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.