C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

How to Make Short Stories Pay

First, You Have to Write Shorts that Do Not Fizzle

One of the books I’m planning is aliens versus humans so I thought I’d check out The Invasion (new on Apple+). Inspiration comes from everywhere. Well, everywhere but The Invasion.

I respect bold choices in storytelling. I love the building tension to be found in a slow burn. However, what’s on display in The Invasion is big budget, overstuffed with melodrama, gratuitous titillation, and a lot of irrelevance. Worst of all? No aliens! It’s as if they set out to construct an alien invasion that none of the supermodel/actors notice for a long time. Whatever the producers are doing, it’s not getting to the point. I’m three episodes in. This show is beautifully shot, but they have yet to light the fuse. Any Mission Impossible script lights the fuse fast. The Invasion fizzles and fails to launch.

I’ve toyed with scriptwriting, but more of my experience that’s a close parallel comes from writing short stories. Short stories used to be so much more popular and magazines paid good money for them. Kurt Vonnegut did well with selling short stories before moving on to novels. Stephen King published shorts in porn magazines before Carrie hit. One of the joys of my childhood was reading sci-fi in Omni. If I could bring one magazine back, it would be Omni, but even then the mag was financed by the success of Penthouse. Omni was a gorgeous magazine with stunning prints of spaceships, but the business model wasn’t sustainable.

Like a Good TV or Movie Script, Short Stories are Economical

The challenge of writing short stories is to get where you’re going fast without sacrificing character development. You’ve got to paint a picture with fewer brushstrokes. The writing is tight with no room for flab.

I started out writing short stories and have won some awards for them. However, I got to a place where I thought I’d never write short stories again. There’s too little money in it and I must keep the lights on. However, I relented. My novel release schedule got punctuated by anthologies because it’s a joy. I do love writing long form, of course, but each novel is a marathon. Short stories deliver the boost of adrenaline you get from sprinting around the track.

Possible Platforms for Short Fiction

If you enjoy writing short, I’d encourage you to do so. If you want to make them pay like they did in the old days, it’s not going to be like that.

Let’s get past the age of the dinosaurs: Ignore small literary publications. They take forever, competition is stiff, they pay in bird cage lining, and their circulations are tiny. Your blog can reach more of your audience directly and immediately. Once a great thing, they’re now a pretentious holdover from a lost era. If you write genre fiction, it’s especially wasteful. If your short story is really good, you could get a sneering rejection from an MFA who attended the Iowa Workshop. So…yay? Nay.

Already got a following and a big list of subscribers? Make Patreon work for you. But really, your newsletter list better be huge because you’re going to have to promote it effectively. Patreon can be a lot of work to maintain, so set your expectations accordingly.

You could write short on Medium. Some writers enjoy that very much, but it’s not an ideal outlet for fiction.
For more on the challenges and strategies of writing fiction on Medium, read this informative blog post.

You could also try serializing your work by writing short and fast for Amazon’s new venture: Vella. However, given all I’ve read and heard about the challenges of writing and promoting on Vella, I do not recommend it at this time. It’s an interesting idea, and I did serialize some of my fiction when I started out. However, my assessment is that Vella is not ready for Primetime.

For more on the pros and cons of Vella, read this article on Medium.

Or read this writer’s experience on Vella.

If Vella still intrigues you and you want to try it out, get some help navigating it by joining a Vella Facebook group.


Before anyone complains, I must also note that there is a difference between writing serialized fiction and penning self-contained short stories. We’re already deep in the weeds here, so I’ll save that for another post.

Cool, Rob, but how do you make short stories pay?

Write novels, preferably in series, and use short stories as a way in for new readers.

You could write a short story prequel to your full-length novels and give that away everywhere (with links to your first-in-series).

I’m Your Candy Man

If you dig thrillers but you’ve never heard of The Night Man, you might not want to take a chance on me. However, my suspense anthology (Sometime Soon, Somewhere Close) isn’t the time commitment of reading a full-length thriller. It’s also cheaper. I write apocalyptic and dystopian thrillers, too, so All Empires Fall serves as a gateway drug to my novels.

Reading fiction is a lovely addiction. Give readers a taste they enjoy and they will come back for more. Whether you use short stories as a cheap entry point or as a free reader magnet for newsletter subscribers, the monetary payoff is unlikely to be immediate. It can be incredibly satisfying, though.

If you want to release rapidly to stay top of mind among your fan base, writing short can ease your stress immensely. It takes me far less time to write an anthology of short stories than it does to craft the complexity of a full-length novel. Hitting publish more often is fun and you’re throwing more spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. In publishing, big or small, that counts as market research.

My newest anthology is Our Zombie Hours. It’s a bit of horror for the purists, just in time for Halloween (and it’s free until midnight tonight).

Take a blurb to the face:

From the author of This Plague of Days, AFTER Life, and Endemic comes five adventures from the front line of the zombie apocalypse. As society collapses, humans often prove themselves more dangerous than the infected. Enjoy these fresh stories that explore survival, heroism, and betrayal in a world gone mad. A fun night of horror awaits. 

PICK UP Our Zombie hours, NOW ON AMAZON

Today is Saturday, October 23. Get Our Zombie Hours by midnight, and it’s free. After that, the anthology is astoundingly inexpensive. I’m hoping you’re an addict looking for a word fix. I want to be your Candy Man for life.

See all my drugs at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: short stories, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response

  1. MishaBurnett says:

    There are markets for short fiction and they are in the process of re-inventing the business market for the new economic conditions. It’s going to take the active support of both readers and authors to make it happen. Personally, I am committed to the short form in fiction, and I am willing to do what I can to promote the markets that are publishing it. I have four collections of short fiction, all of which are published by small indie presses.

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