Lately, I've been putting my chips on short fiction. I can't give you anything close to a research-driven perspective on why I think this is a good bet—it's a gut feeling more than anything. But it seems like some big names are more or less thinking in the same direction. Recently, Hugh Howey (author of Wool) has been writing posts about Kindle Unlimited and short fiction, and what he's saying hits home with me. But I've also noted some chatter on various forums, and seen some uptick for certain authors, and all of it makes me believe that short fiction is a contender now.
It's kind of weird.
Because I do know tons of readers who won't touch a short story or novella. They want real, savory meat when they read. They want to settle into a book and stay there for a while.
Others want epic series. They want to be swept away by a long, spiraling story filled with characters who can stand in for all the struggles and all the virtues of humanity.
I'm going to be honest here ... because this is my house. I love a good, long, deep read as much as the next reader. But sometimes I just want something I can devour in a single sitting. And I want it to resonate with me just as much as those epic tomes have.
Plus, as an author, I'm finding that in order to WRITE ALL THE STORIES, I'm a wee bit short on time. If I want these stories to exist, and if I want readers to love them, I have to take sips instead of gulps. So I'm betting on short fiction not only as a way to reach a broader audience, faster, but as a way to tell more of the stories in my head before they go with me into the afterlife.
That's part of the motivation behind stories like my new Think Tank serials. These are short, and they're different. They're a way for me to explore some ideas that have been rattling around in my head for years, without committing to a full-length novel on the subject. Some stories are bites, after all—not whole meals.
The other advantage to these is that if they don't do well, or aren't well received ... well, I may be a little heart broken, but I won't be out the kind of time it takes to write whole novels. I won't have to regret that I turned away Story A in order to write Story B. I won't have to worry that I've alienated my audience, and it's going to be months before I can try again.
Novellas and short stories have a few other advantages as well. For starters, I can dramatically increase the volume of books I have available for sale. And since I always price these short works in the 99 cent range, it gives new readers a jump-in point for reading my stuff before trying out the more expensive books. And, frankly, if a thousand people decide they're cool with dropping 99 cents per read on each of my shorts, I'm making a pretty decent living off of that work. Everybody wins.
The other advantage to short stories and novellas is that I can actually sell them to publishers directly. That means getting a bigger chunk of cash at one go for each story, and gaining some exposure for a new audience as well.
And, depending on the rules of some publications, I usually still own the reprint rights for any stories I sell. Which means I can eventually make shorts I've sold to, say, Analog Science Fiction and Fact into ebooks that I can sell on Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and Apple. This means I get a greater reach, building a new audience, while earning a larger chunk of income at once, and while still building a source of recurring income in the future.
The downside—submissions to magazines, in particular, are neither guaranteed nor timely. Analog says that it takes up to three months for them to reply to a submission. Some magazines take even longer. Which means that I write a short this week and send it, and then sit on it for quarter of a year before finding out whether it will sell or not (and whether they want some edits and rewrites). That means it could be half a year or more before I'm able to turn that short into an ebook and make it available for sale under my own distribution channels. That's kind of a stressful for someone who has, in the past, literally saved the final, edited version of a book at 9 AM and posted it to Kindle Direct Publishing by 10 AM.
But the cadence of it can actually work in my favor, if I can be patient. If I commit to writing one short per week, and submitting that short to a particular magazine each week, eventually those three months go by and the cadence becomes acceptance/rejection every week. At that point, I can take the rejected stories and either resubmit them elsewhere, or I can "retire" them and roll them out as ebooks, bulking up my library and opening the door to direct sales.
I think I can live with that. For one thing, it's an excuse to churn out a short per week, which I'm absolutely fine with. For another, it makes this whole writing-for-a-living thing feel more real to me. I'm doing something, other than waiting to be discovered. Good all around.
I'm still writing longer fiction, of course. I think I kind of have to. My whole life, writing books was just something I did, and something I was always compelled to do. But I think that the nature of books has changed dramatically with ebooks growing in popularity. And I think that the way we consume media has had to change as well—with so many things vying for our attention, short stories are kind of perfect for the on-the-go reader who wants to be inspired and entertained on a lunch break or while riding the train, or just between social media posts.
Look for more shorts from me in the future. I honestly believe this is a very good thing, for me and for you. But I'd love to hear your take on it.
Call me at 281-909-WORD (9673) and leave me a voicemail to say what you think about short fiction versus long fiction, about ebooks, about anything. I may play your comments on my Wordslinger Podcast, or I may just respond to them here. And, as always, you can also leave a comment on this post, or connect with me on Facebook (/kevin.tumlinson) or Twitter (@kevintumlinson).