Challenge,  Fun Stuff,  publishing

A Challenge For Everyone for 2021…

My Challenge of 70 While I Am 70 Pushes Me…

So I got a comment about structuring a short story publishing challenge for 2021 for others, especially writers just starting out. And I think it’s a great idea for a bunch of reasons for most writers. So I thought I would go into the reasons and the idea here.

Challenge: Publish 52 Short Stories Stand Alone In 2021

Note, I did not say write, I said PUBLISH.

Stories would have to be stand-alone, most selling for $2.99 electronic and $4.99 paper. (Under 3,000 words sell it for $1.99… never 99 cents.)

A lot of writers I know have collections published which have stories in them that are not yet published stand-alone. Those would be easy to mine for stories for the challenge.

A lot of writers I know have unpublished stories sitting, waiting. Heck, a bunch of writers did the write 52 stories in 52 weeks challenge and haven’t got most of those out yet.

POINT #1… So to get to 52 stories, you might have to write a few a month, but most writers have a bunch to start this challenge.

POINT #2… It is the middle of November, so you would have 40 or so days to get ready to start. That means doing some covers ahead, maybe writing a few stories ahead. The key of the challenge is to publish stand-alone 52 short stories in 2021.

Maybe set this up to report in with couple of friends. Or put it on your web site and give each story away for one week like Kris does on her web site. Thousands of ideas to keep the challenge going for yourself.


Oh, wow, let me count the ways.

  1. If you managed to do this, you would increase your discoverability by a lot, gain more fans for years and years.
  2. If you managed to do this, you would be a lot better at designing covers quickly and finding the art for the covers, not counting layout and loading to sales sites.
  3. If you managed to do this and priced them correctly, you would make some nice money.
  4. If you managed to do this, your IP value of your writing would increase dramatically and that would last for 70 years past your death.
  5. If you managed to do this, and get them all into paper as well, you would have a ton of promotion material for years to come that could be used in hundreds of ways.
  6. If you managed to do this, your creative voice would be flying at full speed and you would have more novel projects and things you wanted to do than could be imagined.
  7. If you managed to do this, you would never question your ability to be a writer and publisher again.
  8. If you managed to do this, you would learn publishing schedules and focus and getting your stuff wide around the world.

So this is a great challenge for 2021. Unlike my publish 70 major books while I am 70 challenge, this short story challenge anyone can do and have fun with. And I highly suggest that you spend the extra hour a week to put each into paper because having 52 small short story paperbacks on your shelf by the end of the year will be so much fun.

And keep in mind, you can format, do a cover, and publish around the world a short story electronic in about two hours, faster after you have done some. Add an extra hour if you put it into paper.  So you could have a publishing day once a month, do four of them, and write the rest of the month. A perfect challenge in so many ways.

Have fun with it.

If it scares you, that’s good. If you don’t do it, you won’t have 52 books published by the end of 2021. But if you decide to do it… well… it will change everything for your writing and your business and your publishing, not counting your attitude.


  • Julie

    Dean, that sounds fantastic, but what about sending them to the professional markets first? For both the money and the free advertising?

    I agree with all your upsides but the downside seems to be that you’d miss the major benefits of being in the big magazines.

    • dwsmith

      Julie, this is not a WRITING challenge, this is a publishing challenge. Of course you should send all stories to major magazines first. That is a well-duh. So if you don’t have enough stories this year, you do this challenge next year and spend this year writing and submitting stories to magazines. Then when they come back you publish them. This challenge is for all those writers who have stories in collections, who have stacks of them that have gone through the major markets, so on. And that is far, far more writers than you can imagine.

  • Mihnea Manduteanu

    But…I don’t know anytrhing about (self) publishing 🙂 Nothing as in not the first thing.
    Love the challenge. My state of mind has always been novel / saga even prone; I never thought about short stories because my psychological making (went to therapy a lot for this) is for lengthy, almost neverending things so short stories didn’t seem to me to be worth it. Why start writing something that will end in 10 000 words?
    This challenge though…stirs something in me.
    But I don’t know anything about (self) publishing 🙂

    • dwsmith

      We have a publishing 101 class that in six weeks will give you everything you need to know. And remember, this isn’t a writing challenge, this is a publishing challenge. So might want to write a bunch of stories first.

  • Greg

    i might do this. I only published a couple of short stories last year, but really enjoyed them. Almost more than anything else. (And they’re two of my favorite covers!)

    Why $1.99? And why do you emphasise “never” 99 cents?

    Pricing is always a mystery the me. In fact, if you ever want to write something strictly on the tricks behind pricing your work, I’ll be the first to buy it.

    • dwsmith

      Greg, pricing is all perception. Think about a good bottle of wine you want to buy for dinner, to enjoy for a time. Where do you go to buy that good bottle of wine? I bet anything it isn’t the 99cent store. (grin)

      99 cent means shit, means poorly done work, means the writer or publisher does not care about that work. That is what 99 cents says to the reader.

      $2.99 is the price of a good burger. And if you put a $4.99 paperback linked to it, makes the $2.99 look cheap. Called comparative price shopping.

      Just always keep in mind perceived value to the reader.

  • Kelley

    I’ve literally never written a short story. 7 novels, across different genres, but not one short.

    Yep, it scares me. I always felt since I didn’t read them much, I wasn’t “qualified.”

    Also, I’m taking your Writing into the Dark series, and I’m terrified, frankly. Critical voice is killing me and I’ve plotted TWO books instead of writing anything (other than 1.5k for Nanowrimo that stopped me pretty short) to hide from me trusting myself.

    I guess this is more of a confessional?

    As always, thanks for everything and for issuing challenges like this.

    • dwsmith

      Kelley, do you read short stories in your regular world? If not, don’t bother with them. But the critical voice issue is deadly and will stop you cold in short order I’m afraid. Plotting and outlining is not writing. My question is simply “what are you afraid of?” It is far, far more embarrassing to say you want to be a writer and then not write then it ever would be to writing something that doesn’t work.

      And I find it interesting that writing is the only thing where the person doing it thinks they must be perfect from word one (and then wouldn’t know perfect if it slapped them.) Imagine Michael Jordon or Tiger Woods missing their first shot and quitting because it wasn’t perfect when they started out. Silly, huh? That’s exactly what you are doing. Being silly. Just go write and have fun and stop worrying about the results.

  • Jim Turnbo III

    This is priceless, and I hope everyone coming across Dean’s blog realizes this.

    My comment here is not so much a means for getting answers to my unanswered questions, but to use as an accountability tool as I embark on this fun adventure. (I bookmarked this post to revisit throughout the year. The comments are sometimes just as valuable as the post. There’s gold in thar hills.)

    My writing process, though tedious to date, consists of me dictating scenes/ideas in my phone, and then copying them onto Word (either on my laptop or phone.) This way there’s NO REASON to NOT write – every day. When ideas are flowing, I can dictate a couple thousand words an hour.

    (I suggest you stick with whatever process works for you. There’s a steep learning curve with dictation. I started it because my eyes bug out after too much time staring at screens.)

    When I get to my computer, I clean it up and use the “Read Aloud” feature on the newer versions of Word. This has turned into a priceless tool in my editing process. It’s quick and I pick up on so many subtle mistakes, and trips of the tongue when I hear it read back. (Plus, you know it will read well if you decide on audio versions of your works.)

    Once that’s finished, I run the scene through ProWritingAid (I use premium) and look for grammar issues or a spelling miss I didn’t pick up on before. Keep in mind, it’s easy to let online editors suck the life out of you. That’s why I never use 95% of its features. With that, as Dean teaches in Writing Into The Dark, by the time I’m finished, I have a clean manuscript to publish.

    Reading Dean’s: “Stories From July,” “Writing Into the Dark,” “Smith’s Monthly,” and “In Search of The Perfect organism.” I’ve gotten a pretty good idea about how to make a living with short stories after studying these works.

    In December I will try like hell to take the Depth in Writing and Writing with Speed workshops – if finances allow. 2020 has been, and continues to be, a serious strain – to help me gear up for this challenge.

    I know Canva quite well and will use it to make my covers. I took Dean’s advice (can’t remember where I read it) and found a site with public domain stories to create half title sheets. The site has about a 100 pages with about 800-1000 titles from the past. I’m going through the site and pick part of the titles and write what I like on my pad. Often, I’ll scan through my yellow pad and combine two of the half titles to make an original one.

    From there, I simply start writing until the story tells me to stop.

    2021 promises to be fun. By this time next year, I plan of having at least 52 stories published and their dates written on my “It Never Ends” sheet where I write the dates of my current published works.

    My only unsurety: a publishing schedule. Dean, you mention Kris posts a short on her site for a week, but what’s next? Does she publish it or license it another way when she takes it down?

    My thoughts are publishing every two weeks. That way I don’t bombard Amazon’s algorithm with new publications to the point where none of my stories get any real traction.

    In closing, if you’re new to Dean’s blog, then get ready. There’s more priceless advice here than you can digest. I stopped listening to other supposed gurus because they don’t live the recycled crap they teach. (Most of their info comes from successful authors who’ve enjoyed a long, lasting career as a storyteller.)

    View this blog as a k-12 education. The online courses… well, consider them a thousand times better than any Master’s Degree.

    Bring on January!!!!!

  • Philip

    I’m in! #7 alone makes this worth it. For writers who don’t have Vellum, I recommend using Draft2Digital’s free layout tool. All you do is load a Word file and in under a minute is spits out BOTH a darn good looking ebook file AND a paperback file.

    My biggest problem is art for covers. I design a pretty nice cover on Canva but 52 covers with art will be a big challenge. Hell, I’ll do it anyway.

    • dwsmith

      Philip, why is art the problem? You can get art for 50 cents to a buck on DepositPhotos and other places. And spread out over an entire year that shouldn’t be a problem finding the art. Not sure what you are worried about.

      • Julie

        I bought a plan from Deposit Photos for 80 images for $80 a few months ago and they just emailed me to tell me that they were for personal use only, even though they have a standard license. They said:

        “In case you are using the licensed images on behalf of your company or business – I’d like to recommend migrating to a company plan as only they cover business use.

        “Business use includes but is not limited to using images on your company’s/your clients’ website, social media, design works, advertising campaigns, etc.

        “The license of your current plan is intended for personal use only.”

        I’m very confused by that and will need to look into it but wanted to flag it up as an issue. Fortunately, I haven’t used any of the images.

        Seems like a massive bear-trap, though.

  • Christopher

    This is a nice challenge and one I’m going to do. Thanks for the idea, Dean. This is going to be a blast.

    • Tina Back

      Add salescopy to the necessities.

      (The salescopy workshop is super useful if you struggle with pimping your writing).

      I’ve been prepping for the “year of the singles” since I finished the short story challenge, so this post was timely. For what it’s worth, here are my prep steps:

      – Read the story.
      – Fix typos and incoherent blabbering (especially in the 5 minutes to deadline submissions)
      – Write 1-2 salescopy
      – Figure out where the story fits while it’s fresh in your mind (standalone, which collection, now-go-write-the novel/series). Make notes.
      – Fix a cover
      – Keep everything in the backlist catalogue you’re creating as you do this (a scrivener album for me due to excel aversion). Everything at a glance: wordcount, logline, tagline etc.

      This way everything is ready and easy to assemble when it’s time to publish.

      Well, that’s the plan for 2021 anyway 😉

  • Kari Kilgore

    What a great idea! I just looked over my last couple of collections last night, thinking I would get those short stories up individually before the end of the year.

    I like this a lot better. 🙂

  • emmiD

    I’m definitely scared about this because I do not even want to think about it.

    Which means I need to do it.

    Since my writing runs long–sometimes ever expanding, a planned short story turning into a novella–what happens with this. publish as part 1, pt2, and so on?

    • dwsmith

      Oh, heavens, no, emmiD. That’s just one story. Don’t break it apart. And this isn’t a writing challenge, this is a publishing challenge, remember. You never mix writing and publishing.

  • Philip

    Quick dumb question, Dean.

    What if we “accidentally” publish some novels or novellas as part of this challenge? Do they still count? I ask because of course I write into the dark so sometimes what I think is a short story could wind up being 25,000 words. I anticipate perhaps some of my short stories will do this on me.

    • dwsmith

      52 publishing books is 52 published books. Why not, set up the challenge any way you want. I have my Publish 70 While I Am 70 challenge set up to exclude individual short stories, only use major books. But I might just do this publish 52 short stories in 2021 challenge along with my 70 challenge. And limit it to only short stories on that side of the challenge.

      There are no rules and no sign-ups, set it up any way you want. Heck, if you don’t have enough stories, but got 26, then do the challenge to publish 26. Works great because having 26 things published in 2021 is a ton better than none.

  • Mary

    I don’t write a lot of short stories, but it might be worth practicing that in 2021. I can probably tease out some short story writing time every week and then 2022’s challenge can be to publish them. My husband always reminds me to be bold.

  • Edmund de Wight

    Well, I don’t have 52 waiting to publish but I will take this as a write and publish challenge for myself (not within 52 weeks – I can’t write THAT fast) but as a challenge to get 52 short stories written and then published afterward as quickly as I can.

    I just finished writing one this week so I’m off and running.

  • Shaun Kilgore


    Would it count towards the challenge to include stories that were published electronic already but hadn’t be in paperback edition to publish them in that format? I had a several early eBook stories that I didn’t have in paper yet.

    • dwsmith

      You can do anything you want. Set up the challenge so it works for you to get things published, that is the key.

  • James Palmer

    This sounds great. I’ve been tinkering with a few stories I started writing on my Alphasmart Neo. Plus I’m writing a novella I’m going to serialize to my patreon Patrons. Ray Bradbury decided to learn how to write by writing a short story a week every week for an entire year, figuring that it was impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row. I think I’ll try it.

    Plus you can do a print and ebook story collection of all 52 stories at the end of the year.

  • Roger Weston

    This is very exciting! I always wanted to write short stories. I’m at least considering this challenge. Even though I’m busy, this would be a lot of fun for 2021.

  • Christina Boufis

    I’m in! I have a few short stories that I’ve just completed based on your feedback from the Depth, Advanced Depth, and Writing into the Dark workshop assignments – basically you told me to write the next sentence and the one after that. And I did. Such simple and sage advice. And it worked! I was so suprised at what happened. I haven’t written a short story in 30 years and didn’t think I had it in me. Thank you and Kris for your phenomenal workshops. Yes, there is gold in your teaching!