How much do short stories help to build a career?

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JoeVasicek
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How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby JoeVasicek » Fri Oct 10, 2014 10:58 pm

I'm primarily a self-published indie author, with about twenty books up so far (I expect to pro-out of the WOTF contest within about a year). Writing is my primary career--I'm in this to make a living. So far, I've written primarily novels and novellas, but about a year ago I thought I'd work on my short game and try to get a few stories published in the traditional short story markets.

However, I've been talking with some other indie writers who have made several pro-sales, and they say that those did almost nothing to drive readers to their other books. Kris Rusch wrote a lengthy blog post a couple of years ago about how getting published in one of the big magazines is like getting paid to run an advertisement, but that doesn't seem to square with their experience. The general consensus is that short stories can help you to network with other writers, and over time may give you a reputational boost within the genre, but that it doesn't do much to help your career unless you're extremely prolific and know how to make a living off of short fiction alone (which is very, very different from making a living off of any other kind of writing).

Does that square with your experience? For those of you trying to make a living at this writing thing, have your short story sales helped with that? Of course, winning the WOTF contest would be a HUGE career boost, but what about the other magazines? Is it worth pursuing the pro-markets aggressively, or are short stories better left as fun side projects for the working writer?
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Mike Resnick
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Mike Resnick » Sun Oct 12, 2014 10:22 pm

My experience, and my daughter's (who is also a writer in this field), is that if you can win major awards, or even be nominated for some, it will make it much easier to sell novels and will enhance your bargaining power. And if you can't achieve that kind of recognition, well, at least it doesn't harm your career, and brings in some money.

And once you learn how to hit your foreign markets, mighty few stories make only 3 figures by the time the dust clears a few years up the road, and the better-received novelettes and novellas can very occasionally make 5 figures. Depends on your skill at writing, at least until you type "The End", and then at your ability to morph into a competent, hard-nosed businessman.

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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby JoeVasicek » Wed Oct 15, 2014 6:47 am

Thanks, Mike Resnick. That's the sense that I get: that aside from craft and artistic development, short stories are better for gaining recognition and building a reputation than for selling other books.
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Mike Resnick » Wed Oct 15, 2014 5:58 pm

Mediocre short stories are no use in selling books. Good stories, especially award-nominated or
award-winning stories, make selling books to major markets -much- easier.
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby JoeVasicek » Wed Oct 15, 2014 11:29 pm

What about selling self-published books to readers, though? I get the sense that the segment of the overall Science Fiction readership that regularly reads short stories is pretty small. Editors at the big publishing houses might use short stories as a filter, but I don't get the sense that most readers do.

Although it could be that the power readers--the ones who keep up with the field almost religiously--do keep up with the short stories and do follow up on the authors that make an impression on them. That could boost sales of other self-published stuff via word-of-mouth. But I'd like to see the data on that first.
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Wed Oct 15, 2014 11:35 pm

I basically would not have a career without my short fiction. It's been my short fiction that's gotten me all of my best PR to date, and most of my loyal readers too. It's what's attracted the attention of the Hugo and Nebula voters, and won me two Analog magazine AnLab readers' choice awards. It's also what made me stand out enough (from the crowd) to earn me the help of men like Mike Resnick and Kevin J. Anderson; people who like to see a new author jumping out there and doing good things in the market.

Which of course doesn't change the fact that breaking into a magazine like Analog is probably much more difficult than getting an editor at Baen or TOR or DAW to take a chance on your first novel.

But yes, I think if you have a "traditional" career path (as mine has been) short fiction can be essential.

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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Wed Oct 15, 2014 11:40 pm

Mike Resnick wrote:Mediocre short stories are no use in selling books. Good stories, especially award-nominated or
award-winning stories, make selling books to major markets -much- easier.


Case in point: when I first met Toni Weisskopf (Baen chief editor and publisher) in 2011, she'd already gotten good word of mouth about me from Mike Resnick and Larry Correia; based on my short fiction track record. That I eventually picked up some Hugo nominations was kind of icing on the cake. The novel that hit store shelves (The Chaplain's War) last week has, at its core, two linked pieces of short fiction which previously ran in Analog magazine. In fact "The Chaplain's Legacy" was nominated for a Hugo award and won the Analog AnLab *after* Baen had already bought the book which included the novella as a backbone.

So having this kind of pedigree (in short fiction) can do wonders for your credibility, both with readers and with prospective editors. It certainly did in my case. But then, I *like* short SF/F and came of age reading it. Not everyone does. I would say, don't kill yourself trying to do short SF/F unless you truly enjoy the form. If you are more comfortable doing books because all you read is books, doing short SF/F may be a frustrating and futile exercise.

JMHO.
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Martin L. Shoemaker » Thu Oct 16, 2014 2:19 am

Brad R. Torgersen wrote:Case in point: when I first met Toni Weisskopf (Baen chief editor and publisher) in 2011, she'd already gotten good word of mouth about me from Mike Resnick and Larry Correia; based on my short fiction track record. That I eventually picked up some Hugo nominations was kind of icing on the cake. The novel that hit store shelves (The Chaplain's War) last week has, at its core, two linked pieces of short fiction which previously ran in Analog magazine. In fact "The Chaplain's Legacy" was nominated for a Hugo award and won the Analog AnLab *after* Baen had already bought the book which included the novella as a backbone.


Echoing this. I ran into Toni at WorldCon 2013. She recognized my name from my two appearances in Analog, and we spent a ten-minute walk to the convention center discussing what sort of book I might submit to Baen. There's a cliche: "You can't buy that kind of publicity." But not only didn't I buy it, Analog paid me for it. As Dean points out, a single page ad in Analog costs $800; but sell them a story, and they'll give you page after page of exposure, and pay you for the privilege.
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Martin L. Shoemaker » Thu Oct 16, 2014 2:21 am

Brad R. Torgersen wrote:Which of course doesn't change the fact that breaking into a magazine like Analog is probably much more difficult than getting an editor at Baen or TOR or DAW to take a chance on your first novel.


Really? Do you have data on that?
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby T. R. Napper » Thu Oct 16, 2014 2:43 am

I'm not sure how relevant this advice is going to be, given you've already written 20 self-published novels, but I can give you the perspective of a relative newcomer.

I've just returned from a convention in Australia where I pitched to a small publisher and a major publisher. Having the WotF win and two sales to Interzone - though insignificant compared to someone like Brad - ended up being very useful.

In fact, the small publisher tracked me down at the bar and asked me if I was the Writer's of the Future winner that was pitching to him the next day. He was very keen to talk to me about my novel. So yeah, that helped, a lot. The sales to Interzone - even though it is a magazine with maybe 2-3k readers - brought me credibility with people who know their stuff. That is, with professional writers and publishers.

Of course, I'm light years from the places Brad and Mike are talking from. But still, even in these first few steps, short stories have already opened a couple of doors. Just a crack, mind you, but in an industry as tough as this, a foot in the door is big.

On top of which, short stories have done wonders for the standard of my writing.


Brad R. Torgersen wrote:Which of course doesn't change the fact that breaking into a magazine like Analog is probably much more difficult than getting an editor at Baen or TOR or DAW to take a chance on your first novel.


Really Brad? Very interesting.
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Mike Resnick » Thu Oct 16, 2014 5:48 pm

For those who think the audience for short stories is tiny compared to that for novels, well, you're right
if you're selling to science fiction magazines (as opposed to, say, Playboy or New Yorker), and the novels
are written by Stephen King and George R. R. Martin (as opposed to, well, you)...

...but no one breaks in selling novels at that level. The average first or second novel these days
prints maybe 4,000 hardcovers, or more likely, 7,500 trade paperbacks. And Analog distributes well
over 30,000 copies, and Asimov's about 25,000.

The ratio has been similar for a third of a century. True, 25,000 mass market paperbacks
used to be a common print run for a new novel, back in the 1980s...but in the 1980s
Asimov's and Analog were selling over 100,000 copies each.

So to disdain short fiction sales because the audience is miniscule compared to the
book audience is meaningless and, worse still, erroneous. The audience, at the entry level,
is far greater for professional (i.e., printed and sold in stores) science fiction magazines
than for professional (i.e., printed, sold in stores, and paying an advance) science fiction
novels.

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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby JoeVasicek » Thu Oct 16, 2014 6:36 pm

Thanks, Mike. I'm not disdaining short fiction at all, I'm just trying to figure out how short stories ought to play into the career trajectory of a working indie writer. So far, it seems to me that the best path is to focus most of your energy on producing longer stuff like novels, opting to self-publish them directly rather than submit to a traditional publishing house, and to work on short fiction mostly to hone your craft and experiment with unconventional ideas. Submitting to the traditional short story magazines is a good long-term strategy to build reputation and name recognition, especially if you can win a couple of awards, but it's not as good in the immediate-term for selling other books (at least, that's the impression I get from talking with other indies).

Also, to be fair, most of my 20+ books are novellas and short novels. I've got four novels, a complete eight-part novella series with two omnibus editions, the first three short novels in a nine-part series that I'm writing now, and a handful of admittedly mediocre short stories that I self-published mainly to learn how the self-publishing process works (plus a smattering of non-fiction).
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Holly Heisey » Thu Oct 16, 2014 9:10 pm

Joe, sounds like you've already got a good thing going with your longer works! I'm looking towards indie publishing, too, and I'm very interested in how short fiction works into the whole scheme of things.

Some things I've noticed, from my own experience and from listening to and observing others:

- I only have one pro sale, but that one sale propelled me into a whole different realm of contacts, which have opened doors in every avenue, from traditional to indie. I'm finding that short fiction as a networking tool is incredibly useful, and a great thing for making friends in general.

- Writing short fiction, and actually more than that, critiquing short fiction for others, has significantly improved my craft. Like, lightyears ahead of where it was. It's easier to find compatible writing partners through short fiction, too, because it's not the huge weight of critting a novel that you may or may not like.

- Short fiction definitely has a place in indie, though I see it done successfully with more established indie authors. That time travel anthology, Synchronic I think?, shot up the charts in Amazon a few weeks back. That's definitely something.

- Wool. Seriously. It started out as a stand-alone story.

Everything I'm seeing is that longer fiction works better for building an indie audience, but there's a whole lot of factors that can go into boosting your name out there. You never know if a connection you make from a big short sale gets you the promotion you need to boost a self-pubbed book. For me, I'm shooting off in all directions. It can't hurt to have many doors open.

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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby JoeVasicek » Thu Oct 16, 2014 9:57 pm

Ah yes, I forgot networking. The guys over at KBoards said that short stories can help a lot with networking. And honestly, writing shorts solely with the objective of selling your other stuff is a crass and short-sighted way of doing things anyway.

From what I'm hearing, short stories are good for:

1) improving your craft,
2) giving you a chance to experiment,
3) networking with others in the field,
4) boosting your reputation among editors and other writers,
5) increasing your name recognition among readers, and
6) winning prestigious, career-boosting awards.

However, short stories are generally less effective at:

1) advertising/promoting your other books,
2) making enough money to live on,
3) doing any of the stuff listed above if you only write mediocre stories to begin with.

Anything I'm missing?
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Thu Oct 16, 2014 10:09 pm

Martin L. Shoemaker wrote:
Brad R. Torgersen wrote:Which of course doesn't change the fact that breaking into a magazine like Analog is probably much more difficult than getting an editor at Baen or TOR or DAW to take a chance on your first novel.


Really? Do you have data on that?


I think the statistics are something Mike has quoted to me before. In any given year there are perhaps 2,000 to 2,500 new novels published, in the SF/F genre. Not counting indie publications. And including small presses. Even if you roll Analog together with all the other pro SF short markets like Asimov's and TOR.COM and so forth, you'd get maybe 1,000 open slots. Tops. And most of those are going to go to known quantities: experienced authors who already sell to those markets. So the competition (in the short slush) is statistically far more fierce, than it is in the novel slush.

If my numbers are off, or I am misquoting Mike, I am sure he will correct me. wotf008
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Mike Resnick » Fri Oct 17, 2014 12:11 am

Brad: You can get the book numbers out of Locus. I don't have them at my fingertips, but I think
they've been around 1,600 a year for the last few years. On the one hand, that includes collections
and anthologies, which is a negative; but on the other hand, it includes only books from publishers
who pay advances, which if you want to make a substantial living, is the positive that counts.

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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Martin L. Shoemaker » Fri Oct 17, 2014 6:41 am

Brad R. Torgersen wrote:I think the statistics are something Mike has quoted to me before. In any given year there are perhaps 2,000 to 2,500 new novels published, in the SF/F genre. Not counting indie publications. And including small presses. Even if you roll Analog together with all the other pro SF short markets like Asimov's and TOR.COM and so forth, you'd get maybe 1,000 open slots. Tops. And most of those are going to go to known quantities: experienced authors who already sell to those markets. So the competition (in the short slush) is statistically far more fierce, than it is in the novel slush.

If my numbers are off, or I am misquoting Mike, I am sure he will correct me. wotf008


Thanks! That's good info.

Of course, the number of slots is only half the equation. The number of stories competing for those slots is the other half, and that's a lot harder to determine. I have no data, but my speculation is that novels would have fewer stories competing because it takes longer to write one. If that's the case, then the short story market would have more stories competing for fewer slots, thus confirming your original point.

(I'm being extra skeptical here because your point feeds my ego, now that Analog has accepted four stories from me and Galaxy's Edge has accepted two. Any time my ego is fed, I worry that it will affect my judgment, so I try not to believe without more evidence.)
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Fri Oct 17, 2014 7:49 am

Coming up: "Life Flight," in Analog magazine
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Martin L. Shoemaker » Fri Oct 17, 2014 8:20 am



Showoff... wotf013
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby preston » Fri Oct 17, 2014 6:33 pm

Great stuff, guys. So far my career (as a speculative fiction writer) is based solely on short stories. I think most SF writers start this way. Short stories first--to learn the craft--and then your first novel.

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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Mike Resnick » Fri Oct 17, 2014 9:23 pm

Preston> I don't know that that's necessarily true any more. It was for quite a few decades, but the playing field has changed. For example, in 1954 there were -56- professional science fiction magazines, and less than 100 books published in a calendar year. When I was breaking in with my first few sf novels in the mid and late 1960s, there were still a dozen magazines and a bunch of anthologies, and they were publishing about 125 sf books a year. Today there are 3 print magazines, and they're publishing 1,600 books a year.

So yes, if you can sell some good stories to top markets, maybe grab a Campbell or Hugo nomination, you'll sell your first novel much more easily, and probably for more money...but in terms of simply selling, I don't know that its easier to sell Asimov's, Analog or F&SF than it is to sell a book to Tor (200+ per year), Baen (200+ per year), Ace, DAW, Orbit, Angry Robot, Bantam, del Rey, or whoever.

One of the problems that's existed since the onset of publishing is that some people are writers, some people are businessmen, and very few are both. And it is self-evident that if you're a good writer who doesn't know every aspect of the business, or a good businessman who doesn't know every aspect of his craft, you put yourself at an enormous competitive disadvantage when it comes to earning a living. I am appalled when I hear and see all the misinformation about -both- ends of the process.

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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Fri Oct 17, 2014 9:48 pm

Martin L. Shoemaker wrote:
Showoff... wotf013


Hey, as Tim Powers will tell you next year: isn't showing off part of the reason why we do this? wotf022
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby izanobu » Mon Oct 20, 2014 1:29 am

I already put in my two cents when you asked elsewhere, but I'll point it out again here.

I've never seen crossover from short story sales to my self-published work (somewhere around 30 short story sales now, I guess, I kind of lost track after I hit two dozen). I think short stories are valuable to write and submit for all kinds of reasons, but in terms of helping your indie career *other than helping your craft over all*, I don't see much point in writing them. Novellas and novels will make you a lot more money for less work (keeping on top of selling and re-selling short fiction is a lot of work that could be spent writing, wotf008 ). Personally I think I spent far too many years writing short stories because I love the form, when I should have been more focused on novellas and novels from a career standpoint. I probably could have started making a seriously good living a lot sooner (though there were other factors besides writing mostly short stories in there).

Short stories are great for working on craft issues. They can be great for networking with editors and other writers. They can bring in a nice little sum on their own (never had one bring in more than about 900 so far on its own I don't think, but that's a decent bit of money for something that took me only hours to write). They can be good if you care about winning awards.

So it depends on what your goals are and what you love. If you love short fiction, definitely write it. If you want to sell to trad publishers, maybe write it, but as Mike said you're probably better off writing a really kick-butt novel and submitting that instead of hoping a short gets you noticed. Basically, if you love short fiction, write short fiction. Just depends on what your goals are and how well you manage your time and the business side of things. wotf007

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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby tmaulhardt » Thu Nov 06, 2014 6:07 pm

Thanks all of you. I appreciate your wisdom, as a writer who takes WAY too much time to produce one short story.
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Brydar » Thu Jan 29, 2015 3:56 am

Just throwing in my two cents worth about earning more than two cents. When you put out a novella (say less than 60 pages single spaced) or even a novel what do you typically charge for readers to view the story? I have a few friends who suggested .99c is the best price, they jump onto those priced at that cost and are amazed at the quality of some of the novellas. At the same time if the story is so great the author could charge more for the story. Some authors suggest scaling the cost by the number of pages. I would greatly appreciate inputs from those of you who have posted and garnered earnings from Smashwords and other sites. I am obviously a newbie so that is a factor of course.
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby ThomasKCarpenter » Thu Jan 29, 2015 10:45 am

Brydar wrote:Just throwing in my two cents worth about earning more than two cents. When you put out a novella (say less than 60 pages single spaced) or even a novel what do you typically charge for readers to view the story? I have a few friends who suggested .99c is the best price, they jump onto those priced at that cost and are amazed at the quality of some of the novellas. At the same time if the story is so great the author could charge more for the story. Some authors suggest scaling the cost by the number of pages. I would greatly appreciate inputs from those of you who have posted and garnered earnings from Smashwords and other sites. I am obviously a newbie so that is a factor of course.


Unless your short story or novella is connected to a series that's selling, it's doubtful to earn much if you indie publish it. That's the general consensus on the Kindle Boards and other sites, though there are exceptions to that rule.
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Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby izanobu » Wed Feb 04, 2015 5:47 am

Brydar wrote:Just throwing in my two cents worth about earning more than two cents. When you put out a novella (say less than 60 pages single spaced) or even a novel what do you typically charge for readers to view the story? I have a few friends who suggested .99c is the best price, they jump onto those priced at that cost and are amazed at the quality of some of the novellas. At the same time if the story is so great the author could charge more for the story. Some authors suggest scaling the cost by the number of pages. I would greatly appreciate inputs from those of you who have posted and garnered earnings from Smashwords and other sites. I am obviously a newbie so that is a factor of course.


I wouldn't price something that is less than 60 pages above .99, personally. Honestly, I wouldn't necessarily publish it alone at all. I used to publish lots of standalone short stories and found very little success with them. Now I just save them up and publish collections, which sell pretty poorly also, but at least will make you a bit more money when they do as you can price them more at 2.99-4.99.

An exception to this is that you could try out being exclusive with Amazon and joining KDP Select. You might get borrows in a short story/novella that wouldn't normally get many sales. If you do go that route, I'd price it at .99 and spend the money to make sure it is copyedited and has a genre-specific, professional cover. You'll see the best chance of a return on expenses if you go the extra mile and make sure the story is well-presented, since it'll likely get more borrows that way.

Brydar
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Location: Georgia

Re: How much do short stories help to build a career?

Postby Brydar » Mon Apr 06, 2015 3:26 am

I wanted to thank you all for your replies and sorry it took so long. I have been doing research into exactly who my target audience is and had some Beta readers for the first three SS I have written. I decided to do as many have suggested and am going to first publish a compilation of four connecting short stories for free on Smashwords. The sequel (if there is one) of four more short stories will be the one I charge .99c to borrow / download. The first one will hopefully be posted at the end of this month and if it does well there will be more. Again thank you all for your advice.
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