Making Money Mondays – Short Fiction & A Cover Reveal

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“There’s no money in short stories.”

“Nobody buys novellas.”

“All the short story markets are dead or dying.”

I hear these things a lot. And if you built a career in the 70s and 80s selling stories to major magazines for $.05/word, and could count on selling 2-3 stories a month, then selling stories to anthologies that again paid $.04-.06/word, and sold one of those each month, then yeah, that business model is dead. There a far fewer print magazines today than there were even ten years ago, and the ones out there there that still pay real money are harder to find than a place to pee in North Carolina. I promise, that will be my only reference to bathroom legislation in this post and I will keep this space apolitical after that.

But if you’ve been paying attention to trends, and watching some of the things that people have been doing for the past five years, you know that you can still get a short story sold into an anthology that pays well, it just might have to have a Kickstarter first. You know that there’s actually a greater market for novellas now than there has been in decades, but they’re largely digital-only releases. And you know that most of the people making real money in short fiction are taking the reins to their own career and self-publishing their short work, or working with a small press that can adjust to the market quickly.

That’s a key part of it, too – being nimble. You can’t get locked into an old way of thinking, and nowadays, conventional wisdom from two years ago is and old way of thinking. So let’s look at ways to make money off short fiction today, in the market of this particular moment.

Caveat – I’m not going to discuss Kindle Unlimited or any one distributor’s business models. These are ways to make money without gaming the system in any way, because then you aren’t living and dying at the hands of someone writing code half a world away.

  1. Write a lot. This should go without saying, but it’s very hard for a writer to make a living today on one best-selling novel per year, much less on one or two short stories a year. I was first introduced to this idea by a panel that Kevin J. Anderson led at DragonCon. Kevin calls it the popcorn method, and talks about how you can prepare the pan perfectly, place the kernel of popcorn in the exact center of the pan, heat it to the exact right temperature and watch it until it pops into the perfect piece of popcorn. Then you can repeat the process. One kernel at a time. or you can throw a shitload of popcorn into a pan, mix it up with some butter and Pam, throw heat to it, and pop a shitload of popcorn. Short stories are a lot like that. If you want a lot of popcorn (money) then you have to dump a bunch of kernels in the pan, understanding that not all of them will pop. So write a lot.
  2. Write in series. Surprise – the guy who is currently writing 3 different urban fantasy/horror series is going to say write in series. But it’s a simple economic truth – people love series. They fall in love with a character, and so do you, the writer, and you both want to know more about her. So you write more stories. Then your fans buy them, and clamor for more. So you writer more. And more. And before you know it, the novella you just published is the 24th Bubba the Monster story out there. And then you realize that there are fans for that stuff, and the audiobook is selling well enough to be the #1 seller for you and your producer, and then you’re bringing in enough to pay some bills.
  3. Diversify. It’s rare that a writer with one property can make a living off of it. I publish three series relatively consistently, and a ton of other stuff in between, and between the audiences for all that stuff, I can feed my family. I couldn’t do it just off Bubba stories, or Harker novellas, or Black Knight novels. But by publishing a mix of products, I manage.
  4. Find a home for the work. If you don’t want to self-publish, then look for open anthology calls, magazines, and publisher websites. Some publishers will accept short story collections, which is what my buddy Edmund did. He found a publisher (me) that was excited about a collection of his short stories and agreed to publish the collection. So here’s my big announcement – talk about burying the lede – Falstaff Books is thrilled to be publishing This Giant Leap, the newest short story collection by Edmund R. Schubert. Here’s the cover, and I promise there will be buy links as soon as such things exist.

This Giant Leap Cover 3

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