected many times before they are published.

I hope that helps you. Best of luck with finding a publisher for your work :-)

Marie A
Chris! I received your reply and I would like to thank you for your time and effort. It really means a lot to me especially coming from you. What you said really helped me to be more hopeful and to just keep on working hard until I get that yes that I've been waiting for.

Thanks again!

Holly K
Christopher, this information on story length classification is really useful. 

I haven't been writing long but a friend suggested I try for the Open Lines comp on Radio 4 but I have ended up with a much longer story than their guidelines suggest. I don't know whether I should chop it to bits, enter part of it as a stand alone or enter it somewhere else and send in something different.  Any tips gratefully received.

Chris Fielden
Holly, this is a common problem! Sometimes, an idea turns into a longer story than you anticipated. In these circumstances, I usually enter the longer piece elsewhere and write something new to the required word length. But if you feel the piece could work as a shorter story, then chop it back. There's a bit of trial and error involved, but you'll soon get used to what works for you.

Hope that's helpful and best of luck with the Radio 4 competition :-)

Holly K
Thanks Chris, have done just that... only I feel a bit cheeky sending something in that is so speedily written. Happy with it though.

Thanks for the advice and Happy writing!

Chris Fielden
Welcome Holly :-)

Good luck!

Srijaya N C
I have written a short story of around 4,000 words which you can call a novella. It is a women oriented story set in an Indian background.

The title is : "Aren't we a family"

Should I send the manuscript to you?

Chris Fielden
Srijaya, I don't publish other writers' stories, except through my short story competition. If you want to enter that, you will have to pay the entry fee.

I wish you the best of luck with getting your work published.

Herb H
I have written a children's book about how trucks fit into the intermodal system of interstate commerce. I have spent the last 30 years in the industry, so my perspective is my strength. I have submitted the manuscript to about 8 publishers with strong interest but no bites. Any suggestion on who I can focus on to tell my story? My option is to self-publish and use my connections in the national truck stop directory to market the book at their location. Long haul truckers are the audience. It is mainly a picture book with sound bites of truck horns, train whistles, boat whistles and plane propeller noises. Any suggestions?

Second message: I've written a short story; 1,500 words. It is an adult subject but not vulgar. Mostly humorous accounting of my freshman year in high school and my relationship with the class tease.

Any suggestions where  I might send for publication? Thanks twice.

Chris Fielden
Hi Herb, I'm afraid I have no experience of the trucking industry so can't help there. The best bet is to invest in the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook as they have up-to-date publisher information that is likely to help you research the best market. Failing that you could self-publish through Create Space or Lulu or something like that.

Regarding your short story, there are loads of opportunities listed on my website on the Short Story Competitions page and the Short Story Magazine page. A little research there should give you plenty of opportunities. I also run a humorous short story competition too, so that might be appropriate.

I wish you the best of luck with getting your work published.

Brian P B
Your lists and comments are by far and away the most useful that I have come across in more than just a little bit of research in trying to find one,  just one site that I can consistently go to and know that they first care and second put the research and effort into something that is worthwhile as well as helpful.

For that my friend,  I thank you.

Chris Fielden
Thanks so much, Brian. I'm very pleased to hear you like the site and find it useful - always great to hear :-)

Chris, I have written my first novelette and I will be writing another one to add to it before I try to publish them. My complete one is a little over 13,000 words and I know the rule of thumb is to put two or three together in a book format before you publish.

I have also started writing short stories now. They average to about 1,500 words each. What I would like to know is how many short stories would I need before I can publish them in a book for Amazon on Kindle? Or is it the word count that I should be considering? I would like to get a baseline to work from, so any advice given, will be appreciated.

Thank you.

Chris Fielden
Chantiele, congrats on finishing your novelette - that's a great achievement :-)

There is no rule really. Most readers would expect 10 or 15 stories at least, I guess, to regard it as a collection. The shortest collection I've ever submitted to a publisher was 15 stories and was over 40,000 words (40K was their minimum requirement).

If you're self-publishing, you just need to do what feels right for your writing and the collection as a whole. And then maybe price it cheaper if it ends up being short.

I hope that's helpful.

Aidan D
I have written a novelette and would like to see if it is publishable. It is a historical work of non-fiction that involves my family. How would I go about submitting this? I would appreciate any advice that I could get. Thank you.

Chris Fielden
Aidan, you would have to research publishing opportunities. It will depend how long your story is, but some magazines might accept a novelette - sometimes they serialise longer stories. Or you'd have to approach publishers. The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook is a good place to start.

Let me know if you have any other questions :-)

Joseph P
Hi! In July of this year I'll be a 93-year-old codger. I am a retired businessman who, upon retiring at age 75, got restless and went back to school and participated in a few creative courses. At age 80 I wrote my memoir, then in 2006 I wrote a romance novel and followed it up with a sequel in 2008. I self-published all three books and sold several hundred copies of each without doing any significant promotions.

I no longer want to write novels but from time to time I get involved in writing flash fiction and short stories. Would you be interested is publishing some of them?

Chris Fielden
Joseph, I'm afraid I don't publish other writer's work, except through my short story competition which you would have to enter.

Congratulations on your novels! And I wish you the best of luck with getting your short stories published.

Gayle C
Hi Chris, I have been wanting to write for as long as I can remember but have always worried about keeping ownership of my work so have never approached anyone about publishing it. Can you give a brief overview of what happens, sort of how to keep the writing as your own? I would like to think my stuff was good enough to publish but dont want to submit it to find it had been used by someone else. Thank you.

Chris Fielden
Gayle, as soon as you write a piece of fiction, you own the copyright as the creator. You will have the original files and can prove you submitted your work to a magazine by keeping emails or proof of postage. You can learn a lot more about Copyright on Wikipedia.

I really wouldn't worry about anyone stealing your work - the likelihood is miniscule. I've been submitting stories for years and have never encountered any problems.

I hope that puts your mind at rest, but let me know if you have any other questions.

Gayle C
Thank you, Chris, this has always worried me. I once submitted a piece to a children's magazine then thought I saw bits of my story in others that were printed. Never did hear back from them.

Thanks once again.

Chris Fielden
Sorry to hear that, Gayle. If they did use your work without permission, you should probably take legal advice as they should pay you for it!

Gayle C
Hi Chris, long time ago now and it just put me off, but am looking at finding a publisher for small stories. Thank you for the advice. Am trawling through my papers, (I don't throw anything away!) and have just finished your book. I enjoyed it very much and was genuinely surprised by the end.

I must admit to reading a good crime novel every now and then and this one was quite a well hatched plot! Waiting for your next, best regards Gayle

Chris Fielden
Fabulous – it’s always nice to hear someone enjoyed Wicked Game – thanks for letting me know :-)

All the best with getting your work published!

Neil E
Been writing stuff mostly screenplays and short stories for twenty years or so. Need to get it out there how do I go about it Ta!

Chris Fielden
Hi Neil, the best bet is to start submitting to magazines and competitions. You can research markets on these pages:

Hope that helps!

Irish B
Hi Chris, why is it that in literature short stories are long sometimes?

Chris Fielden
I guess the term 'short story' is open to interpretation... :-)