Novels are where the glory and money are, but the short story continues to appeal to authors. What makes short stories so much fun to write? Instant gratification – a few hours of writing time, and your story is done. Experimentation – readers aren’t likely to enjoy a novel-length work that’s written in future tense or second person, or that hopscotches between prose and poetry, or that is comprised of a series of shopping lists and email exchanges, but the short story lends itself to even the most bizarre of formats and writing styles. Flexibility – a single idea can be turned into a flash fiction story, and a galloping adventure that spins off its own side-plot twist can become the perfect novella.
There are other factors that make short stories appealing. Marketability – for every novel publisher, there are at least a dozen magazines and anthologies in the same genre, and editors are looking for everything from micro Twitter-fics to novelette-length sagas. Resale value – the reprint rights to a novel are difficult to sell, but the short story keeps on giving: the original print publication this year, and then a “Best Of” reprint sale next year, and then an e-zine reprint sale after that, and then a themed anthology reprint sale a few years later.
What makes a short story different from a novel? It’s not just length. It’s also pacing and prose and punchiness. The pacing is faster, the prose is tighter, and the plotline is more focused and dramatic. The heroine who gets kidnapped by Mafia fishermen can be marooned on an island, fight off zombie wer-dolphins, build a raft, escape from the island, sneak up on the fishermen who kidnapped her, steal their boat, trade the day’s catch of tuna to the zombie wer-dolphins for a chest full of gold, and sail off into the sunset…all in one or two chapters’ worth of text.
How can you make your short stories more saleable? Make them tight, and make them unique. Editors who buy short stories, whether they’re paying cents-per-word or a flat fee, want the most bang for their buck, so they prefer lean prose. Most authors can trim 5 – 10% of their word count just by eliminating flabby phrases and unnecessary adjectives. Speaking from personal experience, a rambling, overwritten, 4000-word story can be cut down to 1500 words by ruthless pruning and revising; the endless rejection letters the flabby story garnered were promptly replaced by acceptance and payment. Editors also look for new, cutting-edge ideas and styles, so let your imagination run wild. When you find yourself saying, “This would be so cool– Wait. No. It would never work. Nobody but me would ever want to read something like that…” you’ve probably got the makings for an excellent short story.
Where can you sell your short stories? Try these market lists:
Good luck, and happy writing!