Is Kindle the Best New Market for Short Stories?

Over the past week, I’ve quietly updated two Exciting Press titles, my short stories “Blues’n How to Play’em” and “A Song for Bedtime,” the latter of which began its life as “Struck by the Light of the Son.” Both had been included in the Sparks anthology I published with Simon Smithson in December 2010, and both later became the first standalone stories published by Exciting Press.

Both have taught me a lot about the market for short stories, and why Kindle might just be the best way to target that market.

When I first published my self-titled collection in March 2007, one of my reasons for doing so was that I’d written several short stories and essays at USC, all of which I thought were strong and worth sharing. The problem, as I saw it, was that the options for sharing seemed limited; at the time, websites and online literary magazines were either nonexistent or nascent, the app store didn’t yet exist, and the print world seemed a problem, too.

With print, it seemed to me that there were two (three, at most) options: either one submitted to tiny literary magazines only writers who submit to them have ever really heard of and got paid in contributor copies if one got paid at all, or one submitted instead to one of the big glossies, like The New Yorker or The Atlantic, which pay well and reach a wider readership, for sure, but I imagine I don’t need to tell you how difficult it is to get work accepted there. The chances are astronomical, and one reason is because that’s where all the best writers in the world send stories. There are myriad other reasons besides, I’m sure.

The third option split the two, to some degree: smaller literary magazines that paid, perhaps, a couple hundred bucks and probably even made it to the periodicals shelves at Barnes & Noble.

Back then, I thought maybe I could figure out a better way. Five years later, I’m rather convinced I have.

I tend to go back to reasons and motivations. One major reasons (besides maybe some cash, and maybe some validation) writers submit to those aforementioned publications is the credit of having been published there in the first place. Those publication credits make the biographical section of query letters to agents stand out. If your introduction and synopsis caught an agent’s attention, the fact that you’ve been published in one of those magazines makes queries even more attractive. That’s the general belief, anyway.

That seems well and good, but for me personally . . . that’s not where my motivations are. I’m not sure I’ve ever taken a job just because I thought it would look good on my resume at some point. Mostly, I’ve taken jobs because I thought I could do them well, and they seemed interesting and challenging.

So when it came time to figure out how to get short stories out there, publication credits were never really part of my motivation. I don’t tell stories for publication credit. I tell stories hoping they find readers and hopefully entertain/move/inform them in whatever ways they might.

Back in 2007, there was no good way to do it. My collection did well over five years, don’t get me wrong, but I always had the sense it was really close to what I’d wanted to do but not quite there yet.

This has now changed.

Five years after its publication, I took that collection down, broke it apart, and published pretty much everything in it, somehow, in a new way, with new work. For example, there were five pieces of flash fiction in the collection: they became How the World Will End & other flash fiction, a $2 nano-collection with all five stories contained therein. The two stories focused on C. Auguste Dupin and the death of his creator became Jamais Plus: Explorations of the Curious Case of the Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe.

I think this works well for a number of different reasons, the most major of which is diversity. Rather than only having two novels available for purchase, readers who browse my work (what? It could happen) have options. If they’re interested in poetry, they have four different titles. Non-fiction? Three collections of essays and an academic exploration of the history of medical education and its influence on two prominent writers.

That diversity is not limited solely to format and genre, either, and I feel neatly sidesteps a debate a lot of writing and publishing insiders are having with regard to ebook pricing. Basically: theories abound, but it’s all over the place. You have a camp who feels 99c is a great price for an ebook while another fears 99c ebooks devalue authors, stories, and writing. Then you have the camp who feels (rightly) that the cost of an ebook is about more than just the materials in it (mainly because there aren’t any materials in it). And then there’s the DoJ accusing corporate publishers of colluding to raise ebook prices to $9.99 and higher (evidence seems strong to support the DoJ’s argument).

Me, I think ebooks are a lot like mass market paperbacks. They’re cheap to produce and hopefully they’ll sell as well, and I remember back when the cost of a mass market paperback increased from $6.99 to $7.99. I was disappointed. Suddenly I couldn’t buy as many books as I wanted, which meant I didn’t read as much as I wanted. Which is one reason I like the $4.99 price for a novel. I know how much was invested into the book in terms of education, time, and editing, and I feel it’s a fair price.

And for all the people who love 99c ebooks, there’s plenty there. Two short stories. And that’s only my stuff. Exciting Press has half a dozen short stories available for 99c.

And you know what? Not only do they sell well, but their sales have increased every month since we published them, and so have the sales of our other work. That’s why we picked up Martin Lastrapes’ short stories, and Miya Kressin’s trilogy of novellas.

It ties directly into this New York Times article, “Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year Is Slacking”. Because one major idea I noticed was missing from that article was that, now, short stories and novellas are books, too. Since signing Nick Earls and publishing half a dozen of his titles in December alone, Exciting Press has grown to include nearly 30 titles already, and my wager is we’ll manage to publish 50 during our first year alone. One other major note: one doesn’t need to write multiple titles every year so much as it’s helpful to have them published and available.

And really, that helps grow careers. Which is why I think Kindle is so great as a new market for short stories. In sheer terms of discoverability, access, and ubiquity, it’s a powerful engine that attracts not just sales but, more importantly, new readers. It’s much more agile, too. Because here’s the thing: you could write a short story, edit it, get it edited by a qualified editor, submit it to magazines, wait, get rejected, revise, submit again, wait again, get rejected again, revise again, submit again, send again . . .

Or you could write that story, edit it, get it edited by a qualified editor, revise it, and then submit it Kindle Direct Publishing and have it up for sale all over the world in two days.