When I read fiction, it's almost always novels, which is probably why that's what I tend to write.
But in the early 2000s I attended a writer's retreat where the instructor insisted we write a 3-5 page short story each night and exchange them the next day.
Something about the page limit worked for me. Those stories were the first fiction I got published. One was included in the first episode of an Internet radio show, Parade of Phantoms, where the producer read horror stories. (These days it would probably be a podcast.)
Since then, I've only written short stories here and there, but I may change that.
At the recent Master Business Workshop in Oregon, there was an entire panel discussion on what you can do with short stories to enhance your fiction writing career.
Here are the suggestions I thought most helpful:
- Post regularly on your website
One author posts one short story per month on his website.
Having fresh content each month keeps the website ranking higher. It also gives his fans a reason to return to the site. Finally, it draws new readers to the site who may then check out his other work.
As he's posting the story, he also puts it for sale on Amazon for $2.99. He said that some readers start the story on the site but then buy it because they'd rather read on their Kindles than on screen.
- Tie it to your novels
If you write a series, a short story about one of the series characters can be a tie in to the novels. It's a good entry point for new readers. It also is a sort of reward for fans who want more about those characters and don't want to wait for the next novel.
You can publish these short stories yourself in ebook format or you can submit them to magazines and perhaps draw in those readers.
- Give it to Patreon supporters or email list subscribers
A short story that's exclusive to people who donate to you on Patreon (if you're not familiar with Patreon, here's how it works) or who subscribe to your email list rewards them for their support and encourages others to sign up.
Another option is to offer it first to your supporters for a week or month and then offer it for sale as an ebook or submit it to magazines.
- Submit it to an anthology or include it in a bundle
Publishers put together anthologies on certain themes. Some look for new stories, so you can submit to those. Others look for already published stories, so it's a way you can earn money or publicity a second time if you've already had the story published.
Many indie authors put together anthologies, also called bundles. You can look for another author who is doing so or you can take initiative and create a bundle yourself.
(Bundle Rabbit is one platform that allows authors to create bundles of novels or short stories.)
- Option It For Film Or Other Formats
Many movies have been based on short stories, such as Breakfast At Tiffany's (short story by Truman Capote), Total Recall (We Can Remember It for You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick) and, more recently, Arrival (Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang).
Short stories also can be adapted into plays or short films.
You generally need your story to be selling well (or at least for your work as a whole to be well known) before anyone who can pay you for an option will be interested.
But even if you get paid little, any adaptation can be helpful for publicity and can be a learning experience.
A few years back someone I knew in high school was making his first short film and asked if I had any short stories that might work. I sent him a few, and he made a film, which he called Willis Tower, of my short story The Tower Formerly Known As Sears.
I learned a lot from his interpretation and also from seeing what the actors did with my characters. While the film didn't get distributed, a couple newspaper articles wrote about it when he submitted it to film festivals. It's also a nice credit for my author bio.
- Submit it to traditional magazine markets
I put this last because it's the option most of us are familiar with. At the conference, though, hosts Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch made some points about this option that are worth repeating.
- Start with the big markets that pay well, as it's the best publicity you'll ever get for your work
- As you wait for a response, and it may be a long wait, you are free to submit another story to that same publication
- If the story isn't rejected, keep trying additional markets
- If you do sell it to a magazine, you typically are only selling the right to print it first, so you can then use the story in any or all of the other ways listed above
Have you written short stories? Feel free to share your experience in the comments.