Short stories and novelettes are very hard to sell. (Serial novelettes are the exception, but that’s a different format entirely than regular short stories and novelettes. And I’m not talking about that!) I heard cries of outrage against my first joke post “How Not to Sell 1000 Books a Day” because I said that short stories don’t sell well. Well, they don’t. Can you still make money off them? Sure. It is harder? Well, DUH. That was my point.
But say you just love short stories and you don’t want to write erotica. How can you make a living when a lot of your focus is on short fiction?
1.) Submit to paying markets for publication first. This will give you $100 to $500 extra per story and will get you more exposure. You’ll be able to republish on your own when your rights expire, and it really won’t affect sales on other platforms, so this is free money.
2.) Write stories featuring the same characters in the same world. They don’t need to be a linear story, like a book or a serial. But keeping the same characters will build an audience for them.
3.) If you can’t do that, at LEAST write sets of stories in the same genre, and then publish the same-genre stories close together with similarly branded covers. (One to two weeks apart for short stories.) Shoot yourself in the foot, not the head, mmkay?
4.) Get VERY cheap covers. $20-30 range, MAX. If you have a series of similar stories, see if you can work out a deal where the designer image-swaps for $10 a shot or something like that.
5.) Put out individual stories for $.99 each. Then put out an anthology of 5 stories of 25k words total or more HOPEFULLY featuring the same characters but if not at least the same themes for $2.99. (Five is a sweet spot. Any more, and sales often go DOWN–plus it lets you stay with a low price that’s still in the 70% royalty range and is still a bargain for readers.) Guide people from the $.99 stories to the anthology on the product description for the individual stories themselves. You can also set one free just for visibility.
6.) Now if you’re really clever, you’ll write novels that tie in to your most popular short story characters and worlds, and if you write SF/F, particularly, you’ll leverage your magazine exposure into full-length book sales by having that tie-in. (Mercedes Lackey did that with extreme success with her Tamra and Kethry books.)
7.) Or consider keeping your shorts as reader rewards for your blog or newsletter if you also write a lot of novels.
You’ll hear numbers like shorts selling one forth or one half or one third as much as novels. Sure, that’s true–but only if your novels also don’t sell! If you are able to write novels that people want to read, shorts will sell 1/10th or 1/20th or even 1/30th as much. And given that they’re priced lower but they require their own covers and their own back matter and everything else, they’re really not anywhere near as effective for making a good income. But with the strategies above, you can work short story publication into something that earns you a living.
Final question: What should you promote? Answer: The boxed set, which you release 1 month after the individual titles. If you’re releasing 1-2 titles a week, you’ll kill yourself trying to promote them, and your readers just won’t care because they won’t have time to get used to your last release. So push the boxed sets only with short stories.