books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why You Should be Writing Short Fiction

Update: I'm so pleased this post has had thousands of hits over the last year and is energizing so many writers to take up short fiction. But I fear a number of readers don't read the whole piece and assume I'm telling newbie writers to self-publish their first efforts at story-writing. 

Please don't do this. 

Here's what I say further down in the piece. "I’m NOT advocating that new writers self-publish your fledgling short fiction. A few self-pubbed singles by a brand new writer won’t get anybody’s attention. (And they may embarrass your future self.) To succeed in publishing—whether self- or traditional, you really need to put in your 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours."

Seriously. Reviewers can be brutal. Don't put yourself through that. Learn to write first. It's way harder than it looks. Take classes. Get critiques. Fail miserably and try again. It's what we all do. 

You don't expect to play in a major tournament the first time you pick up a golf club and you don't drive in a NASCAR race the day you get your learner's permit. Give yourself some time to fail in private. Failure is how we learn, but we don't need to do it in the public marketplace. 

What—short stories? Aren’t they just for writing classes? Why would I waste time on stuff that doesn’t pay?

Because it does. And this isn’t an April Fool joke.

Last week Amazon announced it has sold over two million “Singles” ebooks since the launch of their Singles program a little over a year ago. Yeah. 2 MILLION.

The short stories sell for between $. 99 and $1.99 and the authors keep a 70% royalty. Many of the top sellers are by name authors, like Lee Child, Stephen King, and Jodi Picoult, but others are by unknowns, according to Kindle Singles editor David Blum.  (The 70% royalty is only for official Kindle Singles. If you self-pub, anything sold under $2.99 gets a 35% royalty.) 

But this is where you should be doing a happy dance and shouting from the rooftops: THE SHORT STORY IS BACK! This is nothing but good news for authors no matter where you are in your career.

After three or four decades of evaporating markets, the short story has found a new home in the ebook.

OK, we’re not reliving the halcyon days of the mid-20th century when short fiction in weeklies like The Saturday Evening Post paid more than the average book advance does today. But short fiction fits the ADD-attention-span lifestyle of the E-age, and people are willing to pay for it. (Which is yet another reason NOT to give away your fiction on your blog.

I think it’s time for all fiction writers to start re-thinking the short form. Personally, I know I haven’t spent enough time on it. During the decade I spent writing and re-writing my “practice novel” I could have been building an inventory of short pieces that would be a gold mine now.

Unfortunately, most novice writers I know are still doing the same stuff I did. They’re putting all their energy into book-length fiction or memoir and not bothering with short pieces, except maybe for a flash fiction contest or special event.

In fact, I visited a critique group not long ago where one writer complimented another with the misguided advice that he shouldn’t “waste” his crisp little story—he should turn it into a novel.

In other words, she was telling the writer that instead of sending a 10,000 word short story to Amazon to sell for 99 cents, he should spend two years turning it into a 100,000 word novel, which he could sell on Amazon for…um, 99 cents. (OK, not all self-pubbed ebooks are priced that low, but even at $4.99, the bottom line news isn’t good for the author. Especially if he puts money into editing and design.)

Of course, back in the Jurassic days when I started writing, that critiquer’s advice would have been perfectly sound. In the 1990s, most magazines had stopped publishing fiction and short stories had all but disappeared from the publishing world. Mega bookstores were in their heyday: book-length fiction was happening.

So aspiring authors were told to keep our eyes on the big prize and put our energy into churning out novels in the popular genres like chick lit, cozy mysteries, and family sagas.

I’ve amassed quite a collection of half-finished books in those genres—all sadly out of fashion now. But if I had been writing short stories instead, I could be raking in the dough. (Not that any time spent writing is wasted. Everything we write improves our craft.)

But I didn’t feel drawn to writing short stories. I write genre fiction. Back then, short stories were expected to be literary. Yes, there were still some paying gigs for genre stories in super-competitive markets like Women's World, Asimov’s and Ellery Queen.

But mostly we were urged to write enigmatic tales of suburban angst and send them off to collect rejection slips from literary journals with a circulation of 26 and names like Wine-Dark Snowflakes of the Soul, or The Southeastern Idaho Pocatello Community Colleges North Campus Literary Review. All with the hopes we’d finally be rewarded with publication and payment of one free copy.

But ebooks have changed all that. Not just because of Kindle Singles. Short story anthologies are springing up all over. They don’t all pay, but if you can get a story into an anthology with some well-known authors in your genre, you’ll be paid in publicity that would be hard to buy at any price.

I’ve been offered a number of opportunities to publish fiction in anthologies this year that have really paid off. The Saffina Desforges Coffee Collection reached #1 on the anthology bestseller list as soon as it was released last December, and the Indie Chicks Anthology (which sent its profits to charity) has been a steady seller for six months—and now that it’s free it’s topping a whole lot of lists. Plus I look forward to having a story in the rom-com Martini Madness anthology coming next winter with the fabulous ladies from WG2E .  

I’m not advising anybody to ditch that magnum opus—most novel writers get frustrated when forced to write exclusively in the short form. But I’m saying it makes sense to put an equal amount of energy into shorter pieces.

Instead of putting every idea that illuminates your brain into your novel, give a few of them a spin in short stories first.

A few months ago on this blog, legendary mystery author Lawrence Block wrote about his success with self-publishing his inventory of short stories, and a few months before, Sci-Fi bestseller Jeff Carlson wrote about his success self-publishing a novella. It shot to number one in SciFi with no help from his agent or Big Six publisher.

But you don’t have to be accepted at Kindle Singles or have a famous name to benefit from publishing short-form ebooks. Consider the following things I heard this week:

1) A bestselling author decided to put some of her old stories on Amazon. As an experiment, she didn’t use her famous name. She told me she made about $500 on them last month. These were works she was told “had absolutely no commercial value.” But she put them out there, “in case someone was interested.” It seems they were—because “in spite of absolutely no promo...people are finding them and buying them.”

2) An indie writer wrote me with this advice: “unless you have a break-out success with a novel, [the short story] is probably more lucrative as a return on time invested. I can make as much per sale on a ten page short story as on a 120,000 word novel.” And I know many indies who use a short piece as a free download to introduce readers to their work.

3) My editor wrote that one of his authors recently self-published a short piece she wrote on a plane and “writing, formatting, cover, etc. took less than a day.” It got 6500 downloads in the first week. 

So the magic formula for writers right now might be “less is more.”

I do want to stress that the above writers are all successful, published novelists with hard-earned expertise in their craft.

So I’m NOT advocating that new writers self-publish your fledgling short fiction. A few self-pubbed singles by a brand new writer won’t get anybody’s attention. (And they may embarrass your future self.)

To succeed in publishing—whether self- or traditional, you really need to put in your 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours.

But you can maximize your efforts by putting more of those hours writing short fiction. When it’s time to make your professional debut, you’re going to have some serious inventory.

If you’re still unconvinced, consider that short fiction is much easier to adapt for the screen than novels. The following films began as short stories: A View to a Kill; The Birds; Breakfast at Tiffany's; Brokeback Mountain; Children of the Corn; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; The Dead; Don Juan DeMarco; Don't Look Now; Double Indemnity. (And that’s just from the A-D list on Wikipedia.)

The best thing is that while you're getting yourself established, you don’t have to keep those stories in a drawer. One of the great things about short fiction is that it’s re-usable. Most zines and journals only ask for first rights (And be very careful with the ones who want more.)

Gone are the days when those obscure college literary journals were the only game in town. New zines are springing up all the time, and there are contests everywhere online—some even have cash prizes. (I suggest subscribing to C. Hope Clark’s newsletter, Funds for Writers for vetted info on contests.)

Contest wins and credits for a few stories published in some good online zines look very nice in a query letter or bio, too.

So forget the so-last-millennium advice to concentrate on novels. Polish those short pieces and prepare yourself for a 21st century audience.

If, like me, you can’t kick your book-writing habit, try writing a short piece about a secondary character in your WIP. It’s a great exercise for exploring your character’s backstory, and once your novel is published, it can benefit you in lots of ways:

  • It could make you a nice chunk of change as an e-single.

  • It might go into an anthology where it could get you new readers.

  • You can offer it as a free download for some inexpensive publicity.

  • Hollywood might come calling. (Hey, you never know...)

Even if you’re unpublished and have a long way to go before you publish your first novel, I suggest taking time to work on some stories and build your inventory. And I recommend you enter a few contests and submit to those zines. You might just win something.

“Award-winning writer” has a nicer sound than “unpublished novelist,” doesn’t it?

********

What about you, scriveners? Do you write short fiction? Have any of you had success with singles? We’d love to hear about it.

INDIE CHICK FANS: The Indie Chicks Anthology is now FREE and topping the freebie charts in memoir and fiction anthologies. And Indie Chicks are going places! Lizzy Ford just gota great review in USA Today , and Shea McLeod just signed a three book deal with Amazon’s new romance imprint, Montlake. You can read this week’s inspirational piece from YA author Julia Crane is here.

Ruth Harris is guesting at Romance University this week. Check out her great post on what makes a hero sexy .

67 comments:

  1. WOW!! I may need to rethink my attitude on short stories. Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It occurred to me to focus my effort on short stories when I noticed that readers would respond to very short--usually witty pieces--paragraphs that I would publish at a writers' site. I don't think anyone expect individuals I asked to read and critique ever read my short stories. That's when it occurred to me that attention span has really sunk. Aldo, it takes less time to produce a good short story than a novel.

      Delete
    2. mstrunorth--Short is definitely the new long. Attention spans are shrinking. Even novels are getting shorter and the novella may be the new sweet spot.

      Delete
  2. Great post, Anne. :) I agree that short stories are now a viable - even profitable - writing form to spend time on now. Though since nobody (that I read, anyway) was blogging about it like you are, I stumbled upon that discovery by accident.

    Sometimes I get story ideas that really grip me but just aren't suitable for full-length or even novella-length projects. So I write them at their natural length as short stories. After writing a couple mini-romances, I decided to make them available as free reads in order to (hopefully) attract new readers. Well, it worked. It worked like crazy with my short story 'Party Girl'. It worked so well that I felt guilty that I was charging 99 cents for it on Amazon (because you can't choose to make a book free on Amazon - it's not an option) while thousands of readers were downloading it for free from all other venues. Plus, honestly, it was much more popular than I ever expected the fun little 11,000 word story to be. It even got some great reviews from some of Amazons top reviewers. So I deliberated and decided to make it 99 cents across all venues. Since, I've sold thousands. All from a project that I never expected to make anything (directly) from. It even topped the contemporary romance chart on Apple. Talk about a suprise!

    I still offer some shorts for free, though, and I'll probably publish both more free and paid shorts in the future, though I spend most of my time working on novel and novella-length fiction.

    Of course, I have had some of those 'why are you wasting your story' comments, but I think Party Girl's sales prove that there are many readers interested in reading short fiction. :)

    One small thing I'd like to point out though - on Amazon, writers don't actually get a 70% royalty on short stories. Amazon only pays 35% royalties on anything priced below $2.99 (which the majority of short stories are).

    ReplyDelete
  3. James--Glad I'm helping change your mind. It takes some doint--my muse works in long form, but it's worth it to try.

    Ranae--Thanks SO much for being an example of how successful short stories can be! Great success story!

    I should clarify that the 70% is only for official Kindle Singles--not ordinary self-pubbed shorts. You have to sell at $2.99 for the 70% royalty otherwise.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very interesting post, Anne. Back in the day all I wrote was short stories. This might be an option I could explore. Another example of how the new world of publishing is changing for the good.

    I loved my Sunday surprise. Thanks to both you and Ruth. I look foward to getting my copy of her thriller HOOKED :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anne, thanks you for a great post with lots of new-to-me info. I started out writing an article a week for the men's magazines back when that was a reliable market. I need to get my short focus back in gear for sure!

    Just one caveat, your post reminds of of the writer (I'm pretty sure he was a Brit, someone like Somerset Maugham or of that ilk) who wrote a longish letter to a friend. He began: "I'd make this a short note but I don't have the time—"

    Just a reminder that short isn't necessarily fast — or easy. After all, with fewer words, every word has to count!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow, Anne...just WOW. I was thinking along these very lines the last few days. In fact, instead of writing a huge new Tarot book, I've decided to release an eBook for EACH Tarot card (78 total)...and THE FOOL debuted on Amazon today.

    I've been working on a novel, but REALLY wanting to explore short stories. OMG, did I CRACK UP at your fake literary journals! It seemed so daunting and intimidating to submit short stories to them and, frankly, it felt like little pay-off (other than some fiction cred).

    And I NEVER thought of writing short stories about my peripheral (and very colorful) minor characters! Honey, you have NO IDEA what your post has done for me in both inspiration and sanity saving (I thought maybe I was nuts for considering writing short stories and posting them directly to Kindle. I mean, just LAST NIGHT I mentioned this very idea to my husband!)

    And get this: I just got my royalty deposit from Amazon for my 9 self-published Kindle titles. I earned over $400. And I don't really publicize them! One of them sells 12 copies a day. Which then got my wheels turning about publishing shorter eBooks for EVERY Tarot card, rather than yet another huge tome. It makes learning Tarot much easier for the time-crunched, too (which includes 99% of us).

    Oh, and one more thing: I've made more from Amazon Kindle royalties the last three MONTHS than for my traditionally published book from 2008 (including my advance).

    Viva la revolucion! (And THANK YOU for being such a godsend).

    ReplyDelete
  7. Okay...this is interesting...Friday I sat down to work on editing my YA novel and just couldn't get into it so I started perusing some of my short stories. I have a couple dozen I've written at different times in my life. Some of them are pretty darn good and some others could be made to be pretty darn good. I wondered, as I read, what I might ever do with them. Well... Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  8. All sorts of wheels are turning in my brain now. Thank you so much for this Anne!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I love this advice. I wrote 5 short stories starring the mom of my YA novel. Not only did it help me understand her character and her backstory more clearly, it also helped me develop a secondary character. And now I have 5 shorts to help promote my novel.

    After writing them, I found I loved this form and plan to write more while writing book 2. So many ideas too little time. Writing short stories is the perfect way to see what I'm most excited about and test the market before writing a novel.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Florence—Congrats! And yeah—go haul out those old stories. That’s what I’m doing. Most of mine are a little lame, but some might just work with a little polish.

    Ruth—Your archives should be a gold mine!

    Janet—I’m so glad this resonated with you! Sounds like you’ve got some great plans. Glad I helped you make a decision. This definitely works for short nonfic pieces, too. How many times have you bought a $3-$5 magazine to read one article?

    Christine—Get out the old stories and read them to your critique group as soon as you finish this YA book!

    Sarah—Hey, it’s worth a try, right?

    Laura—Those should be fantastic for publicity for the YA novel!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anne, this is terrific news for all of us. As you know, I've been publishing mostly flash fiction and short stories around the 3-5K word mark and succeeding pretty well in online venues and lit journals. Thank God for newpages.com. BTW it's a terrific source for short story writers. I'd never thought of Kindle Singles until you mentioned it in this post, but now I have another market to work on. Thank you. Glad also to know there's a growing market for short stories as I thought I'd have to shift to writing longer works: novellas or novels, which really aren't my form or at this point, my interest.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Mindprinter--this is a great time for masters of the short form like you. (Didn't mean to put down Mindprints when I was joking about those obscure literary journals. Yours was a major one--made WD top markets many years in a row as I remember.)

    BTW, congrats on getting a story and a poem in two newspapers this week! You are one of the people who should definitely be submitting to Kindle Singles. They take 6% of submissions, which is much better odds than, say the New Yorker, which takes about .000001% of submissions. Check out the link to David Blum's interview for guidelines.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This post makes me feel a lot better about my short story work. I do want to write novels, and I'm working on revising a manuscript, but I can't help getting ideas for short stories and writing them in the meantime. When I first began to think of publication, I put in some pretty depressing hours combing the Writers' Market guide for magazines that weren't hopelessly "highbrow" or "experimental", and actually paid something. I didn't get many results. It's such a relief to see that there's this new market available now.

    By the way, that Wikipedia list of film adaptations is missing a lot! Where's "Three-Ten to Yuma" by Elmore Leonard or "Stage to Lordsburg" by Ernest Haycox (Stagecoach)? Since they seem to be including collections too, there's Jessamyn West's The Friendly Persuasion...well, I had better stop there, but somebody ought to update that page. :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. I love short stories, so I'd love to see more viable options for them, or for them to rise in prominence.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Dearest Miss Allen,
    Bravo! I am a huge fan of the short story (both as a reader & writer). I will definitely look into the Amazonian possibilities.
    Thanks for another great post.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks for your post, Anne. It's most encouraging. Nice to know that the short story isn't dead.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I have to bookmark this one. Such a wealth of information in one post. You are amazing. I'm sure glad now that I've started writing a few short stories while polishing the big one.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Love this post! And you've just inspired me to do more spin-off short fiction. (I've already done one short prequel story) :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Great post. Thanks for the advice, Anne.
    I've worked on (super-)short stories since I was a kid, and still dabble in them here and there in between larger work (these days being screenplays and a few novels initiated). Interesting synchronicity in that a friend of mine had recently suggested I shouldn't wait until getting some bigger stuff finished to seek out publication, but that I should instead look at such viability within my backlog of material. A quick check confirmed a notch under 300 stories on file.
    This leads to the question, however: what prospective publication approach would you suggest for sub-2500-word stories (which most of these tend to be)? Surely I couldn't sell each individually if folks are selling 10,000 word pieces for $0.99, so would a collection adding up to about the same amount work, or what would your research suggest?
    I've got a few minor contest awards for my short fiction -- perhaps entering contests to get my name better known before sending anything off for e-pubbing would be a better next step?

    ReplyDelete
  20. I love short stories, and have been writing them for the last few years. They really help when I'm stuck in the middle of a novel (like now) and can come up with an interesting occupation for a minor character, like you say.

    They are also my fastest growing market share of all the books I have published. Over 2600 downloads across 3 titles last month. (Which might not be a lot to some but in my genre it's pretty good.)

    I wish I could write more but there are only 24 hours in a day.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I have a hard time writing short stories. I'm trying though. I recently read two short story collections from two of my favorite YA authors and really enjoyed them so that inspired me to try it again. I did enter a short story into an anthology contest. I don't know how that will turn out as I felt I chopped the ending off because I was watching the word count.
    I also read my first novellas by one other favorite YA author and loved them. I would also like to try one of those since they are longer.

    ReplyDelete
  22. It should be added that while the Singles program is predominantly fiction there are opportunities for non-fiction too, and that Apple and B&N also have similar programs.

    The big "problem" for the Kindle singles submission is that there are very strict gatekeepers at the helm and a strict adherence to the three new pieces a week policy. While unknowns do get in the balance is clearly in favour of big names, hence the impressive sales figures.

    Spending serious money on a cover for a short story is a daunting prospect, but if you have confidence in your work and a following of some sort it wil probably pay off in time regardless of winning the Singles lottery.

    For our part we are using KDP Select to get short pieces launched and noticed, using the five free days, and then moving to all platforms after ninety days.

    So far so good.

    ReplyDelete
  23. God, I didn't even know such a thing as Kindle Singles existed. I've passed your blog link onto my writers group - absolutely brilliant post Anne, with great advice. Never would have thought my shorts would have potential!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I love both the novel and the short story forms, but for different reasons. I don't often work on them at the same time. They seem to take a different mind set and emotional predisposition. I am between novels now and the short story possibilities keep emerging so I know I will be writing new short ones soon. And now, in addition to personal pleasure, there might be coins attached to the activity? Oh my. Wonderful news.

    ReplyDelete
  25. If I can speak of personal experience, putting aside the novel project and starting to write short stories was the best decision I could take. Taught me so many things. Helped me master the mechanical aspects of writing, get to know and to work with some editors and I also learned to calibrate my inner censor for publication. Now I know when I'm writing something good and I know when I'm not. My latest short has been picked up by a college teacher for his modern short story class.

    Also, writing short stories I realized I did it for the pleasure of creation more than for status. Even if I didn' make money doing it, it still made sense. I'm back working longer projects now, but I still take one day a week to work on short stories!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Elizabeth—I so much relate to those “combing the Writer’s Digest” years. I also bought “Literary and Small Presses” directories at $30 a pop or whatever. I still have copies moldering away. The Wikipedia entry is odd. It only seems to be the beginning of a list—it ends with the “D’s”. That Elmore Leonard one is a great example.

    Hektor—I think they’re going nowhere but up, so keep building your inventory.

    CS—With your big backlist of stories published in name journals—I’d say you should start submitting to Kindle Singles right now!

    Diana—It seems to have hit a chord with a lot of writers. I think the market will continue to grow. Short fiction is ideal for iPhone reading.

    Yvonne—Keep working on them. Inventory is so important.
    Susan—The spinoff short is really popular—and a great giveaway for promos.

    Reay—I have the same problem. My stories tend to be very short (I used to enter a lot of flash fiction contests. I’m going to try an anthology—not book length, but maybe 5-10 stories. You might like to try that too. Don’t know if anybody’s done it, but why not be on the cutting edge?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Anne --

      Thanks for the feedback. I've just contacted Kindle Singles with a proposal for a collection of similarly themed (or genre) flash fiction stories to be sold as one Singles unit. I'll let you know what I hear back.

      All the best.

      Delete
  27. Anne—I’ve been watching your success with stories and novellas. Very smart marketing. They’re very much your brand and have those gorgeous covers. I’ve bought a couple and have them on my Kindle. But I haven’t got to read them yet: it’s those pesky 24 hour days—I hear you.

    Vera—I wrote novels exclusively for such a long time, it’s been hard to get back into thinking “short.” My novels tend to be “long cons” : shell games where I lay down clues so far in the past people are surprised when they become relevant (something I learned from reading Dickens) That doesn’t work in a short, so it’s hard for me, too.

    Mark—Thanks for this info! You’re right that short essays work too. Especially creative nonfic “memoric” essays. Definitely doing your own cover (as Lawrence Block did) makes it easier. If you have the talent, which I fear I don’t. Using KDP Select for your stories makes a lot of sense. Very useful suggestions.

    Emily—Glad to hear you’re working on those stories. I remember you had a bout of writers block a while ago, and I think facing a whole novel can do that to you. So much easier to tackle a dozen pages or so.

    Judith—They do require “different mindsets”—good way of putting it. It’s hard to go from one to the other, but I think between novels is a great time to work on shorts.

    Ben—I’ve watched your career take off with short stories. They can get you lots of exposure. And getting picked up by a college teacher for his modern short story class--that is seriously awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Great advice! Thank you for the stories, resources and encouragement. I am publishing shorts on my website and might just look into continuing on Amazon. Short Story Guy is really happy to see the short is up and alive.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I don't really think I can add anything to the comments other than - I know how you feel about writing short stories. It's hard for me to do. Unless it's a love story, in which case it's always short. Sounds like that could be a good thing.

    Not to mention short stories do make you work hard at saying what you want in as few words as possible. I should start writing more I think.

    :} Cathryn / Elorithryn

    ReplyDelete
  30. This makes me happy! I'd love to see some tips for a Kindle Single acceptance.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Have to say, I managed to get this same idea, without planning it out. I wrote several shorts a few years ago, that I'm hoping to publish either in a zine and then together in an anthology in epub, or just in epub. Either way, I'm working at editing them and getting them ready for publication, while also working on editing both of my novels. I'm glad to see that I'm on the right track.

    ReplyDelete
  32. SS Guy--Yeah-why give them away free on your website when you could be making money from them?

    Cathryn--It does exercise different writing muscles. That's why it's probably good to alternate.

    Nina B--I would too. Couldn't find anything. That Kindle Singles story last week was the first I'd heard of them, although obviously a lot of readers have known about them for a year.

    Kristy--Sounds like you're doing it just right: polishing your inventory so you'll have a whole lot of titles ready to go when something takes off.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I love reading and writing short stories, and I'm so pleased they are finally getting their due.
    Great post.
    Donna

    ReplyDelete
  34. Donna--It's heartening, isn't it?

    Reay--Fantastic! Let me know what you find out.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Anne - Interesting post! I have a few thoughts/questions, though. The author who got 6500 downloads in the first week - did she list her story for free or for a fee?

    Most people I know who've had success with Kindle singles aren't writing short stories - they're writing long-form journalism (à la Krakauer's Three Cups of Deceit). I'd happily pay $2.99 for a piece of writing that is that long and that well written (by a famous author no less), but I wonder what prompts people to spend money on short stories written by unknown writers.

    I wholeheartedly agree that memoirists and novel writers should try their hand at short stories, if nothing more than to enjoy the reward of seeing a work completed in a short amount of time. But I'm skeptical that people are going to make much money selling their short stories on Amazon.

    I think you said it well at the end of your post: "I do want to stress that the above writers are all successful, published novelists with hard-earned expertise in their craft.

    So I’m NOT advocating that new writers self-publish your fledgling short fiction. A few self-pubbed singles by a brand new writer won’t get anybody’s attention. (And they may embarrass your future self.)"

    ReplyDelete
  36. Meghan--Thanks for stressing that again. The Kindle Singles program is highly competitive (6% acceptance rate) and not many people are going to buy a single short story from an unknown, even if it's 99 cents. What I'm advocating is building inventory to have ready for the time when you have several books published.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I think you're correct, Anne. Short fiction is the "modern" form. Everyone is SO busy, always running/driving/flying here and there and everywhere.

    But Megan's right, too. Best not to jump on the self-publishing band wagon with short stories or novellas until you've become "known" as a published novelist or memoirist. I did put up my novella, and with a bit -- not enough yet -- effort on my part I AM getting some sales. But nothing to shout out about! There's just an incredible amount of competition out there, some of it good, some not so good, some bad (I never buy a book unless I can read a sample, and even then, sometimes it's not good).

    All very interesting. I just dropped by from the A to Z, which I'm not pushing myself too hard on as I had to hospitalize my disabled daughter last week in what used to be called the psychiatric ward. A story in the making here: My Journey with my daughter/ HER journey with disability.

    I hope you're having a good week!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

    ReplyDelete
  38. I have so many short story ideas bouncing around in my head and have received so many compliments on my short fiction (as well as a couple awards a few years back). I am ecstatic to see that it's not all just to "build up" for my novel. So many of my stories wow my readers and critique groups but are refused by the print magazines still out there. Now I'm thinking very long and hard about publishing them in e-form.

    Thank you, thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  39. Ann--I'm so sorry to hear about your daughter! You've had a hard road there.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with your novella. It looks as if when you're fairly new to the business, you need more promo to get shorter work noticed. And again I repeat--keep those shorts for inventory for after you've started your career. They aren't going to be a career-starter.

    Jessica--I think most authors are primarily short or long-form writers. If your medium is the short form, keep at it. Your debut book may be a collection. A few years ago, nobody could debut with a short story collection, but I think it's going to be happening more.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I love short fiction! Your post is music to my ears, or lotion to my cracked, old writer's hands. Exciting in any metaphor.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Fabulous. I love writing shorts. It's such a great thing to hear that they are making a comeback. Can't wait to polish them up and get them out there while I wait for my novel(s) to come together.

    ReplyDelete
  42. I attended a great presentation by Eric Witchey at the 2009(?) Willamette Writers Conference. He argued that short stories are not only a way to get published but also a way to increase your writing skill much faster than you can if you stick to writing novels.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Kelli--I totally relate to the cracked old hands. Just went to the dermatologist about them, sure I had some dire disease. "Dry skin" he said. "Moisturize." Duh.

    themidnight--Very wise. If you have a few dozen ready to go, once your novel is out there, you can start selling them. Basically you're building a "savings account"

    Jennifer--He was right. And now you might actually be able to make money out of them!

    ReplyDelete
  44. Can anyone recommend a few good 'how-to' books for writing short stories. I'm 3/4 the way through my second novel but I have a hard time with short stories. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  45. Cole--I got Catherine Ryan Hyde to ask her Tweeple for recommendations and here are a few: Ron Carlson Writes a Story, Burning down the House: Essays on Fiction, and this short but fantastic video from Kurt Vonnegut:

    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/04/03/kurt-vonnegut-on-writing-stories/

    ReplyDelete
  46. Hi, Anne --

    Heard back from Amazon about my proposal for a collection (and perhaps an ongoing series of collections) of flash fiction-length stories.
    They passed.
    The fools!
    *shrug*

    Onward and upward...

    ReplyDelete
  47. Reay--Did you submit a whole collection to Kindle Singles? That might be the problem. Kindle Singles is a separate imprint that just considers one short piece at a time. They only accept 6% of submissions.

    As far as submitting whole books to Amazon's own imprints like Thomas and Mercer--I don't think that can be done without an agent.

    If you self-pub a book, and it does really well, they may invite you to re-publish as an "Amazon Encore" publication.

    If you have a collection, I'd suggest publishing it yourself--either as a series of shorts, or one book (the better bet when you're starting out, because each cover will cost you quite a bit)

    If none of them have been previously published in magazines or won contests, you'll have a harder time with sales, so I suggest getting a few into the traditional system before self-pubbing the whole lot. Once you've self-published you'll never be able to get them into magazines or contests.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Anne --

      Yes, I'd pitched a collection, thinking that a sub-1000 word story wouldn't fly as well as a few stories that added up to the length that some short stories run. My thinking was a few flash-length stories of a set genre or theme at a time that have been collected together and sold as a unit...
      Clearly I didn't grasp the concept terribly well.

      As for your questions, I've gotten a couple of stories locally published (winning and placing in local newspaper contests) and one published in a charity fundraising collection, but nothing with larger contests (... yet).

      Thanks very much for the ideas.
      Keep up the great work!

      Delete
  48. Reay--Sorry if I steered you wrong there. But I'd say enter ever single flash-fic contest you can find and send out those stories everywhere! Once you've got a bunch of credits, you can self-publish your own anthology (or do it jointly with some other flash-fic writers)People will know the stories have been vetted, so they're much more likely to buy. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  49. An excellent piece, Anne. I honestly think short stories are going to start really taking off in the ebook world. Some writers are even harking back to the days of the serial, as a way of breaking up the novel into more palatable sizes.

    Anyway, thanks for allowing me to share this piece on my site.

    Best,
    Yamina Collins
    http://yaminatoday.com/

    ReplyDelete
  50. Yamina--You're so right. Short stories are perfect for our short-attention-span world. And I think the serial will make a comeback. Just don't publish it when you don't have an ending--write it first, then serialize. Speaking from experience here.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Very intriguing post. I do agree that short stories are in vogue. So much so that I engage in writing short stories myself and have a blog to this effect. You should take a look at it.
    http://sleeickstories.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
  52. Ann- Amazing post as always, I came from your most recent post.

    I was wondering do you know if there is min. and max word limit on amazon singles?

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Emily--I don't remember the link to the guidelines, but I think under 20,000 words is what I read somewhere. And I'd assume the minimum would be 2000 or so, since flash fiction would feel like kind of a rip-off.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Thanks Anne, I say you're right :)

    ReplyDelete
  55. I totally agree, this was a very interesting post.

    You can also uploading your short stories to ReadWave.com. On ReadWave, you can build up an audience around your story by starting small writing short stories now and allowing your readers to download and share with others. If you are aiming to be an author, novelist or writer, this is a great way to start marketing your stories online. Please check out the site here: http://readwave.com or you can email me @ nyashaoliver93@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  56. I have been putting my stories on a blog teatime shorties maybe i should try out e singles thankyou for your advice

    ReplyDelete
  57. This makes me SO happy! I have always tended more toward short story writing. I had been frustrated and disappointed wondering where anthologies had gone.

    ReplyDelete
  58. NyNy--Thanks for the reminder. Readwave is like Wattpad for short stories. A fabulous resource.

    Julie--Might as well try to make some money off them, right?

    Anne--Anthologies are alive and kicking and bigger than ever. I'll be posting about them next Sunday, Sept 1st.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Thank you for your interesting information about the current popularity of the short story genre. As a mature student working in this genre - and being surrounded by writers of novels and memoir - I find it most encouraging. The reasoning is so valid.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Thank you for your interesting and current thoughts on the popularity of the short story genre. This is really encouraging for a student in a class of novel and memoir writers. Your discussion based on technology progress, time constraints on a busy society and concentration spans seems relevant and valid. Alison

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alison--Sorry you had trouble getting your comment through. I moderate comments on older posts because that's where the spammers love to leave links to porn and other unsavory stuff. So I didn't get to these until this morning.

      You are absolutely right to be working on short fiction. People who ignore it may find themselves out of the mainstream very soon. The digital age is a time when "short is the new long" and short stories and novellas may soon be more popular than novels. Keep doing what you're doing. Your work will pay off. I'll be talking about this subject in more depth next month and I've also been contracted to write on the subject for Writers Digest in the fall.

      Delete
    2. I have been trying pretty frantically to find a place where I could publish my work, like short stories for example to get into a magazine or even online to no avail. I found a place that seemed pretty legit, I was to send three short stories and they would critique and let me know if I have what it takes and I haven't heard anything back :/ I also forgot what the website was, go figs on my part. :( But I'm still hopeful, I have to be. Good news I'm already published, bad news I'm not making much of an income yet so I need to do something to help with that.

      Delete
    3. JC_Princess--If you click on the header of this post, it will take you to my new post (May 2014) on short fiction. It has links to places you can send your work.

      I don't think sending your work to websites and magazines is the best way to get critiques. Most litzine editors usually don't have time to give anything detailed. For helpful feedback, I highly recommend CritiqueCircle.com, or post to Wattpad or ReadWave to get feedback.

      Don't take rejections as a sign that you don't "have what it takes". Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay it Forward and one of the top bestsellers on Amazon, got over 200 rejections before she placed her first short story.

      Generally, it takes 10 years of serious writing to get to the point where you make money from it, so be patient. Keep working, get as much feedback as you can (not that you should take all the advice--just what resonates or a whole lot of people agree on.)

      As I'm sure you've heard before, success is about 1% talent and 99% hard work. The drive has to come from you, and it sounds as if you have that. Keep sending out your stuff and cast a wide net. Best of luck!

      Delete

We LOVE comments, but we can't allow anonymous ones because of spammer problems (like hundreds a day). If you have trouble commenting, email your comment to Anne at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and she'll post it for you.