Self-publishing for the Short Fiction Writer

A lot of the nay-sayers keep saying (ad nauseum) that writers make more money with the traditional/commercial route.  We’re apparently all ripping ourselves off and selling ourselves short by going the indie route…and that we’d be better off “trying and trying…and trying again” with traditional publishers before jumping into the icy cold water that some view self-publishing.

What some of these pro-traditional types are blind to is how a short story author and/or poet can benefit from self-publishing. Poets (published traditionally) make virtually nothing.  My first contributors fee for poetry was $10.00 and that was for 2 poems published by a small press periodical.

As a short story author, usually you are paid on a cents-per-word basis and a couple free copies.  Unless you sell your story to one of the bigger, well-known publications you won’t make more than 1-5 cents per word.  Some pay nothing (and I do have a whole separate rant on non-paying markets;  One of several pet peeves.)

I’ve made a whopping $20.00 off of my shorter works.  WOW!  I really got rich doing things “the traditional way” didn’t I?

Flash forward to 2008.  People were asking me “If I ever had anything published” and “where they can get their hands on a copy of a book.”  Well, I didn’t have “a book”  I had several periodicals.  Most of which were now out of print (publisher folded) and some of which…well nearly impossible to find and order any back issues.

Honestly, I had already contemplated self-publishing for my novella Wishful Thinking, which at the time was a work-in-progress.  I was, at the time, exploring my options.  I came up with the idea to publish some of my shorter works in an anthology.  I knew I’d be hard pressed to find a traditional publisher for it; especially considering that I was an unknown writer and some of the short stories were published elsewhere.

So I commenced with self-publishing my first anthology Facets, Volume 1.

I confess to knowing very little about DIY publishing at that time; and I could have done a much better job at formatting.  But I did make money off of it.  In fact, I made more from the anthology than I ever did by selling individual stories and poems to other publishers.  If I had done things “the right way” I’d probably have profited even better.  Which is one of the reasons why I am putting out a second edition soon (the other reason being that I‘m a control freak and perfectionist).

I also put out Carousel in a stand-alone Kindle edition.  The Black Widow and Other Tales (short horror stories) will also be published on Kindle.  I have a whole ebook series planned around my shape-shifter character.

One of the things I LOVE about indie authorship is there is no “You can’t do this” or “You must do it X way.” So, I can do whatever I want with each of my short stories.  I could compose an anthology for each genre.  If I wanted to put each story out as an individual ebook I could.  Not that I am planning on doing that–just saying that I could.  I have no marketing/editorial execs to tell me that’s a “no no” or why it wouldn’t be prudent and/or wouldn’t sell.

Shorter fiction definitely has its place with indie/self-publishing.  It has opened up a whole new world for me.  Possibilities seem endless.

  • duolit

    This is a great point that you bring up, Karen. It seems like short fiction writers often get left out of the self-publishing discussion, but hopefully stories like yours will motivate them to give it a shot!

  • klcrumley

    Thanks, Duolit.

    I hope so too. I would love to see what other short story writers come up with, when they jump right in and start publishing themselves.

  • aerworuld

    Couldn’t agree more, thank you for voicing it!

    • klcrumley

      You’re welcome Stuart! Glad to find others that share my opinion.

  • I wanted to know more about self publishing, particularly ebooks so I suppose I set up my first short story collection as an experiment of sorts. Then I had an idea for another one that wasn’t the norm and self publishing it as an ebook seemed like the only possibility for it.

    I’ll probably never sell as many copies as I would with a full length novel but people are buying. And I think that ereaders are making short stories more appealing. I myself read a lot of short stories and novellas on my ereader but I probably wouldn’t in print form. They seem to fit well as a quick ebook read. I’m very happy with how it is turning out and I see a lot of indies are now publishing short story collections to compliment their novels.

    • klcrumley

      Claire, I am glad you are selling well. I wish you continued success. I agree that they work out well as quick reads for ebooks.

      It always seemed like short stories never got enough attention and/or exposure as far as readership…but I see that is changing, and I’m glad. 🙂

  • As a reader I really enjoy novellas more than novels. I like that they are long enough to get into a slightly meaty story but not so long I get bored. I really like that epublishing is opening novellas up more as a viable fiction length.

    • klcrumley

      Zoe, I agree. I love it that novellas seem to be gaining popularity in ebook format.

  • rvansaint

    Having returned to writing after a brief break I’ve been releasing individual short fiction in digital format to gain an audience. It’s provided me with a great method for experimentation with my different styles of storytelling. I’ve always loved shorter works (Bradbury and Gaiman’s short stories are personal favs). If I can’t get anyone to publish my collection, I’ll be publishing it myself – better to share than wait around for someone to find me.

  • We short story writers are definitely a minority in the Self-Pub world, just as we are in Trad-Pub. Especially if our work falls into the literary category, which mine does. A number of my stories are available for free on various litmag sites and on my personal website, but my real publishing effort has been the POD version of my collection of 13 linked stories, The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility. Reviews are good but sales are slow. I love the dead-tree format plus my book contains some drawings, so I was reluctant to go e-book… but now I’m on Smashwords too, sans drawings. Results TBD. Glad there are other short fiction folks out there!

  • brentrobison

    Also, y’all might be interested in this group: http://bookblogs.ning.com/group/shortstories

  • I love the idea that we writers can be in charge of our own destinies. Thank you for this article!