Short Stories & the Indie Author by Robert Collins
Short Stories & the Indie Author
Most posts and discussions about Indie Authors tend to revolve around books. Books are great, but they aren’t the only form of fiction an author can create in. There’s also the short story. No doubt you know about the short story. Have you considered how you can make short stories work for you?
The first, oldest, and still the best way to do so is to submit them to periodicals. These are print magazines or e-zines. Writing a short story can allow an author the chance to create additional material for the universes they’ve created, or to create in new ones. The same skills needed to write a good novel are needed to write good short stories. Short stories are an ideal way to hone your craft without having to spend weeks or months on a single project.
It’s important to state right up front that, in the case of short stories, genre matters. This is true when submitting. It’s even more the case when considering writing short stories.
The genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror have thriving markets for short stories. These range from magazines offering professional pay rates down to paying in exposure (more on all that later). The mystery genre has fewer magazine markets, but some are well-established and pay well. Literary fiction is a bit of a crapshoot; there are some pro markets, but some prestige markets pay little or nothing. For other genres the markets are as thin or thinner.
I know of two websites ideal for searching for magazine markets. The first is Duotrope (https://duotrope.com/). It covers a broad range of genres. The other is Ralan.com (http://www.ralan.com/); it covers SF/F/H. I prefer Ralan because the owner is willing to inquire over the status of markets, and will declare a market dead if it seems to be so.
The rights you’ll be asked for are more reasonable than what’s asked by book publishers, especially the big publishers. The majority of magazine publishers only want “first rights.” This means they want to be the first to publish a story. Those rights will expire six months to a year after the story is published. Typical first rights are First North American Serial Rights, First World Rights, and First E-zine Rights. Some magazines will accept reprinted stories, in which case they’ll be asking for “reprint rights.” Only first rights are exclusive.
In exchange for these rights you’ll get paid. Pro pay rate is generally defined as 5¢ a word. Below that are “semi-pro rates,” from 4¢ to 1¢ a word. Below that are “token payments,” either 1/2¢ to 1/4¢ a word, or a flat payment that works out to be that rate (anywhere from $1 up). Depending on who’s making the definitions, being paid in copies of the magazine can qualify as a token payment. At the bottom is “exposure,” either being paid in copies or just having your piece appear on a website.
You might ask why you should accept anything less than semi-pro rates. For one thing, almost every magazine will have editorial standards. Even sites that only offer exposure won’t accept everything, and can edit what they accept. Some magazines that pay very little have managed to last a long time. Getting published in them is a worthwhile credit. These in turn can show readers that you’re an author worth investing time and money in.
It’s rare these days that a magazine won’t have a website with at least one page or section devoted to their guidelines. The guidelines should tell you what genre they accept, what word lengths they want, pay rate, formatting requirements, and what kinds of stories they’re looking for. It may or may not help to read the magazine first; your mileage will vary.
Let’s say you have a story and have found a market to submit to; what next? Check the magazine’s guidelines. Most magazines these days accept electronic submissions, though some prefer paper. What kind of e-sub? Some have online forms; others will take email attachments; while others prefer the story pasted into the email. There might also be a preference for attachment type or other sort of formatting.
Follow those guidelines! Most stories are rejected for one of two reasons: improper content or improper format. Send the right story to the right magazine the way they want it sent.
E-subs allow for a quick turnaround. Some magazines will email a rejection in under a week. Usually you’ll get a response in a month or two. Don’t query about your submission unless at least four months pass. Remember that an acceptance will take longer than a rejection. Pay attention to any reports on that market. Know if the market takes a long time to respond, and take notice if there are multiple reports of queries not being answered.
Don’t withdraw a story from a market unless a market website declares the market dead, or you haven’t heard back from at least two queries. Always be polite when asking about the status of your submission. Editors and publishers are people too, and life can throw them curveballs just as it can writers.
Rejections these days are often forms, either print or email. If the editor comments on the story, don’t take it as gospel that what he writes is what’s really wrong with your story. Some editors are prejudiced against certain plots, characters, tone, or subject matter. Do pay heed to rejections that make sense, or when different editors make similar comments about a story’s flaws.
If you sell a story, don’t talk about it right away. Wait until the story comes out; sometimes things happen between acceptance and publication. Keep as many stories in circulation as you can. Make certain you have a short bio with links ready if a story sells. That sale is your chance to sell your other work as well.
Once a story is published, wait until the contract terms end. At that point you can offer reprint rights to another market, or publish it yourself. You can post it at your blog, or offer it as a short story ebook. If you sell enough stories you can put them into a collection and offer print and ebook versions. Today every story you write has the chance to earn not just at publication but in the following years.
If you’re willing to put in the effort to write good short stories and submit them to the right magazines, those stories can pay off for you.