Publishing Short Stories • Your Guide to Making Money

Short stories are fun to write, but can you make money from publishing them? The quick answer is: maybe. But it’s almost certainly harder than you think, and the path to success with short stories can be circuitous.

Let’s begin by looking at the enduring popularity of short stories, including how a surprising number of much-loved movies were adapted from shorter work – but also contrast that with how difficult it is to get them published… unless you decide to do it yourself.

Another needed dose of realism for authors of short stories: the opportunities brought by ebooks and self-publishing haven’t led to the short story renaissance many hoped – except in certain niches. Nevertheless, some intrepid writers are using shorter work in new and clever ways to get attention, grow their readership, and make some money too.

Here’s your guide to publishing short stories in 2021:

Famous Short Stories

In case some of the bluntness above has taken you aback, keep in mind that less experienced authors often have a very doe-eyed view of how lucrative the short story market might be – perhaps down to the outsized impact shorts have had on popular culture.

Some authors like Edgar Allen Poe practiced the form exclusively. Other famous names count their shorter pieces as some of their finest work, including Flannery O’Connor, Anton Chekhov, Luis Borges, Octavia Butler, Stephen King, Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, Franz Kafka, Shirley Jackson, Lorrie Moore, Charles Bukowski, Alice Walker, William Trevor, and Kurt Vonnegut.

A surprising number of much-loved films were adapted from the shorter story: Memento, was originally a short by the director’s brother Jonathan Nolan, even if the movie came out before the literary version got published. 

Others include Eyes Wide Shut, The Body Snatcher, A Christmas Carol, Zorro, Stand By Me, Brokeback Mountain, Total Recall, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Birds, The Fly, The Invisible Man, Minority Report, The Third Man, Million Dollar Baby, The Illusionist, It’s A Wonderful Life, and I, Robot.

If we are allowing a broader view of what a short story is – and we’ll dig into that point presently – then we can also mention A Christmas CarolOf Mice and MenBilly BuddAnimal FarmA Clockwork OrangeThe Old Man and The Sea, and Heart of Darkness.

Now, you might reasonably object – pointing out that some of these could be classified as novellas.

Let’s get those measuring tapes out.

How Long Is A Piece of String? Short stories, novellas & novelettes

There’s no strict definition of the length of a novel or short story – none that is universally agreed upon. However, a short story is most commonly defined as anything below 10,000 words. But some people say 7,500 words, others say 20,000.

For novels, the preferred length has been traditionally set by publishers and agents, often in the region of 80,000 to 100,000 words – with big variations across genres and categories. Across time too, as fashions change. On top of all that, most novels are self-published these days, where anything goes.

The old rules around the economics of printing a physical book don’t hold much sway in a digital world and novels have been trending shorter since the rise of ebooks and self-publishing. Various writer organizations now peg the novel as starting at 40,000 words; sounds about right to me. But that does leave a big gap in the middle.

Many will consider anything between 10,000 and 40,000 words a novella, although some can slot in an even more arcane term (novelette) in between the short story and the novella, while others will call anything over 20,000 words a short novel, and anything below it a short story – which is a workmanlike solution but a neat one.

It doesn’t matter so much.

If we are focused on making money, we should be more concerned with what readers want, and what will sell – particularly as supermarkets keep stubbornly charging for food.

Worth noting at this point is that readers rarely use the term novella, and even fewer will have heard the term novelette, outside of literature students or those with authorial ambitions themselves.

Let’s cannonball into the swimming pool of gross generalizations: I suspect the general reader perception of such things would hew closely to our workmanlike framework above:

  • up to 20,000 words = short story;
  • 20,000-40,000 = short novel;
  • 40,000+ = novel.

Just keep in mind those aforementioned genre variances can be quite extreme. Epic fantasies can breeze past 150,000 words without breaking a sweat. Whereas erotica readers (or wannabe CEOs perusing business books) usually get to the meat faster.

As with everything in this writing life, you can do whatever the hell you like; you’re the captain of your authorship. But if you want to sell you need to consider reader expectations. (And if you want to sell something to a publisher, you will need to factor in their often Byzantine requirements as well.)

For our purposes here, I’ll explain the best ways to use anything below 20,000 words, but I’ll give some pointers on the rest as well.

Short Story Markets

You pretty much have three options:

  • sell a short story collection to a publisher
  • sell a single short story to a magazine
  • self-publish short stories – either as singles or collections.

Well, you have three options in theory. The odds of the first are astronomical, the prospects of the second aren’t much richer. (Sorry, that’s the truth.) And while the third option is certainly in your own clammy hands, and could open a whole new world for you, it also comes with a plethora of new challenges.

There’s no sugarcoating it here but don’t get dissuaded either; there is a path ahead for the adventurous short story writer.

Short Story Publishers

Your dreams might include a short story collection published by a venerable New York House. The reality is that publishers only tend to acquire short story collections from the very most successful of their large stable of existing authors, and even then only in certain genres.

And even then, the publisher and agent would probably rather the author had written another novel instead – such is the respective commercial demand for short stories versus novels.

You don’t have to like it, but this is the harsh truth: an unknown author has virtually no chance of interesting an agent or publisher with a short story collection – especially if they don’t have a string of impressive magazine credits already.

The exception here is specialist publishers in certain genres. Tor regularly publishes novellas between 20,000 and 40,000 words. Romance also has several publishers like Harlequin looking for shorter books in certain categories.

Slim pickings abound. But there are other routes to readers, some of which might be a much more profitable use of your time.

Short Story Magazines

Once a mainstay of American life, demand for short story magazines has dwindled considerably since their heyday – as have the relative pay rates, which are essentially frozen since the 1950s.

Getting a short story published in a magazine can be a wonderful experience nonetheless, especially if you are popping your literary cherry and particularly so if you actually get paid.

Pay is often nominal but getting a magazine credit can be a positive first step at the beginning of your writing career, and certainly was for this particular author.

For authors of literary fiction, famous magazines like The New Yorker, Paris Review, and The Atlantic might be top of their list, just keep in mind that the bar there is incredibly high and established authors – even famous ones – get rejected all the time.

Respected literary magazines like Ploughshares, Zoetrope, The Antioch Review, Threepenny Review, and Glimmer Train should also be on your list to check out if you write that kind of story.

Writers of humor will already know about McSweeney’s, surely, and it remains a popular choice for submitters of short pieces in various forms.

And then various genre magazines round out things, such as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Quinn Mystery Magazine for all types of mystery, suspense, legal thrillers, and police procedurals. SF/F authors will want to check out the likes of Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Amazing Stories, and Lightspeed as well.

If you are seeking out more markets, or other genres, then Duotrope should be your first port-of-call – a handy resource for finding markets and tracking submissions.

I submitted to many of the above, back when I was querying agents and trying to get a traditional deal for my novel, firing short stories at any magazine I could find in a desperate attempt to pad out my literary resume. I was rejected by most of them too, so there’s that.

But I did “sell” a short story to a small UK magazine. I use the scare quotes there because no money actually changed hands; instead I received several comp copies of the magazine in question, a common enough form of “payment” for smaller magazines and for authors at the very beginning of their journey.

However, I subsequently re-sold a version of that story later on, for actual money, and it also went on to be published in a hardback collection of the best stories of the year, which was a real, tangible milestone and something that gave me huge confidence. Especially the getting paid part.

I further went on to self-publish that story along with a couple of others, which was an early and valuable lesson in intellectual property rights and how you can make money in multiple ways from a single piece of work.

Feel free to explore the world of magazines if you wish. It can be a very positive experience, as I said. Submitting to magazines can be disheartening and time-consuming. To give yourself any chance you will need to familiarize yourself with their requirements, which can be strict, and particularly with their taste. (Leading to a situation at some magazines where most of the audience seems to be writers trying to get published.)

Some authors get stuck in a rut here, submitting to magazines forever and not really progressing. Definitely be aware that there is a whole world of possibility in the world of ebooks and self-publishing which might be more fruitful for you – it certainly was for me.

Self-Publishing Short Stories

Because I am such a passionate advocate of the self-publishing path, you might expect me to say that self-publishing short stories is nothing but sunshine and lollipops but let me give it to you straight: it’s a tough way to make money. And there are certainly easier ways to make a literary buck, especially in the world of self-publishing. Let’s break it down.

When you are your own publisher, that means you have to take care of everything. This doesn’t mean actually doing everything yourself – you will most likely be outsourcing specialized tasks like editing and cover design. But you will certainly be handling the marketing yourself, and this is the sticky point for short story writers.

Because there’s an inescapable truth; readers prefer novels. And not just any kind of novel, but a series too. The prospect of writing over 1000 pages when you have been struggling to write 10 might be overwhelming, but let’s just park that for a moment and look at the self-publishing short story market in more detail.

Publishing short stories yourself is certainly one way to ensure your work reaches the marketplace of readers. Yes, you have many new things to learn if you want to do it right, but these are skills which will be incredibly useful to you over the course of a writing career.

Newer writers tend to look at me funny when I say publishing is the easy part, but out of the three-step challenge facing authors today – writing, publishing, and marketing – it is by far the most straightforward. And experienced self-publishers know exactly what I mean.

Self-publishing in 2021 might seem more complex then when I started ten years ago but the tool today are far superior. Plus the wild frontier of self-publishing is pretty well mapped out today.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any pitfalls for neophytes though, so tread carefully.

You can grab my free guide to self-publishing if you want to explore this path in more detail, just make sure you don’t waste lots of money by using one of those terrible self-publishing companies that generate huge numbers of complaints every year.

I even have a companion video course walking you through book marketing basics – and that’s also free so definitely check it out.

But let’s be clear about something: the real challenge with short stories isn’t publishing them, it’s selling them. Especially in a word overflowing with novels.

Selling Short Stories You Publish

When I was first weighing up whether to self-publishing – way back in 2011 – I decided to test the waters by publishing some short stories. It seemed like a low-risk way to learn the publishing ropes, and so it proved. At least as far as the publishing part went.

In fact, learning all that stuff was so energizing that while one story was with the editor I wrote another from scratch – in a completely different genre – and then repeated the trick right after.

It was quite the fillip after getting so many rejections from magazines (and from agents regarding my first novel). Indeed, within eighteen months I was a full-time authors living off the sales of my self-publishing books.

However, the sales from my short stories weren’t contributing a lot to that total. Like most other self-publishers, I soon discovered it was much easier to make money with longer work.

That doesn’t mean I stopped writing shorter pieces though. Because while shorts aren’t usually money-makers themselves in a direct sense, they really can help you make money in less obvious ways.

Sometimes short stories can lead you to unexpected places to, as George Berger found out when he queried Amazon’s Kindle Singles program.

the story of how george berger and his goat themed Kiindle Single - Midnight's Tale - came to be

Other Uses For Shorter Work

The inventive world of self-publishing has come up with a number of handy uses for shorter work. Let’s go through them in turn:

Anthologies

I’m sure you are familiar with anthologies, but in case not, and to properly distinguish them from box sets: anthologies are collections of short stories by different authors, usually around a chosen theme. Authors either get invited to participate by the editor organizing the anthology (which is often a fellow author), or they might respond to a call for submissions and get chosen – just like with a magazine – or they could even act as the editor themselves and invite submissions.

Anthologies aren’t usually big money-making operations or chances to hit bestseller lists – although that can happen with strong promotion – but are more normally conducted with the aim of giving curious readers a taste of your writing, and leading them across to the rest of your catalog.

Box sets

The difference with anthologies is that box sets are usually collections of novels (or sometimes novellas) by either a group of authors, or just one on their own.

In the case of the latter, you might wonder why an author might make a box set of her work and, in particular, why she might sell it so cheaply. Well, the short version is that boxing up and discounting older books in this manner can be a powerful and aggressive marketing tactic, especially with books whose sales have diminished considerably.

Where short stories come into the mix is in providing bonus content – which can entice readers who already own some or all of the novels in the box set.

Reader magnets

The most powerful tool any author has is their mailing list, and the very best way to boost sign-ups is by dangling a free story as a bonus for joining – often called a reader magnet.

Having an exclusive, free short story or novella as a sign-up bonus can act as a very powerful incentive for readers to join your newsletter, and it’s a particularly popular technique among savvy self-publishers seeking to grow their mailing list.

Short stories or novellas are handy as reader magnets because they can be written much more quickly than novels – which can be used as reader magnets as well, if you wish. However, using shorter pieces also opens up the possibility of writing custom reader magnets – such as a short story featuring a popular secondary character. When you have something like that which readers are crying out for, and they can only get it by signing up to your mailing list, sign-ups can go through the roof.

This tactic has been the biggest driver of mailing list growth for me – no question. And most other authors with a big mailing list will probably agree with that too.

Making Money As A Writer

If you are focused more on making a living as a writer, there is one inescapable fact: in almost every genre, it’s much easier to sell full-length books, and far easier again if those books happen to be part of a series.

Many writers start off writing short stories, but “graduate” to longer work and then either leave short story writing behind, or just engage in it for personal satisfaction – or perhaps for one of the advanced marketing uses mentioned above.

So if you are plotting out a writing career for yourself, short stories can be useful stepping stones in craft and career terms, but you should also have one eye out for a novel-shaped idea – even better if it is one with series potential.

It’s not all about making money though. Short stories can be a fun way to sketch out a new character or a space to test out a high concept, or a new genre for you as a writer. And sometimes the constraints of the form can lead to some powerful work.

It’s almost certainly an apocryphal story itself, but Hemingway is said to have won a bet among his fellow authors to write a complete story in just six words:

For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.

What about you? Do you like to write short stories? Have you had success placing them with magazines or with self-publishing? Are you interested in more advanced uses like box sets or reader magnets? Let us know in the comments.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.


39 Replies to “Publishing Short Stories • Your Guide to Making Money”

  1. Hi David,

    I have been writing short stories for a few years now. Self published a short novel in 2012; a few anthologies, one magazine article (free, didn’t get paid) and working on my second, longer book.
    Want to get into the short story business, I actually would like to make some money.

    thanks
    wayne

    1. Well, you have plenty of options – just keep in mind some of the cautions above and set expectations appropriately. I think it’s much easier to make money with novels, especially a series in a commercial genre, but writing short stories and publishing them whichever way can be very fulfilling in other ways. And there is the opportunity there to make at least some money with them – and maybe more than that, depending on the genre.

  2. I’ve been scouring posts about the death of the short story. Given there is an interest in actually reading good quality short stories there is defiantly ways to change the old publishing model in the writers favor. It would be awesome if anyone reading this could answer 5 questions that would take you less than 5 minutes. The link is here: http://bit.ly/Short_Story_Store_Survey

    Thanks to anyone awesome that answers the call.

  3. ebooks and the Kindle has given me a chance to publish a collection of short tales based in Edinburgh that otherwise would probably have remained in a dusty corner of my hard drive. They’ve been selling slowly, but consistently, and I’m now working on the next set.

    And don’t forget to add ‘Flowers for Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes to the list of great short stories. This became ‘Charly’ at the pictures.

  4. I write under a few different pen names and my experience has been that while some readers love novellas, a lot more readers in the general public just “don’t understand them”. They think they are getting a “rushed and underdeveloped novel” or are in some other way being short-changed. This is especially true when you add in the “bargain shopping reader” who buys an ebook novella at a bargain price and thinks they’re just getting a bargain but then feel doubly cheated in the end.

    It also doesn’t seem to help to be very specific in descriptions… listing the word count, how many pages that translates to, and even how long reading time will be, tends to only reduce the drama you have to deal with, not eliminate it.

    It seems the shortest novella you can get away with without dealing with fallout and bad reviews from people who can’t read descriptions is about 35,000 words. Even then you’ll have complaints that your work is “too short”. (Interestingly all the complaints about underdeveloped and “too short” stories, completely disappear when you combine several novellas in a collection, which leads me to believe readers don’t know what they are reacting to and are reacting to the amount of time it takes them to read something, not how good it is, or how developed it is.

    Unfortunately, due to all the years of publishers insisting on very narrow word count ranges, the general public has no real understanding or concept of things like the novella. I do think they are more receptive to shorter novels in ebook form like 50k to 70k short, and that 35k novellas don’t produce “too” many problems. But generally speaking, anything under 35k that you intend to sell on Kindle, no matter your price point, writers should be prepared to meet some resistance and deal with a few obnoxious consumers who think they are purposefully cheating them.

  5. Kindle is definitely leading resurgence in the art of short story writing. I released my own collection of 12 not so short mystery thriller stories at an average of 5,000 per story in one collection. There are definitely fans of short story writing out there quite prepared to pay 99c or 70p for a short story, or a collection. All that I would ask is that author’s clearly mark them as such to avoid the wrath of those that think they are buying a full story to avoid a 1 star review from disgruntled reader.

    I just thank the day I bought a set of readers digest hardback books from a jumble sale that sparked my interest in short stories.

    http://declanconner.com/short-story-writing/

    1. I am surprised (pleasantly) at the demand out there for short stories.

      And you’re right, it should always be clear what the reader is paying for.

      Even though I make it clear (2 short stories, total 4000 words/16 pages for 99c), I still got one review complaining about the length. It will happen.

      Now you have me thinking what got me into short stories, and I can’t for the life of me remember – there goes the day.

  6. Interesting points, David. A few thoughts occur to me:-

    I take it the French law prevents discounting BY more than 5% of list price rather than BELOW 5% of list price?

    I don’t agree that price-cutting is the solution to theft. The only price thieves will pay is zero.

    I too was surprised publishers charged more for e-books than for mass market and even trade paperbacks. But it seems to be working. Most bestselling e-books are quite expensive, and their prices are going up, if anything. Many, if not most, readers seem as ‘conservative’ in their choice of e-books as in their choice of paper books. Not what I expected! Then again, I didn’t expect the fall of the Berlin Wall, so I don’t hold myself out as a prophet.

    1. Hi John, thanks for following me over from Nathan’s place. You are correct in your assumption re. the French law (did I say the second one? must correct).

      I wrote a longer piece on piracy a few days ago. But in short, I believe (and there is evidence for this), there are two kinds of pirates. The first kind are the techies who crack the stuff in the first place, often as a badge of honour, share it around, and fill their hard-drives full of the stuff, and probably rarely look at it. I don’t think this group represent lost sales in any significant numbers. But there is a second kind. They are the people who don’t really want to pirate, but have found a way to justify it to themselves. Either the book they want is unavailable as an e-book (Harry Potter, and much backlist stuff), or its priced too high, and they feel justified in taking it. This second group (which I believe is smaller in terms of actual pirated copies), is where the publisher/writer is losing sales. The first you can do nothing about. The second, you can combat with low prices and convenience. I could lay out the whole argument for the latter point, but take a look at the piracy post (it’s called Yo Ho Ho And A Bottle of Rum), and see what you think.

  7. The Vonnegut and the Bradbury might have found a home as literary fiction, which seems more open to shorter novels.

    Charles Yu’s How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe was about that length. Last year’s Pulitzer prize winner, The Tinkers, was as well. Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey was also quite short. Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son still sells fairly well.

    I agree that “short novel” sounds more marketable than “novella.” I also think people will come to expect exact length listings.

    1. Amazon could easily require that information, either in the form of word count listing (which most people don’t understand anyway), or category (Short story, novelette, novella, short novel, novel–which most people don’t understand anyway.) But then authors might be back to padding for length to achieve a higher price with a higher word count or the more desirable “novel” label.

      1. True, though padding will always be a vice when it comes to writing :).

        Readers will speak their minds if they feel the product was sub-par. With e-books, the reviews are always right there (which wasn’t true when buying off a store rack).

        In the long-term, (relatively) honest descriptions will probably be the best policy, especially for writers with many books for sale. Cheat a reader once, and they won’t return.

      2. Exactly, and this is what is so attractive (to me) about the “readers as gatekeepers” model. I don’t really care that much how much extra crap is published, I care more that readers get to decide what is good and what is bad, not Time magazine, not The New York Times, not agents, not editors, but readers.

        Although ask me again after my first one-star review…

      3. They could and they should.

        It could be easily solved. Nearly all readers will have read physical books, and there is a standard size (more or less), so why can’t they give a rough guide at least?

        Or they could say X pages on the standard Kindle at standard font sizes, or whatever. But something.

      4. I agree that readers are the ultimate gatekeepers, but relying solely on individual word of mouth to spread your book’s popularity is problematic. When buying wine, I don’t do research ahead of time, but I know the genre of wine I like, and I always look for a rating card beneath it. If Robert Parker says it’s over a 90, I’ll believe him, and if the price is right, I’ll buy it. Same thing for beer. A four pack of ale may be a whopping 12 bucks, but if it’s rated a 100 by someone I’ve heard of, I’ll likely try it. Maybe we need a Book Spectator. Or we need nothing of the sort and I should stop avoiding my writing and get back to work.

    2. It’s interesting that out of the four examples you gave two were small, independent presses (Harding & Mason), and two were large publishers. And out of the two from large publishers, one (Yu) was by a specific imprint with lots of editorial independence, and the other (Johnson) was from 1993.

      I think it’s harder today with a large house to get something published at that length that is not YA. And for a new writer? It doesn’t matter how good it is, the agents won’t even look at the manuscript. It’s not impossible, but pretty close.

      Small, independent presses however, will often try something a little different, and it was great to see them garnering so many nominations in the awards this year.

      But your general point about literary fiction holds – shorter works are acceptable, just as in Epic Fantasy longer works are permitted.

  8. hahaha. A few months ago that probably would have been my exact thought process. Only at that length I would’ve thought Middle Grade. Maybe throw in a wizard or two to make it fly.

    1. I think the key though, as always, is a good, professional editor, whom you respect, and with whom you develop a good working relationship, where you listen to what they say. We can all point to experienced writers who seem to have gotten a little flabbier in their prose as their star power grew and they felt more comfortable overruling their editor. I’m not saying you should slavishly incorporate each editorial suggestion, but they should be given a lot of weight, and never simply dismissed out of hand because you think differently.

  9. There’s anecdotal evidence that novellas aren’t selling nearly as well as novels, but I think this is mostly a marketing problem. The term novella is so variable, it doesn’t tell us much about the product. Writer A calls his short work of 10,000 words a novella, whereas Writer B calls it a long short story. Another writer might call 35,000-40,000 words a short novel (which is certainly better for marketing; has a lovely ring to it.) Most readers just don’t know how to conceptualize a novella. It’s been too long removed from the public consciousness, so there needs to be a new push to reintroduce it.

    1. I think you are spot on, David. When I was researching this post, I was surprised at some of the titles that were actually novellas. I guess when you buy the paperback, they are usually padded out with introductions, notes, biography and the rest, so the reader wouldn’t shirk at the length, and instead think they are getting value for the price.

      Perhaps if some e-publisher was to publish a load of novellas, they could easily raise consciousness of the form by referring to these classics. Then again, with the rise of self-publishing, I think people are becoming more fluid of their conception of novel-length, and accepting, as you said “short novels” of 35,000 words as acceptable.

      1. I think it’s important for people to know how novel lengths have grown over the years, and partly because of publishers’ desires, not because authors became more longwinded. Look at science fiction. This is a notoriously weighty genre, with books that often come in at 120,000 or more words. However, many of the seminal science fiction works were far under this count. I don’t remember the exact word count, but Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was around 60,000 words, or 221 pages in hardback. It probably wouldn’t have been accepted by publishers today. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is about 46,000 words long.

        Writers have been forced to build their stories up to an arbitrary word or page count instead of making the story as long (or as short) as it needs to be.

        There is a danger in this new old movement. If writers pad their short stories (or simply not edit them as severely as they might’ve done before) just so they can slap the title Novella on them, either out of laziness or to charge a higher price, it could undercut the whole thing.

      2. Yes, and many new writers are particularly bad at cutting their story where it needs to be cut, and first novels (unpublished ones), often run far too long. When they realise that this won’t fly, they cut, and often end up with a better story.

        Without the gatekeeper in self-publishing, I wonder how many people will go through that necessary process.

      3. Another one I was surprised by was Slaughterhouse 5, Vonnegut’s debut, only 45,000 words. No new author would get away with that today, and good luck converting THAT into a YA novel!

  10. I’ve had this same thought myself, and it’s encouraging to see that someone else has. I write short stories, but probably my biggest challenge has been pushing myself to stay under the word limit prescribed by most short story markets (and a lot of the time it’s closer to 5-6,ooo at the most). Some stories really need to go past that limit but don’t have enough material for a full-length novel.

    I have seen some people complaining that self-published novellas in ebook form are cheating buyers who think they’re getting a longer book, but I don’t think that’s a problem as long as authors are very clear about length in their product description. So far as I know, Amazon doesn’t have separate categories for short and long ebooks yet, do they?

    1. Amazon have a category for Short Stories. However, with the way they list books, and the way that tagging works, your short story will appear in multiple places (e.g. Short Story & Science Fiction). Some authors aren’t clear in their descriptions about the length of their work, and they often don’t list word or page counts, which is unfair on the reader, and comes back to bite the writer in reviews. Amazon don’t force you to do either, of course, but that may change.

      A good strategy is always to be upfront with the reader, especially with the proliferation of $0.99 novels. You must post the word count clearly so that the reader knows what they are getting. Amazon could do a better job here in highlighting this, you do have to look for it if the author doesn’t place it in the actual text description, so it’s a good idea to do it there too.

      With regard to short story markets, a story is more marketable if it is between 2,000 and 4,000 words. Editors have reasons for this – it’s what their readers want to read, plus keeping the upper limits helps to keep down costs (they usually pay by the word). But there are plenty of markets where they take longer stories, http://www.duotrope.com is a great search engine for short story markets. And if you can always try posting in forums such as Absolute Write which have both short story and various genre subsections where you can get quick answers to questions like this. The people there really know all the (U.S.) markets.

  11. I share your optimism, Dave. The production flexibility is exciting.

    One additional point: There are so many non-fiction books that are padded with repetition, unnecessary anecdotes, weaker chapters, etc., in an effort to fill 300+ pages. Novella/pamphlet-length non-fiction could also be great for readers.

    1. Exactly – and it has been in the past, when self-publishing was much more common pre-1950, people could make money out of pamphlets.

      Poets, of course, have been self-publishing work, of all sorts of length, for years. It’s just that chapbooks are moving online.

      I have a 100,000 word novel that I am considering self-publishing. I had a thought the other day about whether I should offer it as one, large novel, or two shorter ones (there is an easy place to split it in the middle which would only require a little editing). Maybe I should do both, price appropriately, and let the reader decide. After all, it will only increase visibility on Amazon and elsewhere.

  12. I agree. Many of the guys who have been doing well out of self-publishing have been doing it with shorter novels. And it could be a factor in the YA boom in the US (with more and more adults buying YA books for themselves).

  13. Hi Dave,

    With so much information hitting us on a daily basis and the generally shorter attention spans of people; I think both novellas and short stories (written in the economical style of an Elmore Leonard) are going to make a big comeback in the e-book format.

    Werner
    Werner

  14. Ok, I feel so weird because I could have written this part of your post:

    My first novel was historical fiction, and the one I am working on at the moment is too (as are the next two planned after that), but my short stories are hard to classify in terms of genre. I suppose they are mainstream, but there is something off about them, something not quite right, that you can’t put your finger on. And the story I am editing right now, is my first science fiction piece, but again, not quite.

    From me: I’ve written a historical novel, Belvoir. I’m working on another one called State Fair. In the meantime, I’ve been writing weird short stories, one I plan to release soon. I’m calling them episodes, and there is something definitely off about them. I only hope people don’t hate me.

    Shelia
    http://www.peelingcheek.wordpress.com

    1. I love weird short stories. The weirder the better. Who doesn’t like a little slice of weird now and then? I used to love The Twilight Zone when I was a kid, and I think with each short story I write, I’m just trying to write another episode of that show.

  15. …Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery might have been the first adult short story I ever read. It blew me away!
    If you head over to Smashwrods (the self-publishing site) many of the Top 100 Most Downloaded are less than 10k words, which I would define as a short story.
    I realise that most of them are free downloads, so the author isn’t getting anthing from it except a warm fuzzy feeling, but to me this illustrates that people still want to read short stories (even if, ahem, they don’t want to fork out money for them).

    1. I haven’t read ‘The Lottery’, I’ll check it out, thanks for the tip. I didn’t realise that short stories were cracking the top 100 in Smashwords, that’s very interesting (and if you don’t mind, I’ll use that in a follow-up post in a few days about short story markets). And don’t forget, the author isn’t just getting a fuzzy feeling, they are building an audience. Some writers are giving their content away for free before charging for, say, a novel. This is a valid model, but not one that I am going to pursue, at least in the beginning. My stories will be professionally edited and have professional covers, and I hope people will think the quality of the stories is high too. I might consider some free promotional strategies, but I haven’t figure all that out yet.

      I think some people won’t pay for short stories, I have read enough different forums to know that. But, I think there is a large section of their market that will (and does on a regular basis). They are the people I am targeting. And I am hoping that with low prices, word of mouth, good reviews, and the ability to sample large portions, some of the others will change their mind too.

      I could be wrong about all of this of course, but there is only one way to find out!

      Dave

  16. ….and The Shawshank Redemption, regarded by many as one of the finest films ever made, is adapted almost word for work from Stephen Kings ‘Rita Hayword and The Shawshank Redemption’. Plus it came from one of Stephan Kings greatest books, Different Seasons, which is a collection of 4 short stories including ‘The Body’ (which became ‘Stand by Me’) and ‘Apt Pupil’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *