Now what do I do with it? Or Should I drown it in the bathtub? Final installment of short story workshop
So, now you’ve written a short story. What do you do with it?
First of all don’t rewrite it to death. As with diamonds and gems, if you polish it too much, you’ll actually end up with nothing.
My first published short story had eighty rejections before first acceptance, but here’s the thing. Some of them, at least, were not “real” rejections, but because I’d spent the first ten or twenty rejections rewriting it every time it came back.
When it got rejected the 79th time, I re-read it and realized it read… generic. (For lack of a better term.) This is when I realized I’d taken out everything that embarrassed me, which means all the meat in the story. So I went got my first version, corrected the typos, setnn it out. It sold.
What does this mean?
It means don’t over-polish. Because it’s hard to know if you’re over polishing, and because some writers’ groups are a little nuts and will try to get you to “fix every word” when they, themselves have forgotten what it was like to meet this story for the first time, I’m going to give you some arbitrary rules. If it makes you feel better, these are the same arbitrary rules I use:
- Do three revisions and NO MORE – one for plot/sense/continuity. One for wording/repeated words/ wrong sentences/one for typos.
- If you show it to your writers’ group, show it only once. After that, they’re never going to see it for the first time. Unless someone hits on something that you realize was bothering you too, OR three people independently agree something specific is wrong, be very careful about taking their opinions/doing revisions. If you take everyone’s opinions, the story will be soup!
- Send it out/put it up and do not revise it unless someone says the magic words “if you change this, I’ll pay you x”
So, how do you get to the pay off?
Depends on a multitude of things. Sometimes you write something and you just think “this is an Analog” (or Asimov’s or some other magazine) story.
Should you submit to traditional markets?
I don’t know. I’ll confess I rarely do so, but it’s not so much a matter of shunning magazines, as the fact I get invited to enough anthologies that between that and the novels I don’t have much TIME to do short stories on spec.
However, if you’re a relative unknown in the field, selling to the professional magazines can be worth it, because it broadens your audience.
In my time, (sonny) when I was breaking in, I also submitted to semi pro and pays in copies. These days I’m not sure I would suggest that to anyone. Maybe semi-rpo if they pay you up front, but a lot of the semi-pro these days don’t. They just pay a bigger share of the royalty.
When I was brought in to help administer Naked Reader (which is now going to be semi-converted to a different purpose, though we’ll still publish people like Kate Paulk and other friends for as long as they wish us to) the first thing I realized is that short stories almost don’t sell indie, on their own.
If they almost don’t sell, it’s not a good idea for you to divide the scant profits with a publisher.
So, I say send your story out to magazines. If it doesn’t sell, consider taking it indie.
But Sarah, you say, you just said it will make almost no money.
Okay, first of all it’s like buying a lottery ticket. My kid has made about 1k dollars on a short story that was rejected for an anthology. We have no idea WHY that short story. Weirder, most of the sales were in England. We think everyone in England owns a copy by now. (The story is called Bite One and is temporarily unpublished as he changes it over to his own publisher.)
Second, while individual stories don’t usually sell extremely well, it’s yet another opportunity to get your name out there and, in the end, to link all your other stories, therefore pointing them at other work they might like.
Third, while individual short stories don’t do that great, collections do. So write five or ten and package them together for 2.99.
Also, here I’m assuming your short story is 3 to 6 k. If it’s more than that, it might sell pretty well. I’ve had luck with the 10 to 20k word range for 2.99.
If your short short is smaller than that, I suggest something my older son is working on. I have no idea if it works, but he is writing what he calls six packs of about 2k word short stories, to put up for 2.99. I think his will work because they’re funny, quirky and DIFFERENT.
He’s doing it because he can do one of those a week, even while working on other things.
Fourth – consider making your short stories parts of a serialized longer work. Like City, you could cover an entire epoch, and even such things as colonizing the stars, with works of about 6k. Put those up for 1.99, bring them out one a week or so, and then in the end bring out a novel for 5.99. Chances are you’ll sell both the shorts and the novel to the same people who want to have it in a convenient format. And like every writer, the best thing is to be paid for the same words twice.
If none of these operate AND you’re also a novel writer, consider using the shorts, given away for free (maybe even perma free) to hook people into your novel.
Whatever you choose to do, good luck.
Next week we start with the novel workshop.