Monday, May 31, 2010

Can Writers Make a Living From Short Stories Alone?

Not too long ago, literally a matter of a year or two, the question would have been ludicrous. Can fiction writers make a living from short stories?

A half century or more ago, there were some authors who were fortunate enough to make a living from short stories. O. Henry comes to mind, even Robert E. Howard, and any number of genre writers from the 1920s through about the early 1950s. That was roughly the time period when lots and lots of readers turned to magazines and other printed periodicals for entertainment. Detective stories were popular, as were some fantasy and Westerns and romance writings.

Then, for the longest time, the short story seemed to dry up. Or at least any money to be made from short stories dried up. Fewer and fewer people seemed to read in general, and fiction reading trends tended towards longer forms, most commonly the novel. Fewer and fewer magazines were paying much for short stories, and a lot of magazines went out of business. For the most part, many short story writers were limited to smaller publications that did not pay much or did not pay at all.

That might have changed.

With increasing interests in electronic publishing, the short story writer once more possibly has found his or her chance to thrive.

Electronic books are growing in popularity, most notably by the ever-increasing sales of Amazon's Kindle e-reader and other such devices, like the Nook from Barnes & Noble.

More and more writers, professionals and beginners, are turning to publishing electronically, generally working directly through Amazon's Digital Text Platform or through such sites as Smashwords. Why would they do this? For lots of reasons. The writers don't have to deal with publishers, generally the pay cut is larger (at least in incremental percentages) and possibly most importantly, the writers have much more control over their product. The author gets to decide the cover art, the cover blurbs, how the ebook is edited, etc.

So with this growth in the electronic publishing industry, more and more short stories are beginning to show up, as well as novels, in the electronic form. Some writers are giving away their short stories for free as a promotion to hopefully draw readers to the writers' novels. Other writers are charging a dollar or less per short story. Yet other writers are bundling short stories together in groups, anywhere from a few stories to a couple of dozen, and selling those packages, sometimes for as little as 99 cents or less.

Does this mean short story writers are back on top? Not necessarily, but it does mean a short story writer is in a better position to be able to make a living only as a short story writer, probably in a better such position than nearly all short story writers in 50 years.

One can dream, can't one? And even if the dream can't become a reality, perhaps the challenge is enough in itself.


Charles Gramlich said...

Good point. I have to wonder if the explosion in ebook pubs may not be to some extent a bubble economy. but hey, would be good to get in on the ground floor of that.

Ty Johnston said...

Charles, you have a point. It could very well be a bubble economy, but at you said, getting in the game early might be the right thing, at least in the long run.

I still think there's more money to be made in novels, but I also believe it's possible short fiction could become more popular again.

Jesse Dedman said...

Those resources indeed make the task of publishing a bit easier, but by going those routes you also take on the task of spreading the word, marketing and promoting, which can become an obstacle all on its own. However, if you have a website, blog, or some other "hub" to support the content it may make it easier.

I've been thinking about this. Now that I have no job and all and manage Deadman's Tome full time for the fun and such. I taken another glance at possibly marketing my own short stories. Perhaps they'll make a penny or two.

Ty Johnston said...

Jesse, sorry to hear about the job. Believe me, I feel your pain. And yes, the promoting work is the hardest part, the most time-consuming and often the most frustrating. But it's got to be done.