Thursday 28 June 2012

The Challenge - 52 Short Stories in a Year

Recently I read this blog post by Dean Wesley Smith on how it was possible to earn a living writing short fiction.  Until then I had never heard of Dean, but it seems he's a pretty well-respected speculative fiction writer with a huge number of credits to his name, both traditionally published and indie-published.

His blog caused a huge backlash, particularly on Kindleboards, with numerous indie-writers churning out several thousand words arguing whether he was right or wrong.  I've never been a big one for forums (to be honest, the less time I spend on forums the better – while they can be a great place to learn and make friends they can also suck valuable hours out of a busy day) so I ducked out of that conversation early in order to try to find out for myself.

I know for a fact that you can make good money selling short stories to magazines.  Twice I've cashed checks for well over a hundred dollars for short stories I’ve sold, and of course the possibilities of indie-publishing are infinite.

For me, the biggest problem has always been the work ethic.  I know I can write – I have eight novels, eighty-odd short stories and perhaps twice as much unfinished work sitting on my hard-drive.  I’ve just never been that prolific.  I've never written more than one novel in a year and perhaps 20 short stories in a year is my best effort.

There are many examples from history of writers who've experienced huge success on the back of one book, some even on one short story.  Those people, while highly skilled, had huge elements of luck behind them, as well as the old case of right place, right time.  I've read wonderful books by writers who died unknown, so just writing a good book is not enough.  For the vast majority of us mortals, a high rate of productivity is the key to getting noticed and gradually becoming successful.  I have been trying to sell my writing for fifteen years, so if it takes a few more before I make any money out of it then so be it.

So for me, taking up the challenge of trying to write 52 short stories in a year is more about giving myself a reason to write than trying to prove anyone else right or wrong.  What I am going to do, though, is attempt to sell them.  The good ones at least.

In Dean's post he's very strict on sales channels and pricing.  He says to submit only to magazines offering 5c/word, which is considered by the SFWA to be a professional payment level.  These magazines are very hard to crack (believe me, I've been trying), so I'm going to lower my standards just a little to 3c/word.  I sold to Weird Tales at 3/c a word in 2008 and made a perfectly acceptable amount.  However, I'm done with token payment and for-the-luv markets.  Sorry guys, I ran with you for a while, but with Amazon around now those $5 payments are not worth the months of subbing and waiting for a response.

As for the big gun itself, Amazon, I'll be indie-publishing short stories there if I feel they meet my own standards.  Another writer has set up a website called 52 Shades of Short Stories for writers like me who are taking up the challenge.  I'll be following it closely, mostly as a motivator.  However, I won't be rushing to publish on Amazon and would advise others against it.  I have fifty short stories I could put on Amazon tomorrow, but the reason I haven't is because I don't think they're good enough.  Unless I feel that a story is good enough to make a reader want to read my other stories or novels then it'll stay in the logbook for now.  Perhaps if I put out a few anthologies I'll slip a few of these stories in, but within the limits of my own ability I have pretty high standards.  It's the same reason most of my novels will never see the light of day.

As for Amazon pricing, Dean Wesley Smith recommends a minimum of $2.99 for a short story.  In principle I agree with him, however, I don't have a following or a name or even any major credits.  In short, I'm an unknown.  Since my first short story went up on Amazon in January, I've squeezed out 98 total sales.  Perhaps 30 of those are to friends/family, but even 68 sales to strangers is hardly setting the world alight.  My novel, The Tube Riders, will be staying at $4.99 for the time being, but the short stories will move up and down, looking for their best price point.  I don't like selling stories at .99c, but it's better than selling nothing at all.

So, to the challenge.  I sat down on Thursday, 21st of June to start.  So far, this is what I've written –

              The Ship (short story) – 3850 words (finished)
              Take Me Back With You (short story) – 2500 words (WIP)
              Take me Back with You (novel version of the ss) –2300 words (WIP)
              The Lost Train (short story) – 3400 words (WIP)

                            Total – 12050 total words, one completed work.

Not bad for a week, considering some days I'm out of the house for fourteen hours.

I'll be posting regular updates along the way, to see if I can keep up my progress.  My target is 52 new, completed short stories of at least 2000 words by June 21st, 2013.  Anything else that I come up with is a bonus.

Wish me luck.  It's probably going to break my back, but to be honest it's about time I pulled my finger out and got down to business.  I've been flattering myself that I'm a future bestselling author for the last 15 years, so now it's time to start proving it.



  1. Sounds like an interesting challenge - similar in philosophy to Nanowrimo. Good luck!

    1. Cheers dude! I'm finding that 10pm to midnight slot particularly productive, especially as the wife has commandeered the iMac for exclusive Youtube use, leaving me to write on her piece of trash Toshiba, on which the internet doesn't work ... probably a blessing in disguise!

  2. I find that Facebook, forums, and surfing steals my writing time. Or I should say - I give them my time. :)

    Recently, I've found that using good ol' pen and paper first to make notes and outlines gets my creativity flowing. Then when I sit down with a computer, I'm already headed in the right direction.

    I wish you well with this endeavor!

    Topsy Turvy Land

    1. It's true. I find it really hard to write with a pen but I do find it easier if I brainstorm ideas first. The novel that is splashed all over this site started out as an A3 spider diagram. Once I use the bones of the plot writing it was easy.

  3. An ambitious challenge, but well worth your time. As Ray Bradbury put it, "Write a short story every week. It's not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row." I'm also gearing up to write several short stories and complete a few that are in the works. I might dedicate one month to completing four stories and add on more goals from there.

    Best wishes on this challenge!


    1. Thanks Ana, that's a good quote! I have two stories finished and three more on the go. None I would consider good but the more you write the better you get. Just finding the time is hard - last night I wasn't free to write until 11pm and tonight I don't finish my various jobs until 10.30pm. It's all very well for full time writers like Dean Wesley Smith to shoot down people who don't have time to write, but unfortunately some of us have things that need to be done. When free time is at a premium something has to give, and for me its internet use. I'm trying to cut right back, particularly stuff like forum browsing.

  4. I love writing short stories, but my problem has always been the ideas. I seem to think in novel length. Or short short length. Coming up with an idea that will fit neatly in the 3000-5000 word range is not easy.

    Or I get an idea for some characters and a situation, but no idea how to end it. (I've got dozens of these sitting on my harddrive.)

    I'm highly impressed with your success so far!

    1. Hi Rachel, I'm the same but I find that quite often if I just sit down and start typing a sentence a story sometimes comes out. One thing I do is pick a letter of the alphabet to begin with and go from there. I hear you on unfinished stuff, I must have twice as much again. I even have some unfinished novels in the 70 to 100k range. I know a lot of people say you should always finish what you start, but I don't agree. I think you should put down whatever amount of the idea you have while you can, because you never know when you might come up with a conclusion. Better to start and not finish than not start at all.

      As for thinking in short lengths, I see short stories more as scenes, or chapters of a novel that have a tighter conclusion. My novel started as a short story, and the novel pretty much carries on from what happens at the end of the short. I think the more of them you write the better you get. Since I started the challenge I've written 25k across 6 different projects. I wouldn't describe any of them as good but they're getting better, but for me its very important to have a motivation. 1000 words/day or 52 short stories/a year is working pretty well at the moment.