How To Make Money Writing Short Fiction With Douglas Smith

    Categories: Author EntrepreneurWriting

Short stories are creatively satisfying, but they can also bring multiple streams of income through different intellectual property licensing options. In today’s show, award-winning short story writer, Douglas Smith, explains how you can make money writing short fiction.

In the introduction, I talk about the implications of Disney buying the intellectual property assets of 21st Century Fox and what that means for creators. Plus, the Harry Potter bot story.

I reveal my sweet romance pen-name, Penny Appleton, and how rewarding it has been to co-write with my Mum. Plus, an update on what to expect as a new author name with very little marketing clout.

Map of Shadows, the first in my Mapwalker Dark Fantasy series, is out now in ebook and print. Here’s a video of me reading the blurb in a dramatic manner, which should make you grin 🙂

Plus, if you need help sorting out your author platform for 2018, then check out my series of tutorials on building your author website, setting it up with the Author Pro theme, and setting up your email list: www.TheCreativePenn.com/authorwebsite

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Douglas Smith is a multi-award-winning Canadian author of novels, short stories, and nonfiction, described by Library Journal as one of Canada’s most original writers of speculative fiction. He’s also the author of Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • The differences between short stories, novellas, novelettes and novels
  • How to know the ‘size’ of an idea – whether it’s a novel or a shorter piece
  • Finding good markets for short fiction
  • Submitting short fiction vs. publishing it indie
  • How to track submissions and why it’s so important
  • Has the magazine market been disrupted the way the book industry has?
  • On rights, including language and territory
  • The audio market for short fiction

You can find Douglas Smith at SmithWriter.com and on Twitter @smithwritr

Transcript of Interview with Douglas Smith

Joanna: Hi, everyone. I’m Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com. And today, I’m here with Douglas Smith. Hi, Doug.

Douglas: Hi, Joan. Thanks for having me on.

Joanna: No worries. Just a little introduction.

Douglas is a multi-award-winning Canadian author of novels, short stories, and nonfiction, described by Library Journal as one of Canada’s most original writers of speculative fiction. He’s also the author of “Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction,” which is what we’re talking about today, very exciting.

Doug, tell us a bit more about you and your writing journey, a little-potted history if you like.

Douglas: Yeah, sure. So I guess, appropriately enough, I did start by writing short fiction. I started in the late 1990s. I think I spent far too many months writing, trying to write my very first short story. I joined a writing group, which is sort of the incentive for me to actually get to a final draft.

I sent out my very first short story. I think in January, the next year. And I sold it about a year later. That year was sort of just write, write, write, and submit, which is one of the messages in my book. But I then started getting more sales.

I started getting personal rejections, which sounds weird, but it actually is a form of validation for beginning writers. It feels so good that someone actually sends you something personal. And I think what I found when I started writing was it was just important to get that feedback, that validation.

I just focused on the short fiction for probably the first 10 years. And I have found that my stories are getting longer and longer and longer. And I figured that was my subconscious trying to tell me maybe it was time to move to a novel. About the 10 year mark, I actually published over the next two years.

I published three collections. One was in French. We can talk about that later, foreign language for short fiction. And I started on my first novel. And now I will dabble in short fiction. I’m pretty well focusing. My new words are going into novels. And I have one novel out. And I’m about two-thirds “The Way Through Urban Fantasy Trilogy.”

Joanna: Yeah, wow.

Douglas: That’s where I am now.

Joanna: Yeah, fantastic. So, let’s just get some definitions clear.

What is a short story or short fiction versus a novella, versus a novel?

Douglas: Sure. I’m not sure how general these terms are. But in speculative fiction, certainly for the awards, things like the Hugo and the Nebula, et cetera. Most of the awards follow these guidelines.

A short story is under 7,500 words or maybe 7,500 words and under. But anyway, that’s the limit of a short story.

If you’re between that, and I think it’s 17,500 words. That is called a novelette. And that tended to be where I found most of my stories are ending up.

And the longer the story…we can talk about this later, too. The longer the story, the harder it is to sell. And there’s very clear business reasons for editors for that.

And then a novella goes from 17,500 words up to 40,000 words. So technically, a novel was anything over 40,000 words. But most publishers, traditional or small press are not going to publish anything that short. It varies, whether it’s YA or a middle-grade. But for adult fiction, you pretty well have to be a least 80,000 to sell.

Joanna: It’s funny you say that because this is one of them. I wrote my most recent novel, “Map of Shadows.” I had thought I might submit it to a traditional publisher because it’s a new genre for me. And then it came in at 60,000. And for me, that’s about normal, because I write really short. And then I was like, “I can’t be bothered adding 20,000.” You know what? I just submitted.

Dean Wesley Smith, who we both know, he writes around 60,000 as well, I think. So it is interesting how that changes. Coming back to you in short fiction, why do you or why did you focus so hard on short fiction?

What is it about short fiction that lovers of the genre or the form love?

Douglas: I started out when I was introduced to speculative fiction. As a kid, I read a lot of short stories. I just thought, as a reader, it was a great way to discover new writers, the anthologies. It used to be ever so many annual anthologies of the best of…could be best of space stories or certain service read. It could be anything.

I love the way that an author could tell what seemed like a complete story in so few words. But it’s a great way to find new writers like you read a history and “Oh, that’s fantastic.” And you chased down their other work.

As a writer, I guess, one of the reasons I started with short fiction I think, when you start out, you’re not sure you can write. You’re not sure that you’re ever going to sell anything that you write. So to me, it was a good way to kind of test the waters.

It’s a great way to learn your craft. And if you’ve written short fiction for a number of years, it doesn’t mean you have everything in your writer’s toolbox to become a novel writer, but you’ve got a lot of the necessary tools. So it is a good way to learn the craft of fiction, a point of view, and pacing, and dialogue, and setting, just ever so many.

I wanted to try to become a writer in a way also that I could test the waters you find out if you’re writing at a publishable level faster as a short fiction writer, because, let’s say we use the 80,000-word novel again. That’s probably anywhere from 16 to 20 pieces of short fiction that you could write if you wrote 80,000 words.

So you can try a lot of different styles and narrative structures and formats and different points of view and multiple points of view, et cetera. You can try a lot of different things in the way of experimenting with forms of storytelling in 16 to 20 short stories.

In a novel, you’re stuck with whatever narrative structure you’ve selected for that particular novel. So I think you can learn how to write a lot faster, the basic core capabilities you need if you’re writing short fiction than in a novel.

And the other benefit is, as you finish the story, you send it out to market. And you start to get feedback. And if it’s rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection, you probably need to keep writing. You haven’t developed your craft enough, although we can talk more about, you know, what’s a reasonable number of rejections later on.

But as I said, when I started writing I got my first sale in a year. And I was getting personal rejections. That is a form of feedback. Rejections are a form of feedback, especially when they start to get a little more focused and actually make comments on the story, way to get into fiction writing.

Joanna: Yeah, absolutely. But you’re not just a short story writer. You are a multi-award-winning short story writer. And I did want to start honing in on the craft.

Did you notice is it just literally what, a number of words or experience or do you feel that there are certain types of stories that win awards?

Do you have any tips for taking it up to that level?

Douglas: Wow. It’s tough. The only non-fiction book on writing I’ve done is quite consciously on the business side, not the creative side. I think it’s very hard to teach creative writing. I struggle with answering that.

I don’t think you should try to say analyze what are the award-winning stories. You can certainly understand why they’re good, and that helps your writing. But I don’t think you should target, “Oh, I need to write that kind of story to win an award.” I think the award-winning stories tend to be beyond being incredibly good well-written stories.

They tend to be all over the map in terms of the type of story or subject matter, et cetera. Probably the key is more once you have your story and what you think is a publishable form, how you market it.

Because the stories that are going to get award attention tend to be the ones that are appearing in the top professional markets. They get more eyes on them. They get more of the best of editors looking at them, for sure.

Anyone who’s putting out a best-of anthology for a year is always gonna look at the top Pro markets, magazine markets, the big anthologies, and maybe some of the major collections. So that’s the key.

Joanna: We’ll come back to that. But let me reframe that question into when you have an idea, how do you know that that is a good short story idea?

For example, I’ve written a couple of short stories, but I’ve written far more novels of the 60,000 words. And when I have an idea, I then look for ways to kind of slot that into a longer form piece.

When you get an idea around shorts or when you used to write a lot more, how do you know it’s a short idea rather than something that would be a lot bigger?

Douglas: I’ll preface my remark by saying every time I think, “Oh, yeah, that’s 5,000 words,” it ends up being 10,000, 12,000.

But back to my why I started novels. I’d say I’m a character writer. I tend to start with a character. One of my favorite writers of all time in the speculative fiction actually in any genre is Roger Zelazny, the late American writer. He once said that ideas tend to come to him as a character, an idea, or an image. And the better stories were the ones where you got two of them at once.

I have to say most of my ideas come in one of those three forms, but I know whatever the first kernel for a story is. Until I know my character or characters, I can’t start writing the story. I view my story arc is the character arc or the characters arcs as they intersect.

I look at that and I say, “Okay, what journey am I going to take this character on? What is the initial problem that they’re either facing or have been thrown into and? What are the major events that are gonna occur before that character can come to the end of that journey?”

I don’t outline short stories anymore. I probably did at the start. I can’t really remember. But I can usually figure out, “Yeah, that’s these number of scenes.” And typically, that’s probably gonna be somewhere in a 3,000 words story or an 8,000 words story.

That comes with experience. And then when I started writing novels, interestingly enough, I had the same problem. My first novel was 160,000 words, ended up being down under 120,000 but still fairly long.

I think the more you write, and this is another reason I strongly suggest, people if they’re thinking of getting into creative writing to start with short stories. At least try it for a year, because you do get an idea of after you’ve tried to write stories and you have to finish them. That’s the other best piece of advice.

I think that’s a Neil Gaiman favorite piece of advice. You have to finish what you write, because then you really do understand what a story is and whether what you’ve written is a story. The more you do that, you get a feel for that idea, “Yeah, that’s a short story. That’s not a novelette.”

Sometimes when you start a short story, you find that, “Well, I could go this way. I could do this. I could do this.” And it might grow into a novel idea.

The other advantage I’ve found in short fiction is that it’s a great way to explore novel ideas. My very first short story I revisited that set of characters five years later for the novel. And when you get to the point where you’re marketing the novel, it’s really good to have a short story that is the preface, the prequel to a novel, too.

Short fiction is another good way to explore ideas for longer works like novels and also give you marketing tools. I’m not sure if I directly answered your question. I think my only answer is start with short fiction and you’ll really get an understanding after you’ve written a few, probably at least a dozen. When you do get an idea, you’ll have a better feel for whether this is a short, short story or a novelette, or a novella, or maybe even something you could grow into a novel.

Joanna: Okay, cool. Let’s then talk about the markets for short fiction, because it used to be very clear like you said, you would write a short story, you would mail it to whichever magazine or editor, and you would get a rejection or it might get published.

But now, there’s not just print magazines. There’s digital online magazines. There’s indies self-publishing short fiction. It seems like there’s an explosion in possibilities for short fiction.

How do we know what is a good market, like you mentioned, a pro-market versus just another marketing mechanism?

Douglas: Sure. I might have to get a bit into licensing of rights here. I hope I’m not taking this too much out of sequence, but it’s hard to talk about where you should send your story first when I haven’t discussed rights.

I think the most important thing for writers to learn when they’re beginning is understanding the rights that you have to the intellectual property you’re creating your story. And the most important thing to know is that when you’re selling a story, you’re not actually selling it.

When a publisher wants to buy a story and publish your story, they’re going to be licensing a certain set of rights from you for a certain period of time. And the publisher will try to get as many rights as possible for as low a price as possible.

And you as an author, in a friendly business negotiation mode should be trying to give them as few rights as possible for as good price as possible. Usually, you can’t negotiate rates on short stories, but sometimes you will encounter situations where a publisher is asking for more rights than they need.

If it’s a print magazine, they just need print rights. If they’re asking for electronic rights, you can ask for that to be removed, because it does possibly limit some of your future markets for reselling the story.

But the most important right is what I call the occurrence rights. And the very first time you sell a story, you are selling first rights. You can only sell first rights once. That may seem obvious, but a lot of writers don’t understand that. And first rights are very valuable because they can only be sold once.

Because it can only be sold once, you should be trying to sell your first rights to a story to the best possible market that you can. And when I say best possible market, I go by the Science Fiction Writers and Fantasy Writers of America guidelines.

Pro-market means they’re paying six cents US a word or more, which isn’t great. You’re not going to get rich at six cents a word. But it does define most of the top professional markets. So my first rule is when you’re selecting a market, start at the top. Make sure you find a professional market, a market that has good cache.

They appear on award lists a lot, et cetera, et cetera. That’s the first rule because flip it around.

Let’s say you sell for the love market or for copies or for a semi-pro rate and you sell it. When you get that acceptance letter or email, you’ll probably be very excited. But you probably your next thought might be, “Wow, if they bought it, what if the next market up could have bought it. What if that top market would have bought it? Maybe it’s that good.” And you’ll never know.

You can’t send it to those markets anymore because they don’t take reprints or what is called licensing second rights. So the top markets only want first rights. In other words, they want to be the first ones to publish your story. So if you’ve already published it in the semi pro-magazine, you’re not gonna sell it to a top market ever. They don’t do reprints. They don’t license second rights.

My first piece of advice to all beginning writers is when you start to send your work out, do your research on the markets in your genre and send it to the top markets.

You figure out what you want the top market to be, but there’s a bunch that pay pro rates and send it to them first. And if you’re writing a lot of stories, it doesn’t matter if they’re taking three months to get back to you. You just sent it out to the next one when you get back in and just keep sending all your stories.

Keep them in the mail is my main piece of advice on this. I’ve totally forgotten your original question. But that’s how you start.

Joanna: Yes. My question was how you define the top markets. They want those first rights. But I guess if people are starting out, sure, send it to those. And if you get a rejection, maybe look at other options.

Because many of my listeners are self-publishing, there are a lot of digital-only markets. But there are also indies now self-publishing to their audience, so writing short fiction and just publishing a story on Kindle or Kobo or wherever and sending it to their list. So not even going anywhere near the market.

What are some of your thoughts on other options for stories? Any pros and cons that you would consider?

Douglas: When I wrote the book, it was aimed at the beginning writer who is starting as short fiction. So there’s no other incentive for them when they’re marketing a story other than to sell that story to the best market they can.

Indie author and you have perhaps you’ve built a world, you’ve had multiple novels in a particular universe, or around that set of characters. I can see the logic in putting out a short story, indie publishing it as sort of a treat for your readers and possibly as sort of a loss leader to attract more readers to that world. I can see that.

But what I’m talking about in the book is someone who is starting out as a fiction writer and I’m recommending the road of starting with short stories and marking them to traditional markets. I don’t mean big publishers. I mean, the traditional top magazines and anthologies.

I still recommend that. If you’re starting out, I strongly, strongly advise against indie publishing your short fiction. If you’re just doing that to get the story published, you’re just throwing away your work in my view. You’re not getting most of the benefits you could get from selling to a top professional market.

You’re not going to get award recognition or consideration. You’re not going to build a resume if you’re submitting a novel to even a small press later on and just have a list of indie published short fiction. No one’s going to be impressed as opposed to if you are submitting to a publisher for a novel and you have sales to some of the top pro-magazines and anthologies and you’ve had award ballots, et cetera.

That’s not a guarantee they’re going to buy your book, but it’s a strong item in your favor that you’re going to jump out of a slush pile and they might actually read your novel faster, which actually is a good thing.

So you’re wasting the chance at a resume if you’re starting out in short fiction. So I’d say indie published short stories, one, once it’s in your backlist. In other words, the rights are reverted to you. I’ve done that with all of mine, or if you have another reason that fits into a marketing strategy that you have for your longer work, your existing longer work.

Joanna: Yeah. I really like that advice. Part of the reason I wanted to talk to you on the show was because I think for a lot of indie authors, this is actually a great way to get things into traditional market. It just feels that getting an agent, getting a traditional publisher for a novel these days is a minefield.

Whereas for what you’re saying with short fiction, you don’t need an agent, right? You just submit direct to an editor of a magazine and then you do the contract. It’s not a big contract. It’s quite simple.

And then, I buy a lot of anthologies now too. And then you are being discovered by new readers who then might check out your novel. Whereas for a novel, it might take you a year to get an agent, a year to get a deal, another year before it’s out or whatever.

Would you say that hybrid approach with short fiction can be good for the marketing aspects as well as the sales?

Douglas: Yeah. Obviously, I’m somewhat biased. I think there can be reasons to put a short story indie without trying to sell it first, but I’d recommend that you do. The only reason I’d put out a short story directly indie publish it is, for example when I have this trilogy of novels published.

If I come up with some short story ideas and I want to, I’d probably try to sell it to some of the good markets. But I might consider just putting that story out directly, maybe for my mailing list subscribers. That’s a hook hopefully for them to get into the series itself.

But other than that, I think that you’re just throwing away too many possible benefits of selling. When I say traditional short fiction markets, it’s totally it’s not like the big New York publishers. You’re right.

We can talk about how you can easily find markets for your short stories. You just email them now. You attach them to an email or you go through a submittable or some sort of online submission system that the market uses. You’ll get the email back with whether you’re accepted or not. It’s just so easy to do.

And as you say, the contracts, and I cover this in my book, there are a few things you need to look for. I think there’s about eight different things I focus on in the book for short fiction contracts. But really there’s the top three. And that’s what rights are you giving away, when do those rights come back to you, and a couple others which escape my mind.

But they’re easy. They’re not complex. if you go through that advice where you’ve done it a few times, you quickly would want to look for a short fiction contract. The main thing is the rights come back to you.

Joanna: Yeah. And that’s what I like about the idea. And you mentioned three months for a time frame. Would that be a normal timeframe?

If people were submitting, would they expect to hear back within that timeframe?

Douglas: It’s sort of the average or I’ll put it another way. I had this from like Gardner Dozois who’s one more Hugo awards and Nebula awards for best editor than any other editor. He said, “It is appropriate to query an editor if it’s been more than three months.” So, three months was pretty typical for the big magazines.

You’ll find some of them a lot faster, some of them a lot slower. I track submission rates. There’s online tools that track the average response rate for markets. But three months is pretty typical. And if you think, “Wow, that’s gonna be a long time. I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs.”

Well, no, you’re writing more stories and you’re sending them out too. Don’t worry about it. Get it in the mail or the email and just move on to the next story. When you finish that, submit it too. You just keep the stories out there in the submission process.

Another one of my recommendations is just keep it in the mail. It’s a numbers game. The writer with the most stories in front of the most markets is going to win. Even though we’re not competing with each other but the point of view of progressing your fiction career. You’re going to win if you write a lot and keep them in front of markets.

Joanna: So just on the submission there and keeping things in the mail. I have a big spreadsheet with just what I have now, intellectual property assets, which are mainly longer, as I said, with short stories and also sometimes the title of a short story if you have lots.

Dean talks about finding all these short stories that he wrote.

Do you have a spreadsheet or do you recommend specific software or how are you tracking all this different stuff?

Douglas: Sure. Yes, as you start to submit your stories, you have to keep track of where they are when you submitted them, because, well, you just have to.

I have a huge spreadsheet. And it’s basically all the markets down the left side and all my stories across the top. And then I have codes I put in in terms of, you know, an M in a date means I mailed it on that date. An R in a date means it was rejected on that date. An S in a date means it was sold on that date. And then I have lots of macros that summarize all that stuff for me.

You don’t want to be submitting a story again to a market that rejected it two years ago or something like that. You do have to keep track of them. So I have a big spreadsheet because I like spreadsheets.

There are submission trackers that you can use on the web. In the context of also mentioning some of the market lists that are out there. There’s a market list called The Grinder. The whole URL is the grinder.diabolicalplots.com. If you go there, if you just Google “The Grinder,” you’re going to find that website. It’s a good market list. It’s free.

You can search for short fiction markets by genre also has a submission tracker that you can use. While we’re on the topic of market lists for science fiction and fantasy, for genre, ralan.com, R-A-L-A-N.com. It’s been around since I started writing. It’s free.

It’s run by a writer in Denmark. He’s an English writer but lives in Denmark called Ralan Conley. It’s still a great one. And he breaks it out by pro-markets and anthologies and semi-pro. You just need to look at Pro and anthologies in my view if you take my advice of starting at the top.

But somehow you have to find a way to track your submissions and the responses and the sales and everything because you will get sales. So just plan ahead.

Joanna: Yeah, exactly. It’s just interesting in the context of the changes in publishing in general with digital and the rise of indie for example. It almost feels as if the short story market has stayed quite similar in the fact that the way of submission and the tracking. That’s actually stayed more stable than maybe the rest of publishing.

Do you see it being disrupted in any way or have new markets emerged or are those magazines the top still the ones that you’ve been submitting to for years?

Douglas: No, I have a bunch of email folders of the magazines that I’ve submitted to over the years. I mean, it’s in the hundreds. And there are hundreds around or if there are, they’re different ones.

What I saw in short fiction when I started in the late 1990s when you’re submitting your mail physically, snail mailing your manuscript in. The magazines were print only. And what you saw over the next decade was a steady decline in the number of those magazines because print production and distribution is incredibly expensive.

And as readership started dropping off many of them went out of business. And then what we’ve seen in the last, I don’t know, five years probably started at least five years ago. A lot of the magazines finally embraced the e-book or the electronic revolution.

So the ones that have stuck around and a lot of the new ones that you see coming up have electronic. Some of them are only electronic. A lot of the new ones are just online or you might be able to purchase each issue as an e-book, et cetera. And usually, pretty well all the big Pro ones that I know of have electronic editions.

It’s reducing their cost. I haven’t tried to buy a print magazine in a long time, so I don’t know if I walked into some of the big stores around here if I’d actually even be able to find them. But it’s saved a lot of them. And what I’ve seen is an explosion in the number of markets and paying markets.

There’s probably more magazine markets now paying pro rates than there was when I started out. I personally think it’s a very healthy market for short fiction. Another reason I encourage writers, you’re going to find a lot of options for selling your work.

You may find that when you sell it and it’s published you get to look at it online. You don’t have something physical to hold in your hand, which always was cool when you got your contributor copies. But some of them I do both print and electronic. So you may get a print copy as well. I think it’s once again become a thriving short fiction market.

Joanna: Fantastic. Just a couple more questions. So you mentioned French. I mean, obviously, you’re Canadian. So maybe you’re bilingual, no?

Douglas: No.

Joanna: What about licensing for languages? Is that just something that people should watch out for in contracts?

Douglas: Well, sometimes when you sell a short story, a magazine may actually ask for other language rights. If they’re only publishing in English, you have every right to ask them politely, “Why do you need those rights? I prefer to only give you English rights.”

Some of them have a valid reason, the big magazines and I think fantasy and science fiction. They have standing agreements with some non-English magazines around the world where those magazines will publish selected stories from the English editions. So, that’s valid a reason.

But usually, they don’t need to ask for non-English rights. If you keep your foreign language rights, what you can do…you can do it now. If you have a story, you could send it to a French magazine and without jeopardizing selling it in English, because you’re not going to be giving away first English rights. You’re going to be licensing first French language rights.

I’ve sold in I think it’s 26 languages in 32 countries. But what I do is I wait until I’ve sold the story in English, and then I submit to foreign language magazines.

You think of it as submitting reprints that they think of it as buying first rights. But from their point of view, they’re more likely to want to buy a story from you if it appeared in a top English market. It cuts down their editorial, the slush pile reading.

They’re more likely that they’re going to be reading a good short story. Sometimes it helps by being able to put that on their cover. You know, this first appeared in Analog or Asimovs et cetera. So it’s another market. This is another reason why I stress to writers that they have to understand licensing of their rights. Don’t give away rights if you don’t need to.

Because if you sold a story and they took all the foreign language rights, you can’t submit that to any foreign language market. And if you’re looking for foreign language markets by the way, if you go to my website, I keep a foreign language market list, foreign meaning non-English.

These are publications magazines typically that you can submit to directly around the world. You don’t have to write in their languages. You submit in English. They have translators. They will translate your story into their language. And a lot of them are paying markets. It’s just like any reprint marketing.

Even in English, it’s found money for you. That’s a possibility to find other readers for your work. Also, you might have some very cool things that happen.

I sold a story to a French magazine. It was one of my shapeshifter stories. The editor loved that, and he bought two more from me.

There’s a great Canadian magazine called “Solaris.” And they only take submissions in French. Well, I don’t write in French. But after I’d sold to the France French magazine, I was able to submit the French translation to the “Solaris Magazine.” And they actually published those as well. And one of those led to one of my awards. So I actually got an award for a French story, which is interesting.

Joanna: Pretty cool.

Douglas: But even better than that, the magazine editor in France came back to me and said, “You know, if I ever have my small press, a small press that I would put together, I’d love to publish a collection of your fantasy stories.” And this was about 15 years ago and I thought, “Well, that’s very nice.”

But I didn’t think anything would ever happen. But in 2010, he established his own small press, and he reached out to me. And hence I now have a French collection that was published in France. And I was shortlisted for two awards in France.

And that all came from submitting one single short story to this editor way back when. So it’s a way to broaden your readership, and just cool things may happen. It was a collection and an award that I got from submitting to one France magazine.

Joanna: Which is so cool. And I think so often indie authors now just focus on quite established marketing techniques. Whereas what’s interesting with short stories is you improve your craft. You can get paid multiple times.

And it can also be a marketing mechanism to find readers who you’re never going to reach in any other way because they are traditional market readers. So I think it’s awesome. I always think, “Yes, I’m going to get into this,” and then I back away. But you’re helping me.

I did want to ask one more question on rights, is the audio. In this renaissance of audio, you and I are doing a podcast right now. Is it worth trying to license audio rights or anthology audio rights or podcast your own short fiction?

What are your thoughts on audio for short fiction?

Douglas: First of all, good. It’s another right. And that’s back to rights again. Make sure when you’re signing a short story contract that they don’t grab audio rights because it’s one more thing that you can sell separately.

And also a caveat is sometimes, though, they might have an electronic version like that. They might be a web-based magazine, so they’ll ask for electronic rights. I always in the contract add “excluding audio rights,” because audio is electronic as well. So let’s say you’ve done that and you have your backlist of short fiction.

There are a lot of audio markets out there, certainly in science fiction and fantasy. Most of them pay. And the cool thing about them is that they prefer reprints. Most of them will prefer reprints.

My point of view it’s a way to cut down on their slush pile editing. If they get something that’s been published in the top pro-market, they’re gonna say, “Okay, it’s a good story.” They’ll still read it, but they can cut down a lot of the you know, work involved in going through a slush pile. And then if they buy it, most of them are paying. Some of them are $50. Some of them are $100.

So, usually mostly audio markets I know are in that range. It still found money. It’s a story you’ve already sold. It is quite cool hearing someone read your story.

I’ve had mostly good experience with narrators. I’ve had one story that was just awful, the narration was just awful. They tried doing different voices. And it didn’t work.

Then I’ve also had…my most recent one was just a beautiful narration of the short story that ties to my novel. So it was, “Okay, this is really good.” And it’s fine. I’d say most cases you’re gonna have a wonderful experience.

It’ll be really cool to point your readers to someone narrating one of your stories. And you can find more readers that way too because there are people who prefer audiobooks. So they will subscribe to these podcast magazines as well. So, yeah, it’s great.

Joanna: What about reading them yourself? Have you considered that?

Douglas: I have. It’s very time-consuming. I have not got into doing audiobook versions of my collections or my novel because it is very expensive. If you do it yourself, it’s a major time commitment.

I don’t know if I would have the voice. I would certainly know where to put the emphasis on the prose because it’s my own short fiction. That’s one thing you can miss with a narrator, but it’s a huge time commitment.

If I do go that route, I’m probably gonna go the route of number of options you can pay for a narrator directly, you can offer them royalties.

And you can do some more things through something like Audible. There’s other audiobook publishers where they will cover some of the technical skills of the narration and the production.

Joanna: Yeah, fantastic.

Douglas: Right now, it’s down my list. But I think for short fiction, I definitely recommend that you submit to audio markets once you’ve sold it.

Joanna: Brilliant. Well, we are out of time.

Where can people find you and your books and then stories and everything you do online?

Douglas: smithwriter, all one word, dot com, so S-M-I-T-H-W-R-I-T-E-R.com. That has everything and gives you links to all of my fiction, various retail outlets where you can buy it, subscribe to my newsletter. And subscribers get freebies. I give out a free e-book each month, short story e-book. And you get lots of new stuff and contests. And you can get a chance to be a beta reader for novels, things like that. You know, follow me on Twitter. That’s also on my website.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Doug. That was great.

Douglas: Okay. And thank you, Joanna, for having me on. It’s just been great. Appreciate it.

Joanna Penn :

View Comments (9)

  • Hi Joanna!

    This is my first time here - and so far - I'm loving the content and value you are sharing.

    I like writing and using my imagination a lot. I'm still learning the skill of great writing, but I'm evolving slowly but surely. :)

    Making money writing short fiction stories or just any type of stories sounds fun. This is something that I would do as a hobby. But making a bit of money from it is not a bad idea.

    Thank you so much for the awesome podcast show today!

    I'll be back (in the tone of the terminator) haha

    Best regards! :D

  • Another amazing podcast full off great information.
    I am currently writing my writing plans for next year and took this podcast out for a walk in the New Zealand sunshine this morning.
    Planning to add fiction to my portfolio and Doug gave me lots of food for thought.

    Looking forward to listening to more great content in 2018

    • Ged, glad you found the podcast useful. Best of luck with your writing.

      PS - I am envious. New Zealand is one of my favourite places. I've done four cycling tours on the South Island and hope to get back for more.

  • Douglas,
    I've always loved to read and write short fiction. In fact, I've done more short fiction than novels, whether anyone looking at my oeuvre believes that or not. My collections of short fiction, alas, don't do well, and the one anthology I contributed to doesn't do well either. People tell me that Amazon and digital publishing has destroyed short fiction. I think snooty old zines trying to survive have contributed to its demise too.
    Right now, I just use my short fiction as teasers, posting stories on my blog and providing PDFs of collections that are free for the asking. Short fiction isn't a money maker, and I've yet to find an indie publisher (small press) or agent who wants short fiction.
    Bottom line: you're very lucky, Douglas!
    BTW, most of my books are with a Toronto publisher (formatting and cover)--I found them before that was even thought of in the U.S. Go Canada!

    • Steve, with all due respect, luck has nothing to do with it. There are lots and lots of markets that pay pro rates for short fiction. Magazines and anthologies. There are more paying pro markets now for short fiction than when I started. You just have to be persistent and take the right approach. My book addresses how to find the markets, select the best for your work, and how to submit. And more.

      If you post stories on your blog, you just gave away First Rights, meaning you can never license those rights to any of the top markets, because they don't take reprints. Your career, your choice--but that's not the approach I recommend for short fiction.

  • Hi Joanna,
    I live in Ireland. I have 25 short stories and I would like to publish them with a traditional publisher. Could you help?
    Happy New Year.

  • Joanna!
    Thank you for this informative podcast. I wish I had come across it some time ago. I have published a number of short stories on Amazon/Kindle with zero success. Can I now withdraw them in order to adopt the approach advocated in your podcast?

    • Glad it was useful. You can always unpublish, but you will lose all reviews - so just be clear about what you want to do before you take action.