Five Tips for Short-Story Success: A Guest Post by Judy Penz Sheluk

Join me in welcoming Judy Penz Sheluk to Miss Demeanors!

Judy is a former journalist and magazine editor and the bestselling author of two mystery series, several short stories, and two books on publishing. She is also the publisher and editor of four Superior Shores Anthologies. The latest, Larceny & Last Chances, will be available June 18.

I met Judy through Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters in Crime, and was interested to learn that her Glass Dolphin mystery series (like mine) features an antiques dealer. You can find out more about Judy and her writing at

Today Judy shares some wise advice from her long experience with the short-story genre.


Five Tips for Short Story Success

by Judy Penz Sheluk

As the editor and publisher of four anthologies published under the Superior Shores Press (SSP) imprint, I’ve read about 340 short stories. Of those, I’ve accepted 80. Which means three out of four submissions didn’t make the cut. That doesn’t mean the stories rejected weren’t good. Most were, and there are several factors that impact the final decision, often outside of the author’s control.

Or are they? Many collections are theme-based. That’s certainly the case with the SSP anthologies, which include The Best Laid Plans; Heartbreaks & Half-truths; Moonlight & Misadventure; and this year’s entry, Larceny & Last Chances. Let’s drill down a bit further:

Tip 1: Dismiss Your First Idea

 Find a unique way to represent the theme, emphasis on the unique. For Moonlight & Misadventure, multiple authors wrote about werewolves or the full moon making someone go mad. If it’s your first idea, it’s probably someone else’s. And no matter how great your story is, only one werewolf is going to make it in the collection (in my case, none, since I really don’t get werewolves…but that’s another story).

Tip 2: Stick to the Word Count

Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many authors push that envelope, thinking a few words more or less won’t matter. Some publishers are flexible (to a point). Others will reject a story that doesn’t meet the word count. Why chance it?

Tip 3: The 10% Rule

If your story comes in at 3,000 words, chances are you can cut 10% or 300 words, and by doing so, you’ll usually end up with a stronger entry. Ditch the backstory. Kill off unnecessary characters who do nothing to move the plot along. In a short story, pacing is everything. In other words, be your own editor and be merciless.

Tip 4: Hook Me from the Get-Go

First lines, first paragraphs…they’re as important in short stories as they are in novels. Maybe more so. Here’s a first line from the first story in Larceny & Last Chances (“Hail Mary Blues” by Susan Daly):

I stood in the spacious upper gallery of the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s new wing and tried not to weep.

The minute I read that I wanted to know who “I” was and why she was trying not to weep. In other words, it hooked me from the get-go.

Tip 5: A Satisfying Ending

That doesn’t mean it has to be a happy ending…it doesn’t even have to be a twisty ending. But it can’t leave the reader feeling cheated. In fact, I’ve accepted stories, knowing they’d need a fair bit of editing, simply because I loved the ending.

Larceny & Last Chances: 22 Stories of Mystery & Suspense

Edited by Judy Penz Sheluk

Publication Date: June 18, 2024

Sometimes it’s about doing the right thing. Sometimes it’s about getting even. Sometimes it’s about taking what you think you deserve. And sometimes, it’s your last, best, hope. Edited by Judy Penz Sheluk and featuring stories by Christina Boufis, John Bukowski, Brenda Chapman, Susan Daly, Wil A. Emerson, Tracy Falenwolfe, Kate Fellowes, Molly Wills Fraser, Gina X. Grant, Karen Grose, Wendy Harrison, Julie Hastrup, Larry M. Keeton, Charlie Kondek, Edward Lodi, Bethany Maines, Gregory Meece, Cate Moyle, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Kevin R. Tipple, and Robert Weibezahl.


  1. This is great advice, Judy! Thank you. (I’ve never tried t write a werewolf story, but now I’m wondering…)

  2. Thank you, Judy! I’ve recently started writing short stories (although mine aren’t short-short. Your five tips are very welcome! Thanks for stopping by Miss Demeanors.

    1. Thanks for having my Connie. And there is always a great need for novellas. Maybe you have a novel that isn’t quite long enough…with some ruthless editing, it could become a novella!

  3. Thank you, Judy! I’ve recently started writing short stories (although mine aren’t short-short). Your five tips are very welcome! Thanks for stopping by Miss Demeanors.

  4. These are really useful tips, Judy! Thank you for visiting us. I’d love to know if you noticed any other trends (other than werewolves). What’s bubbling up in the collective subconscious nowadays?

    1. Hi Emilya,
      No visible trends, at least in the stories I received, though for this theme I received a lot with a jewelry heist angle. There are a couple of stories with jewelry, but no heists. Again, the jewelry heist might be an example of “first thought.”

  5. Those are great tips. And LARCENY AND LAST CHANCES has quite a line-up. Smiling because I see several friends on there.

  6. All sound recommendations, Judy. I find stories far more difficult than the expanse of a novel and am always looking for tips!
    This anthology looks grand~

  7. All great tips, but my fav is #1. The top of the trifle is something EVERYone see’s; it’s only when you dig your spoon down deeper, do you get to the jammy bits!

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