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.