Once upon a time, short story writers were king. Then came the long drought of decades upon decades. With electronic publishing, could that drought finally be over for good?
Not too long ago, literally a matter of a year or two, the question would have been ludicrous. Can fiction writers make a living from short stories?
A half century or more ago, there were some authors who were fortunate enough to make a living from short stories. O. Henry comes to mind, even Robert E. Howard, and any number of genre writers from the 1920s through about the early 1950s. That was roughly the time period when lots and lots of readers turned to magazines and other printed periodicals for entertainment. Detective stories were popular, as were some fantasy and Westerns and romance writings.
Then, for the longest time, the short story seemed to dry up. Or at least any money to be made from short stories dried up. Fewer and fewer people seemed to read in general, and fiction reading trends tended towards longer forms, most commonly the novel. Fewer and fewer magazines were paying much for short stories, and a lot of magazines went out of business. For the most part, many short story writers were limited to smaller publications that did not pay much or did not pay at all.
That might have changed.
With increasing interests in electronic publishing, the short story writer once more possibly has found his or her chance to thrive.
More and more writers, professionals and beginners, are turning to publishing electronically, generally working directly through Amazon’s Digital Text Platform or through such sites as Smashwords. Why would they do this? For lots of reasons. The writers don’t have to deal with publishers, generally the pay cut is larger (at least in incremental percentages) and possibly most importantly, the writers have much more control over their product. The author gets to decide the cover art, the cover blurbs, how the ebook is edited, etc.
So with this growth in the electronic publishing industry, more and more short stories are beginning to show up, as well as novels, in the electronic form. Some writers are giving away their short stories for free as a promotion to hopefully draw readers to the writers’ novels. Other writers are charging a dollar or less per short story. Yet other writers are bundling short stories together in groups, anywhere from a few stories to a couple of dozen, and selling those packages, sometimes for as little as 99 cents or less.
Does this mean short story writers are back on top? Not necessarily, but it does mean a short story writer is in a better position to be able to make a living only as a short story writer, probably in a better such position than nearly all short story writers in 50 years.
One can dream, can’t one? And even if the dream can’t become a reality, perhaps the challenge is enough in itself.