Making Money From Writing, Part 1: Short Story Markets

People write for all sorts of reasons, but today we are going to talk about how to make money out of your stories. Whether you write short stories or novels, or anything in between, there are a number of different markets out there. If you are aiming to make a living from your stories, or at least supplement your income, you should be aware of all of them.

Short Story Magazines

You can sell a short story to magazines, both online and offline, and receive a fee in return. Rates go from nothing or a few free copies, right up to pro rates of $0.05 a word or higher. Typically, stories between 2,000 words and 4,000 words are the most marketable, but you there’s a market for all lengths.

Duotrope is an excellent search engine for short story markets. I use it often, and you can filter the results by genre, pay-rates, and so on. It’s also great if you have something which is of an awkward length, like a novella, as you can search for places that accept those.

Ralan is another, more geared towards science-fiction, horror, and fantasy. I haven’t used it, but if you write in those genres, you should check it out.

The Absolute Write forum is an excellent resource for short story writers and you can get the skinny on what editors are looking for, and they way they like submissions to appear. It’s a great support network with writers of all levels, and you can find great beta readers there too.

Generally magazines pay for “first rights”, meaning the story cannot have been published anywhere, even on your own website. Critique forums are exempt from this, as long as they are hidden from search engine bots in a password protected section, like they have at Absolute Write.

Magazines can be great for building up your writer’s CV, and for seeing your name in print for the first time, but don’t expect to make a living out of it.  If you are planning to query an agent, a credit from a known magazine will help – at the very least the agent will read your query thinking it might be interesting as opposed to assuming it’s probably going to be awful.

The main drawback with magazines is that they are often run on a very tight budget (not enough people are reading them), so hearing back on your submission can take anything from a week to a year, but two or three months is standard. Some markets allow simultaneous submissions, some require exclusives. Check first.

I’m not going to talk too much more about magazines here – there’s a lot of information elsewhere on the subject – but you should know that it’s crucial to follow the submission guidelines and you should read a copy of the magazine first. If you submit without seeing what kind of stories the editor likes, you are probably wasting the editor’s time as well as your own, especially if it’s a competitive market.

I sold the first short story I wrote – The Boy With The Extra Toe – to a small UK literary magazine called The Delinquent. They didn’t pay anything, but it was a great boost seeing my name in print, and gave me the confidence to write more stories.

Short Story Reprints

After you have sold the first rights to your story, there are a small number of magazines that you can sell the same story to again, although it is usually good form to wait a little after the first publication so as not to cannibalise the first editor’s sales.

Rates are usually, but not always, less than you get for first rights, but it’s great to get paid again for the same story, when the only work you have to do is to submit it. It’s another publication credit on your CV, and it brings you more readers, which is what this is all about. Duotrope will allow you to search for markets which accept reprints.

I sold the reprint rights to my first story to an online short story website called Short Story America. They pay a flat rate for stories (whether they are reprints or not) of $100. They have the right to display the stories for as long as they like on their website, which can limit some further reprint rights, but I was happy to trade the small chance of selling the reprints a further time for the increased exposure.

On top of that, the editor T.D. (Tim) Johnston is lovely to deal with, passionate, professional, and a fine writer himself, and very supportive of his writers. Their website is great resource too with over sixty stories from writers around the world that they have published in the last year or so. It’s free to read them all, you just have to register (which costs nothing), and you also get access to a classic short story library, with all the greats. If you are serious about writing short stories, you should be reading lots of them.

Short Story Anthologies

Editors regularly put together collections (often on a single theme) and put out a call for submissions. Again, pay rates can range from nothing to free copies, a flat rate for acceptance, royalties from sales, or all three. If you sign up to Duotrope’s newsletter, you will get a monthly list of available markets.

Sometimes they want first rights, sometimes they don’t mind if a story has been published before or even reprinted. Check before submitting.

One of my stories – Into The Woods – will be appearing in a hardback collection next month, published by Short Story America. I’m very excited about it, I have read a few other stories in the collection, and they were all very good, so I have high hopes for this.

They are planning paperback, e-book, and audio versions (both CD and MP3), and I will receive royalties on these sales (once costs are covered). I will have more news about this soon, as well as details on how to order the collection, if you are interested.

Selling Collections to Publishing Houses

This is very, very difficult. If you aren’t already traditionally published (with good numbers), you are going to struggle to interest any agent in a collection. Linked collections may have a greater chance of success, but not by much.

This isn’t a realistic option for most writers, especially if they haven’t attended a prestigious MFA in Creative Writing, and are at an early stage in their careers. If you think that’s unfair, ask yourself this: when is the last time you bought a short story collection by an unknown writer?

Maximising Your Short Story Income

If you have been following closely you will realise there are many different ways to sell the same story, but only if you are smart and you do it in the correct order.  If you write short stories exclusively, or have a lot of them in the bank, you might consider setting up a system where you sell first rights, then reprints/anthology rights, and only then consider publishing them online.  I advise this because once you publish them online, first rights are gone, and you severely restrict reprint/anthology options.

All of this depends on your goals, but if you want to maximise the income from each short story, consider the above.  I’ve decided to depart from that a little, for now, but I plan to return to some version of that system in the future.

If you have been following my series – Indie Publishing for International Writers – you will know that I have been explaining how you can publish your stories online, step-by-step, for the lowest cost that a professional approach will allow. If you are new to the publishing industry and want to catch up on all the changes that have taken place, I have written a series of posts which should help – The New Digital Landscape.

My Plan To Take Over The (Literary) World

My plan is to publish five or six stories individually, available for download for $0.99 each, then bundle them into a collection for $2.99. Some of the stories have been published before, some haven’t, so I may not be maximising my income. However, I don’t have a huge back-catalogue of short stories, and I wanted to get a few out there now, not have them tied up in submissions, and have the stories appear at regular intervals.

Essentially, I have decided to sacrifice some potential income from regular markets, for the ability to publish my stories now, and learn from the experience. I don’t expect to make money from it, but I do hope to cover my costs, that way, the education I receive in return has only cost me time.  And in any event, there are still a small number of reprint markets I can try, even after publishing online.

I don’t think there is a huge amount of risk involved in self-publishing short stories. There are some costs (editor, cover designer) that can’t be avoided if you want to do this professionally, and you should be aware of that before you decide to go down this road. Each writer should make their own decision based on their own situation.

If you want to minimise your costs, and still do it professionally, I recommend waiting until you have five or six stories, then publishing one collection. If they are successful, you can release them individually, and you will have the money for the extra covers you will need.

As you may know, I am also considering self-publishing my novel, and I will probably make a final decision on that in a month or so. In case I decide to go ahead with it, I wanted to have a platform in place. Having a few releases out there, increasing my Amazon footprint, will help with that. And if I make any mistakes, it’s a lot better to do that with a short story than a novel.

Tomorrow we will talk about your options with a novel, why there is more risk involved in self-publishing a novel, as well as the various sales channels where you can sell your self-published work – short stories, novellas and novels.

For those who are waiting on the next step in Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step Four: Format Your Story, it should appear next week. The piece is written, but I am holding it back until I am finished formatting my first few stories, in case anything needs to change, so I appreciate your patience.

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is an Irish writer, living in Prague, and author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible and this here blog thing.
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50 Responses to Making Money From Writing, Part 1: Short Story Markets

  1. Will says:

    Well, I’ve already set a bunch of shorts (more like flash fiction, I suppose) up on my blog, so oh well. But I’ll certainly keep this advice in mind. Good luck if you decide to self-publish!

    • Will,

      You can still sell them. Many markets accept reprints. And what I wrote in the piece above is the strictest interpretation, others are more flexible, you can check with the individual markets – some say it’s okay, some don’t.

      Duotrope.com is great – you can search for which magazines accept flash pieces. I know Short Story America sometimes do, but not that often, but there are lots of magazines just dedicated to flash fiction, check them out. Also, once you have enough of them, you could always self-publish a collection of flash fiction, or a mixture of flash and short stories.

      In the future though, I would advise restricting yourself to emailing them to friends rather than publishing on your blog. Of course, you can always publish it on your blog after you sell them, just wait a little until after publication.

      Also, if you significantly rework the piece (and probably change the title), you should be fine to submit it then.

      Dave

  2. David says:

    Nice post. I think you’re right about waiting until you have a few stories before before you self-publish them. Even if you don’t put them in a collection and sell them individually, most cover designers will give you a discount on multiple covers. You can save even more by having them create a single template for your stories with different, but with different images for each. Then they’ll look like a cohesive collection next to each other and you’ll save a ton of money.

  3. Pingback: Making Money From Writing, Part 2: Novels | David Gaughran

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  5. DavidRM says:

    I’m almost finished creating ebooks and ebook collections from my accumulated stock of short stories (none of them previously published). After that, I’m thinking I might backtrack a bit and give the traditional approach a try with some all-new stories. Which, yes, is probably backward, but I claim extenuating circumstances. And stubbornness. :)

    Mostly, I see short stories in print magazines as a way to promote my self-published novels (cynical me). My only complaint is that I could self-publish the short stories much quicker than going through the typical submission process. I need to learn patience, though, so it’ll be good exercise. And maybe it will be good promotion…

    -David

    • David,

      I think that’s a great plan. It makes sense – especially when things are changing so fast – not to have all your eggs in one basket. Self-publishers have not organised into any kind of effective group yet, so the next time the big boys decide to have a pow-wow, self-publishers won’t have a seat at the table, and probably won’t for some time. This means that all sorts of decisions will be taken (royalties just being one) that will effect their bottom line.

      In any event, you can always self-publish the stories after they have been in magazines. Even though I am self-publishing a bunch of shorts, I haven’t turned my back on traditional markets by any means. Of course, as you mentioned, there is always the temptation to self-publish and have six months of sales, instead of it sitting in some editor’s slush for six months. But that’s not such a bad problem to have is it? More choices all round, and a great time to be a writer.

      Dave

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  7. karishma Bundhun says:

    Hi,
    am karishma and a mauritian.
    Am used to write poems and at times small stories….In english and hindi as well
    I would be happy if you could help me….

    • Hi Karisha,

      You can send me an email here: david dot gaughran at gmail dot com.

      Dave

      • mohit nayal says:

        I wish to know if the Indian stories have a market in Europe and America? There is much to share about a country which is emerging in terms of its economic growth. If there are any name from india which have made a fresh mark oversea, do let me know.

  8. Pingback: More writing Info | Pearltrees

  9. oyejimade oyebade says:

    hi, its jimade. i write a lot! infact i have written so many and thrown them off when i got dicourage by people. i still writes and will be ery happy if you can help me sell my stories.

  10. raine132008 says:

    I am writing love stories in Tagalog. I am not so fluent in english that is why I’m stucked in my native language. I don’t like people to humiliate me or to say unwanted words to me that is why I am using the net to learn. I’m really good in making stories. there is the so called idea but I think grammatical error keeps haunting me. Always thinking of what others would say about my works. Could they be satisfied or they will just ignore it.

    Can I send you my story?

    • Hi Raine. Unfortunately, I barely have time to work on my own stuff, let alone read someone else’s. I recommend joining a writers’ group (either online or offline), where you can share stories with others and help each other. I know a lot of writers who benefited greatly from that. Good luck! Dave

  11. Peter T says:

    Hi David,

    thankyou for putting this information on line. I have a few short stories and would like to find some way to publish them and earn a living from it.

  12. Chief Editor says:

    Thanks David for the nice post. For Indian writers, our initiative can be useful. Please read our scheme to encourage short story writing by rewarding writers at EARN it Your Way – Write Short Stories for Money and comment

  13. shakeel says:

    hi , my name is shakeel im from pakistan , i have writen shot stories on poor people and many other topics , can you help me plz for selling my stories

  14. nilam says:

    hello,,,
    i want publish my story which is love story…..
    story is about youngsters,,,,
    it is a interesting story…but it is in hindi
    plz help me and give me suggestion….plz….

    • Sumod Sood says:

      Nilam, I am a PHD IN ENGLISH.i shall put your HINDI story in English if you so like. Let me know from where lyou are/?

  15. Jim Lindsey says:

    David, I am just looking for artists who can make covers for online short stories. I have tried doing my own but am getting only so-so feedback on them. Can you pass along some sources?

    Thank you,

    Jim

  16. Jim Lindsey says:

    Hi David,

    I got the below from you but can’t tell if it’s something you’re writing to me, or if it’s just a comment on your site.

    Jim

    ________________________________

  17. natiq ansar says:

    i write a long stories in hindi language since child hood but not yet published in india. i want to earn some money for my living. i am poor man, please guide me

  18. martha says:

    I would like to tell about my 14 yr old love story of boyfriends and didn’t get married after having had eight years of boyfriends and after 20 years we’re going to meet again!

  19. neeraj sharma says:

    can i write my stories in hindi

  20. khmer2help says:

    How old are you when you write your first story, when and what are you writing about?

  21. Pingback: Writing | Pearltrees

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  23. Vincent says:

    You can publish your writings by using the web application Bookonlive.

    https://www.bookonlive.com

    Bookonlive.com is a web application opening the way to the edition, to the publication and to the sale of written works to each one of us.
    More than simple narrations, you can choose to publish living texts. As each new chapter is published, your subscribers receive a notification by e-mail.
    There is a lot of display options to increase the impact of your writings. You can even change the background of your story from chapter to chapter.
    The royalties are 60% for authors.
    – See more at: http://www.alanrinzler.com/blog/2011/09/04/new-ways-to-sell-short-stories/comment-page-1/#comment-18980

  24. Rama Gaur says:

    Hi,
    Devid
    I wrote 3-4 Stories, but only in hindi and i need ur help for get some ideas. becouse i am fresher.

  25. Vincent chogo says:

    Hi,am have personally gained a lot of insight from this site,i believe i am a potential writer and am soo looking on how i can get my short storie and poems published in a magazine!

  26. Manneto says:

    I have already written 6 stories. 3 of which i know are good due to the positive reviews they have gotten. More are coming though. The thing with me is i just want to have a place, a home my stories could go to when they are done. It will provide me with more motivation to create worlds knowing that they would be read by people. I want to be out there.

  27. phiri robinson says:

    i would love to see one of my stories get published but more of it I want to see them being turned to South African Movies but i have no one to turn to. My writting has improved over the years and I am really confident that I am ready to mke a living out of them.

  28. James "The Wolverine" says:

    Hey I am a short story writer and my expertise is writing EROTICA genre. Do you have any suggestions where can I sell my stories?

  29. atothewr says:

    Nice post. I have been using Kindle for my short fiction while I struggle to get my novel(s) published. With Kindle you have the free promotion you can do to gain some attention and you can offer them for as low as 99 cents. Haven’t sold a lot, but the reviews and downloads have more than boosted my confidence. I will try Duotrope to see how that works. Thanks for the advice.

  30. uttam says:

    i write a new super hero story i caret a new so powerful super hero all chaild like this super hero you want story so contact me 07874811779 in india

  31. PATRICK JOHN says:

    LIKE YOUR INFO. HOPE TO LEARN FROM YOU.

  32. ztyoauthor says:

    As an aspiring author I recently decided to hone my short story craft before diving back into my novel. Its nice to read stories from those pursuing the same path, particularly ones as well thought out.

  33. Nillani Matheesan says:

    Your Worst Nightmare

    A Couple and their 6 year old son moved into this old deserted house that no one has lived there for 200 years. A few days after they had settled in their house, strange things began to happen.

    One night (13th Friday with a full moon) the parents decided that they wanted some time on their own and called the father’s brother to come and baby-sit their son. When the uncle came the son was already put to bed so he thought he had no problem and just lay on the sofa watching TV.

    A while later there was a knock on the door. The Uncle sat there and wondered who would come at this time and was not sure if he should open the door. So he decided to open the door as the knocking got louder and hastier. He opened the door and no one was there so he cursed the person who knocked and went back in.

    13 minutes later…………

    …there was a knock on the door again. The Uncle got up and opened the door and yelled ‘Who’s There?’ and he heard someone answer back ‘YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE!.I WILL KILL YOU!’ The Uncle got scared and slammed the door and ran to the phone and called his brother and told him what had happened and the father said
    ‘RUN NOW TAKE MY SON AND BOTH OF YOU GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND GO TO THE NEIGHBOURS HOUSE AND WE WILL CALL THE POLICE GO QUICK!’ So the Uncle ran upstairs and opened the door and found his brothers son’s body ripped up into pieces and blood everywhere around the room and the only thing that was there was his head and he heard a voice say ‘GET OUT OF HERE NOW GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!!!!YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS YOU ARE FORBIDDEN FOREVER TO COME TO THIS HOUSE GET OUT OR YOUR DEATH WILL BE NOW GO!’ Next to the young boy’s face was a flickering image of a black ghoul.’ The Uncle ran downstairs Yelling and tried to open the door but it was bolted shut and then he felt like someone was standing behind him and then SPLASH. The ghoul had squished the Uncle’s head and there was blood everywhere.

    The Police arrived 10 minutes later and so did the parents and they saw the gory image of the Uncle. Then they realised their son and ran upstairs, but there was no trace of there son but there was a note saying ‘IF ANYONE EVER ENTERS MY HOUSE THEY ARE DEAD!’
    So the Parents and the Police frightened ran downstairs and saw the image of the Ghoul. Then just as they were about to run they slipped and the Ghoul killed them and devoured them up.

    The Family, Uncle and the Police were never seen again and no-one has lived in that house for a few years now since that happened they don’t even dare walk past it.

    This is my story please comment on how it is Thanks.

    • Nillani Matheesan says:

      Oh by the way im 12 and if u dont like the story i will be upset but will not be offended thanks

  34. william onyango okumu says:

    i am an inmate sentenced to suffer death i would like you to send me materials to teach me how to get started in writting short stories

  35. I sell my writtin story

  36. sello says:

    i want to start writting short stories can you give me the email address where i can send them, please explain to me how am i going to be paid.

  37. Farman Ali says:

    I want to send you my own composed short stories. Please guide me how to send.

    • Hi Farman (and everyone else), I don’t publish other authors’ work, or review same. I provide advice on this blog regarding how you can publish your own work. If you are looking for a critique, I don’t provide that either but there are innumerable places online where authors can trade work and provide critiques for each other (also known as beta reading). I strongly recommend you find some authors you can do this with. I already have a group of authors I do this with and don’t have time to review any work outside of that (or else I’d never get any writing done!). Good luck though — Dave

  38. peter says:

    i likn to sell my stories

  39. karunesh verma says:

    Sir i am a new free launcer,waiting for kind support.

  40. Pingback: Make Money Online By Writing Stories - Work Exposed Blog

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