Have you ever pondered the age-old philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
People have debated the question from every angle, but the point that always rings home for me is that there needs to be someone to perceive the sound in order to give it meaning. In a way, I can relate that to how I feel about most types of writing.
Writing is communication. It requires a giver and a receiver. A writer and a reader. While there’s a lot to be said for the value of private writing—diary and journal-keeping, therapeutic ventings on paper, and the like—writing, at its heart, is meant to be shared.
So you write, and then you send it forth.
The Fear of Publishing Your Writing
It’s scary exposing your work, your art, the product of your blood, sweat, and tears. But in real world terms, that fear has no basis in reality.
No one is going to come to your house and shoot you if they don’t like your fictional story. Frankly, no one is going to care much. If your story doesn’t grab a reader, she forgets about it and moves on.
As authors, we get caught up in our own creations, giving them a far larger proportion of time and attention than anyone else ever will. Especially when we’re starting out and don’t have much of a following. And that can be a good thing.
I remember Joanna Penn saying how freeing it is that you can make all sorts of blunders in the beginning of your career and no one notices. It’s a great time to learn, make mistakes, and grow while virtually no one is looking. Even when it feels like you’re stepping out of the house stark naked.
The Secret of Submitting: Editors Are Human
In 2018, I was invited to participate in a very special writer’s workshop. Over the course of a week, a panel of six editors from various publications met with forty-five authors who’d written short stories for them.
All of us had read all of the stories submitted—that’s 270 stories. Every day we assembled in the conference room—morning, noon, and night—to listen to the editors discuss the stories with no holds barred as they put together issues of their magazines. A humiliating and yet exhilarating experience.
Normally, the only feedback we writers get from an editor after submitting a story is yay or nay. This was so much more than that. Out of the six stories I wrote, I sold two, but the real point of the workshop was to teach us that what one editor thinks about a story is just that—what one editor thinks about a story.
I can’t remember a single story during that workshop that was universally liked or disliked among the editors. It was apparent that individual tastes, circumstances, timing, and other factors came into play.
And that’s how it is when you send in a story. Don’t take rejection personally or think that’s the end. My mentor once submitted a story fifty-six times before it was accepted.
2 Routes to Make Money by Publishing Short Stories
There are two distinct ways to publish short stories, make money, and share your writing with the world: the traditional route through submission to magazines, and indie publishing. The best part? You can use both routes at the same time, and sometimes even for the same story!
First, Submit the Traditional Way
Contracts and conditions for traditional short fiction markets are generally favorable for writers at all levels and a good way to begin your story’s journey toward publication.
Short fiction magazines have been around for a long time, through the pulp era and clear back to the penny dreadfuls of the 1800’s. Take reasonable precautions to make sure the market you submit to is a reputable one and always review the contract carefully. A good primer to help you understand contracts is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s book, Closing The Deal … On Your Terms.
It’s important to manage expectations and not get in a hurry. Send the story out and accept that it may take a long time before you get a response. If the response is a rejection, send it out to a different market and keep putting it out there until it sells.
Don’t worry about it. Don’t obsess. Just keep writing and submitting more stories and remember that it takes a lot longer for a magazine to buy a story than to reject one. Practice patience.
Next, Try Indie Publishing
The great thing about intellectual property and copyright is that it puts you in possession of a magic bakery where you can have your cake and eat it, too. So, after you publish the story through a traditional market and the rights revert back to you, publish it again.
You can pursue publication as a reprint or in foreign markets, or you can self-publish and put it up for sale on a multiplicity of platforms and in a variety of formats. The more books you release, the greater your discoverability and the more readers will find you.
If you diligently shopped your story around to the traditional markets for a year or two without selling it, then perhaps it’s time to indie publish. You can release short stories as singles, compile them into collections, or use them as reader magnets to build your email list. Or all three. The magic pie can be sliced unlimited times as long as you don’t sign away your rights.
Be professional about it—provide a great cover and sales copy. Make sure to include the proper front and back matter inside your book—reader magnet offer, “also by” page, website information, etc. And remember that every sale represents a human being spending their hard-earned money on your work. Honor that.
5 Ways to Keep Your Submissions Fun
A great key to success in marketing short stories is keeping it fun. There are any number of ways to do this, and I’ll suggest a few here.
1. Run the Race
My mentor, Dean Wesley Smith, has been a professional writer for decades. Back in the early days of his career, he produced a magazine for writers called The Report. One of the magazine’s most popular features was “The Race,” in which writers competed with each other in a friendly and motivating challenge to complete and shop out the most stories.
Writers got one point for each story submitted out to an editor. If the story got rejected, you lost the point until you got the story back out to another editor. If you sold the story, you lost the point and had to write and shop out more stories to keep running in the Race.
Keep it fun and it will help you leap forward in your writing career.
2. Run the Race, Indie style
If you’re self-publishing, you can adapt the rules of the Race. Dean suggests giving yourself one point for getting a book out in electronic format, another point for print (even short story singles) and another point for audio. The points remain valid as long as the book is available on the market.
Challenge yourself to compile and publish an annual collection of short stories—all you’ve written during the year. Later on, you can pull stories from these collections to form additional collections based on theme, character, series, etc. Remember the magic bakery—slice, slice, slice.
Set a point goal, post it in view of your writing computer, and go. Added bonus: readers will enjoy following you on your fun challenges and it gives you a ready-made topic for blog posts, emails, and newsletters to your readers’ group.
3. Make submitting a game
Fiction writers are entertainers, and to paraphrase Robert Frost: “No fun in the writer, no fun in the reader.” It really pays to keep the writing process fun.
I recently got an interesting email from Derek Doepker about why people quit. A big part of the answer is dopamine. A boost of dopamine helps you press on, overcoming obstacles and sticking with a task, and dopamine production is stimulated by things like humor, upbeat music, and play.
He cites a short YouTube video about the neuroscience of fun and games and how it can help you power through a dip in stamina.
4. Collaborate with other writers
Join with other writers to create a fun, challenging, and motivating anthology project. The Write Practice is a great place to make this happen and to meet other writers with whom you can collaborate. I know of several examples of this and I’ve enjoyed participating in some.
Last March, I published such a project, And Then There Were Nine, with writers I met here on The Write Practice and elsewhere. It was fun to put together and provided an asset each contributor can use to promote their own writing.
BundleRabbit is a great way to make the collaboration process easier. They take care of accounting and splitting the proceeds between the contributors. Be warned, though—expect coffee money, not new car money.
5. Focus on writing and learning
Don’t worry about how your books are selling. They won’t sell much until you’ve got a track record and the inventory to back it up.
The best thing you can do to promote yourself and increase your discoverability is write and publish more books. Focus on that and honing your craft so you can tell the best stories possible.
Don’t chase marketing fads that are time sinks and money pits. They’ll fracture your focus and drain the fun out of writing. Once you’ve got a decent backlist, it can be worthwhile to invest in ads and promotions, but if you got into writing for the money, you’re in the wrong gig.
Remember what you’re in this for and be sure to keep it fun!
Be Bold and Have Fun
Submitting always feels risky. But remember: your writing is meant to be read. Do it the honor of sending it to an audience, and you’ll find that connecting with readers might just be one of the most rewarding parts of your career as an author.
How do you keep the writing fun? Are you ready to run the Race? Tell us about it in the comments.
Let’s put together an anthology project. Come up with a theme, genre guidelines, a title, and a list of contributors, imaginary or real. Then write the Foreword or Introduction for the book. What do you want readers to know about the stories you’re including? What tone do you want to set?