Can You Sell a Short Story You Wrote?

Picture of Sophie Jarvis
Sophie Jarvis
content writer @Spines

In the expansive world of literature, selling a story you’ve written offers not just a potential income stream but also a pathway to establish oneself within the literary community. From flash fiction pieces that encapsulate an entire narrative in under a thousand words, to sprawling, science fiction stories and sagas that stretch the boundaries of imagination, the market for short stories is as diverse as it is dynamic. 

Whether you’re crafting tightly wound tales of suspense, exploring complex characters in literary fiction, or weaving otherworldly adventures in fantasy realms, there are numerous platforms and opportunities for writers to share and sell their work.

This article will guide you through the nuances of writing stories and selling written stories, specifically focusing on short stories across various genres. We’ll delve into the practical aspects of where and how to publish your short stories, discuss strategies to monetize them effectively and explore how these endeavors can contribute to building a sustainable writing career. 

By understanding the different types of stories—such as literary magazines, online publications, and contests—you’ll gain insight into how to navigate the literary world and increase your chances of both financial reward and critical recognition.

Understanding the Market for Short Stories

The literary landscape is rich with various forms of short stories, each catering to distinct audiences and market needs. At the core, short stories can be segmented into several key genres, each offering unique opportunities and challenges for writers.

Start Your Publishing Journey FOR FREE

Types of Short Stories

1. Flash Fiction: Typically under 1,000 words, flash fiction challenges writers to develop a concise but complete narrative. These stories require a tight, economic use of language to convey themes and character development quickly. Popular in online literary journals and contests, flash fiction appeals to readers who enjoy a quick, impactful read.

2. Literary Fiction: Often characterized by its focus on style, character depth, and contemplative themes, literary fiction short stories are frequently found in prestigious journals and magazines. These stories prioritize the exploration of the human condition, making them appealing to readers seeking thought-provoking, emotionally resonant narratives.

3. Science Fiction and Fantasy: These genres allow writers to explore speculative worlds, futuristic technology, and magical elements. Science fiction and fantasy short stories are commonly featured in genre-specific publications and anthologies, appealing to readers who write stories that crave escapism and imaginative plot constructs.

Current Market Trends

The market for short stories has seen several shifts with the rise of digital media. Online platforms have broadened the scope for publication and distribution, making it easier for writers to submit short stories and reach audiences globally. The resurgence of interest in audiobooks and podcasts has also opened new avenues for short stories, particularly those in genre fiction, which translate well to these formats. Additionally, the growth of mobile reading apps reflects a trend towards consuming brief, accessible literary content, benefiting the flash fiction format especially.

Demographic and Psychographic of Short Story Readers

The demographic profile of short story readers varies widely across genres. Young adults often gravitate towards science fiction and fantasy, attracted by the genres’ vibrant exploration of alternative realities. Meanwhile, middle-aged and older adults typically prefer literary fiction, appreciating the profound and reflective qualities of the narrative.

Psychographically, short story readers are often characterized by their intellectual curiosity and a penchant for diversity in reading material. They tend to value the ability to finish a narrative in one sitting, which complements today’s fast-paced lifestyle. Many are also habitual readers who frequent literary websites, subscribe to magazines, and participate in community discussions about recent reads.

Understanding these market dynamics is crucial for writers aiming to sell their short stories. By aligning their works with the preferences of these readers and staying informed about current trends, writers can strategically position their own short stories for money and in the right markets, increasing their visibility and appeal.

Where to Publish Short Stories

For writers looking to share their work with the world, understanding where to publish short stories is crucial. The landscape of nonfiction and publication opportunities is varied, encompassing literary magazines, online platforms, anthologies, and specialized genre publications.

Literary Magazines

Literary magazines, both in print and online, are traditional bastions for short stories. These publications typically cater to an audience that appreciates crafted narratives and sophisticated prose. Magazines may be generalist, accepting a variety of genres, or specialized, focusing on a particular literary style or theme. The submission process usually involves sending a manuscript during open calls or in response to specific themes, and the selection process is often competitive, with many magazines maintaining a rigorous peer review or editorial review to ensure high-quality content. Writers should be prepared to face rejection and use feedback to improve submissions. Notably, some literary magazines compensate contributors with payment per word, a flat fee, or copies of the publication.

Online Platforms and Digital Publishers

In the digital age, online platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) have revolutionized how writers distribute their work. KDP allows authors to self-publish their stories directly to Amazon’s vast marketplace, offering potential high visibility and earnings based on sales. The platform is particularly friendly to anthologies and collections, giving writers control over pricing, marketing, and royalties. This route requires more from the author in terms of marketing and promotion to stand out in a crowded market.

Anthologies and Short Story Collections

Anthologies are collections of short stories, usually curated around a specific theme, genre, or author. These are often published by established publishers or via community-funded projects like Kickstarter. Contributing to an anthology can be a strategic way to gain exposure, as the collective marketing efforts and the thematic cohesion attract readers interested in that particular genre or topic. Publishers typically pay writers and contributors a flat fee or a share of the royalties.

Specialized Publications for Genre Fiction

For genre-specific stories, such as science fiction or fantasy, specialized publications offer a tailored audience. Magazines and journals like “Asimov’s Science Fiction” or “Fantasy & Science Fiction” are revered in their respective genres and can be a significant career milestone for genre writers. These publications often have dedicated readerships and offer competitive payment plans, providing both exposure and financial benefits. Submission guidelines are usually strict, requiring writers to adhere closely to specified themes and submission windows.

Start Your Publishing Journey FOR FREE

Navigating the Publication Landscape

To maximize their chances of publication, writers should research each platform or literary magazine to understand their submission guidelines, editorial tastes, and what they offer in terms of readership and payment. Networking with other writers and participating in writing workshops can also provide insights and opportunities for submissions. Additionally, writers should consider the benefits of each type of publication—while literary magazines can enhance a writer’s literary reputation, online platforms may offer broader readership and more direct revenue streams.

Ultimately, choosing where to publish should align with a writer’s career goals, the style of their work, and their aspirations for audience engagement. Each publication route offers different benefits and challenges, requiring writers to be proactive and persistent in their efforts to get published.

Selling Written Stories

Selling Written Stories: How to Sell Short Stories

Selling short stories is both an art and a strategic endeavor. To increase the chances of your work being accepted by publishers, a meticulous approach to crafting, refining, and submitting your short stories online is essential. Here’s a detailed guide on how to prepare and sell your short stories effectively.

Preparing Your Story for Submission

1. Honing Writing Skills: Before even considering submission, ensure your writing is polished and compelling. Regular practice, reading widely within and outside your genre, and perhaps most importantly, seeking feedback from writing groups or workshops are crucial. These resources provide diverse perspectives and can help identify areas for improvement in your writing.

2. Understanding Word Count Limits: Most publications have strict word count requirements to accept submissions. Whether it’s a 1,000-word limit for flash fiction or a 5,000-word limit for more substantial stories, knowing and adhering to one story due to these limits is crucial. Tailoring your story to fit within these boundaries without compromising narrative quality is a skill that comes with practice and precision.

3. Refining Writing Style: Each magazine or journal has a few reasons for its unique style and audience. Before submitting, study previous publications to get a sense of what might appeal to their readership. This doesn’t mean changing your voice entirely but rather adapting the presentation of your story to meet the publication’s aesthetic and thematic preferences.

Navigating Submission Guidelines

1. Researching and Selecting Venues: Identify where your story may fit best. This involves researching various literary magazines, online platforms, and special calls for submissions. Look for publications whose themes and styles resonate with what you’ve written.

2. Following Submission Guidelines Strictly: Each publication has specific submission guidelines. These can include formatting preferences (like font type and size), how to track submissions, including contact information, and whether or not simultaneous submissions are allowed. Following these guidelines meticulously is critical as non-compliance often leads to automatic rejection.

3. Cover Letters and Bios: Most submissions require a cover letter. This should include a brief bio, any relevant publishing history, and a concise description of your story. Keep it professional and to the point.

4. Tracking Submissions: Keeping a track record of where and when you’ve submitted your stories is vital. Use a spreadsheet to note submission dates, expected response times, and any feedback received. This will help you manage follow-ups and resubmissions effectively.

Start Your Publishing Journey FOR FREE

Leveraging Contests and Calls for Submissions

1. Entering Writing Contests: Many organizations host writing contests that can provide visibility and sometimes substantial monetary awards for short story writing competitions. Contests are excellent for challenging yourself and can be a significant credential if you place or win.

2. Responding to Calls f