Playing the Short Game: How to Sell Your Short Fiction (Part 25)

A Writer’s Magic Bakery: Selling your stories again (and again, and again…)

Welcome back to my series on marketing and selling short fiction. Last week, I wrapped up a mini-series on everything that happens after you finally sell a story, including handling short fiction contracts, working with an editor, understanding what your first sale really means, dealing with reviews, and how to follow a reasonable (i.e., not being a needy jerk) and minimalist approach to self-promotion.

Over the next three weeks, I’ll discuss your options for re-selling your stories after they’ve been published for the first time. If you haven’t already, you need to go back and do your homework by rereading these earlier posts:

  • Part 4 and part 5 on understanding the licensing of rights for fiction;
  • Part 17 on how to protect those rights in short fiction contracts; and,
  • Part 18 on ensuring those rights revert to you.

Stop. Have you read those posts? Especially parts 4 and 5? Because if you don’t understand licensing rights for your fiction, you’re going to get into trouble. Legal trouble. Trouble that editors will remember you for, and not in a good way. So, seriously, read those posts now if you haven’t already.

Eating Cake and Licensing Rights

The original form of the old proverb “you can’t have your cake and eat it, too” was actually “you can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” Which makes a lot more sense, at least to me–if you eat your chocolate layer cake, it’s gone. You don’t get to eat it a second time.

But what if it wasn’t gone? What if you could eat it, and then, abracadabra, it’s still there? Well, for writers, if we think of our fiction as the cakes we bake, and selling them as tasting their yummy goodness, we can do exactly that. We can sell a story, but still have it available to sell again. That is, we can if we understand the licensing of rights and haven’t given away all of our rights in our first sale of that story.

Writer Dean Wesley Smith calls this a writer’s “magic bakery”–your stories and novels are your cakes and pies, and when you sell them from your bakery, they magically reappear on your shelves, ready to be sold to the next customer who walks into your store.

Or you can think of licensing rights to your fiction as selling a cake (your story) one slice at a time. See post 4 for a full discussion of the possible ways that you can slice and sell a short story. Here’s a short list:

  • First print rights in English
  • First electronic rights in English
  • Second rights in English (reprints, both print or electronic)
  • First audio rights in English
  • First rights in a foreign language (and multiply this by as many languages as you can think of)

I’ve taken the geography “slice” out of the above (e.g., First North American print rights) to simplify this discussion. Besides, most of the pro markets that you should be targeting will require world rights in English.

A Reminder: The Two Rules for Rights

I cover this in detail in the two posts on short fiction contracts (Part 17 and Part 18), but I’ll repeat it here as a reminder. If you want to have a magic bakery, you need to follow two rules:

Rule #1: License as few rights to your story as possible when you first sell it.

Rule #2: Ensure that those rights revert to you after a reasonable time.

Rule #1 means selling as small a “slice” of your story “cake” as you can. If you license all rights (print, electronic, audio, film, all languages) to a story when you first sell it, then you’ve given away the entire list of rights above, with the exception of second rights.

Rule #2 means ensuring that you can resell your story again (second rights) as a reprint, or in a collection, or even as a stand-alone ebook. If you don’t have a good reversion clause, those rights never come back to you.

Break Rule #1, and you’ve sold your entire cake for the price of a slice. Break Rule #2, and that cake will no longer magically reappear on your shelves–it’s gone forever.

In the following discussion, I’ll assume that you’ve followed the above rules, that your first story has now been published in a wonderful pro market, and, because you signed a good contract, that you still hold all other first rights and the rights you licensed have reverted to you so that you can sell the story as a reprint.

Let’s review how you can leverage those rights and start your own magic bakery.

This Story First Appeared In… : Selling Reprints

What we legally refer to as licensing second rights is more commonly called selling reprints. To simplify it, let’s just talk about reprints in English for now.

Selling a reprint involves all the same steps of finding and submitting to markets that you need to follow for selling first rights to that story (see parts 7-12). The only difference is that you are now looking for markets that accept reprints.

How do you find those markets? Same way that you found first rights markets, by using one of the online market resources that I mention in part 8. I will again recommend that you use Ralan identifies whether a market accepts reprints with a simple yes / no flag. Just go to his Pro Markets page or his Pro-Pay Anthology page and do a search for “Reprints: yes.” (Some markets may say “Reprints: query.” I’d leave these to the end of your list. Selling a reprint to those markets involves more work and a lower probability of success.)

It’s important to understand that although we call these second rights, you can sell them a third, fourth, or fifth time. Or more. You can sell a reprint of the same story as many times as you can find a market that is willing to publish it. I’ve sold my most published story, “Spirit Dance,” a dozen times in English (plus another twenty times in foreign languages, but that’s another slice of the pie that I’ll discuss next week).

Payment for Reprints

You’ll likely earn a lot less for a reprint. A market that pays pro rates for first rights will pay at most half of that for a reprint and more likely only 1-2 cents per word. But remember your magic bakery. You’ve already sold this story to a pro market for good money (or what counts as good money for short fiction. Sigh.) Anything else you make from this story is a bonus. It’s found money.

Because of that, when selecting reprint markets, I ignore my most important rule (okay, one of my most important rules) for selecting first rights markets. You don’t need to restrict your market search only to markets that pay professional rates.

If you can find a market that pays you pro rates for a reprint, that’s great. Just don’t expect it. My advice is if you can sell a reprint, then sell it. Not only is it more money for you, but it also helps keep your name out there and might garner you some new fans who missed the story in its original publication.

The Cover Letter for a Reprint

There is one other important difference in selling a reprint of a story. Your cover letter MUST inform the editor that the story has been previously published and where it first appeared. I usually modify my cover letter (see part 10 for a sample cover letter) to include this information in the first paragraph as follows:

Dear <editor’s name>:

Please find <attached / enclosed / below> my 5,900-word story “State of Disorder” for consideration for <market name>. This story first appeared in the US magazine, Amazing Stories (#595) in 1999. It was a finalist for the Aurora Award in 2000.

Note that you can also mention if the story’s first publication resulted in any awards or “best of” anthology selections. That sort of thing is optional, but clearly identifying the reprint status of the story is mandatory.

Next Week

I’ll continue this topic next week by covering a way to sell your story that is often overlooked by writers.

Next Week: Bonjour / Hola / Ciao: Selling foreign language rights

As always, please feel free to add comments and questions, and I’ll respond as best (and as soon as) I can.

I’ve written these posts in a very specific sequence, with each entry building on previous ones. You can read my earlier posts here.



I am thrilled to announce that I have now repackaged the 32 separate posts that make up this blog series into a book titled Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction. The book is completely updated and reorganized, with new material not in this blog series, plus an introduction from multi-genre, multi-award winning writer and editor, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Here’s an extract from Kris’s intro:

Douglas Smith is the best person to write this book. … He’s one of the few people who has probably published more short fiction than I have, and in more countries, and more high-paying markets. He loves the short story as much as I do, and he’s good at writing them.

He’s just as good at the business side of the profession. He knows more about marketing short stories to other countries than I do. He understands how to manage short fiction contracts very well. He’s up-to-date on 21st century publishing practices, and he has a toughness that the best business people need.

We short story writers have needed a book like this for decades. I’m glad Doug decided to write it. Read and reread this volume. Because you’ll learn something each time you do. And take Doug’s advice. It’s spectacular.

—Kristine Kathryn Rusch

More information on the book, including full buying links for all major retailer sites, is available on my website here.

As a special offer to Amazing Stories readers, I’m offering discounts in my bookstore. Get the ebook or print edition at a discount by using the coupon codes AS-SHORT-E or AS-SHORT-P respectively at my website bookstore. Enjoy!

Please take a moment to support Amazing Stories with a one-time or recurring donation via Patreon. We rely on donations to keep the site going, and we need your financial support to continue quality coverage of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres as well as supply free stories weekly for your reading pleasure.


  1. Douglas, I am LOVING this series. I just inhaled pretty much all of it. Your advice on how to handle The Infamous Rule #3 has effortlessly solved a major problem I’ve been running into with regard to my beta readers. Too late to save the current story, but definitely will work for the future.

    I wanted to ask…

    Are you going to discuss going indie at all? Kindle, Smashwords, POD collections and all that? Or is this like a companion piece to Dean Wesley Smith’s stuff on indie-publishing short fiction?

    1. Jean, I’m glad that you’re enjoying the series and especially that it’s helped you. And thanks for leaving comments–the last few posts in this series have generated zero comments, so I always assume that no one is reading it anymore.

      I will be covering the option of publishing short fiction yourself, either in individual ebooks or as an indie collection in ebook form (or POD form as well for a collection). I will *not* be getting into the “how to” side of it. I’m keeping this series focused on selling and marketing short fiction. There are ever so many sources on how to create ebooks and POD books out there.

      That being said, my answer on the indie route for short fiction writers may surprise you. That topic will be coming up (assuming I keep to my schedule) somewhere late August.

      And I’m a huge fan of Dean’s and of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog as well. Every writer who wants to understand where publishing is right now and where it’s going should be following both of them.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Article

Stumbling Into a Free-Fall

Next Article

The Artful Collector: Handling Difficult People Part 3 – What makes Artists and Collectors Fun to Deal With?

You might be interested in …