Playing the Short Game: How to Sell Your Short Fiction (Part 32)

A Brave New World: The indie publishing option for short fiction (cont’d)

Last week, I began a discussion on another publishing option for your backlist of short fiction: independently publishing your stories yourself, including both publishing your backlist as a collection as well as an option that I do not recommend, that of originally publishing your stories yourself.

This week, I’ll finish off that topic (as well as this entire series on marketing and selling short fiction) by discussing the various decisions you’ll need to make and tasks you’ll need to complete if you wish to move into the world of indie publishing with your own collection.

Print Edition or Just Ebook?

Armed with the knowledge from the homework I had you do last week, you’ll now need to handle all the tasks that a publisher normally would. One of the first will be to decide if you’re going to produce your planned collection only in ebook format, or whether you’ll also produce a print-on-demand (POD) edition. I strongly recommend doing both, and my points below assume that. Print isn’t dead and isn’t going away anytime soon. You want to reach as many readers as possible, and print readers and ebook readers are two different animals.

Just understand that putting out a POD edition will involve more cost and more work than an ebook edition, and will deliver (likely) a smaller profit per book.

Ask a “Name” Author to Write an Introduction

Including “Introduction by <Famous Writer>” on your cover and marketing copy will help to sell your book, especially if your stories would appeal to the fans of Famous Writer. A good introduction will also provide a great pull quote for the cover or back cover and on the book’s listing on any retailer site.

Don’t know any famous writers yet who’d be willing to do this for you? Then you’re probably not ready to publish a collection. Most writers will do this for free, especially if they know you and like your writing, but offering an honorarium of, say, $50-$100 would be polite.

Hire a Professional Cover Designer

Unless you are a professional graphic designer, do NOT try to do your own cover. Yes, there are ever so many tools available to let you do this kind of work, and yes, ever so many indie writers do their own covers—which is why there are so many truly horrible covers for indie books.

It’s not so much the art that is used for these covers. It’s the design—the choice of fonts, of colours, of placement of title and author name and other text. Plus a dozen other things that need to blend together artistically that I can’t detail but a professional graphic designer could.

A good cover from a professional artist/designer will cost you $250-$500, with a full POD cover (which includes the spine and back cover) at the high end of that range.

Hire a Professional Editor

Assuming that you took my advice and are publishing a collection of your backlist with perhaps one new story, then most of these stories have already appeared in top professional markets where they were probably already professionally edited before publication.

If they weren’t, then you’ll need to hire a line and copy editor. Even if these stories were all professionally edited, you’ll still need a professonal edit pass to ensure consistency of style across the stories (British versus American spelling, formatting consistencies on things like em-dashes and ellipses, punctuation consistencies, and many other style issues). Getting this level of editing done on a book-length collection (eighty to a hundred thousand words) will likely cost in the order of $500.

POD and Ebook Design and Production

Designing the interior of a print book is another professional skill that you don’t have. Hire someone. Costs will likely be in the $500-$1,000 range. The same advice holds true for ebook design and creation, although less so. A number of tools exist to assist you with ebook formatting and creation. One of the better ones is Jutoh. Ebook design and creation will likely be $200-$250.

By the way, you will want at a minimum to have the ebook available in .mobi (Kindle), .epub (every other ereader), and PDF (because some sites still sell a surprising number of PDF copies, especially OmniLit/AllRomance).

Retail Channel Placement

Once you have your book editions ready for sale, you’ll need to set up accounts for the various retail channels listed above, learn how each channel works, load your content along with your book’s description & keywords, decide on pricing, etc. Many of these channels, such as Amazon and Kobo, allow you to sell in a variety of foreign markets around the world and to specify separate pricing for each market. More decisions and work for you.

The WIBBOW Decision

Does all the above sound like a lot of work? Good, then I’ve done my job, because it is a lot of work. I’ve probably left out tasks as well. As I said earlier, if you take this route, you are becoming a publisher with all that role entails. For all of this, as with any writing activity you are considering, you need to ask yourself one key question, which I’m stealing from a writer friend, Scott William Carter, who came up with this a while back: Would I Be Better Off Writing? (WIBBOW).

Because, first and foremost, you are a writer. Whatever time you spend being a publisher (or even worse, being a promoter) is time you can’t be writing new words of fiction. And new words should always be your priority.

You can reduce a lot of the work involved in this indie process (and leave you more time to be a writer, not a publisher) by using a reputable indie publishing service. I’ve used Lucky Bat Books for all of my indie publishing projects and would highly recommend them.

Indie Publishing Individual Stories

Again, what I covered in this and last week’s post applies only to your backlist. Yes, you can take this approach for new stories, but as I explained earlier, I strongly recommend against it.

However, you can, if you wish, indie publish any of your already published stories as individual ebooks. You wouldn’t do POD versions of these, as they’re simply too small to warrant a physical book edition, and as you’d quickly find out, they’d be far too expensive to interest any reader.

A couple of years ago, I individually published twenty-four of my previously published short stories as ebooks, mostly as a way to dip my toe into the indie waters and to learn more about this new world of publishing. It also helped me raise my profile with readers who have never encountered my work before, giving them a very cheap way to sample my work. I price these ebooks at $0.99 for a short story (under 7,500 words) and $1.99 for longer works or for award winners.

In addition, these ebooks make excellent giveaways and prizes for contests on my website, for mailing list signups, for thank you’s, for promotions. For example, I will be including an excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Wolf at the End of the World, in a new edition of the ebook edition of my story “Spirit Dance,” which is the story on which the novel is based. I’ll make “Spirit Dance” free for a while, to hopefully generate some interest in the novel.

Probably Not For You

So why don’t I recommend indie publishing your backlist stories as individual ebooks, if I’ve done it? Well, if you look at my list above and in part 31 of what you need to do to publish an ebook, you’ll see that it becomes very expensive to do this for a single short story. For example, the cost of a cover for an ebook will be the same regardless of how many pages are inside that book. So your cover cost for publishing twenty-four stories will be twenty-four times the cover cost of a single collection of those same stories. Similarly, the cost (or effort) to format and produce twenty-four separate ebooks is more than that for a single collection.

I got a great deal from an award-winning artist friend and from another writer friend who has her own indie publishing company that made it worthwhile for me to go that route, but most of you won’t have those options. I recovered my costs from my short story ebook sales in eighteen months (I’d expected two years). You may as well, but just understand the risk.

Goodbye, and Thanks for All the Fish…

That’s all, folks. This wraps up my series on how to market and sell your short fiction, which grew somewhat in the telling, as most stories do. I’ll be packaging these posts eventually into an expanded version as a book, so keep your eyes out for that. I’ll post here when I know more regarding my plans on that front.

I have truly enjoyed this experience and have been encouraged by the number of people who have commented on the posts and have reached out to me personally to tell me how much they’ve appreciated this series.

I’ll be taking a break from being an Amazing Stories blogger for a little bit, but plan to come back with another series on some aspect of writing, perhaps this time on the creative side. So stay tuned, and thanks to all of you who have followed this series and chimed in with your comments or questions.

If you’re interested in staying current on my various writing projects, you can sign up for my irregular mailing list. Anyone who joins receives a free short story ebook in the format of your choice, along with other periodic goodies, such as giveaways, discounts on my books, early previews of upcoming work, etc.

Next Week: Nothing next week, but stay tuned…I’ll be back.

As always, please feel free to add comments and questions to any of the posts in this series, and I’ll respond as best (and as soon as) I can. Or contact me through my website if you’d rather.

I wrote 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!

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  1. Hi Doug,
    The past — almost — ten months of columns have been excellent and informative. I have incorporated some of your advice, i.e. I have used my creative writing window this year to write short fiction and have six (soon seven) stories out doing the rounds, and taken other parts as suggestions to be re-examined, modified, etc. Thank you for this series. I realise that I haven’t commented much through it; generally, I had little to add based on my experience and most of that was over two decades ago and in another medium. Anyway, as my fiction writing window closes, the academic window (and deadlines) is upon me. Look forward to your future columns down the road.

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