Write and Sell Short Stories

Anna Spooner
Woman Writing

There are a lot of great reasons to write short stories. Many of the best novelists wrote short stories first, and it's how they honed their craft. Short stories serve as great practice for writing longer pieces. But they also have another great benefit - they don't take as long to write as novels! So, if you want to make money from your writing soon, short stories may be the way to go.

Deciding to Write Short Stories

Choosing what form of writing to take up can seem like a major decision, but you don't have to make it bigger than it is. Because a short story is generally between 1,000 and 5,000 words, you can actually evaluate your idea to help you decide if it's best for a short story or a novel:

  • Time Frame. Most short stories focus on a limited amount of time within the plot, perhaps a single day or a week.
  • Number of Characters. Great stories develop their characters from start to finish, so a short story should be limited to just a few main players.
  • Plot. Short stories have one plot, or maybe one and a half if you want to put a twist in it. There there simply isn't room for multiple storylines in a short story.
  • Theme. Your short story should be focused clearly on a single, impactful theme.

Of course, if you want to make money from your writing, short stories will allow you to submit more work in less time than drafting complete books. Most importantly, though, writing short stories can help make you a better writer, which can mean that your future novel will be easier to write and more quickly accepted.

Short Story Markets

It's best to know what market you're writing for before you create your short story. That way you'll be able to focus the message, character, and plot to the appropriate group of readers. There are a variety of options open to writers.

Magazines

Submitting your short stories to magazines can be a great way to get paid for your work. Fees vary by publication, and some do not pay anything for unsolicited submissions.

Many publications publish short stores. A few reputable places to consider starting with include:

  • The Threepenny Review focuses on arts, society, literature, memoir, and essays. They pay $400 for short stories and $200 for Table Talk works.
  • One Story is just that - a publication that puts out a single short story every three to four weeks. Stories can be any subject or style but should be between 3,000 - 8,000 words. They pay $500 plus 25 contributor copies.
  • The Antioch Review only publishes a few short stories per issue, but if you're accepted you'll earn some money and a ton of credibility. They pay $20 per printed page plus two contributor copies.
  • AGNI provides an outlet for short story writers who want to engage in conversations about culture and humanity. Shorter is generally better, and they pay $10 per printed page (up to $150). Compensation also includes a year's subscription to AGNI, two contributor copies, and four gift copies.
  • The Cincinnati Review looks for writers at every career level, as long as they produce energetic and rich work. Submissions should be no more than 40 double-spaced pages, and pay is $25 per page.

Of course, there is value to being published by big-name magazines that may not pay for unsolicited submissions, too. Both The New Yorker and The Atlantic accept unsolicited submissions, so don't be afraid to submit a short story to them. They may not pay you to publish your work, but the prestige of being published in big-name magazine could be a boost to your writing career.

Short Story Contests

Another way to write and sell short stories is through entering short story contests. Most offer a cash prize, although some offer non-monetary incentives.

Warning: Be careful about entering contests where you have to pay a fee to participate, as these are often scams. Even those that aren't may not offer you enough value for your money. An entry fee of more than $25 for a contest is suspicious. Sticking to well-known contests with long track records can help you avoid scams.

A few annual short story contests to consider include:

  • Writer's Weekly offers an annual short-story contest that requires you to write on a given topic within 24 hours. There are 85 different prizes available!
  • The Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition has been around for over 30 years and is judged by the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway. The top prize is $1,000 plus publication in the Saturday Evening Post!
  • Writer's Digest is a well-known magazine that hosts an annual short story contest. Winners are published in the magazine, win $3,000, and get a trip to the Writer's Digest conference.

When you enter a short story contest, make sure that you maintain the rights to your story if you don't win. Some contests want to publish every work that's entered, which may not be to your advantage. While the visibility could be great, this kind of arrangement keeps you from being able to submit your work for payment elsewhere.

Self-Publishing

The advent of self-publishing has loosened the grips of big-name publishers on accessibility, but it may not be the best option for writers who are just starting out. If you're working in short stories and you're not yet well-known, self-publishing will mean a lot of marketing and visibility work on your part, and you're not guaranteed to make any money off the venture.

While self-publishing can be a great way to maintain creative control of a novel and get a book to market faster, it may make the most sense for new writers to submit their work to publications with existing readers and receive payment from them. Once you've gained some regular readership through other avenues, though, you could certainly start to self-publish.

There are two primary ways to self-publish short stories: using an e-commerce tool to publish on your own website or publishing on Amazon via Kindle.

  • On Your Website. You'll need a website with an e-commerce tool like Gumroad, which allows you to sell digital products via your site. They take a small fee for each sale. As of December 2016, their fee was 3.5% + $0.30. You also have to pay a $10 per month maintenance fee. As a result, you'll need to be able to price your work reasonably well to use this route.
  • On Amazon. Amazon has the benefit that it gives you the option to sell both digital (Kindle) and print copies. The company's CreateSpace makes it easy to upload and format your story. They print and ship copies on demand, so you don't need to invest in or keep an inventory. You can earn between 35% - 70% of the purchase price, depending on the options you select. Just keep in mind that most short stories sell on Kindle for between $0.99 and $1.99 per copy, so you'll need a lot of volume to make money.

If you choose self-publishing, it's probably best to have a collection of short stories that you can sell as a book. That way, you'll be able to price your work higher, which will allow you to earn better profits from your efforts.

Writing Short Stories for Sale

Every publication has its own guidelines, and you should carefully follow them. As a result, it's generally best to decide where you plan to submit your work before you write your short story. Key considerations in publication guides include:

  • Woman with a magazine at a bookstore
    Word count
  • Genre
  • Tone
  • Focus
  • Themes for upcoming issues
  • Whether to send a query or a full story
  • The open-submission time frame
  • Whether you retain the rights to your story if it is published

Practice Makes Perfect

It can take a long time to hear back from publications, so don't be afraid to keep writing and submitting while you wait. With practice, you'll become a better writer and be able to write (and sell!) short stories more effectively.

Write and Sell Short Stories