Writing Short Stories?

I had a friend, who is writing her first novel, recently ask me if writing short stories was a good idea for a writer. The honest answer is, I don’t know, but the more I thought on it, the more I do think it’s a good idea.

Writing short stories and getting them published is a good thing for many reasons, in my opinion, particularly if you can get those short stories published in a paying market of any kind, online or otherwise, but excluding internet ‘content’ sites.

There are a ton of short story internet sites now that are paying anywhere from $10 to as much as $1500-2500 bucks for one quality short story. There are also anthologies that are paying to publish shorts too.

Now, anthologies are essentially books that are full novel sized books, but instead of one story, it contains several short stories, usually by more than one author (not always). There are several different ways payment for anthologies work.

Books like the Chicken Soup for the Soul books usually pay a one time nominal fee for the publication right to your little story or blurb, and then that’s all – you don’t get anything else for it. There are other publications that pay royalties to the authors who contribute to anthologies. I contributed three short stories to the anthology The Ex Factor, with Koboca Publishing, and they offered a contract for royalties to all authors, based on how much of a percentage each author contributed word count wise to the entire compilation. Of course, the publisher went defunct, and I never received a single royalty payment from them. (shrug) I’ve been published in Cup of Comfort too, where they paid me a flat rate. I will have at least one short story in an upcoming anthology for another publisher as well who is doing the same thing.

If given the choice between the two, I’d take a royalty contract over one lump sum upfront payment any day, provided the upfront payment is not more than $500 or so. If it’s less than $500, you’re likely better off to go royalties and hope for good sales on the book.

Anyway, writing short stories can really help you narrow your writing focus. It’s tough to lower word count for some authors, and for others it’s tough to get enough words to make a novel. Learning to write shorts can help you to target a word count better.

Another thing shorts can help you with is writing query letters with synopsis for your novels. Essentially, the synopsis of your book is a ‘short story’ that tells the story your novel tells, in a provocative and compelling manner to make someone WANT to read the full story, provide enough information to make the reader know what the story is about, but not give away too much of the story at the same time.

If you can write great short stories, you’re going to be better equipped to write your queries to publishers and agents.

Let’s also not overlook the fact that having sold your fiction writing is a plus for your portfolio. It doesn’t matter if it’s shorts or not, having been paid for your fiction is a plus and makes you more marketable.

It’s a great way to gain reader feedback too, to determine how a story idea or a particular character, setting or location you’d like to use in a full length novel will go over with your readers. You can use the shorts to get into the mood, the scene, the character, the setting, etc, and use that for your novel once you ‘know’ your character and setting a bit better.

Just be sure you’re not telling the same story in the short as you are in the full length novel, or else there’s not much incentive for your reader to buy the novel. However, I recently enjoyed writing a short story based on one of the characters in a novel I’ve written (but not had published yet – still trying to sell this one), but the short was a ‘before the story’ story of the character in the novel I’ve written.

Think about that.

I can grab a readership who likes the short, which is a complete story in and of itself, but it’s a short story about the character BEFORE my novel begins, and while it’s not part of the novel, it is mentioned in passing in the novel.

So they get hooked on the short and the character. The readers want to know more, right? How do they do that? Why, buy your book, of course!

I think that using a short story ‘before the story’ might be a great marketing tool for authors who want to sell books. Give the readers something to hook them, and then if they want more, they have to buy the book. Think about your main characters and ask yourself, “Is there a story here before the novel I can share with the readers?” If so, write it and sell it. Not only is it good hooking for readers, great publicity for you, but you could probably be paid for it too.

Just be sure to check with your publisher and your contract with them. Believe it or not, some publishers keep the intellectual property rights to your characters and/or settings – just blows me away – for as long as they have an open contract on the book. Which means you might not be allowed to write shorts or other books about those characters or settings as long as the one book is still with that publisher and in print.

I wrote a short and have it up on Amazon.com for Kindle, if you’re interested in some light erotic romance. This originally was a scene in a full-length novel that I wrote, but the scene was superfluous to the novel. I removed it, but didn’t delete it, just in case I needed it for something later. I changed the names, added a bit, changed a few things and ended up with an awesome erotic short. It’s cheap and is a great read, if you’re interested in picking it up on Amazon.com. THREE, by Michelle Devon


Anyhoo… that’s my take on shorts. They have their purpose, can help a fiction writer get valuable reader feedback, can make you a little money, help you tighten and focus your writing and stay within a limited word count, make you better at writing queries, and help you sell books too!

All in all, I guess writing short stories isn’t that bad of an idea!

Hope this helps someone out there.

Send your questions if you have them. I’m always happy to lend my opinion based on my personal experience. YMMV, but (wink) I’m not often too wrong…LOL

Keep writing!

Love and stuff,

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