Short Stories and Other Forms of Return

Last week, we looked at the business return of writing short stories and publishing or selling them - but we only looked at it in terms of pure monetary earnings for time spent, and there are other business benefits that can be calculated, depending on why you chose to write the short story in the first place, since we can create with additional purposes to telling a good tale.

We can, for instance, write for a specific market. An anthology opportunity might come up, where we get to work with other authors to produce a collection, either writing to a specific theme, or in a specific world or setting. Many of these anthologies won't pay a professional rate, and definitely won't be guaranteed an equivalent monetary return for time. You need to first decide if that's an acceptable trade, but you need to make that decision based on a number of other, both positive and negative, factors:
  • the opportunity to be part of the anthology - since these don't come up all that often, especially when you're starting out;
  • the opportunity to play in a universe you love or admire;
  • the opportunity to play in an unfamiliar universe, which will stretch your skills in writing to market and let you find another setting you can love;
  • the opportunity to have your work appear beside the work of other authors, instead of on its own;
  • the increased marketing power a collective of authors can bring to a project rather than an individual; or
  • the increased audience a collective of authors has over a single author, and the slight chance that some of the readership will cross over;
  • the potential that, in writing for another universe, you will be subject to its rules and not free to do anything you please;
  • the potential that, in writing for another universe, you will not retain full control of where you market your story when the rights return to you; and
  • the potential that, in writing for another universe, you do not return all your rights to that story due to the need to incorporate the universe's IP into your story.
We can also write for a specific magazine market, which has many of the benefits of writing for an anthology, and fewer of the drawbacks, although it has other constraints such as a period of exclusivity that you need to observe.

Both the anthology and magazine market options have the potential of increasing your reach, and helping to put your work into the hands of a wider audience than you would achieve on your own - not to mention that most have some form of monetary compensation as well. Weighing the value of the benefits against the potential costs and restrictions is important when trying to calculate a return on your investment of time on your short story.

You might also choose to publish a short story purely as a marketing tool, restricting its availability by offering it exclusively to your newsletter readers as a reward for their loyalty, or as a way of attracting more readers to sign up for your newsletter so they can learn of your other work. This places a different kind of value on your story, making it a form of advertising in and of itself.

Finally, you can publish your short story on its own.

If you do this, after publishing with an anthology or magazine market, you have the possibility of maximising your return BUT you need to take into consideration the time taken to place the story, the wait time between acceptance and publication, and any other restrictions you face because of its exposure in that market. Read your contracts with care.

Publishing your short story independently does not guarantee you any kind of return for the time and money you've invested in it, even with advertising, but it does still mean your story is available to readers who might not have picked up your work to start with - and, if they like that story, they might go looking for all.

My experience has been that only a handful of short stories in the science fiction, fantasy and urban fantasy genres will sell each year - but I have heard of other authors who see much more than that.

Whichever path you choose for a short story, then, you need to have a clear reason as to why you are writing it, and what you expect to gain from the activity. From a cold-blooded business perspective - even with the marketing benefits thrown in, it still seems difficult to justify the time and effort these stories take to produce, release and market. There are, however, other reasons to indulge in the genre: the creative aspect, and the hard-headed skill-building angle.

Next week, we'll look at how writing short stories can be used from a creative perspective.