The New World of Publishing: Making a Living with Your Short Fiction

Way back, over two years ago now, I did a post in my Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series called “Myth: You Can’t Make Money Writing Fiction.” You can find that article either in any electronic bookstore or for free here. If you are having trouble with thinking about making money with your fiction, that post might be worth the read even though I wrote it two plus years ago. Especially those of you thinking of staying almost 100% traditional publishing.

But in this post, I want to go after a saying that used to be almost 100% true before three years ago. “You can’t make a living writing only short fiction.”

Not so true anymore.

Why this topic now? And why again, since I have touched on this at various times in various ways in various posts? Well, as I sit here in my office at WMG Publishing, in the other room Kristine Kathryn Rusch is working with a group of professional fiction writers. The topic of the workshop going on out there in the big room is “Short Stories.”

For those of you who don’t know my wife, she is the only person in history to win both the professional editor Hugo Award and a Hugo Award for her short fiction. She is also the only person in history to be in all four Dell Magazines in the same year. (Asimov’s, Analog, Ellery Queen, and Hitchcock’s) And she has done that four out of the last five or six years. She has also been nominated for just about every award there is in short fiction in both science fiction, fantasy, and mystery and won a bunch of them. The eleven writers in the other room are having a great time, learning a ton, and being worked harder than they could have imagined.

So the workshop and all the focus this week on short fiction got me thinking about the math of short fiction and how that has changed so much in this new world of publishing. And how a good short fiction writer can now make a living with their short fiction. They might not get rich, but a living wage is very, very possible these days. And maybe a nice retirement income as well.

Requirements Needed For a Writer To Make a Living Writing Only Short Fiction

1) A Work Ethic.

I started to say “speed” but so many writers think of speed-of-writing as speed-of-typing and no matter how much some of us say that isn’t so, it doesn’t cut through that myth. So I’m going to start calling “fast writers” simply writers with a work ethic.

For your information, I type between 750 words to 1,000 words per hour and I have to take a break every hour to protect my hands and arms. I am pretty normal on that pace it seems after talking to hundreds of professional writers over the years. If you can go faster, good for you. Don’t tell me. My little four-finger-typing has served me well over the decades. Typing speed means nothing.

What is important is work ethic. How many hour-long sessions can you do in a day? In a week?

Once more to the math that just makes myth-believers angry and frees the rest of us to do what we want.

If you type 250 words in 15 minutes, and considered your writing important enough to type for 15 minutes every day, you will finish 91,250 words in one year. Or about one longish novel. (Sorry, but it’s true. 250 words x 365 days = 91,250 words. By the way, I passed 250 words in this article somewhere in the middle of the paragraph about Kris above.)

Note that if you type for 15 minutes every day and produce 250 words and work only on short fiction, by the end of a year you would have completed about 18 short stories of average length of 5,000 words.

If you work for one really, really tough hour of writing (snicker) five days per week, and take two weeks off from the really rough pace (more snickers), you will produce (1,000 words x 5 days x 50 weeks =) 250,000 words in one year. Or about three novels.

Or about 50 short stories (at average length of 5,000 words).

That’s right. 250,000 words in a year. Working one hour per day and taking the weekends off and two weeks vacation.

So to make a living writing short fiction, you need a work ethic that will drag you to the computer at least one hour per day, five days per week. I know that’s tough. But if everyone could do it, there would be a lot of writers making a living with their fiction.

(Sorry, this work-ethic topic just makes me very snarky. And please don’t give me your pitiful excuses about having to research or think about your story or build character worksheets or rewrite your story a dozen times to make your story dull and boring and just like everyone else’s story. And please don’t talk to me about how your day job is 60 hours. I have heard all the excuses and am not interested in why you can’t dig out one hour a day average out of your life. If you can’t do that much, stop claiming you want to be a writer. At least to me. Thanks!)

2) Writing Across Many Genres

If you want to make a living at short fiction, you need to understand and be able to write in most of the main genres. And if you think you can’t write in a genre, then you haven’t tried yet.

The main genres that short fiction sells well in are science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, erotica, western, mainstream, thriller, and all the subgenres of those genres. The more you can write in the different genres, the better off you will be in the long run. Of course, all genres, including literary short fiction, sell at one level or another, so don’t let genre thinking limit your writing.

Yes, I know, you might need to have a few pen names and build them all. As I said… “in the long run.” It will take longer to build more than one name in just volume of work available to the readers. But trust me, it’s better to have three different authors pouring money into the cash stream than just one.

3) A Love of Short Fiction

If you don’t love short fiction and read it all the time, don’t even think about this. Use short fiction at times to help your other work and learn how to write it well. But don’t even think of making a living with it alone.

So what is a living wage?

Now let me come at this topic from another direction. What is a living wage?

That’s going to depend on your overhead and what part of the country you live in. $25,000 per year might be enough in some places. $100,000 a year might not be enough in other places. All depends.

So I’m going to go with something reasonable as my number. $40,000 per year for the rest of this article is a living wage. Figure out what’s good for you and do the math accordingly as I am going to do below.

Income Sources

Okay, quickly, I want to outline the different major sources of income from short fiction. And under the Magic Bakery thinking, there are a lot. But many will not happen for every story. So I’m going to just list some of the major ones here first and then go into details later.

1) Sell your story to a magazine or anthology

2) Indie publish your story

3) Group your story into a collection (or collections) and indie publish the collection(s) both electronically and in paper format.

4) Audio sales

5) Overseas sales to overseas magazines and publishers

There are many others, including movie sales, apps, and secondary print markets, but for this discussion, let me just stick to the top five.

Some of the keys to the above five are pretty simple.

For #1 you must only sell your work to five-cent-per-word markets and up that return the exclusive rights to your story to you no longer than six-to-nine months after publication. Maybe one year at most. (Most magazines and anthologies will keep nonexclusive rights beyond that to allow the story to stay in their issue or anthology, but that is no big deal since you can republish and control your story. The key is that the exclusive rights must come back fairly quickly.

For #2, you must price your short story at at least $2.99 and if your story isn’t long enough, add a second bonus story or other bonus material to the mix for the reader. (I know some of you don’t like this idea. Fine, keep your story at 99 cents and keep making 35 cent in the discount bin. No problem for me, and not something to talk about in this discussion.) You also must dig out the few hours extra per week it takes to publish your story and do the cover.

For #3, you need to price your collection decently and also get it into paper. We are moving our collection prices at WMG Publishing slowly to $3.99 for a 20,000 word collection and then up from there. Most of our short five-story collections go into a paper version for $8.99. You also must dig out the few hours to do the collections every time you fill another one.

For #4, either do your own audio recordings of your short fiction and sell them through the different sources, or go to Audible.com and run through their program. Better to have some stories going one way, others another way. No matter what, getting the audio cash stream running is the key.

For #5, you need to be aware of overseas markets and contract them at times to see if they are interested. (They often take reprints.) Yes, there are places to find overseas fiction markets. And yes, just as here, magazines buy from writers from all around the world. This takes time to build, but can be a slow but steady source of income once you have magazine editors overseas that like your work.

Building a Career and Income

I know a lot of you beginning writers out there are upset that your first novel or first short story didn’t sell. Or even your 30th short story isn’t helping the flow much. And we can go on for a long time about the reasons. Another time.

For this, I am going to assume you are mailing appropriate stories to top magazine markets, indie selling your stories in every electronic market, doing collections as often as you can, and pushing toward audio and overseas markets. In essence, using at least the five major ways of earning money from short fiction.

SALES ASSUMPTION: I am going to assume each indie-published story and collection sells an average of five copies around the world each month. Some stories will sell none, others will sell thirty. Again, the number is five for both the short fiction and the collections from ALL sources, not just Kindle.

Average!!!  Remember, average!!!

Will you hit five copies average early on? Not unless you are really lucky and writing in some genre that you are hitting dead center. Most of us take a lot of time to average five copies. Some writers I  know haven’t done it in the first two years of this new world, others have. It all depends on dozens of factors. Again, a later topic.

Even more frightening is that most writers don’t know how many copies every month they are selling. They look at the Kindle numbers and get depressed. Remember, Apple has thirty-two stores at last count around the world and Kobo has even more. Amazon has five. Think world and long term.

And by the way, “long term” means longer than six months.  I am going to talk about the third year from the start of a short story writing program. Nothing sells well if you only have a few titles out.

Okay, how will all this work out? Time to find out.

– You write 50 short stories in a year. They average around 5,000 words.

– You keep doing that for a second year and a third and so on.

– You and your first reader think that about 25 of the stories each year are appropriate for mailing to traditional magazines and anthologies. (Romance has no short fiction markets, so most of those would just go indie right off the bat.)

– You are good enough storyteller and marketer to sell 5 stories to those traditional markets the first year and ten per year after that, since some of the stories from the previous year are still on the market..

Income from Point #1 during the third year: 5,000 words x 10 stories = 50,000 words x 5 cents = $2,500.00 income per year. (Chances are it would be more than that, but let’s stay low.)

The advantages of doing this are far more than the money. Those traditional sales to magazines and anthologies push new readers to your indie published work as well and help you get on award ballots and into organizations and so on. Some of the best promotion a person can get is by selling to a major magazine or anthology and they pay you to advertise your work in their magazine.

– The other stories each year are published indie. And also the ones that are coming off the market after exhausting the good-paying traditional magazines. Or they have been published and reverted to you from the market after a sale.

– By the end of the third year you will have written 150 short stories and have about 100 of them indie published.

Income from Point #2 during the third year: 100 stories x 5 sales per month average = 500 sales per month around the world. Income from sales is $2.00 per sale. So 500 x $2.00 = $1,000.00 per month or $12,000.00  for the year. (Again, a lot of factors to drive this number up or down such as number of pen names, ability of storytelling, ability to do covers and blurbs, and your choice of topics.)

– Each story needs to be in at least one five-story collection. So by the end of the third year you will have 20 five-story collections published.

– Each story needs to be in a larger collection with at least ten or more stories. So by the end of the third year you will have at least 8 large collections.

– Five-story collections priced at $3.99 electronic and ten-story collections priced at $5.99 electronic. Profit from the first is $2.50 (rounding) per sale and from the large collections $4.00 per sale, again rounding.

Each collection also needs to be in paper editions, but let’s just round that money into the five sales for now. But it might be pretty large as your list of books grow and you get them into bookstores down the road.

Income from Point #3 during the third year: 20 collections x 5 sales per month = 100 sales x $2.50 = $250.00 per month or $3,000 per year. 8 large collections x 5 sales per month = 40 sales x $4.00 = $160.00 per month or $1,900.00 per year. (rounding)  Total Income from Point #3 is $3,000 plus $1,900 = $4,900.00

Income Points #4 and #5: Just assume if you are doing them they are making up for any shortfall in the numbers above. Given a few years, audio could bring you in a few thousand per year easily, if not more. I know a number of people who are making a ton more than that. But for now, we’ll leave these out of the calculations. Too much to explain. Just call points four and five insurance back-up.

So during year three what is the total income? Are we close yet to making that $40,000 per year income?

$2,500 + $12,000 + $4,900 = $19,400 for year three.

Nope, only about half way after three years. (Remember I said long term?)

So year #4 you add in another fifty stories.

Your traditional sales of $2,500 stay the same under Point #1. (Remember, you are getting paid to advertise your own work in their pages.)

You make 50 x 5 = 250 sales per month x $2.00 = $500 per month more x 12 = $6,000 more per year from Point #2

You have ten more short collections and say four more long collections. The math works out to about $2,400 per year extra.

So each year you keep up the pace you add into the mix about $8,400.

So at about halfway through year six you will go past the $40,000.00 per year income figure.

And it should keep climbing as long as you are writing. (It will level and drop slightly if you are not, but still a nice steady retirement income for a long time.)

Summary

There are lots and lots of ways this could go better or go worse than the numbers I laid out above. Let me list some.

– Success or failure on such a plan will depend on your ability to write stories people want to read and traditional editors want to buy. That means (as you write) you must continue to work on your craft and skills as a storyteller. If you don’t do this, just forget even trying this. You must have a hunger to get better every day, every story.

– Success or failure on such a plan will depend on your ability to make sales traditionally with short fiction. The more times your stories appear in traditional magazines and books, the better your indie stories will sell and the better the reader base you will slowly build. (Note: An ad in Asimov’s/Analog is about $800 per page. They pay you instead for filling ten pages with your story. And then give your story back in a few months.)

– Success or failure will depend on your ability to learn how to do good covers, keep your costs down to almost nothing, learn how to do active blurbs, and that you keep up with the changing technology. (If you hire out the work of laying out covers and books, forget this. You have to do it yourself for your own publishing company.)

– Success or failure will depend on your ability to get to writing regularly most days, and when life tosses you a  monster, you go back to writing when you get through the issues. This is the most difficult for all of us. I’m just now climbing back on the writing after a long life event that took me away for nine months. It happens. You climb back on and keep going.

– Success or failure will depend on your ability to think long term with your planning. (Watch, most of the comments I will get about this post will be about looking at their short-term sales on a few stories. Those mean nothing I’m afraid.) Average. Become a better storyteller. Think long term.

– Success or failure will depend on your ability to start and push new cash streams such as audio or overseas sales or whatever is coming next. You may discover that over time your biggest cash stream isn’t something that exists right now, or that I didn’t mention. 

But, all that said, it is very possible these days for a good short story writer to make a nice living writing only short fiction. You have to love it like I do. And you have to love writing it and be challenged by it.

But no matter what your belief is about the chance that writers can make a living with only short fiction, the math does not lie.

You might not agree with my assumptions. Fine. Change the sales to three sales average around the world every month, including paper for the collections. It will take you a few years longer to get to the goal. It will still happen if you write the stories and make it happen.

We are just entering  a new golden age for short fiction. For those of us who love to write and read short fiction, this new world is just heaven.

Ten years ago I never dreamed making a living with short fiction was possible.

But it is possible now.

Have I said lately how much I love this new world?
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Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
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This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.  I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie. 

In fact, this article is about 3,100 words long. I could have written a short story in the same amount of time.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. I don’t always get a chance to respond, but the donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Tip Jar: Go To Paypal

 

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108 Responses to The New World of Publishing: Making a Living with Your Short Fiction

  1. Richard Jefferson says:

    Dean,

    I’m mostly a lurker, but I couldn’t agree with you more, and this is after I received three 1-star reviews on Amazon.com for different short story titles. Those idiots considered $2.99 for a 5000-word short story to be a rip-off and that pisses me off because I think charging 99-cents is a rip-off for me. Given that the short story ebook market is a small market as it is, I’d rather put up with the occasional 1-star reviewer asshole who rips me for selling my work for a fair price than to half-assed give my work away in charging 99-cents. If those readers don’t think I’m worthy of earning more than 35-cents on a short story then they can go purchase all the 99-cent novels that their heart desires until those particular authors get tired of being the best-selling authors still working at Wal*Mart.

    • dwsmith says:

      Richard, yup, the early adapters who are writers got locked into the 99 cent price, even though a bunch of us were shouting it was just discount publishing like the bins in front of stores or tables with discounted books in stores. I have given up fighting that fight since people who believe their work is only worth 99 cents are not going to be helped by me. However, since I have a ton of short stories up, and I want to touch them all and fix covers and double some up, it’s going to take me another month or so until none of my stuff is 99 cents regularly. Then I can use that price as a discount sale price for short term stuff if I want.

      • Richard Jefferson says:

        Dean, it will take a bunch of authors to sit down and finally do the math before finally realizing that 99-cents is not a good regular price if you want to make a living from the ebook platforms. Sure, I got reamed for my $2.99 price, but you know what? I sold 60 copies of those three titles for the month so far making at least $120 for the month. Had I set my price at 99-cents my income on those three titles would be $21, and I’d have to sell almost 360 downloads at 99-cents to make that same $120, which is asinine from my point of view.

        I also agree with your sentiment that you’re done trying to convince authors that their work is worth more than 99-cents when they’re wishing that they can sell it for less than 99-cents (I’ve seen authors say this on message boards *facepalm*).

    • Jason says:

      Hey Richard,

      You might want to reach out to Amazon’s customer service and complain about these reviews. Depending on how they are worded you might be able to have them deleted.

      Here’s the guidelines to Amazon’s review policies.

      It seems to me that you might have recourse under “Objectionable material” as in spiteful remarks as well as “Off-topic information” for feedback on the seller. And pricing in my opinion is more about feedback on the seller rather than review of the material.

      I know first hand that you can use this process to have reviews deleted. Give it a try and report back.

  2. Rebecca says:

    I think I need to print out this post and stick it on the wall above my monitor. Especially this:***
    Success or failure will depend on your ability to get to writing regularly most days, and when life tosses you a monster, you go back to writing when you get through the issues. This is the most difficult for all of us. I’m just now climbing back on the writing after a long life event that took me away for nine months. It happens. You climb back on and keep going
    ***
    I have daily monsters but I sacrifice about 5 hours of sleep every day to get some form of writing in. Sleep deprivation typing sometimes releases that plot arc you were stuck on. heh. I’m basically a novelist but I do have short story collections in the works, and one is completely out of my genre. So I’ll skip another hour of sleep. :-)
    Thanks for this!

    /R

    • Nancy Beck says:

      Wow, Rebecca, just wow. Hope you’re okay.

      I thought I was bad, writing off and on for 2 months and absolutely nothing for the past couple of weeks. One life event just (literally) ended yesterday. The other one I expect to wrap up (fingers crossed) next week, but we’ll see.

      I’ll just have to carve out some time elsewhere, which I don’t think is going to be a big deal.

  3. Deborah says:

    Another great post. :D Thanks!! It reminded me of a comment (not a good one, IMO) from a really prominent fiction magazine editor. He posted it a few months back on one of his blogs.

    Paraphrasing, because I forget the exact word he used, but he was basically horrified (he might have used “appalled” or “very scared” instead) at the thought that a writer would have so many submissions out at one time that the writer needed to track it. His comment made me think his ideas wouldn’t mesh well with this blogs or others like it.

    • Angie says:

      he was basically horrified (he might have used “appalled” or “very scared” instead) at the thought that a writer would have so many submissions out at one time that the writer needed to track it

      Seriously? That editor is way behind the times. :/ There was (at least) one topic back on GEnie in the ’80s where writers posted their submissions and responses, to keep track and to collect response rate data, and there were a lot of people doing a lot of writing and submitting. Heck, I remember one woman back then whose rate of production and submission would give even Dean a run for his money; she had multiple submissions and responses to report pretty much every week.

      I have a hard time imagining someone who works in this business honestly believing that all or even most writers have only, what, one or two stories circulating at a time? Even then you need to keep records, so if it’s in circulation for six months or a year or longer, you remember where you’ve already sent it so you don’t accidentally send it back. I imagine this editor would appreciate that factor, at least.

      Wow.

      Angie

  4. Yeah, Dean, I agree the .99 price point for short stories was because of early adopters. I think that also kind of applied to readers as well, though. What I mean is I think a lot of the early adopters didn’t want to pay much for a story because they wanted to fill up there device, etc. A lot of them complained about novels not being 99 cents. Now, if you look on the reader boards over at Amazon (NOT Kindleboards) there’s always someone ranting about how the will never buy a 99 cent novel again. People like my aunt who’ve always bought their favorite novels for 25 to 30 dollars when they came out see 9.99 as a bargain but when they see 99 cents think that something has to be wrong (we had an actual conversation about this.) In summary, I agree and all the evidence is baring you out.

    Also, I donated and passed it on, so…get back to writing!! Sorry just wanted to say it to you for once. =)

  5. Alain Gomez says:

    Excellent post. As a short-shorty-only writer I’ve been screaming this same thing on my own blog for quite some time.

    I really liked that you heavily pointed out the long term nature of short stories. So often I see authors write one story, it doesn’t sell, and then they immediately write off (no pun intended) the genre as a waste of time. Short stories take time to catch on. You need both quality AND quantity.

    You also have to work with the current online selling models. On Amazon the sales ranks favor a single product selling large numbers. No single short story will sell large numbers unless you get REALLY lucky. You have to bank on writing 50 stories and having one person buy each story. So eventually your author name will filter into the also bought system. It just takes longer.

  6. Annie Reed says:

    I love it when you do math. :) Here’s a little of mine. I have 63 individual titles indie published under three different names. That’s two novels, one 3-story collection, one 8-story collection, four 5-story collections, and 55 short stories. I’ve also got short stories with traditional publishers that earn royalties, and I still send short stories out to traditional magazine markets. This year, through May, I’m at 127% of what I made for the entire year in 2011 (that’s cash in hand, so it doesn’t include Apple, Kobo, etc., sales through May, only the payments I’ve actually received). Since I’m currently working on more 5-story collections as well as combining the existing short stories into A&B doubles at $2.99 with revamped covers where necessary (thanks to what I learned from you and Scott earlier this year) and expanding into audio, it will be interesting to see what the overall percentage increase is at the end of the year.

    • allynh says:

      Annie,

      Also consider the concept with the short story A&B doubles, that you have the “A” story by the pen name listed on the front cover, and have the “B” story be a story by another pen name. Since you are the publisher with many writers in your house, the “B” story could be listed as “If you like the story by A____, you might like this story by B____.” HA!

  7. Flutterby says:

    Dean – after a couple of years on Amazon at the .99 pricepoint, I started a new pen name last year with a resolute 2.99 pricepoint. Titles averaged around 5-6k in length (although they’ve been steadily getting longer). Less than 30 titles developed over a six-month period, one pen name only. Current monthly earnings on just Amazon/BN would be a 6-figure annual income. (Numbers started ballooning in April!)

    This could all disappear at any moment, of course, but I finally feel I know how to repeat it over and over. Looking forward to the day I turn in my notice (building the safety net at present) and go FT instead of just being a Saturday writer.

    Formula? Quality cover, description, and writing/storytelling (duh on all of these) with a frequent release schedule (that last bit is the clencher). I started at four titles a month. Now that the stories are getting longer (max is about 25k), it’s only one or two a month, but I don’t let a month go by without a new release.

    Some people are going to claim I’m blowing smoke up their bum (particularly since I’m not pointing to my titles). That’s okay — while they’re busy wringing their hands over whether I’m lying, I’ll be employing mine to type the next story. ;-)

    • M.B. Manteufel says:

      Just curious, what genre are you writing in?

      • dwsmith says:

        M.B., I personally write in all genres and a ton of the time down the cracks between genres as well. I have published traditional novels in almost all genres. I’ve missed some sub genres, but got most of the major genres with finished and published books under one name or another. Including Christian and young adult, even though I am not a Christian or a young adult.

      • dwsmith says:

        However, that said, M.B., my short fiction tends to slant mostly toward Urban Fantasy, science fiction, some romance, and a bunch of mystery.

      • Flutterby says:

        MB – I focus my writing efforts in the one genre that can’t help but make money – erotica and erotic romance (my writing peeps won’t be happy with my broadcasting that). I like to think it’s some of the best written dirteh out there, though. ;-) While I do cross-genre erotica and ER on occasion, contemporary ER sells best for me.

        I have a few low-selling SF stories under a pen name not supported by frequent releases (this really is the clencher IMO if you want to succeed). Lucky for me my granny doesn’t understand that high numbers on Amazon means a poor rank. She thinks all that money coming in is from the SF.

        Just to add a little emphasis, writers who want to make a living at this need to do what Dean suggested – carve out those hours (I do one long marathon day each weekend) and do not let a month go by without a new release. All of my prior efforts in erotica and ER (and they stretch back for years and years) were missing that one component. I did not get any real wage results until I took up a continual presence on the new release lists for my genre.

  8. In your experience, which genres and subgenres work well together under a single pen-name? Which genres/subgenres are best separated into different pen-names? So far I’ve been focusing on writing steampunk mystery novelettes, but I’ve got ideas and works in progress across the board.

    • dwsmith says:

      Michael, only my opinion, and readers will vary on your question. My sense tells me that erotica or very hot romance needs its own name. Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror go well together. Mystery, thriller and all those sub genres go well together. Mainstream and literary can be anything, although if you are pushing really hard into only literary fiction, even with the recent New York science fiction issue, you might want to have different names to write fantasy or science fiction. Mystery floats pretty well into mainstream and literary.

      Steampunk is going to overshadow the mystery elements of your story, of course, but my sense you could write sf/fantasy and mystery under the same name at this point.

      Just think of your readers. If a reader who loves your (genre) work picks up another book and is insulted or put off by the second genre, you need to change names for that genre to keep your one building set of readers happy. No rules, just common sense.

      • Dean,

        Thank you so much for your opinion, and trust me, I understand that it’s just that — your opinion. I’m working on developing my own brand (or, rather, set of brands) and knowing what has worked well for other authors keeps me from retreading paths that I need not traverse. Your thoughts and opinions on the changing face of publishing has provided guideposts and milestones enabling me to forge my own way, and to do so in a professional manner.

  9. Teri Babcock says:

    “Those idiots considered $2.99 for a 5000-word short story to be a rip-off and that pisses me off because I think charging 99-cents is a rip-off for me.”

    A couple of weekends ago, a speaker at my professional association meeting told us that unless at least 10% of your clients are complaining that your rates are too high, they aren’t high enough. This guy would tell you to up your price at least another buck… since only 3 of 60, or 5%, of your ‘clients’ complained.

    • dwsmith says:

      Yup, afraid I agree with Teri on this one. You have to value your work. I like getting $2.00 per reader of a short story in profit from a bookstore, and if the story is short, I try to give them another full story as well that sort of fits in the genre with the first one. That feels about right for me because if I get 200 readers over time on a short story, I get the $400 or so I used to get selling only to magazines and anthologies and then putting the story in a drawer.

      • Stefon Mears says:

        How short is too short? I have a couple of stories of about three thousand words each. Do you think they need an extra?

        I have some flash fiction I’m thinking of indie publishing, and those pieces are under a thousand words each. Do you think it’s worth putting them out at .99 each or sticking to collections of four or five for 2.99?

        Thank you for these posts. I appreciate your perspective on publishing.

        • dwsmith says:

          Stefon, good question, and I think it’s a choice we all make. I feel a reader must feel like they got a little something from the story, so my gut sense is three thousand words needs an extra for the $2.99 price. I think Kris put together a 1,500 word story with a 5,000 word story and it worked fine for $2.99. Flash fiction or whatever it’s called these days, might need more than one to get to the $2.99 price. If anything, use those as free fiction to attract readers. Also better than 99 cents at this point in time. But again, just my opinions.

          • Stefon Mears says:

            Thank you, Dean. And that’s an interesting idea – giving some of my flash fiction away to draw readers. I could then also bundle a free story or two with a set of other flash pieces, to act as an invitation: “if you liked that story, you might like like this collection.”

          • dwsmith says:

            And Stefon, remember, just because you give it away free as a stand-alone with its own cover doesn’t mean that same story also can’t be inside another collection to help fill out the collection. (grin) Just an idea.

    • Richard Jefferson says:

      Teri, I couldn’t agree with you more.

  10. Caine Dorr says:

    I feel as if you basically covered this but, just to be sure: I’m not going to be able to sell a piece of fiction to a magazine and then also sell it both on indie digital markets and Audible.com at the exact same time correct? I’ll probably have to wait and sell it on the indie digital and audible later after the contract runs out. Is that right?

    • dwsmith says:

      Caine, that is correct. You will sign a contract with a short fiction market for first (whatever) rights with an exclusive clause where the story can only be published by them for a few months up to one year. (I like it shorter.) After that they keep a “non-exclusive” right to keep the story in their magazine or anthology, but you can then publish the story or go to audio with it or resell it to another magazine that takes reprints. It will all be detailed out in the contract with the magazine or anthology publisher.

  11. Brian says:

    Dean,

    I love these posts where you do the math and break things down the way you do. So very inspiring for beginning writers such as myself. I hope to make it down for one of you and Kris’s workshops one of these days.

    I do have a question about editing though. Especially as a beginner, I feel I must have my work professionally edited, even if it is only a 5K word story. It must be nice being married to such an awesome writer and having her for your first reader, but do you have any other suggestions for getting editing done for short stories that is cost effective?

    Thank you sir for all the great work you do.

    • dwsmith says:

      Brian, I don’t know what you mean by “edited,” but Kris and I do read each other’s stuff first. And just as with any first reader, we might find a mistake or two. But both of us are not good at “proofreading” so we have friends do that or hire it out. Lately we have a number of readers who are reading our short fiction and who copyedit them to find the wrong words spelled correctly, missing words, things like that. WMG pays them around $25.00 per story, longer stories more. That’s called “copyediting” and I agree all writers need a light copyedit pass. But for heaven’s sake, don’t let anyone into your art and tell you how to write a story. I didn’t take that from New York editors and I would never take that from my wife and she would never take that from me either. (Laughing just thinking of me trying to tell her how to write a story.)

      So if you mean “editor” in the beginning writer think, stop now and never go back. Never let a workshop or some agent or some “editor” tell you how to write a story. But yes, I agree we all need a first reader who is a good reader and can spot mistakes. And we need a copyeditor who can find wrong words and missing words. Past that, it’s your art. Believe in it.

      That make sense?

    • Sheogorath says:

      You could always ‘print’ the work out as a PDF then set a screenreader onto it. I find that having my work read out to me in mechanical American tones (complete with mispronunciations!) is as effective as coming back to the work afresh several months down the line.

  12. Thom says:

    I’m with you, Dean. On the $2.99 price as well. I’m not there yet, because I need the moral boost of selling copies to push me a bit in this brave new world, since I’m new to it . My plan is to hit 10 story collections (I’m at 8, and this summer I’ll be able to add one a week) and try to keep getting steady sales at .99. When I hit 20 I’m going to start slowly pricing them up. I early on priced at $2.99, but I didn’t have enough of a catalog to sell well enough. So that will be my experiment, and I’ll let you know.

    I’m also doing the A/B covers. And, I already have one pen name established as mystery writer; I’m going to start another genre name as soon as I hit ten mystery collections. Thanks for that idea.

    And thanks for the encouragement for those of us who are short form writers. I’m not really a novelist!

    (And Alain, I’ve got to submit to the Symposium–thanks for doing that! I think we should start a discussion group just for shorts writers. It’s like being in a desert on Kindleboards!)

  13. Thomas E says:

    I wonder how you think the balance works between short fiction and novels. If you were to write 700,000 words this year (my target) all things being equal would it be better to concentrate on short stories or novels if your long term target is to make a living writing fiction?

    • dwsmith says:

      Thomas E., no real opinion of worth from me on that question, since every writer is different and every writer should just write what the love and what pushes them and makes them angry and makes them passionate and so on.

      But one thing I can comment on is bring back the length of novels some if you do those. The 50,000 to 60,000 range is a great one these days.

      And unless you can sell for a ton of money and get out of the contract clauses that traditional book publishers insist on that hold your rights forever (instead of getting them back in a few months), going with novels pretty much these days cuts out Point #1 in my blog. But again, no right answer. Every writer is different.

  14. Chris Ward says:

    Great post. I wish it was that simple to just sit down and write stories good enough to sell to pro markets. It took me eight years to make my first short story sale and eleven to sell my first pro. I average 180 submissions per pro sale, which is brutal. Even good stories struggle to find a home because there’s so much competition and so few markets.

    Regarding indie publishing, I think I’ll put my indie prices up though. My shorts are all at .99c at the moment, with my novel up at $4.99. Any tips on how to sell them? I sell a handful on the back of a KDP promotion but none otherwise.

    Chris Ward

    • dwsmith says:

      Chances are the price of 99 cents is holding them back some. Just the stuff I talked about is the solution. And find help becoming a better storyteller. I know that sounds sort of harsh, but it’s not. If you are getting that reaction, clearly your openings have issues. Editors (and readers) don’t often go past openings and with sampling, if you are not selling much to either readers or editors, it might mean your openings just don’t grab. Or maybe your blurbs or covers are problems with the indie side. No real way of knowing from here.

      Also, Chris, years have nothing to do with anything. It took me 20 months to make my first pro sale from the time I started writing. I wrote about 70 short stories in those 20 months and kept them all in the mail. If I had written one story per month, the same sale would have taken me over six years if that. If I had only managed six stories a year, it would have taken a dozen years. So years mean nothing. It’s how many stories you write and how hard you are working on becoming a better writer with every story.

      The key to selling is writing good stories, with great openings, and the key to indie selling is the same, only with good covers and good blurbs added into the mix. There are no secret or special promotions that can help you. I wish there was since I would use it as well. (grin)

    • Josephine Wade says:

      David Farland who is judging the Writer’s of the Future contest this year Daily Kick was ‘Ten Reasons Why I’ll Quickly Reject Your Story’ http://www.davidfarland.net/writing_tips/?a=89 I thought I’d mention that here in case it helps anyone. He’s been a judge for many writing contests over the years and it’s just good solid advice, imo – fwiw .

      • dwsmith says:

        Josephine, I agree, folks. Go look at that. Clean out that stuff so that your stories get a chance on taste of reader or editor. Remember, editors are just readers and are picking for taste. But professional editors like Dave know what they are looking at on the basics.

        I used to tell people that I could reject a manuscript before I pulled it completely from an envelope. A number of people at a workshop here one year hated that idea, so I had them test it and I showed them the reasons I could do that and they ended up agreeing and understanding. So read Dave’s tips. Can only help.

        Thanks, Josephine, for posting that here.

        • dwsmith says:

          And by the way, if you want a fantastic read, get Dave Farland’s new book “Nightingale.” A stunning, fast-paced read that I couldn’t put down. Dave is not only a great editor, but as a writer he’s working at a really high level of skill and storytelling. Wonderful book.

  15. Vera Soroka says:

    I wish I could write a short story or even a novella but my attempts turn into novels. I write erotica and would love to do some novellas but I end up with a 75,000 word novel instead. I need to take Kris’s workshop. We’ll keep trying though.

  16. Hi, Dean.

    Right now I have 10 short stories for sale and I’m selling about 5/month all summed up. By your estimates it is actually a pretty good starting point. I’m selling about 10% of the goal average and that number is quite likely to go up as I publish more short stories. And I haven’t tried yet submitting to traditional magazines.

    I’ve tried changing the price to 0.99, but it didn’t have much effect on sales numbers so I’ll probably pricing them at 2.99 again.

    The most difficult part, I guess, is sustaining that one hour per day writing pace. Specially with a day job, a baby daughter and lots of other things happening. Perhaps if I could save money to quit my job and write full time for a couple years (perhaps some 200-400 short stories) I could give my writing career a boost.

    If after these years I’m still not earning a living from my stories, well, at least I’d have had the best couple years of my life :)

    Thanks for your blog.

  17. Clare Harris says:

    Dean – thanks, great post. Just on the topic of ‘no markets for romance’, I wanted to flag that there are still women’s magazines in the UK/Australia buying stories ( romance, cozy mystery, women’s fiction etc) – some paying better than others. There’s a great list of these markets at UK site womagwriter.blogspot.com – with the latest guidelines.

  18. Flutterby says:

    A small aside – don’t forget you can make money from your backmatter. Everyone indie publishing on Amazon should also sign up as an affiliate. Links to your own titles that you put in the back of your book should be affiliate links. I also link to other authors’ fiction within the same genre (just take a look at the top lists for the genre and grab some links) and, where relevant, non-fiction. (E.g. a link to Greene’s Elegant Universe in the back of certain Sci-Fi, or a Kurzweil title for AI themed SF, etc. – and I’m now kicking myself for not doing this on a freebie I recently did.) Even if they don’t buy what you link to, it puts your affiliate cookie on their system for 24 hours for whatever other eligible product they buy from Amazon in that period (can be overwritten if they use someone else’s affiliate link after yours or directly type an Amazon url into their browser). Forty or fifty short fiction titles a year with affiliate links is a lot of traffic and the affiliate money adds up!

    • dwsmith says:

      Flutterby, very, very good point. One of those extra small cash streams that just adds up as you gain speed over the years.

      • Sadly, those of us in Colorado can’t do that, as Amazon unceremoniously kicked us all out of its affiliate program a couple years back because they didn’t like a change to state law that affected them taxes-wise. I think that’s the case with California and Illinois as well.

        There are other affiliate programs we can use, though. (IndieBound has one which I use to link to books, though that’s rather an apples and oranges comparison, since to my knowledge they do not have an indie e-pub service like Amazon does.)

        • dwsmith says:

          Nicole, Amazon has reversed its stand on state taxes just recently, so more than likely they will be reinstating all the affiliate programs that were bumped due to that problem. The reason Amazon has done this is because they are going into every state on the ground, to try to get same-day fulfillment on many items. Watch next for Amazon stores in the not-to-distant future. (That last is just me extrapolating a trend. No evidence or even rumors. (grin))

  19. Mark Lord says:

    I love this post! Very inspiring. I think with a lot of writing plans its all about stamina and dedication, but I can see this as being achievable. Has
    Anyone got any thoughts on the benefits of using Kindle select
    Free promos as a sales strategy?

    • dwsmith says:

      Mark, wrong blog to ask about Kindle Select or any other program that forces an author to only sell to a small percentage of the audience. (grin) I think Kindle Select is a bad program for authors. Period.

  20. allynh says:

    Don’t forget, if you are using many pen names, you can publish an anthology using another pen name for the “editor”.

    Look at this collection by Jack Vance, it has two “editors”.

    Dream Castles: The Early Jack Vance, Volume Two [Hardcover]
    Jack Vance (Author), Terry Dowling (Editor), Jonathan Strahan (Editor)

    If each “editor” is one of your pen names, then people would begin to look for that editor’s work as well. You can then have anthologies by the “editor” pen name, with the other pen names listed in the book description, like this:

    Engineering Infinity [Mass Market Paperback]
    Jonathan Strahan (Editor)

    Book Description – “The universe shifts and changes: suddenly you understand, you get it, and are filled with a sense of wonder. That moment of understanding drives the greatest science-fiction stories and lies at the heart of Engineering Infinity. Whether it’s coming up hard against the speed of light and, with it, the enormity of the universe, realising that terraforming a distant world is harder and more dangerous than you’d ever thought, or simply realizing that a hitchhiker on a starship consumes fuel and oxygen with tragic results, it’s hard science-fiction where sense of wonder is most often found and where science-fiction’s true heart lies. The exciting and innovative science-fiction anthology collects together stories by some of the biggest names in the field including Stephen Baxter, Charles Stross, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Gwyneth Jones.”

    In this case Martin is the editor but only listed as “author”, but it works the same:

    Wild Cards I [Paperback]
    George R.R. Martin (Author), Wild Cards Trust (Author)

    Book Description – “Originally published in 1987, Wild Cards I includes powerful tales by Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner, and George R. R. Martin himself. And this new, expanded edition contains further original tales set at the beginning of the Wild Cards universe, by eminent new writers like Hugo–winner David Levine, noted screenwriter and novelist Michael Cassutt, and New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.”

    The freedom of mixing “author” pen names and “editor” pen names, is that you can have an occasional short story written by some pen name that doesn’t need to build their own name recognition. If that pen name only writes a story a year they still get recognition, over time, because they are appearing in “anthologies”.

    More bang for the buck. HA!

  21. Dean,
    I’ve been writing novelettes so far, and obviously there isn’t much of a traditional market for the 9-14k size work. I’m fully willing to commit to writing shorter and longer work from here on out, but I’ve got a question regarding pricing, relative value, and reader expectation.
    I’ve been charging $2.99 for my stories so far, ranging from 8k to 11k, and I charged $8.99 for the 4 story bundle (approx 36k words). My concern is that if I start focusing on 5k shorts that readers will feel they’re not getting enough story compared to the novelettes at the same price. Should I raise the price of the novelettes, or is this a factor that readers generally don’t notice or care about?

    • dwsmith says:

      Michael, only an opinion, but we are raising our prices to $3.99 for anything from 10,000 to 15,000 words. Remember, we add in an extra complete story when a story is under 7,000 words. So all of our products will be (when we are finished with the conversion) in the range of 7,000 to 10,000 words and up. Thus the $2.99 price for 7,000 words to 10,000 words and doubled stories, and over 10,000 the story stands alone and is $3.99. Again, just the way those of us at WMG Publishing have figured out to do it. No set rules.

    • The Smoker says:

      I usually write 10k stories for 2.99 then bundle to 40k for 3.99. It fits with my overall strategy. Bear in mind that 10k is two days work and I write everyday, so it’s not such a big deal. I think if you write less, price higher IMO.

  22. Good article! I’ll be pointing writers at it.

  23. xdpaul says:

    Quick question: for your 5 packs in print, are you publishing them in 6×9 format?

  24. Adam says:

    Dean, great article! I do like your math. :)

    Your comment to Michael above confuses me a litlte.
    “Remember, we add in an extra complete story when a story is under 7,000 words.”

    Are you saying that you write stories at 5k but you always double them up to make up the word count of the book to 10k? i.e. you don’t put out a 5k story on its own?

    Thanks, Dean

    Adam

    • dwsmith says:

      Adam, that’s correct. Anything under 7,000 words we add in another full story as a bonus. That second story is also up with the first story as a bonus. So both stories are lead stories out there. Just flipped. The last three weeks of Kris’s free Monday fiction have been stories like this I think. We are clear in the description which bonus story is in the package. So a reader can get two stories for the $2.99 price if they are both under 7,000 words. Doubled-up stories usually end up being between 7,000 and 11,000 words total. But we don’t match stories for length, we match them for content. Like two Poker Boy stories will be together.

      Again, that allows us to stay out of the 99 cent ghetto of discount books.

  25. Thom says:

    OK, so I’ve been doing some soul searching, and I’m going to try this for the next several months.

    Bradbury talks about “Writer’s Hygiene”, and I subscribe to that idea (doing things for the health of your craft, and your happiness as a writer.) I need to see some steady sales for my own hygiene, and I have a small, loyal following at .99 per release. I want to keep them while I build my backlist, because seeing that they’re buying is good for my morale.

    But I also am aware of the dangers of the ghetto. So I’m going to split the difference: my new releases will be on sale at .99 for the first week. Then I raise it to 2.99. (These are my combo stories that total about 10K in content, including an excerpt.)

    I would welcome your opinion on this Dean, but also from others who are charting their own course. Everyone’s needs are different, but I value your input.

  26. Thom says:

    BTW Dean, you might consider, as you bundle and publish your challenge stories, adding as added content your WRITING OF blog posts. I am doing this for each of my releases (in the form of an author “interview”) and my fans like it. It would push up the word count on your A/B releases, and I think it would be interesting to readers.

  27. Cora says:

    Great post, Dean, and very timely for me.

    Next month is my one year e-publishing anniversary and so far, I have only published short stories and novelettes. I have 16 stories and novelettes available so far and hope to publish at least one more until the anniversary. I was lucky that I had a lot of backlist as well as a bunch of stories that never sold and were just gathering dust on my harddrive, so I had a lot of inventory to publish. I’m not even through with all backlist stories yet and I keep finding stories I wrote and forgot. Plus, I do my own covers and formatting, so I keep my costs low.

    I have stories that sell five copies or more per month and I have stories that only sell every couple of months. But as my publish more stories, my sales gradually grow as well. Even the slow sellers are picking up. Yes, it takes time for sales to build, but then I’m in this for the long run.

    I do sell stories between 3000 and 7000 words for 99 cents, but I often bundle them up with thematically related stories or flash pieces that are less than 3000 words. Novelettes of 7000 words up to approx. 15000 words go for 2.99. Novellas and novels will go for more, as soon as I get around to them. I’m not making a living yet, but sales and income are definitely growing.

  28. J.A. Marlow says:

    Great post! I’ve already pointed several writers towards it.

    I love it when you bring out the math. So simple, but so powerful, and yet it will still result in so many sputter, “But, but, but…”

    For me it’s so great to know that if I keep puttering away, not fast but consistently, the backlist will naturally build. Even with having to regularly take time off because of health issues. It all adds up.

    The one thing I do want to practice is writing across more genres. It’s simply a smart thing to do. I’m so glad I could attend your Genre Structure workshop. It gave me a good foundation for starting to do it. Thank you for giving it one last time.

    As one last note, I love the term “work ethic” instead of “a fast writer.” So true! Hah!

    Now back to writing. The moving caused me to lose 3 weeks of writing time.

  29. Nancy Beck says:

    …and when life tosses you a monster, you go back to writing when you get through the issues…

    I’ve going thru my own issues of late, which I won’t get into, but I sometimes feel guilty for not writing more, and recently, for not writing at all. I was very depressed over something and I could not wrap my mind around anything. But now that particular issue has ended (it’s sad, but I’m not going into it because it doesn’t have relevance here), I actually feel energized to start writing again…which I’ll be doing sometime this afternoon.

    As to the myth about writing fiction – I heard about that one for many, MANY years, that you couldn’t make a living writing fiction. It was only when I came to this site and read the post you linked to that I began to change my mind; it takes a while when you’ve been sipping the Kool-Aid for many years. ;-) Knowing that you’ve been at it for 20 years is proof enough to me that you CAN live comfortably, as long as you put something out on a regular basis. That’s a key that you’ve pointed out too many times. :-)

    And thanks for the insight into the minimum number of words that should make up a print edition of a collection. I wondered about that.

  30. Vanades says:

    Great post and definitely food for thought. I’m right now looking at some of my older stories that were in anthologies and am thinking about doing some editing and then putting them up as ebooks. Should be interesting to see how the non-existing German ebook-market compares.

    I like writing short-stories in between working on a novel. It’s a bit like taking a break from the novel and getting this little high of *I finished something* which sometimes is missing while working on a longer project.

    And as I’m fluid in both German and English and work as a translator, I’m actually thinking about offering stories in both languages. Write them in one language, translate them into the other, and hit both markets.

    I’m also working on my work-ethic because I think you are absolutely right on that front. It’s all about persistence. Like they say “Little strokes fell big oaks” and I plan to fell numerous oaks. :-D

  31. The Smoker says:

    I don’t like reading short fiction, but I like writing it and I’m doing well. Aside from that, nicely written piece. The numbers are low from my experience, but I agree with most of your points. I’m also an exclusively short story writer and it’s good to see others succeed in this difficult media format. It’s definitely hard, but worth it.

    • The Smoker says:

      Note: I also want to add that I think short story writers are more ‘production schedule’ focused. We “finish” more often, so have a different mentality to novelists, who have longer finishing times.

    • dwsmith says:

      I wonder how many people, Smoker, will see your comment that my numbers are low and even note that. (grin) Thanks for all the comments.

  32. Carradee says:

    I’ve added an “average words per hour” line to my new spreadsheet template that keeps track of how long it takes me to write a story, including prep time, etc. Thanks. :)

    That said, I’m astonished by some folks’ reactions, who continue to treat this as an impossibility, and who insist that you’re not saying what you’re actually saying even when some of us politely point out the context of what you’re saying.

    That’s it. I’m going to try to finish 25 stories in the rest of this year, starting today.

  33. Nelson says:

    Dean, you mentioned Audible. What are your thoughts on the 50/50 split to get the audio done by someone else? I’ve found it pretty hard to do all the audio on my own, and though it seems like a large chunk of royalties to give away, it’s better than the nothing I have in audio sales. Has anyone else chosen this route, and what are their experiences?

    • dwsmith says:

      Nelson, about five authors I know are working on it in different ways. And I think, actually, the split is 75/25 if you have someone else read it. 25% for you, but so far, it has been very little work for people and they are enjoying it. So in a few months, or actually, by the time we do the Audio workshop in November we’ll have hard data. In that workshop we are teaching people how to read and how to do it cheaply themselves, as well as use other methods like the one you asked about. Stay tuned. Jury is still out.

  34. Dean, I had a question that’s a little off the “main thread” of this conversation.

    You said “Success or failure on such a plan will depend on your ability to write stories people want to read and traditional editors want to buy. That means (as you write) you must continue to work on your craft and skills as a storyteller. If you don’t do this, just forget even trying this. You must have a hunger to get better every day, every story.”

    I could not agree more. =) I was wondering if you had some advice on learning to write better short stories? Reading and writing them is key, IMHO – which I’m doing. I’ve also read Damon Knight’s book on the subject (“Creating Short Fiction”), also Mike Resnick’s book where he deconstructs short stories he wrote (“Putting it Together”) and Ben Bova’s “Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells” (which focuses a lot on shorts, and goes over technique good for any genre). Unsurprisingly, most short story writing material seems to be by “old guard” writers from decades ago (when short fiction last sold well).

    I’d love to go hit one of Kris’s short story workshops at some point, but for now at least the bill makes it impossible. So short of a hop to the West Coast for your class, any thoughts on other ways to improve? I have a shelf full of craft books, many of which are quite good, but most of which focus on novel length work rather than short work.

    Avid learner, always seeking new opportunities. =)

    • dwsmith says:

      Kevin, just your attitude of trying to keep learning is the biggest thing. If you keep that in the front of importance, your mind will follow.

      Besides writing a lot and reading, also study other writer’s stories and sections of novels. We all must read for pleasure first, but when you get done with a story or novel and really like what you read and wonder how the author did something, go back and read the area a few more times. And then maybe even type into your own screen into manuscript format a part of the other author’s work you are studying.

      Read for pleasure, study what you like. Focus on certain areas.

      Also a simple exercise will do wonders for your short fiction. For your next thirty short stories make sure you have all five senses ever two manuscript pages. All five. Through the eyes and senses of your main character. That will make stories come alive very quickly.

      And keep having fun. Also a huge key.

      • Thanks, Dean! Will work with those – the five senses exercise sounds really interesting. The retyping is something I’ve read someplace else before, but haven’t done in a long time, so might be really useful to try again too.

        I look around at all of the scads of workshops and classes about promotion and covers and marketing and pricing and social networking… There always seem to more of those than there are classes on craft. Which strikes me as somewhat backwards. To me, it seems like the foundation is telling good stories, and everything else ought to flow from there.

        • dwsmith says:

          You are right, Kevin, craft is critical, but it must depend on who is teaching it. You get some person teaching novel craft who has never sold a novel and you will be in trouble, even at a beginner level. Kris teaches the craft workshop going on right now and I teach the Character Voice workshop every March. Come this fall we have a craft workshop called “The Sexy Side of Writing” and then next spring three craft workshops. Kris will do a mystery workshop, I will do Character Voice, and we will have a young adult workshop taught by three young adult professionals on the craft of writing and selling young adult. The workshops we do on cliffhangers and pitches and blurbs are also craft workshops, but in a different fashion, focused on one area. But again, we are graduate level workshops only for those who have writing under the belts. Trust me, the workshop Kris has run this week would kill a beginner. The professionals are barely surviving it. (grin)

  35. Teri K. says:

    I agree with Kevin McLaughlin that much of the hating comes from fear and anger.

    Another basis for the anger is “I spent years getting through the gates, languishing in slushpiles before landing my agent and my first book deal — and now these people are just going around the gates? I am entitled more prestige.”

    A lot of the flame-throwers truly believe they are saving writers from scammers and others with hidden agendas. This is the attidude of the moderators in the self-pubilshing section of a popular forum. They feel they must quash all the wrong-headed ideas so that writers will have the facts be able to make “intelligent and informed choices” — without seeing the irony in their position. (That forum also bans the use of the word “indie” claming that anyone who uses that word is too stupid to understand how to use English correctly. When one poster suggested that language usage changes, the moderator became truly angry.)

    Dean, I watch all this and remember a cartoon someone shared once on your blog: a man is up late into the night typing furiously. His wife asks what is the matter, and he says, ‘someone on the Internet is wrong.’

    I read Kris’s blog post this week and my fear was that she would be silenced by the haters and stop blogging. I guess it’s time to stop by the tip jar.

  36. Teri K. says:

    Dean, I intended the 12:16 post I just did to go under the new topic about writers insulting writers. Is it possible to move it, or should I retype it in the correct place?

  37. Teri Babcock says:

    Went over to the Kindle boards, remembered why I don’t go there. A lot of people arguing with the pricing of short stories above 99 cents.
    And I thought again about the professionals I’ve heard speak about pricing goods and services. I thought about one of them in particular who consults with people to maximize their incomes, and what he would say about selling books.

    He doesn’t work in the publishing industry, and he doesn’t have a pre-existing mindset about where book prices should be. He would base their price on a number of factors, one of the important ones being ‘perceived value to the consumer’. He would look at how much people will pay for other things of similar value, and price similarly.
    They would also look at ways to increase the perceived value, so he could charge more.

    He would look at all the short stories and say ‘It takes 15 minutes to read? And it was fun? Okay. charge 5 bucks.” And when writers squacked in horror, he would say “Starbucks sells fancy coffees for $5 that take 15 minutes to drink. They sell millions every day. Did you enjoy the story as much as the coffee? Yes? Well, no problem.”

    And the writers would come back with “but there was actual substance in the coffee… cream and coffee beans and sugar…” and the he would respond with “yeah, and if I really like the story, I can read it again. I can’t drink the coffee again. I can lend the story to my friends. I can’t say to my friends, ‘gee you should taste this coffee, it was really good, you can try it when I’m done with it.’

    He would tell you that it is not good practice to set anything, no matter how ‘small’, at regular price at the very bottom of the price structure.

    The bottom price should be reserved for sales exclusively, and used only in an integrated, strategic way to give you more sales traction and build your brand.

    If people said “oh, well I’m new, and I don’t have name recognition so I have to sell cheap to make sales” he’d say, no. Set the price you want to regularly sell at. From that price have sales, or other promotions that give an incentive to the consumer to try your new stuff. You’re telling the consumer that you know they are taking a bit of a risk on a new, unknown quantity, so a price break makes it more appealing. Once they’ve tried your stuff, then they know if the regular price is worth it to them.

    You are always educating the consumer as to what your product is worth. The regular price will come to be perceived as its true value. You don’t want to set that too low. You steal from the consumer the thrill of getting a deal, you steal from yourself the flexibility to build and expand your brand appropriately.

    And some writers would say “well, I’m pricing my stuff low because, in addition to my being a new writer, I think it is not quite as good as some of the more established authors.”
    He would say “Don’t sell it unless it’s good. Do you think I’m going to be grateful that you took and wasted 15 minutes of my time and only charged me a dollar? My time is valuable. I’d pay $5 to have my 15 minutes back. Do you think when I started as an accountant I told people ‘this isn’t my best work, so I’m going to give you a discount’? No. I did my best work, I gave them a price break from my regular rates – and told them I was doing this – as an incentive to try someone new, while I built my business. As my reputation grew, I didn’t need to do that anymore. And everyone knew what my regular rates were. With my reputation, I was able to support further price increases.”

    The big difference between people paying $5 for a fancy coffee every day, and balking at paying $5 for a short story is this: consumer expectation. Starbucks has been training consumers to pay a high mark-up for their coffee for a long time. Consumers might grumble occasionally, but they still show up every day and pay $5. The writing
    e-market has been doing the reverse, because it is now a market of the commons, and the majority of the commons have no experience with marketing and sales.

    The first and last tool of the unsophisticated sales-person is always to reduce the price. Like a chain-saw, price reduction is a powerful tool, but if it is not used carefully you can cut your own leg off.

    I’m sure this finance guy would set his bottom price for stories at 2.99. He would not give up the 70% profit margin by dropping below that. If he perceived a need to set a sale price below that, he’d probably just make it completely free, rather than setting it at 99 cents, since there is so little profit at that price point anyway. And for a limited
    time. There’s good reason Amazon sets the KDP Select free limit to 5 days.

    Anyway, unlike the squackers, this guy makes his money making other people money. And I’m sure he would agree with Dean’s pricing… and say he hasn’t gone far enough yet.

    • dwsmith says:

      Teri, if you don’t mind, I would love to put that on my front page. That was very well written and clear and spot on the money. Let me know if you mind that I do that. A lot of people need to read your wonderful comment.

    • Thomas E says:

      What irritated me most about that particular thread is that people on the kindle boards found it shocking you might sell an average of 5 short stories a month after you had been publishing professional short stories every week for 6 years.

      Assuming someone is already starting at a pro level writing ability(meaning. they are writing short stories that leave the reader wanting to read another) then you have 300 opportunities to secure new fans… one a week on the release lists… and these fans will want to read more of your work.

      Can you get to 5 short stories in the first year? Probably not. But after six years?

  38. Teri Babcock says:

    Dean, absolutely. Please do.

  39. Anna says:

    You write, ” you must price your short story at at least $2.99 “, yet your short stories on Amazon Kindlestore are priced at 99 cents. They don’t have low rankings, which would indicate they are not selling well.

    Have you any data to suggest that short stories can sell at $2.99 ?

    Thanks.

    • dwsmith says:

      Anna, as I have said a dozen times here, my short stories are at 99 cents because I (and the fine folks at WMG Publishing) just haven’t gotten around to redoing them and grouping them and changing the price. We started into this change with 230 titles, and almost all of them had to be touched at one point or another, so we figured if we were going to touch anything, we would fix everything about the book that needed to be fixed. Thus it’s going to take a few months more for me to clear those 99 cent titles under my name. All will be at $2.99 base level.

      And do I have data? I don’t know, nothing you would consider valid. Just a bunch of the professionals that visit here and had an easier time changing prices than we have are selling well. My wife’s stories that have moved to $2.99 sell the same number or more numbers than when they were at 99 cents. But actual data, nothing but history of publishing to look at. Sorry, it’s way, way too early in this process.

      • Anna says:

        I agree that it’s early in the game. I’ve moved my prices up (for novels, not short stories, from 2.99 to 3.99), and I’m finding that, while ranking fell somewhat, I’m making more money. I’m interested in seeing your results with the short stories. Thanks for a great post on the topic.

  40. Jodi says:

    Dean, someone was inspired by this post and started this site: http://52shadesofshortstories.com/

    I wish I could join, but shorts aren’t my thing, I’m afraid. But your post and the threads discussing it on Writer’s Cafe (on Kindleboards) inspired me to try to do a novelette a month. Not sure if I can do it, but I’m bound to have more novelettes done in a year if I didn’t try!

    Thanks,
    Jodi

    • dwsmith says:

      Jodi, a bunch of us on a professional writer’s list are doing this very same thing already. It’s a great idea and great fun. Go look at the site, folks, if you want to be challenged to write a short story a week like I did for the first five or six years of my writing life. Thanks, Jodi, for the link. http://52shadesofshortstories.com/

      • The Smoker says:

        Nice idea. Unfortunately, I’d smoke the one a week thing three times over with my work ethic right now. I don’t even remember what one a week was like, lol.

        On the otherhand, I think it’s awesome that someone is doing something like this. A lot of people need things like this to step up to the plate and it’s great to see people trying so hard in their work! The world of fiction will be better for it.

        (I also wonder what a five day work week was like. Nowadays, 7 is the norm…)

    • Wow, that is cool. Thanks for sharing, Jodi. I’m tempted to do it, but because I love writing challenges, not because I love writing short stories! Hmm, I’ll have to think about it.

  41. allynh says:

    If people are overwhelmed by the concept of writing a short story each week, “Oh, where can I come up with all those story ideas?” why not write an episode a week of your own “TV” show or mini-series. HA!

    Go look at _Shadow Unit_ as something you might try.

    Shadow Unit
    http://www.shadowunit.org/

    The site is the novelization of a mock/fake TV show. Each story is an episode in the series. Read through them, and you will see that they fit the time frame of a one-hour-per-episode TV series, with the occasional two-part episode.

    Look at Suzanne Collins _The Hunger Games_ series and _The Underland Chronicles_. She started out in children’s TV so she writes in episodic form, just as she did for TV.

    _The Hunger Games_ series is three books, each with 27 chapters. Think of each book as a “season” in a TV mini-series, with a story arc for each season. Each book has a beginning, middle, end of nine chapters each. Every three chapters is the beginning, middle, end of an hour-long “episode”. So there are nine “episodes” per book, thus you have three seasons, each as a nine-hour mini-series.

    _The Underland Chronicles_ runs to five books, with the same 27-chapters-per-book structure, but based on half-hour episodes. Every three chapters is the beginning, middle, end of each half-hour episode. This is a nine half-hour episode mini-series per book, each with its own story arc.

    Look at the _True Blood_ TV series. Each season is twelve, hour long, episodes based on a single book per episode. Here they took one book at a time and leisurely told the story over twelve hours.

    Look at any Stephen King novel, most are a multi-season mini-series. They did _It_ and _Bag of Bones_ as mini-series but left 90% of the story on the cutting room floor.

    If you can’t think of a story arc that covers a complete “season”, think _Twilight Zone_, a series of similar-themed half-hour-long episodes, or _Night Gallery_ with a series of short tales that fill the hour-long episode.

    Remember, Dickens wrote episodic chapters each week then assembled them into a complete volume. Doyle wrote each _Sherlock Holmes_ adventure the same way, and they fit perfect in the one-hour format of the Granada TV series with Jeremy Brett. HA!

  42. Cyn Bagley says:

    I subscribed for the electronic copies. Does that go straight to my kindle or do I have to pick it up somewhere?

    Anyway good luck. I write a lot of micro fiction and 100 is a nice round number. I am starting a challenge to write more again. I lagged a bit these last two months. Some of it has to do with the sun, and a tooth, and a truck crisis.

    Yours, Cyn

    • dwsmith says:

      Cyn (and everyone with electronic subscriptions), every month around the 10th, I’ll send you a personal letter with the gift codes for everything for the previous month and bonus book or books. Each story (book) will have it’s own gift code and you can go to Smashwords.com and download any file you want there. I will give links taking you directly to each story, so no worries on that. You can download them all at the same time or spread them out as long as you would like over the year if you are too busy.

      To the paper subscribers, the paper copies with the same codes in them will be sent by mail on the 10th of every month as well.

      Thanks to everyone who has subscribed this early in the process. I sure didn’t expect it.

  43. Adam Dudley says:

    Hi, Dean…great tips on your site for a new fiction writer like me. I’ve got a questions for you: What are the top 2 or 3 things you did to become a great storyteller? Daily writing discipline is no issue for me. But I want to make sure I do the right things to learn how to write a great story. Can you impart any wisdom in that area? Thanks!

    • dwsmith says:

      Good question and how many days do you have for me to answer it? (grin)

      A couple of things that switched on the light and got me going. I started following Heinlein’s Rules completely and have never faltered from them much or for very long. Second, I have a vast hunger to keep learning and understanding why things work. Why does this type of cliffhanger work, why does this type of character have this response, and so on.

      Third thing I did was start adding in five senses every 500 words and somewhere in that area I came to the realization that all setting was opinion of the character and I was off.

      How’s that for shorthand? (grin)

  44. Steve says:

    Dean, this page is so insightful, from your tips and motivation right through everyone’s comments. I want to ask one of those unanswerable questions and get more of your insights… I’m a good writer but I’m not much of a genre writer. Do you think what you outline above is possible writing “literary” fiction (I’m not big on that term, but use it to distinguish what I’m talking about here.) In particular focusing on #2 (selling $2.99 stories or story duos via Kindle)? Seems that so much of the indie book landscape is genre focused so if you have any ideas about a more lit fic focused venture? I have in mind a series concept with maybe a little magical realism mixed in, so that might help me and give a little more for you to work with here too. Thanks a lot.

    • dwsmith says:

      Steve,

      I sure don’t see an issue. Story is story and yes, some genres sell a little more than others, but if you are writing quality stories and getting them out to readers and pricing them correctly and doing good covers that will attract readers, I sure don’t see a problem. I commit literary all the time. Writing straight mainstream stories without a hint of mystery or sf or fantasy or romance. Just straight old fiction and they sell just fine.

      I would be a little cautious on the literary magazines, however. Some of them can take forever to respond.

  45. Tiffany says:

    I found this article and almost jumped out of my skin with excitement! My husband is an aspiring writer and I try to do everything I can to help him, but not knowing how to get his dream off the ground has made it really hard. He turned in a few stories to different magazines competitions with no luck and this has wreaked havoc on his confindence. Now I know the steps to take to make this a reality for him, I have to say it, and it may sound cheesy, but you have most probably just changed our lives. Huge thanks!

  46. Mike says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Not many individuals realize how much work it takes to be able to get something going. It takes dedication to be able to get focused and find a direction. It takes dedication to also get through some of the hard times so we can get where we want to go.

  47. Dean, I found this very helpful I must say. I’m indie-publishing my first short story–The Hitman (10/1/13)–through smashwords and I plan to incorporate some of your tactics in my approach. As a first timer, I’ve been pulling my hair out about how much to price my work and you’ve helped clear up a lot of my issues with this article. Thanks a lot! By the way I stumbled upon this when I did a Google search about pricing short stories.

  48. RebeccaF says:

    I wrote three short romance stories of around 800 words that I submitted to Women’s World. They were turned down, with lots of compliments and “try again” comments. I subsequently took them to a creative writing class at my college, where I am an adult student. Two people in the class got teary, and they loved them. The Doctor thought they were sicky sweet, which is what I was going for for WW. I was wondering if you have any idea of where else I could submit them, or maybe if it’s a bad idea to group them together and sell them on Amazon. Thanks for any thoughts.

    • dwsmith says:

      Yeah, I wrote a bunch for WW as well a long time ago and never did anything with them. I’d grope them into a collection, put a name on the collection like “Love Beat” or something, do a small introduction talking about romance, maybe 300 words, and get them out for sale around the world. They sure aren’t doing you any good in a drawer.

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