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The Career Author Podcast: Episode 138 – Writing Short Fiction

Writing Short Fiction

Writing Short Fiction

In the indie community it’s often said that the best way to make money is to write novels, specifically in series of three or more books. But what about writing short fiction?

From short stories to novellas, there are several different types of short fiction. Each offers not only a different reader experience from a full-blown novel, but they are also a different art form to create. Join the guys as they discuss the ups and downs and writing and selling short fiction.

The Career Author Podcast is a podcast where co-authors J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon share their struggles and successes as full-time authors, advice for improving your writing craft, and honest discussions of what it takes to build a successful career as an author.

In this episode, you’ll discover:

  • The different types of short fiction
  • How writing short stories is different than writing a novel
  • Whether you should submit stories to publications
  • The difference in marketing short fiction versus novels

Also, Zach recommends a book about writing and marketing short fiction. 

Send us your ways and hacks – https://thecareerauthor.com/waysandhacks/ 

Leave us a comment: Do you enjoy writing short fiction and how do you use it in your business?

Thanks to our new Patrons, 

Podcast sponsored by Kobo Writing Life – https://writinglife.kobobooks.com 

Get exclusive bonus content by supporting The Career Author Podcast on Patreon at www.patreon.com/thecareerauthor

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Links:

Taking the Short Tack: Creating Income and Connecting with Readers by Matty Dalrymple and Mark Leslie Lefebvre – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083ZJ9X6Y/

2021 Events – https://thecareerauthor.com/events/ 

J.’s monthly mastermind membership – https://theauthorsuccessmastermind.com/join/

The Career Author YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/thecareerauthor

Three Story Methodhttps://books2read.com/threestorymethod 

Three Story Method Workbookhttps://amzn.to/37SAR1a 

Molten Universe Media – http://www.moltenuniversemedia.com

36 thoughts on “The Career Author Podcast: Episode 138 – Writing Short Fiction

  • The overwhelming majority of my books are between 30,000 and 50,000. I can think of three off the top.of my head that are longer.

    On a earnings-per-word level (KDP exclusive, so taking into account both sales and reads), I haven’t seen much difference in earnings on books over 30k. (Nerd. I calculate this shit for my books.) Now, the shorter books do earn less as a total (because less reads), but when I average out how much each word is worth (and therefore what my time spent is worth), it’s practically the same.

    I write short stories for almost every bundle I put out, and because my books are on the shorter side, I can often put an entire series in one bundle.on KU without triggering the KENP limit. Adding the short stories encourages KU readers to re-read the series before getting to the short stories at the end, which means I can get paid a second time for a reader accessing the same IP, plus a bonus. Now, this is in romance, where readers want the happy endings to happen over and over, and may not work as well with other genres.

    I also use short stories to grab existing fans and entice them onto my mailing list, thanks to BookFunnel.

    I have been seeing another surge in serialization lately, but mostly in the author realm, less so in the reader realm. I think a lot of us are trying to figure out how to use the hamster wheel without getting stuck on the hamster wheel.

    And J, you know I’m right there with you in wanting to get away from fiction feeling like a job. I don’t mind writing fast—I love it. Getting a first draft done quickly just tends to lead to a more cohesive first draft with less rabbit trails and potholes. But I don’t want to have to publish fast forever.

    • On a earnings-per-word level (KDP exclusive, so taking into account both sales and reads), I haven’t seen much difference in earnings on books over 30k. (Nerd. I calculate this shit for my books.) Now, the shorter books do earn less as a total (because less reads), but when I average out how much each word is worth (and therefore what my time spent is worth), it’s practically the same.

      ^^That is fascinating. I never thought of looking at it like that.

    • This is such great info, Crys! Especially what J. highlighted. Thanks for sharing all your freaking knowledge and nerdy math! 🙂

  • Morning guys. Interesting topic today.Great idea of using short stories to develop writing skills and practice writing scenes.
    I recently discovered another great reason to write short stories…
    Neil Gaiman in his Masterclass, relates a short story he wrote and then says it could also be the beginning of a novel or the end of a novel. Wow.
    To answer your question. I am planning to write in a new genre next year under a pen-name. I have ideas for novels to write in this genre. I am taking Neil Gaiman’s suggestion so I pick an event from stories I plan to write then I work out how I can make that event into a short story. I write one a month so by next year I will have parts of my novels already written and I will have already practised genre, setting, characters, atmosphere etc. Win win.
    Is there value in adding a related short story into a book along with a novel? It would increase KU page read income without gaming the system and give a bonus to the reader. I’ve seen it done in NF books e.g. Rayne Hall does it as examples to be analysed or whatever.

  • I can’t say I’ve become successful because of short stories, but I love to write short stories that go with my books. And I have several stories waiting to go with some books which will be coming. If nothing else, writing short stories makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something plus I find they can be used in many ways. I have a short story on all the platforms which has a link to download the 2nd short story from my bookfunnel. And those are both prequels to the novel. I’m about to release book 2 and have 2 more short stories to go with that (one of them is actually a direct sequel to book 1). So for me, having short stories with the novel gives me more in the series and more on my author page and can be a bit like rapid release if I put them out in a smart way.
    At some point I plan on compiling the short stories with the books in it’s own omnibus book. I like how it fleshes out the series and my authorcentral page! 🙂
    I won’t claim that my short stories could hold up without being part of the whole world. They are part of the novels, so if the short story only is read, it may not be as fulfilling as other short stories. That is something I need to work on.

  • Zach and J., thank you so much for the shout-out for “Taking the Short Tack”! My own experience with short fiction has been focused on publishing them as standalone ebooks and using one as a reader magnet. I really liked your caveat about the importance of accurately setting reader expectation (e.g., don’t use “epic” to describe short fiction). Are there other words you would recommend using or steering away from, especially in the thriller / suspense genres? Thank you!

  • Enjoyed this one. I’ve never been drawn to write short fiction, but I do have a ton of scenes that aren’t needed (or wanted) in my novels that I can flesh out down the road. I’ll use them for bonus content and reader magnets most likely.

  • Thanks for being the honest brokers on this stuff.

    I think short stories have their place, but so many newer authors think they’ll sell well on Amazon, either on their own or as a collection. Then when they don’t, they get discouraged from writing.

    I’m in groups where authors have ‘tried everything,’ except writing actual novels, and are now ready to give up.

    Like many others, I have fond memories of reading collections of short stories from classic authors, but that doesn’t mean those collections sold well back then, sold well before the author was famous, or sold well in comparison to their novels.

    And, even if they did, that was then, and many of the types of things written back then don’t do well today.

  • Great episode, but I was already a lover of short fiction.
    I sharpened my claws on short stories, experimenting with POV and prose style etc, before attempting my first novel. At first it was a conscious decision, but I fell in love with the short story for it’s own sake. It’s such a great way to train yourself in precision. The shorter, the better, if that’s what you want to practise.

    I tend to try and sell my short stories and some of my poems to traditional markets first. After 2 and a half years into the game, I managed to struggle my way into a 10 percent acceptance rate, and I’m pretty sure most of my stories will find a home at some point, but it is a numbers game. After that, I send them on to reprint markets, and will probably end up selfpublishing a collection.

    The proceeds go into my piggy bank. So far, I’ve managed to fund my webhosting and domain off my short fiction sales and I plan to keep this up to fund stuff like cover design for the novel I’m currently working on as well. With zero working budget, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, right?

    • Oh and for those looking for publishers for their short fiction, the submission grinder is an awesome tool. Database of short fiction markets that will let you run targeted searches as well as log submissions to keep track of what’s been where etc. You can then also target searches for those stories, so it will only list markets a certain story is eligible for (length, already been there, etc…)

  • I forgot my actual reason for popping in. 😋

    I think short fiction can give authors a nice sense of completion. Starting with novels is hard and takes a long time, so shorts give you some quick wins and build confidence. …as long as one has the right expectations.

  • I do agree that you use a completely different strategy when writing a short story when compared with writing novels. When it comes to short fiction, I’ve written everything from micro fiction to flash fiction to novellas. My shortest piece was a micro story of 250 words.

    My biggest influences when it comes to short fiction are Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison. In fact, Ellison wasn’t too good with long fiction, but he was a master of the short form.

    I think it is good for beginning writers to start with short fiction. It allows them to learn how to tackle the elements of writing fiction and can give them a sense of completion.

    When I started out writing, the indie-publishing thing was new, so I was thinking I would go traditional. To build up credibility, I wrote a lot of short stories and got them published in both print anthologies and online.

    Since I’ve gone indie, I don’t write much short fiction and what I do write, ends up on Amazon. Like Crys, I use them as giveaways to my newsletter people and when I used to do online book launches on social media, they were what I used to attract people to the event.

    As for making money from them, my track has been less than stellar. Over seven years of writing, my earnings from short stories has been only a small sliver of my total revenue. Still, there is a sense of satisfaction when I write a good short story.

    • I totally agree that shorts are a great way for beginners to start and build their craft and most of all, from what you said, have a sense of completion. Finishing a novel is HARD. And yeah, it definitely is a different strategy for short fiction. I honestly just love writing shorts and they are almost passion projects for me, and I’ll eventually find things to do with them.

  • Sport during the pandemic – it will be interesting to see how the Tour de France pans out. It has been moved from July to Sept. l guess we will still have the crowds in the mountains, but probably behind barriers this year. Test match cricket seems a bit flat without the crowd.

      • OK, quick Covid diversion. We decided to keep our middle schooler home and do all digital this year. I don’t think he’d really have that better of an experience in the classroom with all the restrictions they are following. I would even predict that trying to go to school with the complete changes will be very disruptive and they may learn less. I fear that all the sports team are going to start practicing without a care for anything else and suddenly we have so many kids out that schools and sports are completely shut down. I hope not, but apocalyptic fear would be that some of those kids wouldn’t make it. That would be horrible for the schools and sports next year, regardless of Covid.
        And – KSU has started part of their teacher curriculum now on teaching remotely and distant learning.

        • It’s such a mess. County guidelines contradicting state guidelines contradicting federal guidelines. Nobody knows what’s safe and what isn’t.

          I will say this. I’ve heard very little national conversation about what happens when teachers get sick and die. Don’t mean to be morbid, but the kids are the ones in school facing the least amount of risk.

  • Landmark comment:

    I have a few strategies for short fiction.
    1) I am going to have some sort of reader magnet that is going to be a short story.
    2) After I finish this trilogy I am working on I am going to take Ray Bradbury’s suggestion in his 2001 Keynote Address to Point Loma Nazarene University. He suggested to not start out writing novels but write a hell of a lot of short stories. One a week. However, rather than taking that directly since I don’t crank out that many words a week. I am going to check my word velocity and then see about kicking out 6 short stories and work on building out another universe/setting with it.

    • Chad, there’s a thing called a Fix-Up Novel you should check out.

      Some indies write them, but like many things that the old-guard did, it might not work today. It’s not clear it worked then, actually 😉

      Still, if you’re going to write shorts, why not think ahead? Particularly since you plan to put them in the same world/series.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fix-up

  • Funny enough that was my plan, Roland. I was going to keep a thread of the same universe and maybe the same character or group of characters.
    I am still throwing round ideas of what part of the universe I want to explore but I am looking forward to it.

  • Great podcast. One thing I would add is the difference in the Traditional vs Self-publishing model. With trad you can put a book out every 12 – 24 months and sell the ebook for $10. With self-publishing, it’s hard to sell a book over $3-4 without a big drop off in sales, and you need to link your book to the next one with a 3-6 month wait to keep readers on board. So even for say fantasy, self-publishing may work better with 2 x 60k words books a year rather than 1 x120k word book a year.

  • I am so busy that I look for novellas to buy. If the book is too long I dont want to give it the time.
    I write novellas between 25k to 45k because that is what I like to read.
    However I hope this is something that sells bc this is my first series.

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