Sunday, May 11, 2014

The New Golden Age of Short Fiction: 12 Reasons to Write a Short Story This Month

by Anne R. Allen

I recently heard from a writer who said she felt disrespected by her writing group. They were all working on novels and memoir and didn't take her short fiction work seriously.

I saw another writer on Google Plus asking for help because his work kept coming in at around 40 pages—like that was a bad thing.

They were dealing with a common problem: short stories (up to 30K words) and novellas (30k-50K words) haven't been getting much respect since the demise of the fiction market in mainstream magazines two decades ago.

(Those word counts are from Writer's Digest. Some people use the term "novelette" to mean a story in the 10K to 30K range.)

For the past twenty years or so, most writers have treated short stories as practice pieces for classes and workshops—like the finger exercises piano students do before they graduate to playing real music.

And many of us have been treating novellas as unfinished, failed novels that need "fleshing out."

But that's so last century.

Shorter fiction is having a renaissance in the digital age. In fact, this may be the new golden age of the short story.

The New York Times reports, "Stories are perfect for the digital age...because readers want to connect and want that connection to be intense and to move on. That is, after all, what a short story is all about."

Book marketing guru Penny Sansevieri said in the HuffPo: "short is the new long. Thanks to consumers who want quick bites of information and things like Kindle Singles, consumers love short."

Short stories can also be a marketing tool for longer works.  Digital Book World's Rob Eagar said, "Selling your book means writing effective newsletters, blog posts, short stories, free resources, social media posts, word-of-mouth tools, magazine articles, etc."

So it's definitely time for fiction writers to start re-thinking the shorter forms. I wish I'd never left them. It's hard to get those "writing muscles" working again when I've been focused on novels for so long.

During the early part of my career when I was writing and re-writing my “practice novels” I could have been building an inventory of short pieces that would be a gold mine now.

Traditional publishing still isn't interested in story collections from new writers, but collections of previously published shorts by big names like George Saunders are reaping awards and making money for the Big Five.

And Amazon welcomes short fiction in both their Kindle Singles program and their new literary magazine Day One. Self-publishers are finding success with shorter fiction on all retail sites.

People talk these days about the novel as if it's the most "legitimate" form of fiction, but it's a relatively new art form. It was perfect for the age of Gutenberg, but perhaps it won't dominate the market so completely in the digital age.

Cervantes is generally credited with inventing the novel with the 1605 publication of Don Quixote, but the form didn’t make it into English until a century later—and for a long time it had to masquerade as “history” as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe did in 1719.

Non-factual narratives were considered frivolous and time-wasting even into the Victorian era. In the 20th century, the novel finally surpassed the play as the most revered form of fictional artistic expression in English.

But who knows what will happen in the 21st century? The times they are a-changing, especially in the publishing business. The popularity the novella, short story, and serial is on the upswing. 

Here are some reasons why writers might want to rethink short fiction:

1) Smaller screens and shorter attention spans are changing the way we read.

We're a multi-tasking world. As bestselling short story writer Amber Dermont told the New York Times: “The single-serving quality of a short narrative is the perfect art form for the digital age…Stories are models of concision, can be read in one sitting, and are infinitely downloadable and easily consumed on screens.”

When the Kindle Singles program launched in 2011, they sold 2 million "singles" ebooks in the first year. And you don't have to be accepted into the highly competitive Kindle Singles program to publish stand-alone stories as ebooks. Many indies are doing it too. And agents are assisting their clients in self-publishing shorts.

Cal Morgan of Harper Perennial said in the same NYT article: “It is the culmination of a trend we have seen building for five years…The Internet has made people a lot more open to reading story forms that are different from the novel, and you see a generation of writers very engaged in experimentation.”

As I mentioned above, Amazon is actively promoting short fiction with Kindle Singles and its new Day One magazine. Kindle Singles are mostly for established authors, but Day One is actively seeking debut authors. (Info on submissions in the "opportunity alerts" below.) Amazon knows that the e-reader has ushered in a new kind of reading that favors brevity. More on that in my post last week on the 21st Century Reader.

2) The success of serial fiction like Hugh Howey’s Wool

Hugh Howey made history (and a nice chunk of change) by self-publishing his sci-fi novel Wool as a series of shorts—like the Saturday matinee cliff-hanger short films of the early 20th century. He put his first episode—a stand-alone that’s also a teaser—perma-free on Amazon, and the fans ate up the succeeding chapters, offered at 99c each.

Howey is now a superstar with a top agent, a deal with Random Penguin, and a movie deal with Ridley Scott. And it all started with one little short story.

I know many writers who are now serializing their work for free on  Wattpad, which is a great place to showcase short fiction and get new fans. And Readwave is a story sharing-site that looks like a promising alternative to Wattpad.

Note: not every author can do what Howey did. I know some writers have had negative feedback when they sold each chapter for 99c, since so many full length books can be bought for that price these days.

So make sure each installment gives value—I'd say at least 10K-20K words, maybe divided into chapter-lets—and make the first one perma-free. Some novels lend themselves to serialization and some don't. You want each installment to work as a stand-alone story arc with a cliffhanger to keep the reader coming back.

3) Story anthologies are a great way to get your work in front of fans of more established authors in your genre

Short story and personal-essay anthologies are one of the best ways to increase your visibility. Especially for indies. They're inexpensive to put together as ebooks. They usually don’t pay, and often donate proceeds to a charity.

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. All those authors' fans will be exposed to your work. For more on anthologies check my post on how to tell a good anthology from a scam.

Being in an anthology also gives an unpublished writer some great cred as a writer. Many successful authors I network with were first published by the Literary Lab anthologies, which also gave me a leg up when my career was in freefall.

Another plus for anthologies: some of the biggies, like the Chicken Soup series, also come out in print and are stocked in bookstores. So some anthologies can get you noticed by the old-school reader, too.

4) Published stories identify you as a professional.

Your website or blog has much more cred if you've got some publications to link to. And no matter what your genre, agents will be more likely to look at your pages if you've got publishing credits.

And it’s still pretty much the only way to a publishing contract if you write literary fiction. I don't know of a lot of successful literary writers who didn't also publish short stories in places like The New Yorker, The Paris Review, the Atlantic or McSweeneys

But they didn't get the first story they wrote published by The New Yorker. First they had to place dozens in small literary journals—those tiny labors of love that used to cost a ton to produce and often had under a hundred subscribers.

In the old days we often had to pay $25 or more to subscribe to find out what kind of writing they wanted and get the info on how to submit to them. But these days, most literary journals are available online. They have larger readerships and you don’t have to pay a fortune to read them or find out what the editors are looking for.

And if you write genre fiction, you don't have to start your career getting endless rejections from the ultra-competitive print magazines that still buy short stories, like Women's World, Ellery Queen and Asimov's.

Now there are are lots of genre story online zines. Here's a link to a great list of genre story markets put together by Romance author Cathleen Ross. Writer's Digest has contests exclusively for genre fiction.

5) Networking with editors at small magazines can get you a leg up.

Editors at literary magazines do their work for the love of their craft. Often they have connections in other parts of the publishing world. If you impress one of them, you can get an "in" with publishers you might never find otherwise.

I found my first publisher because one of their editors also volunteered for an online litzine that accepted my short fiction. The litzine went under before my story went up, but the editor liked my writing so much, he asked me if I had any novel manuscripts he could take to the publishing house where he worked. Two months later I had my first publishing contract.

6) Indie films are often adaptations of short fiction.

Stories are easier to adapt for the screen than full-length novels. Cheaper too. They tend to have fewer crowd scenes and more small interior settings.

Cost matters in the growing indie film world. Just as indies are revolutionizing the publishing industry, they are also the life-blood of the film industry. While the big studios concentrate on huge comic book spectacles and remakes of old TV shows, the more emotionally rich, award-winning films are coming from small-budget indies.

Some of our most enduring films have come from short stories. Classic films like The Birds; Breakfast at Tiffany's; Don't Look Now; Double Indemnity, Flowers for Algernon—and I’d need a whole post to list the stories of Stephen King and Philip K. Dick that have been made into great films. More recent Oscar contenders like Brokeback Mountain, Away from Her, and the Squid and the Whale were originally short stories. And I just heard on NPR this morning that the new Jesse Eisenberg film, the Double, is based on a novella by Dostoevsky.

7) Online retail sites favor authors with more titles

The more titles you have in an online bookstore, the more visible you are. You can write and publish a lot of shorter titles and have a bigger presence in the marketplace than with one long book.

Most writers can’t turn out more than two or three books a year, but they can turn out a lot of short stories and novellas.

8) Contests raise your profile and can win big bucks

Winning a story contest is a great way to promote yourself as a writer and create visibility for your books. Win a well-known contest and you can crow about it in social media and send press releases to the local newspapers to get some ink in your own hometown.

Story and creative short nonfiction contests are easy to discover and enter in the era of the Interwebz. Hope C. Clark's Funds for Writers , Poets and Writers, and the website Winning Writers are good sources for vetted contests.

For a list of fee-free contests and opportunities, Erika Dreifus has a great list on her blog called The Practicing WriterWriters Digest has a number going on throughout the year.

And, ahem, I always list a few good ones in the "opportunity alerts" in these posts.

Entering short story contests is also an excellent way to get your career started. A big win for one of your pieces looks great in a query or a bio. Plus you might even win a money prize.

A lot of those prizes are bigger than the advances publishers offer on novels these days.

Plus some of the biggest prizes in literature are still for short fiction, like the Pushcart and the O. Henry award. And the venerable "Best of…" anthologies give huge prestige to those included.

9) Shorts keep your fans interested between novel releases

Forward-looking agents are now encouraging their authors to self-publish shorts to fill in the gaps between novels. They especially like shorts that are about characters in your novels. They keep your fans interested while they’re waiting for the next book.

(Note, if your publisher has a non-compete clause, you won't be allowed to do this. Another reason to have a legal professional look over your contract before you sign.)

Consider writing a couple of shorts about your main characters while you're working on the novel. It may get you through a tricky spot in the big work as well as giving you a saleable product for later down the road.

10) Short stories make money and hold their value

In terms of labor, a short story can make more money than a novel. Not only does it take less time to write and often sells for the same price as a novel in an ebook, but it can be re-purposed many times. Also, as I said earlier, contest prizes for short fiction can be substantial

I have stories that have been published and republished up to six times litzines and anthologies. And I can always self-publish them again in a collection sometime down the road.

11) Writing short keeps your writing skills honed.

Writing  poetry and short stories keeps your writing from getting flabby and verbose. You can't spend three pages describing the wallpaper in short fiction. You have to learn to sketch with a few broad strokes.

In these days when readers demand "just the good parts" writing, learning to write short can help no matter what genre you're writing in .

12) May is Short Story Writing Month

Inspired by April’s National Poetry Month a group of writers supported by the StoryADay writing challenge, deemed May to be International Short Story Month.

They say short stories:
  1. Make the perfect intro to a new author’s work
  2. Are a great way for readers to get a top-up from their favorite authors between novels,
  3. Are a perfect impulse purchase on a phone or e-reader.
So isn't this the perfect time to write one?

Like any other skill, your ability to create short fiction will atrophy if you don’t use it. I find it a lot harder to write a short story now than I did when I wrote them regularly.

I admit I've always preferred reading and writing longer fiction. Most writers do gravitate to one form or the other. I know my ideas generally spool out in about 80,000 words. Shorter is harder for me.

The reverse is true for other writers. Some great short story writers have a hard time writing good novels. One of our greatest short story writers, Katherine Anne Porter, only wrote one novel, Ship of Fools, which was more like a tapestry of many short stories woven together without a compelling story arc. Critic Elizabeth Hardwick said it was " too static" in spite of "the flawless execution of the single scenes."

There's nothing wrong with preferring one form over the other. But these days, it will pay off to work on fiction in a variety of lengths. Not just short stories. Novellas, once taboo in traditional publishing, are soaring in popularity in the e-age.

Do note: I don't encourage newbie writers to self-publish your very first efforts at story-writing. To succeed in publishing—whether self- or traditional—you need to put in your 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours. But you can maximize your efforts by spending more of those hours writing short fiction and creative nonfiction shorts.

What about you, scriveners? Did you get out of the habit of writing short fiction the way I did? Have you written any lately? Have short stories helped your career? 

Coming up on the blog: We have a fantastic line-up of guest posts for the summer.

May 18: Molly Greene: blog coach, romantic suspense author, and author of Blog It, the Author's Guide to Building a Successful Online Brand

June 8th: Nina Badzin: social media expert and freelance writer: regular contributor to Brain, Child, Kveller, and the HuffPo.

June 22: Nathan Bransford: Yes. That Nathan Bransford (squee!) Blog god, former agent, children's author, and author of How to Write a Novel.

July 20th: Janice Hardy: host of Fiction University and bestselling YA author. Repped by uber-agent Kristen Nelson.

August 10th Jami Gold: editor, writing teacher, award-winning paranormal romance author, and awesome blogger.

September 14th Barbara Silkstone: bestselling indie author and owner of the Second Act Cafe.

And of course NYT million-seller Ruth Harris will continue her information-packed posts on the last Sunday of each month. 

I'd like to wish a happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. It's a tough day for me since I lost my mom recently. So I want to give her a gift today and spotlight her wonderful books.

Books of the Week

Two books by Dr. Shirley Seifried Allen, my mom. 
She died December 1st, 2013 at the age of 92. 
She published her mystery Academic Body at the age of 89.

I learned most of what I know about writing from her. She was a Bryn Mawr PhD. who taught English Literature and creative writing at the University of Connecticut for many years. She's also the author of the nonfiction book, Samuel Phelps and Sadler's Wells Theatre, published by Wesleyan University Press. It's out of print, but still available used. 

Roxanna Britton, a Biographical Novel. 
Special Mother's Day sale: Only 99c on AmazonAmazon UK, and Amazon CA

"This has become one of my all time favorite stories of "real" people. Ms. Allen's adept use of dialogue and her clear eye for drama and suspense kept me compulsively turning the pages. Her evocation of a bygone era, rich with descriptive details--the historical Chicago fire is one vivid example--is absolutely brilliant. 

I will never forget Sanny and her family, especially her struggle and her daughters' struggle to become individuals in a male dominated world. But it is family that triumphs in the end; and the need for it to survive resonates most deeply in my mind and heart. An excellent novel that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading true stories about people who not only overcome adversity with grace and integrity but through strength of character also prevail. Well done, Ms. Shirley Allen!"...Ann Carbine Best

Academic Body: A Classic Cozy Mystery in the tradition of the "Thin Man" books. Available for $2.99 at Amazon USAmazon CAAmazon UKNook and Kobo

"The academics at Weaver College are maintaining their exemplary standards, setting a stellar example for their students. Extramarital affairs, presumptuous posturing, blackout drinking, and gossip are part of campus life for this faculty. 

But when their blackmailing dean is suddenly murdered, all who saw him that night become suspects. Retired stage director Paul Godwin, lately turned professor, and his actress wife Lenore ponder the dean's death with the theatrical knowledge of given circumstances, personal motivation, and a thorough comprehension of Shakespeare's classic tragedies and Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which seamlessly parallel the action. 

A hilarious farce about college life delivers us to the circumstances that lead to murder most foul."...Kathleen Keena


Amazon’s literary journal Day One is seeking submissions. According to Carmen Johnson, Day One’s editor, the litzine is looking for “fresh and compelling short fiction and poetry by emerging writers.” This includes stories that are less than 20,000 words by authors that have never been published, and poems by poets who have never published before. To submit works, writers/poets can email their work as a word document, along with a brief description and author bio to dayone-submissions

Drue Heinz Literature Prize for a collection of short fiction and/or novellas. Prize of $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Author must have been previously published in print journals. Deadline June 30.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

WRITERS VILLAGE SUMMER SHORT FICTION CONTEST $24 ENTRY FEE. $4,800 First prize. Second prize $800, third prize $400 and 15 runner up prizes of $80. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Judges include Lawrence Block, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, and Jill Dawson, Orange and Whitbread-shortlisted author of eight novels. Winning stories showcased online. Any genre of fiction may be submitted up to 3,000 words, except playscripts and poetry. Entries are welcomed world-wide. Deadline June 30.

The Golden Quill Awards: Entry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Entries accepted from April 1-June 30th.


  1. This post is just another reminder that I need to look into Kindle Singles more.

    I've got a few short books that would fit their criteria. The possibility of a visibility boost is worth taking one or two of those books off another retailer. After all, they're not selling that well now.

    But then the Kindle Singles criteria say the books can't have been published on another site before. I wonder if that even includes Amazon.

    From the submission page:
    Original work, not previously published in other formats or publications
    Not published on any public website in its entirety

    Maybe someone who's in the program can offer some insight. Thanks!

    1. Greg, I haven't submitted to Kindle Singles, but what I understand is that it's an imprint, like the other Amazon imprints like Montlake, Thomas and Mercer, etc.--only it publishes short work instead of novels. (Nonfic as well as fiction.)

      They do want new work, just the way most Big 5 publishers do. A lot of their submissions come through agents, I understand. So it is awfully competitive. The top ten Kindle singles include Lee Child, Stephen King, Tom Robbins and Jodi Picoult right now.

      But they do publish indies as well, so if you have a new shorter work, it's worth submitting it. You get a 70% royalty, even on a 99c single.

  2. Anne, Great minds! I'm about to unleash HUSBAND TRAINING SCHOOL and have written a short prequel (FREE) to accompany it. To begin:

    "They are bros and dudes, the boys next door, the Big Fans, the do-nothing Dads, the CEOs, the Peter Pans, the Donald Trump comb-overs, the James Bond wannabes.
    "They are tall and handsome, short and schleppy, rich and poor. There are thousands of them, probably even millions, and they are hiding in plain sight."

    Well, you get the idea!

    CODENAME CHEROKEE (FREE!) leads up to Michael's THE ATOMIC TIMES: Fallout. Fireball. Fusion. Fission. F*cked up. FREE

    Short is fun, very often FREE, writers can have a ball and readers lovelovelove the quick hit especially if it's FREE!

    1. Ruth--Thanks so much for pointing this out. I should have played it up more in the body of the post. Short fiction works as a sales tool often because you can offer it perma-free and draw in new readers. It sounds as if you and Michael are doing some smart, innovative things with short pieces!

  3. I'd also add not to submit to anything but pro-rate markets. Yes, there are a lot fewer of those and the chances of getting in while you're still honing your skills probably isn't very good. But if you write for the semi-pro or exposure places, it's easy to become lazy and not push the skills. Pro markets force you to think about what you're doing wrong and how to improve.

    1. Linda--I don't really agree with that. Beginners who expect to make the same big bucks as the pros usually don't get published at all.

      Also, many highly competitive literary journals don't pay, but they provide valuable visibility and prestige.

      Writers should always be working on honing our craft, and we should never assume that "free" means "inferior" these days. Note that Ruth is giving away a single to promote her new novel. She's a NYT million-selling author.

      Advertising is expensive. Giving away a free story is one of the cheaper ways to get your work visible these days, whether it's in a literary journal, a self-published single, or a charity anthology.

    2. I'm not talking about the expectations of beginners to make pro rates, so much as setting the goals higher. For years, I looked at the pro rates markets as unattainable because the competition was so fierce. I didn't realize I was telling myself, "You're not good enough to get into them and you never will be." That's not a good place to start from. I should have been asking myself, "Maybe I need to improve my skills. What do I need to do?" The exposure and semi-pro give a false sense of security because it looks like a lot of success. People are going to recognize my name if I get into Alfred Hitchcock (I was honorable mention for their contest). The semi-pro and exposure ones I've been in -- no one's cared or even noticed those. Since I've only pro-rate, I've improved enough that I'm now getting personal rejections.

      I also have problems with the literary magazines not paying because, frankly, I don't understand why writing seems to be the only occupation where it is perfectly acceptable to not get paid because it's art. It's one thing to post a story on Amazon and give away for free because that's a business decision. It's different to say you're not good enough to get into the pro-rates so you won't t ry.

    3. Linda--Now I get what you're saying. Absolutely! We can create our own barriers if we don't think we're good enough for the big markets. I used to send stories to the New Yorker fairly often. Not because I really expected them to accept me, but to keep my own sights high. I suppose there are lots of New Yorker interns who hate writers like me :-) but it was important for me to "go for the gold."

      But the no-pay literary magazines that published me opened a lot of doors. So they did pay, even if it wasn't in cash. It might not be fair, but it's the way this business has worked for a long time.

      It's even worse for actors and musicians. They give away huge chunks of their lives on free or nominal-pay venues before they get known. Some brilliant performing artists work for very little pay their whole lives.

  4. Wow, Anne, this is a great post. I related to absolutely everything in it. When I began writing fiction over 20 years ago and then some, I wrote flash, short stories, and entered a gazillion contests. Won quite a few--not bragging here. I totally related to what you said: "They especially like shorts that are about characters in your novels. They keep your fans interested while they’re waiting for the next book." Since I write short when I took the NaNo challenge last Nov, I did the opposite. Used the female characters and their backstories from my short stories to create a much longer, richer work. My most recent work might not be a novel after revision--more likely a very long novella--but it clocked in at just over 50K words for NaNo. What great advice for the E-Age. This post is golden in so many ways. Brava! Paul

    1. Paul--You certainly are an example of a writer whose natural instinct is to write short. But you've been teaching yourself to expand your skill set. I think writers like me who tend to write long need to learn to expand our skills too.

      What a clever idea to use characters from your stories and novellas to write your first full-length novel! Now they'll all help to sell each other.

  5. Great stuff to think about Anne. I hear the words "short story" and I reach for a cross like it's a vampire. But there could be a meeting point here... my trunk novel at 200k is coming out as four novellas over the next year, and I have had shorter ideas floating around at times (I admit it, sheepishly) . But those are usually rooted in the side-adventures of main characters you'd need to already know about. So it's more of a horse behind the cart thing, not a way to being gaining exposure, but more to revel in it once achieved.
    I CAN say, though, that this trend matches up very well with the audio-medium. The short form is paramount there- the places I've worked with want a thirty-minute chapter, designed for folks who listen on their commute. So in that way too, a longer work can often be broken up into more bite-size pieces.
    But I must confess, I recall simply reading the enormous tale in small bites- there was a kind of joy there too, anticipating what I'd find when I got back to it after school or dinner.

    1. Wm--My reply is below the comment from "Hostess." I have no idea why a reply comes out in the right place with the preview and then shoots to the bottom of the thread when I hit publish.

  6. If you have something shorter than a novel, for one of the keywords type in Kindle Short Reads. There's a category for that now.

    1. Hostess--THANKS! That's a super-valuable tip. "KINDLE SHORT READS" everybody. That's so useful for readers, too.

  7. Wm--Audiobooks are a factor that most of us never thought about when we were composing our novels, but you're so right we need to keep them in mind. My audiobook of No Place Like Home is 7 and a half hours long. And it's a relatively short book. Shorter work probably makes better ebooks, and I hear you about those "commute-sized" chapters.

    Breaking your big work into novellas sounds like a great plan. Having a series of shorts set in the same world will please fans, and could be a nice little money-maker. If any of them work as stand-alones you could offer free, either on Smashwords or someplace like Wattpad, they will increase visibility.

  8. Anne, your Mom sounds like a very special Lady. Publishing a book at 89 - what can be more inspirational. Her printed words is one of the many wonderful ways she'll always remain with you.

    I loved the post. I really enjoy writing short and have been working on short stories lately. It did cross my mind that perhaps one day I'll incorporate some of them into a novel. Or maybe I'll just keep writing stories.

    Subscribed to Erika's newsletter - looks great.

    Thank you, Anne.

    1. Sasha--Thanks so much for your kind words about my mom.

      It's good to remember that lots of great novels started as short stories. One of your stories may grow into a novel, or a character in a story may demand a whole novel some day. Or one of your short stories may end up as a movie. That's what's so great about stories--they can take you in so many different directions.

      I found Erika through Nina Badzin, who is visiting us on June 8th.

  9. Thanks for pointing me, Anne. That is odd, about the reply-thread!

    I wanted to come back briefly with another thought- I wonder if we're eroding our own price with this trend? Used to be, 99 cents was the rage, then we've heard that actually that's under-selling us (this is again at the novella-to-novel length), and maybe 3 or even 4 dollars holds up better. Yeah, the old 10 dollar price, that's for the trad-pub deals defending the paper. But a lot of "titles" here, if they're all shorts, will surely pull us back to 99 cents. I'd take it in return for exposure- hell, you guarantee me 10k downloads, I'd probably be happy with a dime. But this won't be a sure thing.

    1. Wm--There's no question that all fiction is selling so cheaply it's hard to get people to pay for it. I've seen lots of readers complain that 99c is too much for a story, since that's what they pay for a full length novel on sale.

      So if you can get 99c per episode, you're going to make more money than so many indies, who sell the whole book for 99c. But either way, 99c isn't a great price, since books selling under $2.99 only get the 35% royalty on Amazon. So it's best to use cheap shorts for fill-ins and promos.

    2. Truly astute post, Anne. Much to chew on!

      Full disclosure: I am involved with Fiction Arcade ( which has just launched, but I'd be interested in your thoughts about whether we could be working towards solving that conundrum.

      We're taking a sort of if-you-can't-beat-em-join-em approach, pricing short stories low as the market seems to demand, but aiming to create a short-story reading culture, so that sales volumes can eventually be high. Moreover—and maybe this is the best part—no royalties. Writers keep the full amount they charge. It's not as much by comparison, per sale, but again if a dedicated market can spring up then we may just get ourselves over the line with volumes.

    3. No royalties for the website, that is. All to the writer. The way we keep things rolling then is to charge a small premium to readers when they purchase credits for spending on stories.

    4. Peter--How fantastic that you're promoting short fiction with your new site! I take it you run kind of a monthly contest and it's winner take all as far as being paid? I stopped by, and I take it the website isn't quite up and running yet. When it is, I hope you'll put in an "about us" page so readers can figure out how to use the site to read or buy stories. Also, an explanation of what the "tokens" are an how to get them would be helpful. Looks like a great idea!

  10. Terrific post! And what an inspiration. Great resources, too.
    I have drawers full of short stories that I stopped shopping around more than a decade ago after publishing only three. Maybe it's time to do a little literary archaeology. What if the stories seem dated (e.g., e.g., land lines, not cell phones)?

    1. JAVS--Great! You have a gold mine. I'd run them through the computer one more time and either update or make them into period pieces. You also may find you've become a better writer since then and you can do some editing. I'm amazed when I read some of my old stuff. Practice does improve our skills.

    2. JAVS, I just finished a novella set in 1993, and it was a pleasure to hang out with characters who weren't screwing around with their cell phones all the time. If stories set in the past seem dated today, it's probably because they weren't very good to start with.

  11. From Beth Havey via email:

    Another great post. I have a collection of short stories -- who knew?? I was going to have an ebook by today, Mother's Day, but it didn't work out for a lot of reasons. But it's good material and this post was very helpful.

    1. Beth--I'll bet a lot of people have collections of stories they didn't know might be valuable. Good luck on your ebook, whenever it comes out!

  12. This is something I've gone back to lately.

  13. All I can say about this post is: thank you, thank you, thank you.

    1. Marie--It sounds as if you're a natural short story writer. Have fun!

  14. Anne:
    I, too, Have a drawer full of short stories I wrote 20-30 years ago. Alas, I cringe when I read them now. I guess I improved when I started to write novels. However, two years ago, I wrote a novella I plan to make perma-free, followed by two more with the same characters (one of those finished, the other outlined) so your post couldn't be more timely. Thanks a million

    1. Phyllis--Some of our stuff is definitely "practice" work. I've got a bunch of those. But congrats on your novella. Sounds like a fantastic idea for promos for your books.

  15. Thanks for another fine post. From my perspective, it's always the right time to write a short story.

    1. CS--You're right. And I know you won a short story contest that paid more than a lot of novels get in advances. Short stories can pay off, big time!

  16. Anne, I do struggle to write short (I used to have to edit down my college essays to 2000 words from a 10,000 word draft!!), but I love the concept of this.

    And I'd love it if there were some well-written short story collections available from authors I love to read. I find them good to read before bed, if they really are short. (By the way, Writer's Digest calling 30k words a short story seems bonkers to me. I'd definitely call that a novella. Ah well, tomayto, tomahto.)

    But I've dipped into some short story collections on Amazon by unknown authors, and been fairly disappointed so far. It's so important that short stories receive all the same intensity of focus and commitment to quality from the writer. Yes, they should be faster to write than a whole novel, but not THAT fast!

    I have to say how much I admire your mother for producing a book at 89. You must miss her so much, especially when the loss is so recent. What a wonderful thing that you can honour her in this way on your blog. Parents are precious, much-loved parents even more so. Blessings to you. x

    1. Belinda--Thanks for the kind words about my mom. She taught creative writing for many years, but didn't take time for her own writing until she retired.

      As far as story collections by unknowns--I've found the same thing. Some of it feels dashed off. And even stories by the "literati" aren't always satisfying. I read the fiction in The New Yorker and some of it leaves me scratching my head. But when I find somebody I love, like George Saunders, it's all worth it.

  17. Thanks, Anne. I know you posted some time ago about crafting short stories - it was a guest post I believe. I was wondering if you could recommend any other sites or posts with advice, tips, and tools for the rusty among us about how to start using those short muscles again. Thanks!

    1. Kelly--You're probably remembering our post from February 9th on novellas. It's by Paul Alan Fahey, former editor of the top-rated literary journal Mindprints. It's right here: . It sure helped me!

    2. Kelly, loathe as I am to blow my own rusty trumpet, you may find the 'how to' writing posts at the Writers' Village blog of interest. A lot of folk were encouraged by them to enter our short story contest and a few graduated from those 'five finger exercises' to publish novels that are doing well at Kindle:

    3. Dr. John--Thanks so much for the link. The Writers' Village is a great resource, and the contests are top-notch.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. Great post, Anne! I sold 30 shorts stories and won 6 awards for short fiction, before my first novel was published. There is no question this gave me credibility with publishers. I still love the short form. It keeps me sharp.

    1. Melodie--Thanks for letting us know this is still the best path to a traditional publishing career. You can spend years honing that query letter, but nothing says "professional writer" like actual publications. Short stories are the best way to establish writer cred. And they're fun to write, too!

  20. I've noticed my reading tastes changing recently, in keeping with your theme. The piece I enjoyed reading most last year was a novella by Sanderson, "The Emperor's Soul." He's normally quite verbose, but the shorter form got him to squeeze away all the extra stuff, and the novella was pure juice. I like working on shorter stuff myself, because of the discipline it enforces. It's like Twain (I think) said, "I'd write something shorter but I didn't have the time."

    1. Ken--I've heard that so many times, that had to check. It seems Twain did indeed say something similar, but so did Blaise Pascal and Benjamin Franklin. So it's not a new idea, but it's one we need constant reminders about.

      So many people think long=good. They don't realize the real skill comes in shortening written work to its essence--or the "juice" as you say. I'm glad to hear writers are using the short forms to create leaner, more powerful prose. Thanks!

  21. Thanks for a great blog post about short stories, Anne! Many of us write short stories predominantly, and love that there's a bit of a renaissance going on. BTW, I linked to your post in my blog this morning.

    1. Bobbi--I just checked out your blog. Thanks for the shout-out. Good to hear about all those great genre-fiction story groups!

  22. Fantastic post. I am loving writing short stories and flash fiction. Also, my creative nonfiction seems to be shrinking. ;-)

    “Smaller screens and shorter attention spans are changing the way we read.” Just thinking about how many people I see reading on their tablets and phones now.

    “Writing short keeps your writing skills honed.” So true. I started writing shorts and flash for this very reason. It’s amazing how much you can tighten your prose up when you only have 100 words to write it.

    Hadn’t thought much about story anthologies. Brilliant. And thanks for the online lit mags link!

    Beautiful gift (and tribute) to your mom. <3

    1. Sarah--I have times when I write a lot of creative nonfic, and other times when I don't want to put myself on the page at all. It seems to take a different skill set.

      Anthologies are phenomenal for networking, getting new readers and general visibility. Each one I've done has helped my career. And those litmags are great for visibility too!


    2. Moving between creative nonfiction and fiction can be tough. I agree it takes a completely different...everything! Mindset, skills, voice... It's fun (for me) to write both but I think people generally stick to one for the most part. And, yes, it is also difficult to put yourself out there. Ironically, as a mommy blogger and Lifestyle writer, I'm very private. :-\

      Yes, enjoying looking through all the lit mags. One question, though. I've been wondering if writing Lifestyle columns for my local paper, fiction, flash, short stories, blogging, et al. makes me look like a super awesome versatile writer or just a scatterbrained flighty writer.

    3. Sarah--All publications add to your professional portfolio, so they're all valuable. Any time your writing is vetted by editors it shows your writing is at a professional level. And blogging shows you have self-discipline and a fan base. Plus lots of novelists are also journalists. Anna Quindlen comes to mind. Keep writing in any genre you find a venue for! It's all good.

  23. Short stories and novels are two distinct art forms, and you’re right; they do take ‘different muscles’. Writing short stories taught me a lot about plot and character. But once I ‘graduated’ to longer fiction I really found my voice.
    Novels do seem to be getting much shorter. We are seeing novels of only 45 to 60K words quite often now. This trend seems to be driven by commerce. Seeing art and craft reduced to dollar signs is a sad commentary on the shallow rush and lack of focus of our times. But it is a good time to publish short stories if we’re self-publishing (publishers still don’t want to publish many collections – again, a trend driven by dollar signs!).

    1. Cynthia--I prefer the long form too, and I think there will always be readers for longer books, but publishing has its fashion trends, and the fashion is certainly moving toward shorter fiction. YA novels can be as short as 40K words, and lots of people of all ages are reading YA.

      Knowing the trends can definitely help our careers. Publishing is a business, and we have to treat it that way, even if we'd like to create art for art's sake.

  24. Another great post Anne. I’m currently putting together a collection of shorts that I plan to self- publish.

    I’ve tried to offer a nice spread of different story types within the sci-fi/fantasy genres. My hope is that, with feedback from a wider audience, I’ll be able to see where my strengths are and what is more popular.

    For example, I could see reviews that state my zombie and ghost stories are weak but there could be repeated interest in a space set short that sets up and larger universe people want to read more about. Sort of testing the waters with bite sized chunks.

    It’s good to know that, with the rise of e-readers and self-publishing, we authors can get the smaller pieces of work out a lot easier. I’m sure it helps keeps writers motivated as each short story or novella is ticked off and released into the world.

    1. Brian--Self-publishing a story collection is great and there's more of a market for collections than ever. But you'll probably get better results if some of the stories have been previously published in journals or have placed in contests, so keep sending them out. Most trad-pubbed story collections have been previously published in magazines and journals. And if you can put "contest winner" on the cover--even if it was just a small contest--you'll draw more readers.

      BTW, If you want feedback on the stories before you throw your work into the snark-infested waters of Amazon, I know people have had great results at Wattpad and Readwave. Not only can you get honest, non-snarky feedback on your stories before you publish them, but you can develop a fan base to buy the collection when it comes out in full. Links in the post above.

  25. Thank you, Anne, for sharing my review of Roxanna Britton. It was indeed superbly written, and powerful in its, what I see as, the central message: the need for the family to survive. I'm glad I read it before your mother passed on, and hope she got to know how much I liked it...or knows this now. How wonderful that you were so close to her; that she had such a positive influence on your life. ... As for short stories ... I suspect that you, like I, had the privilege of living in those wonderful days of the short story. I wrote many, many stories back then; sent them to Redbook and Ingenue, etc. etc. But I have since, like you, lost the muscles for the short story, having struggled for long years with memoir. That short form was my favorite, however, and I think it still is. How I love those masters of it: Heminway, Porter, Fitzgerald, etc. etc. ... You have written such a compelling post that something deep within me wants to resurrect the "fictional" stories that lie half-finished on the shelves of my mind. I hope those younger writers who aspire to do this, who feel a deep need to do this, will keep trying. ... Now I am going to download Academic Body. I have a feeling I'm going to love this one, too!

    1. Ann--I can't thank you enough for that wonderful review. It really made my mom happy.

      And thanks for stopping by today. I decided not to try to contact you about running the review after I saw on FB that you've quit blogging because of your caretaker duties. I didn't want you to feel obligated to come by. But I'm so glad you did!

      I hope you'll be able to have time to resurrect those old stories and give them new life. I don't know how many stories I submitted to Redbook over the years! I subscribed and read every one. Redbook is where I discovered Joyce Carol Oates.

      Thanks for downloading Academic Body. I hope you enjoy it!

  26. Anne, an excellent post, as always. I was struck by your insight that the Internet may be encouraging the revival of the short story. There's ample anecdotal evidence that the web is changing the way we think and read, much as the spread of printing introduced a linear and visual approach to the management of information. We can see the change already in the growing preference, among fiction writers, for shorter sentences and paragraphs. And sentences that start with conjunctions!

    Maybe the short-short story will soon supercede the 100,000-word novel, fashioned by 19thc reading habits.

    Where. Will. It. All. End? (I ask...)

    1. Dr. John. LOL! We. Sure. Are. Writing. Shorter. And we love those conjunctions!

  27. I've been writing novel length for years. The first thing I got published? My first short story.

    I think you're on to something.

    1. LD--Your very first story! That is awesome. You had practice with all those novels. :-)

  28. I tell ya, I keep hearing about authors writing shorts to supplement their fiction. Even traditionally published authors are doing this to keep interest between releases.

    I must say, besides short magazine stories for small children, I don't have much experience with writing short. But I've read my critique partner's shorts and they're great. She packs a lot into a small space.

    Thanks for the great info.

    1. Julie--Yes, some agents are advising clients to write and self-publish shorter works between trad. releases. Get a collection of good shorts in your genre and it just might start the juices flowing.

  29. "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 actually still submit shorts to several LGBTI publishers in the US and Germany at least several times a year and I have to admit that I do it just because I love being in those books. The pay isn't great...always a flat fee. But the exposure is good, the editors are always wonderful to work with, and I just absolutely love writing those stories and being in those anthologies. If I ever win the lottery, that's all I'm going to do :)

    1. Ryan--Sorry I missed this earlier. Being in anthologies pays in exposure. You need to consider what that kind of advertising would cost. Keep submitting. Those anthologies boost your career even if they don't pay a dime (or a euro.)

  30. Hi,
    I'm very late posting in this thread, but I'm going to give it a try: does anyone know if Day One confirms the receipt of submissions and/or responds to them?
    Thank you.

  31. Sasha--I haven't submitted to Day One because I'm not eligible. But if they're like most literary magazines, their response time will be very, very slow. They generally don't confirm receipt of submissions, but they usually do send out rejections. But you may not hear for 6 months or more.

    1. They must be dealing with tons of submissions, but on the other hand this is short fiction, maybe it won't take that long to respond? :-) Just kidding.
      Thank you, Anne.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.