All the way until someone online (who’ve likely never even written anything) tells you that 1) short stories don’t sell and 2) nobody reads short stories anyhow and 3) you should write a novel in the latest Hot, Trendy Genre instead of wasting your time.
What a load of crock.
You can make a living from selling short stories.
If you don’t believe me, check out Playing the Short Game by Douglas Smith. But let’s say that you want to use your stories to start building something bigger. What then?
First, you start submitting the story to magazines. Start with the biggest, most shiny magazines on your list (check The Submission Grinder to find markets). Work your way downwards, until you no longer think that the sale will bring you enough recognition, financial and visibility, to make it worth your while.
Because magazine sales are marketing in and of themselves. I.e., you’re getting paid to market your work! That’s a win-win if I’ve ever seen one 🙂
They’re not a huge source of visibility, as most magazines have rather limited readership today, even the free ones. But every time I get a story into Analog, I get one or two subscribes to my email list (remember to always have a link to your writer’s website in your bio).
And you also get the seal of approval of saying “previously published in Really Famous Magazine” on your story’s cover/blurb.
Then, once you either get your rights back (never sign away all your rights, or allow too long an exclusivity period – up to a year is standard), or you move on to the next stage in your sales plan. Here’s what you do:
Publish each story individually as a standalone, charging the low-end price, likely $2.99 if you intend to sell on Amazon, anything below that automatically puts you in the 35% bracket. Other distributors have other limits, but setting a short story price to $3 in the US/UK/Canada/Japan/Europe is a fair balance (other markets have other price ranges, do your research.)
Use a set layout for the titles and text on the cover, and a fitting stock image. DON’T splurge on custom covers, or even pre-made. Likely, they won’t make you enough additional money to pay for themselves.
Then, publish a collection with all five stories, pricing it at, say, $5.99. Same deal for the cover – stock image/illustration and your pattern of title/name/tagline. Change the blurbs of the individual stories to include “Or get all five stories for $5.99 – buy two, get three free!”
Now you’ve got six pieces that can show up in searches, each one able to draw readers to your world.
Also, I would recommend going wide with them, use Draft2Digital if you don’t want to create accounts with a bunch of different distributors. The reason I recommend Draft2Digital is that they charge a percentage of sales – no sales, no cost!
Now, you’re not looking to sell a million stories at $3. You won’t sell a million stories at $0.
Instead, you’re looking to build a fan base by A) having enough product for them to buy if they like it, and B) having enough product to increase your visibility.
Specifically, you want a fan base that’s trained that C) your stories cost money (they can’t whale them for free – yes, you can go to subscription services BUT NOT EXCLUSIVELY!) and D) you bring them extra value in some way (i.e. the collection).
Will each story sell a hundred copies in a year? Likely not. In a lifetime (or any significant time frame)? Likely yes. And the collection would likely sell another hundred copies. And each copy sold is a chance to turn a reader into a fan.
And fans are willing to buy a $3 short story…
Luck and Persistence!