Wednesday, April 17, 2019

I Write Short Stories! What About Me?

Books, books, books. That’s all we ever talk about on this blog! What about the short form writers? The ones who struggle to craft short blog posts, essays, flash fiction and other short story formats – what about them? 

I thought the confluence of two things would create a renaissance for short form writers: the declining attention span of today’s readers and ebooks. I want to believe. But, I cannot find any recent data to support my belief. 

It’s a tough world for short form writers. How do you get compensated? Blog posts get your work out into the world, but getting a readership is really difficult and takes quite a bit of time. Plus, how do you monetize it? If you want to write short form work for a living – well that’s a tough road. Especially if you write fiction. I thumbed through the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market in the library the other day. Some magazines that take short fiction pay, but not much money: $10 - $50. Most short fiction markets pay in copies. It also appears (and this is not an exhaustive, scientific survey of the marketplace) that most of these short fiction magazines focus on literary fiction, so if you are a writer of genre fiction your chances of publication (and receiving copies of the magazine that I’m sure you can take to your local supermarket and use to purchase lettuce) are even slimmer. 

I still want to believe. Perhaps we just haven’t tried hard enough. The Kindle marketplace does have a category for short fiction. All three of my fiction ebooks are part of that category, called Kindle Shorts. They divide up the works into buckets representing the estimated amount of time to read: 15 minutes, 30, 45, 60, and 90. I assume which category your work falls in is based on the number of pages, or possibly words. My book, Deliveryman, is in the 30 minute category at 16 pages. Guns, Bourbon and Kitten Videos, at 27 pages, was put in the 45 minute bucket. Lite Reads, my monster epic at 36 pages, was placed into the 60 minute slot. I didn’t do this. I can’t load my book into KDP and put it in the Kindle Shorts category. KDP does that. 

The prices of Kindle Shorts are all over the map. In the categories where my books reside the vast majority are between $0.99 and $2.99. All three of mine are $1. I aspire to become the Dollar Store of short fiction! 

My bottom line: Why let your short work sit in a drawer? If you’ve written some good stories, or essays, and they don’t fit some MFA’s requirements for some literary journal (think I have an opinion here?), then format it as an ebook and get it out into the world! It’s not hard to format an ebook. You can design a simple cover yourself or use KDP’s cover creator. Keep your expenses low and maybe, just maybe, you’ll break even. What do you have to lose? 

I’ve linked some articles I came across in my research. They are years old; I can’t find anything recent talking about short work on Kindle. And, a couple of them may discourage you from trying! (Repeating: what do you have to lose?)

* * * 
“Yes, book page lengths have dropped by some 5% since the first introduction of KU [Kindle Unlimited - KM] last year. However, the trend started way before that. Average book page lengths in the top seller lists are still clearly above 250 pages for most high-selling genres.” 

* * * 

* * * 
"Longer books sell better on Amazon, but short reads sell too, and earn more per page. So you could focus on writing short books, write them much faster than long books, and still make money."

* * * 
“'The thing about short fiction is that it doesn’t really pay,' Swanwick says in Episode 222 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. 'For the amount of time that I’ve put in on these stories, I probably have not earned back—even with the collection—minimum wage.' 
'It’s really a bad idea to write something new at novel length, because you don’t know whether you can do it or not,” Swanwick says. “But you can risk a short story, and if it works in a short story, you know that you can take it to novel length.'” 

* * * 
"In a novel, you're stuck with whatever narrative structure you've selected for that particular novel. So I think you can learn how to write a lot faster, the basic core capabilities you need if you're writing short fiction than in a novel. 
And the other benefit is, as you finish the story, you send it out to market. And you start to get feedback. And if it's rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection, you probably need to keep writing. You haven't developed your craft enough, although we can talk more about, you know, what's a reasonable number of rejections later on."


Anonymous said...

There are a number of places better than Submittable or Duotrope for finding genre fiction gigs which pay. is good, plus there are Facebook pages for things like Open Call: Horror Markets; Open Submission Calls for Horror; Open Submission Calls for Short Stories; Open Call: Crime, Thriller, Mystery; Open Call: Science Fiction; and the like. Sure, some of these expect writers to write for free (don't go there), but many have token, semi-pro, or pro payment. Various websites, like Horror Tree, also list calls when they come up. Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand TM

Kevin Moriarity said...

Don - Thanks for the additional information. KM

franfredricks said...

I wonder about short collections — short stories fiction, essays, memoir. How’s the market on them?

Kevin Moriarity said...

Fran: the information I've looked at so far doesn't break out anthologies or collections, so I don't know. Don put out a collection - perhaps he has some insight.