Write Short, Get Paid Twice

I jokingly suggested to Lawdog and CV Walter (Publisher and Editor at Raconteur Press, respectively) that this should be the unofficial motto of Raconteur. I think the official one is ‘Have Fun, Get Paid!’ but that’s just their attitude about writing and storytelling in general. And I join them in that, as well as being the house illustrator for that up and coming press.

So what do you do with short stories? I keep seeing this question. It’s a good question, coming from new writers. If you have a fanbase, using a short as a freebie to feed newsletter subscriptions is a good idea. Doesn’t work as well until you’ve already got some people to send it to, though, and eventually you’ll have more than just that one short. Sending shorts off to anthologies is a good idea, because then you’ll be exposed to a broader fanbase than you could muster on your own. Anthologies are the new magazine, when it comes to SFF short stories. It used to be you sent out your work to the mags, and that was how you both honed your craft, and built a fanbase for the time that you started releasing longer (note: not necessarily novel, but I’ll come back to this) works as standalone titles under just your name.

Short stories are a great challenge for a writer, both the new and the working author. Learning to write a clear beginning, middle, and end; that’s not always easy. There are many ways to form a short, and that’s not what this post is about. What I’m going to lay out is how to deal with it when you have a folder full of short stories in your Documents File, and you have no idea what to do with them. Or if you’re one of those authors who just doesn’t write long-form, and that does happen, there’s nothing wrong with you.

Fully color-illustrated anthology of micro-fiction, publishing soon from Raconteur Press. 50-word stories are a challenge to do well!

First, see if you can get paid. Send your stories off to strut their stuff in an anthology. Right now, Raconteur Press has several open, as does Three Ravens Press, and there are places where you can hang out (like Book Club with Spikes, or the Writer Dojo group on Facebook) and find more when they open. The other advantage to learning about anthologies through a group is the ability to discuss and vet the publisher: you should never have to pay to have your work published. That’s not a publisher, that’s a vanity press and NO. Do not. The other red flag is a lack of transparency about upfront costs before royalties begin to be paid out in a royalty-sharing anthology. Many small presses use Royalty-sharing, like the two I named above, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a good way to set up a small trickle of income consistently coming in if you are pushing shorts out regularly. However, if there’s not a clear point where the royalties begin to be paid – then ask questions. If you don’t get answers, look elsewhere for a home for your story. Raconteur I can speak for, as well as Sanderley Studios (because that’s me), and we’re unusual in that the illustrator and editor take a royalty share just like the authors, so from the beginning, royalties are paid out 100% to the participants after Amazon (generally 30%) and the accountant (PubShare, who takes 10%) get their cut. There’s no hidden cost, it’s all going to get authors paid, because we’re passionate about that.

For a longer shot in getting paid for writing short, you can use the Submission Grinder to search for magazines (they do still exist, just not as many) that are accepting stories. Same caveats apply. You don’t want to send off to a ‘for the love’ market, here, because that does not pay. Remember, artists! Exposure kills. Working for exposure does nothing for you, exposure doesn’t pay bills (there are rare exceptions to this, and I do emphasize rare).

Anthology with a very specific theme: Hope and healing from cPTSD. Out now, from Sanderley Studios

One good thing about showing up to the anthologies where there are open calls? You get noticed after a while as being reliable, good, and easy to work with, and you’ll start getting invited to other anthologies. That’s a nice compliment, right there!

Most reputable contracts (read the contract!) allow for reversion of the story to the author in a set, limited time. Average seems to be a year. Sometimes it might be less, but I wouldn’t accept a contract holding the story exclusive for more than about eighteen months unless there was something exceptional going on. Certainly never sign over the rights without an escape (reversion) clause, and a clear end date of some kind. You want to get that story back into your hot little hands.

Here you are. It’s been at least a year, your rights have cleared the exclusive-to-anthology period, you have some short stories you wrote for the love of writing and haven’t sold, maybe a short that you rotated out of the newsletter freebie stack. You pull together several of them (I like to shoot for no less than 50 K words collected, which is generally 7-8 stories for me, but your mileage certainly will vary), you come up with a cover, and you put that thing up on Amazon at no less than $2.99. Since you now have a small fanbase, if you didn’t already, you’ll be able to market this, and sell it, and voila! You’re being paid the second time for some of those stories. You’ll have some fresh material in there, so fans who read all the anthologies won’t be disappointed. But you’ll have fans who didn’t read all of them, because they missed them, they didn’t like the overall theme even if they love you, they were waiting for you to put something out they could buy to have you sign at a convention… so many reasons.

Write, and get paid. If you’re persistent, get paid twice!

Crow Moon is a collection of short stories, some previously published in anthologies, others never before seen. I put a twist on this collection – the print version is illustrated.

14 thoughts on “Write Short, Get Paid Twice

  1. That’s exactly my business plan. I write only short fiction these days, and my fifth collection of stories will be coming out this spring. A couple of practical things that I’ve noticed with this approach, which I call writing for second publication.

    First, I am more concerned with rights reversion than with payment from anthologies and magazines. Most of my stories have made next to nothing on their first publication. There are a few markets that I regularly submit to that pay upfront (Cirsova being the prime example) but most of the time it’s a royalty basis, which tends to amount to exposure in installments.

    The first publication I see as mostly as a free way of reaching new readers and editing–two things that I would pay for–so any cash I get is gravy. But I do read contracts carefully for rights, because I intend to republish it in a collection of my own down the road.

    I also ask myself how the story will fit into a later collection. My collections tend to be kind of scattershot–I have Fantasy and Science Fiction and Horror–but I do try to have a specific theme for any given collection. So that’s something to consider when writing for a particular anthology.

    Right now I am working on a story for the next round of Fantastic Schools anthologies from Wisecraft Publishing and the story will feature my protagonist from the first two stories I’ve sold them. If I add a few previously unpublished stories I’ll be able to release a collection specifically about that character, much like I did for Erik Rugar in Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts.

    Rumors of the death of short fiction have been exaggerated. My short fiction collections have sold much better than my novels, and I see new markets opening all the time. A lot of successful self-publishers are trying out multi-author anthologies, for both artistic and business reasons. (I can think of a few who have recently put out calls for stories set in the universe of their own book series.)

    1. I’ll add to this that I do see some anthologies actually bringing cash to the authors as well. Some don’t, you are quite right in that. I used to view anthology submissions as loss leaders – marketing tools only. But there really is a hunger for short stories out there, as you note, and I’m now seeing that anthologies can be a trickle of income if you have enough of them, and they are of interest to the general readership they are presented to.

      1. One issue with royalties-based anthologies is that they tend to be a lot of work for small publishers tracking miniscule royalties for several authors. Several small publishers have dropped these from print because they’re too much work for too little reward or in some cases have folded altogether when tracking several of these trickling releases made up too much of their business model.

        In many cases, I think that larger up-front payments and lenient holds on the rights work out better for all parties. In our own case, part of our agreements is to ensure that we can keep anthologies in print and evergreen for us on the promise that we’ll never repackage the stories for other purposes without express permission. In return, we always provide our authors with the fully-edited “good” published text to use however they wish after a relatively short period of exclusivity.

        With lenience on rights and reprints, however, authors can create a mix of revenue streams from royalty-based anthologies and their own anthologies. It’s the latter, however, that I think are the ideal revenue stream, because in that case YOU THE AUTHOR have control over the stories and collection and whether or not it remains in print. And importantly, you’re sure that you’re getting paid for your work.

        1. The royalty tracking is why both myself (Sanderley Studios) and Raconteur Press are using PubShare for the accounting. We don’t have to pay out the royalties or deal with taxes, etc. That way we can make sure everyone gets paid, plus have time to manage creativity and not just the publishing end of it. The authors get a long-tail effect from every anthology that can maintain a trickle for perpetuity or at least as long as the anthology is kept in print.

          Both of us use contracts that give the authors clarity on who has their rights (them) and that the only right we hold is for the specific forms of the anthology itself, with an exclusivity period of about a year. That way they can indeed get paid twice.

          1. Interesting. I looked up PubShare, but some of their documentation links errored out.

            Print is still our bread & butter, making up around half of our sales and 2/3 of our revenue [more for anything we release through crowdfunds].

            Is PubShare able to work in conjunction with print titles, or is it an ebook-only platform?

    2. Rumors of the death of short fiction have been exaggerated.

      I think short fiction was basically dead for a while, but in the words of Bruce Springsteen:

      Everything dies, Baby, that’s a fact
      But maybe everything that dies someday comes back

  2. I’ve found a few other advantages of the anthology calls. First, they’re a source of ideas. Simply saying, “I want to write a short story and maybe submit to a fantasy magazine” is nice but awfully open-ended. Saying, “I want to submit something to that sea shanty-based anthology that’s looking for stories between 2000-6000 words” focuses the mind a bit more.

    Second, the fact that anthologies have deadlines keeps the writer on track. It’s the same reason I preferred to submit to conferences over journals back when I was an academic. There’s none of this, “When I get around to it….” or “Maybe when it’s been polished a bit further….” No, if you’re going to do it, it has to be done by the end of March.

    I’ve got a list of anthologies and a mental goal of submitting to at least half of the ones that are “good fits” each quarter of this year (though I may have to revise that because I’ve realized that I’m avoiding putting anything on the “good fit” list unless I’m pretty sure I can submit). I’ve also started to have a bit of success with my submissions: my “Martian Postcard” got accepted, and I’m also in the new volume of “Sidearm and Sorcery” along with Misha. It feels good, better in someways than putting out the novels. No, I’m not the Velveteen Writer, and I don’t need a Blue Publisher to make me real, but it’s an awfully nice boost to the ego when you realize that other people think your stuff is worthwhile too.

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