Kristine Kathryn Rusch recently posted an interesting essay on the ins and outs of selling short stories. As usual, she makes some points Passive Guy hadn’t thought about.
These magazines pay well. And, even better than that, they buy exclusive rights to a story for a limited period of time.
What does that mean, exactly? While traditional book publishers are trying to tie up an author’s creation for the entire term of the copyright (the author’s life plus 70 years), the magazines only want exclusive rights—meaning the story can’t appear anywhere else—for six months to two years. After that, the magazine asks that it can keep the story in that particular issue, but it doesn’t care if the writer self-publishes the story or sells it to another magazine or puts it in a collection.
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Right now, new professional magazines are appearing almost daily. By professional, I mean magazines that pay their authors—and not in copies, but in actual dollars. Twenty years ago, a science fiction short story had to sell to one of five markets or get retired. Now, a science fiction short story has a dozen markets or more. There are so many markets in my main short story genre that I’m not even familiar with all of them. And that doesn’t count markets in mystery, romance, horror, and mainstream.
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This multitude of markets benefits both the indie writer and the traditional writer.
First, let’s start with the traditional markets. As book markets get more and more commercial, unwilling to take anything that even ventures a half step outside a genre, a writer can expand her skills and broaden her literary output in the short form. Want to cross genres? The mystery markets sometimes take mystery stories with a touch of the supernatural or a hint of a fantastic world. The sf markets buy mysteries set in sf worlds all the time.
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The other thing a short story sale does for a traditional writer is broaden her audience. With chain bookstores diminishing their stock, and independent bookstores closing, it gets harder and harder to discover a new writer. Reading a short story by a writer who is new to you the reader doesn’t take much of a commitment, particularly if that writer’s work is in a magazine with other writers whose work you like.
It’s like being paid to advertise. The traditional author will find a whole new audience, and if she does her job, that audience will venture over to one of her books. If the reader likes that book, he’ll move on to other books. It’s a great way to expand your readership. Instead of paying $500 to buy an ad in a magazine that people might or might not pay attention to, the writer is getting paid $500 to publish a story in that magazine. The reader will look at the story longer even if the reader doesn’t read the story than if the writer had an ad in that magazine.
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The other win for the author? Magazines, as I mentioned above, don’t have draconian contract terms. Within nine months to two years, the author can resell that story or e-pub it herself and continue to earn money on that story for years.
And if the traditionally published author writes a story that somehow doesn’t fit into any of the myriad magazine fiction markets that now exist, that writing time is no longer wasted. The traditionally published author can e-pub the story, charge for it, and eventually earn more than enough to make up for her time.
The e-pub/indie publishing market has opened other opportunities for the traditionally published author. Let’s say she has a series of books, and wants to explore a side character. She can do that in the short form, and then publish that for her fans. Romance writers have started to do that. They’ll write codas to their romance novels, or short stories set in the same world.
Last year, Tess Garritsen wrote a Rizzoli & Isles short story to put on TNT’s website for free to celebrate the start of the TV show based on her novels. The idea was to have content on the TNT website to draw people to the site, but also it was an easy way for people who liked the show to start reading the books—without committing to the purchase of an entire novel.
Then, a few months ago, that same short story showed up for free as a downloadable e-book on Kindle. (I don’t know if the same offer appeared on other e-readers.) Again, that one short story became a free introduction to Garritsen’s work.
A good short story can be a gateway drug for the reader, getting them into a writer’s work without a lot of commitment.
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch