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Can Writers Make a Living From Short Stories Alone?

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.

Electronic books are growing in popularity, most notably by the ever-increasing sales of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader and other such devices, like the Nook from Barnes & Noble.

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.

Related links

There’s nothing wrong with writing for money

Logicaly Misanthropy, fantasy and horror author’s blog

SLICE, seven tales of horror

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44 Responses to “Can Writers Make a Living From Short Stories Alone?”
  • Val Mills
    May 31st, 2010 at 2:03 am

    This must be encouraging for some. Well done.

  • suhail
    May 31st, 2010 at 6:04 am

    yep you know what the epic days of making $ from short stories are actulaay long gone .. what remain in tact is the fun to read ! i am a horror genre fan … if you can recommend me some of your short pieces (the real gruesome one) i’d luv to read !

  • Emmie
    May 31st, 2010 at 6:52 am

    Hi,

    I think with publishing becoming more electronically based is a good thing- especially for people like us who write online.

    Good post and thanks for sharing

    Emmie

  • Guy Hogan
    May 31st, 2010 at 7:54 am

    I hope things do get better for short story writers. I write articles now but I’m really a flash fiction writer. I enjoyed the article.

  • Lucky Neena Firmansyah
    May 31st, 2010 at 9:49 am

    cool writing.

  • Jamie Myles
    May 31st, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I really love writing short stories so I hope that Your right in your analysis and that we who enjoy the genre will be once again be able to make a living doing what we love.

  • PR Mace
    May 31st, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    I love to write short stories but find non-fiction makes more money. My dream was to make a living off writing but for now I will keep my bill paying job and just enjoy what little extra money I make by doing sometime I really enjoy. Nicely written article.

  • K.D. Storm
    May 31st, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    It’s sad that the art of short stories is becoming a lost art :( . Good piece.

  • jharmon
    May 31st, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    That’s the thing, though, I believe short stories now have a chance to shine again.

  • Annie Hintsala
    May 31st, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Sigh. I suppose it could happen. You left Edgar Rice Burroughs off your list. That cat wrote everything in short stories for the mags. Tarzan, John Carter of Mars….The list goes on.

  • kingging
    May 31st, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Maybe we should all get together and put our shorties on audio? Please advise.

  • Uma Shankari
    May 31st, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Good update on electronic publishing.

  • jennifer eiffel01
    May 31st, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Thank you for the interesting article.

  • BeatsMe
    May 31st, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Nope. I don’t think writers can make living from short stories alone. But this sure is a good article and an interesting subject to read about.

  • gaby7
    June 1st, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Yeah! Depending on the quality of the short stories, I still believe one can make good earnings with short stories.

  • carloadriancanon
    June 1st, 2010 at 2:24 am

    I believe that through the advancement of technology, the lost art will soon rise up.

    Very good post.

    Thanks

  • patofgold23
    June 1st, 2010 at 3:07 am

    today… it’s a sad ‘no’…

    I write almost about anything..and in as much as I want to write about the things I love, like I do in Triond, it doesn’t earn me decent money..but at least I’m enjoying.

    But I still make a living from writing… for people who asks me to write about certain things they want me to write about (even if it is something I have no passion for at all)…

    too bad, that’s what works for me best right now. Gotta do what I have to do.. I have a son to feed.

  • goldie77
    June 1st, 2010 at 4:42 am

    kingging -what a great idea -have no idea how we could make this happen though.Personally, I love to write short stories and it would be a dream come true if I could earn even a little money from them

  • Fornis
    June 1st, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Marketing techniques for short stories are totally different from that for online informative articles. With the right technique one can make money from any category of writing. If one cannot hire an effective marketer, one should learn the right marketing techniques be it for short stories or non-fiction journals.

  • Skout
    June 1st, 2010 at 9:08 am

    No. :(

  • Leafygreens
    June 1st, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Interesting article. I didn’t know anything about Smashwords nor Amazon’s Digital Text site. I am going to look into those more carefully. Thanks for your info!

  • Kaitlyn Cavanaugh
    June 1st, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Really enjoyed reading your article. It’s interesting.

  • Sazooo
    June 1st, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    interesting article =)

  • sloanie
    June 1st, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Lots of useful information, thanks for the tips. Excellent article.

  • alinsaviuc
    June 1st, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Wouldn’t be nice? …….

  • Nisa West
    June 1st, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing this with writers. :)

  • Krissttina Isobe/Freelance writer
    June 1st, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks for the good news and an extra venue to write to make money! Your a life saver.

  • John McDonnell
    June 1st, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    I looooove short stories. They’re my favorite kind of fiction. I would love to be able to make a living from short stories, and I’m getting a book of my stories ready for Smashwords now. I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to the days when F. Scott Fitzgerald could make $10,000 for a short story from a magazine, but maybe writers will at least be able to make a respectable living at this craft.

  • Linvio
    June 2nd, 2010 at 2:39 am

    Not all writing dreams come true… too bad… but if one enjoys writing regarless of its income, then getting no great income out from does not matter at all…hmmm, maybe… hehe

  • carissimi
    June 2nd, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    love short stories.. reading them is like mini escapes … I believe they will become more popular again…

  • Holly Jayne
    June 2nd, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Thanks for an interesting article! I’ve been trying for over a year to get a couple stories published…. Maybe the electronic publishing may be something to look into.

  • William Ballard
    June 3rd, 2010 at 1:11 am

    I believe anything with passion behind could be turned around for a price. People want to buy something that ether relates to them or some thing that they can feel the passion behind. That is why art is such a great life. People buy what they feel they are connected to.

    Keep writing. :) Writing is an art that will never die out.

  • Netty net
    June 3rd, 2010 at 6:38 am

    It would be nice if more people read.

  • Peter Kanai
    June 3rd, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Good piece and I am really sure that the world is really changing with the new trends coming up everyday. I am a short story writer and I believe that we are heading somewhere.

  • SubtleHints
    June 3rd, 2010 at 8:17 am

    thanks for sharing this! :) it gave me new information about how to publish short stories and electronic publishing.. ^_^ I love reading short stories too, and it’s great knowing that at least now, they will have new ways to publicize their works.. :)

  • MaryEllene44
    June 4th, 2010 at 8:49 am

    This is a very informative piece. A lot of would be writers will definitely benefit from this. I love reading short stories because you can finish one in one sitting and you can do chores in betweens. I also would like to try to write a short story if I had time to spare. Great post! :) )

  • MartineP
    June 4th, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Thanks for sharing. Writing is just a hobby for me, but I might look a bit further into it.

  • thunz
    June 5th, 2010 at 4:37 am

    nice

  • Darlene McFarlane
    June 5th, 2010 at 9:44 am

    This is good to know. I have a number of short stories what were written for magazines and never sent. Maybe now is the time.

    Great information. I’m sure it will help many.

  • babygirl3605
    June 5th, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I have to look into this.

  • Converser Nihil
    June 6th, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I love writing short stories, but I’ve never found anywhere I feel comfortable publishing them beyond Livejournal. :/ Thanks for the article, I’ll definitely be examining these other avenues of publishing. :D

  • Lisa Gayagay
    June 12th, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Great article. Although I would have wanted more about where to publish short stories.

  • Aria
    June 20th, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Hi,
    I can see the massive interests from both sides; short story writers as well as short story fans. What I’m interested in here is how to bring those two together and save the short stories. I believe it is possible to make this happen with the increasing interests in electronic publishing.

    I just wanted to take the opportunity here to ask people whether or not they think an electronic magazine that is dedicated to short stories would be of anyone’s interests?

    Many thanks

  • RS Wing
    June 27th, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    All great points and something all creative writers should pursue. Good post of awareness.

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