OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
Until a few months ago, I had never written a short story for publication.
But then I was commissioned to write three for the Kobo Descent competition based on Dante's Inferno for the launch of Dan Brown's new book, also called Inferno. I read about 50 stories and lots of information on how to write them and then I jumped in. You can get all three stories here.
It was a LOT of fun, and I experimented with a genre I haven't written before. I wrote two dark mystery stories and one post-apocalyptic story which was something very new to me.
So I know personally that short stories can expand your craft, earn you money and get you publicity. Here's Doug Lance, editor of eFiction Publishing to explain more.
Happy National Short Story Month!
May is unofficially the official month to read and write short stories. As well as a fantastic way to develop your craft, short stories are also a great marketing tool.
When selling fiction you can either let Amazon feed you traffic, or generate traffic on your own. Writers who can generate their own traffic have what’s known in the industry as an author platform.
I don’t like the phrase “author platform.” It makes it seem like the author is standing on a stage with readers surrounding them. My preferred nomenclature when talking about selling fiction is funnel. It is more analogous to the actual process people go through when making a purchase.
The actual purchasing process is more like: reader see mentions of a title, they check it out, but don’t always make a purchase. For most indie writers, that’s where their funnel stops. The reader views your Amazon page, decides that it isn’t for them, and they click away; never to be seen again.
Smart writers promote their website, where potential readers can sign up for a newsletter or add you to a social network, instead. Thus begins their swirling in the sales funnel. They receive updates and spin ever closer until finally they connect with a purchase.
Rather than the author standing up on his/her platform, s/he’s at the base of the funnel catching readers on a gilded pillow as they fall in.
I bring up this analogy and viewpoint on selling fiction to help illustrate one underutilized way to expand and strengthen your sales funnel: writing and publishing short stories.
1. Get into bookstores
Most indie writers exclusively publish their titles digitally. They use KDP or Smashwords or another service to get their titles out there in a digital format for ereading devices. That is fantastic. You can reach a ton of people that way. Another cadre of indie writers publish their stories using a Print on Demand service such as CreateSpace or iUniverse. This means that when someone orders the book online, it is printed and shipped to their residence. This method of printing definitely works for a lot of readers.
But (you knew this was coming) there are many readers who are yet to purchase books on their computers. These people go to bookstores, buy books there, and that’s that. Amazon, while very popular, is not the only place people go to buy books.
I can hear the “It’s impossible to get into bookstores!” counter points already.
I know how tough it is to get into bookstores. But there is a shortcut. Write short stories and publish them with companies who are already producing titles that you can find in bookstores. There are plenty of short story markets that are available at Barnes and Noble. To find them, simply go down to your local shop and ask about them. The assistant will happily direct you toward their magazine rack or anthologies.
These publications can get your foot into the door without giving up your writing independence. Short story markets are still competitive, though the vast majority of people writing short stories are not professional writers. A professional, who is committed to writing great short fiction can find publication in these markets.
2. Expand your presence on retail sites
Now that bookstores are digital, retail space is infinite. So how do you stand out in an infinite bookstore? By taking up the largest percentage of that bookstore as possible. The more room you take up, the more likely someone is to stumble onto your work.
Short stories can help fill out your presence on retailer websites. While a novel can take upwards of a year to publish from start to finish, short stories can be written, edited, and finished in a much shorter time frame; and with a smaller budget.
By publishing short stories alongside your longer work, you expand your presence on a retailer website, and thus come up more often in searches and on featured pages. This extra traffic will increase sales of your other titles
3. Fill in the gaps between novel releases
Novels are hard work. It can take months or sometimes years to get them right. The publishing process might have been majorly simplified by modern tools, but the writing process is still just as arduous as ever.
Short stories, by comparison, are simpler. Not easier, because writing a great short story is still a major challenge. But the process is much simpler. Writing short stories is similar to writing a single scene (or a few scenes) for a novel. Except, you don’t have to pay attention to an over-arching storyline.
Publishing short fiction while working on a novel is a great method to keep your audience reading your stuff and gives you something to promote while you work on your big project.
4. Experiment with new genres.
Short stories are a smaller commitment than is a novel. You can write a short story in a new genre in a weekend and file it away if it doesn’t work. If you put the time in required to write a novel in a new genre, you might feel obligated to then publish it and put your full power behind it. That is a huge risk and most authors simply avoid it.
The risk involved with writing and publishing shorts is much lower. It is a medium that is open to experimentation. I find that a lot of writers are pigeon-holed into the genre they write and feel that if they wrote in other genres, they won’t find success. That is simply not true.
If you’ve never explored other genres and other mediums, you don’t know what will work for you. Especially if you haven’t found the success you’ve been looking for, experimentation with short stories is a great way to figure out what your readers want and to then follow it up with a novel.
5. Expand your universe.
In addition to all of the previously mentioned benefits to writing and publishing short fiction, the most interesting to me is to use short fiction to expand a fictional universe that you’ve already created.
I’m sure there have been tons of scenes that you’ve had to cut because they just didn’t work in your novel. Why not flesh those scenes out as a short stories and put them up as companion pieces? Your readers want to know more about your characters. They already love them (or they should, right?). You can skip a lot of the backstory and reward your true fans with extra scenes that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get.
An astonishingly small number of writers actually do this. Less than 1%. You’re working hard to write your stories. Don’t just trash every scene that doesn’t fit. Re-purpose it as a supplemental short. Or write that scene that you’ve always wanted to write as a short and give your readers an extra taste of something different. Who knows, it might catch on and be the impetus for you to write a new novel with a market-proven hook.
Short stories are a struggling form of writing when compared to novels. But they don’t have to be. Writers who approach writing short stories from a smarter perspective, one that uses insights from marketing and experience in the industry, can revive the short story. It happens one short at a time.
What do you think about short stories? Do you write them and what are your tips for getting them read? Please leave a comment below and tell us about it.
Doug Lance is the editor-in-chief of eFiction Publishing. His company produces ten monthly fiction magazines in a variety of genres.
During May, National Short Story Month, he is promoting a Kickstarter campaign to #SaveTheShort from obscurity.
Top image: Flickr CC notebook by Frederic Guillory