My Truth About The Short Story/Novella Market

By on May 15, 2014

In the May edition of RWR (Romance Writers Report), there was an article titled “Don’t Shortchange the Short-Story Market.” I have a lot of respect for Elf Ahearn, the writer. I think she’s a great journalist but, as a former journalist myself, I know that we’re only as good as our sources.

None of Elf Ahearn’s sources specialize solely in the short story and novella market. The writers she quotes are wonderful writers but they’re not writing short stories and novellas as their sole source of income. They’re using them for promotion.

I write short stories and novellas as my sole source of writing income.

So I thought I’d share MY short story and novella reality (and this reality varies for every writer). I’ve written erotic romance (contemporary, SciFi and Paranormal) short stories and novellas for Avon Impulse, Ellora’s Cave, Loose Id and Changeling Press.

I concentrate on this shorter market because the readers who read 50 page stories want different things from their erotic romances than the readers who read 400 page stories. It also requires a different skill set, a skill set I’ve worked hard to obtain. And, of course, I LOVE writing short stories and novellas.

Market

There’s a HUGE market for these stories. No, Decadent Publishing’s 1 Night Stand series didn’t kick off its popularity. Changeling Press, one of my publishers, has been publishing shorter erotic romances EXCLUSIVELY for 10 years. That’s ALL they publish (excluding stories from some established writers – grins at Flash aka Stephanie Burke). Changeling Press’ top desired word count is 35,000 words or 140 pages.

The RWR article groups short stories and novellas together. This is unfortunate because these markets are very different. It is challenging to find a publisher for a 10,000 word (40 page) short story. A 20,000 word (80 page) erotic romance novella can be placed at an almost overwhelming number of digital-first publishers.

And yes, for short stories and novellas, writers are likely looking at digital-first. Ebooks are what most short fiction readers are buying. I have some of my novellas available in print form but sales of these stories are much, MUCH lower.

Note: The article stated that Ellora’s Cave “boasts 72 anthologies and countless stand-alone titles.” These anthologies are PRINT anthologies. In erotic romance alone, they have over 1,500 short stories and novellas published. Of 55 titles on their coming soon page, 28 titles are short stories or novellas.

Earnings

In the article, $250 was cited as “a good chunk of change for a short story.” $250 is not great but it is okay for a short story (40 pages or 10,000 words) from a relatively unknown writer looking for some promotional help.

I’m not well known but I have been published for almost five years. I expect to earn double that for a short story and ten times that for a novella. I know writers who make six figures from their lengthy backlist of short stories and novellas.

Note: I promote my short stories and novellas, I’m published with publishers with established short story and novella readerships, and I publish frequently (about one release a month).

Promotion

Promotion is another reason to write short stories and novellas. I prefer to make these promo stories work harder. I usually give the story away in a charity anthology (I’m contributing to the Shades Of Pink anthology benefiting breast cancer which is releasing this fall). This is one more way writers can give back to the world. Sometimes I’ll contribute to an anthology with writers I respect and wish to get to know better. Some buddies have contributed to box sets, which land them on the best seller lists.

To write a novella for a flat fee publisher (would you write a NOVEL for a flat fee publisher?) merely because it is shorter, has a lower price point (sometimes) and might be good for promotion is, IMHO, not getting the best return for your work.


Skill Set

Because writing a 25,000 word, 100 page novella IS work. It also isn’t the same experience as writing a 100,000 word, 400 page novel. Some of the core craft knowledge is the same. Novella writers still need to know GMC (goals, motivation, conflict), structure (3 act, 5 act, whatever you use), character and world building, as well as other writer tools.

In addition to that, there’s a specific skill set required for writing novellas well (almost anyone can write a bad novella). Heck, writing novellas and short stories are very different, requiring different skills.

I’ve taken courses and workshops, read books, talked to established short story and novella writers. I didn’t switch from novels to novellas and short stories because it was easier. I switched because that’s where my skills are and that’s what I love to write.


Summary

Can you make a living and build a career with short stories and novellas? Yes. As I mentioned, some writers are earning six figures. This is much easier to accomplish when you respect the art form, learning the craft and the business.

Sinful Rewards 1

Cynthia Sax

Belinda “Bee” Carter is a good girl; at least, that’s what she tells herself. And a good girl deserves a nice guy—just like the gorgeous and moody billionaire Nicolas Rainer. He is everything she wants in a man.

Or so she thinks, until she takes a look through her telescope and sees a naked, tattooed man on the balcony across the courtyard. Hawke is mysterious, the bad boy she knows will bring only heartbreak. He has been watching her, and that makes him all the more enticing.

But when a mysterious and anonymous text message dares her to do something bad, she must decide if she is really the good girl she has always claimed to be, or if she’s willing to risk everything for her secret fantasy of being watched.

Is her mystery man the reclusive billionaire with a wild side or the darkly dangerous bad boy?

Buy Links:
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sinful-Rewards-1-Cynthia-Sax-ebook/dp/B00I7V89H0

Barnes And Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sinful-rewards-1-cynthia-sax/1119055390

8 Responses to “My Truth About The Short Story/Novella Market”

  1. LOL Amen they do! This is an awesoem article!!! You did great on the rebuttle. You are right. It’s all about the source material you go by. ANd if you look at sci-fi, you find that a lot of the great masters have whole careers based on short stories and novellas. Starship Troopers, the book, not the movie, was in fact a series of short stories published in a magazine that shocked a nation. Later they were bound in one volume, but they were short stories. Japanese Manga writers have made a living off the the short format. Even the anime… Pet Shop of Horrors, an awesome series, by the way, was originally fifteen minute clips that aired on a MTV like show in the 80′s in Japan. They were put together to create four short stories, but each fifteen minuet episode used to create the bigger picture were awesome by itself. Same can be said of Hatalia. Useless Italy, (Hatalia) is an amazing anime that anthromorphaized countries into people and tells history in a series of very accurate, horrifying, and often funny ten minuet episodes. Do no discount the short story format. It has been used for generations and now with the advent of electronic reading devices and phones, more people are going to want that quick fix that satisfies no matter the genre. They are often difficult to write, face it– getting a whole book into less than 30–or so k, is hard. But it can be successfully done and will always be a viable option for the savvy writer.

  2. Well said Cynthia! Well said. =)

  3. Sherry Isaac says:

    Interesting article and great information, Cynthia. So glad you shared on TRW loop.

    I’m a short story writer in a funny-thing-happened-on-the-road-to-writing-novels kind of way–even snagged an Alice Munro award for my efforts. Shorts were a great way to experiment with GMC, character arc, and the cartload of other skills a writer needs to tell a compelling story, regardless of length. Note, I’ve barely made $6, let alone 6 figures! LOL

    My career focus is novels, but short stories have made a fabulous training ground. I hope I’ve learned the lessons short story craft has taught and carry those skills successfully to the novel process.

    Ray Bradbury, in a university address, advised first-time novel writers to set their novel aside and spend a year writing short stories. One short story a week would give them 52 experiences crafting a story from beginning to end, whereas a novel would give them one. Good advice, I think.

    • Cynthia Sax says:

      YES, short stories are a great training ground for writers, Sherry.
      And WOW about the Alice Munro award!

  4. Elf Ahearn says:

    Cynthia, I wished I’d known about you so I could have used you as a source for the article! Next time I will because you make some excellent points.

    For those who followed up with comments, I just want to be sure you all know that my article only addressed romance fiction and, at least in the original text I submitted to RWR, I noted that the erotic short story market is extremely strong.

    As for scifi, etc. one of the most memorable short story collections I ever read was Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. It’s extraordinary. Hemmingway also penned more than a few short stories as has Alice Munro, (Congratulations Sherry!) F. Scott Fitzgerald and too many other fabulous authors to name. The second section of the article is titled “A Long History of Short Stories.” It notes that the form has been around forever (Chaucer, the Brothers Grimm) and flourished in the 20th Century “granting a living wage to … writers like J.D. Salinger, O. Henry and Dorothy Parker.” However, as magazines and newspapers downsized, the market all but disappeared until romances created the ebook market.
    Cynthia, thanks for your interest in the article and I hope to contact you in the future for another.

    • Cynthia Sax says:

      Next time, Elf!!
      I’m always available as a resource.
      Plenty of my buddies write short stories and novellas also.

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