Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Fiction Branding… Part 11

Short Fiction and Discoverability…

I said clearly in the last part of this series that short stories, standing alone, do not lead to major discoverability in the calculation of 20 to 50. Wow, I really wish they did.

However I left the impression that short fiction does not help in general discoverability and that is so, so far wrong as to be funny. Short fiction is a major source of discoverability, just not in the 20 books to 50 thousand thinking.

Let me start off with one major thing here that I will talk about later. NEVER PAY FOR PROMOTION OF ANY KIND.

You could make that a hard and fast rule and not hurt yourself in any fashion. Promotion should be free and make you money.

Let me repeat that for those of you stuck in doing stupid ads…

Promotion should be free and make you money.

But Dean… But Dean… But Dean… How to I tell people about my first novel?

You write the second one. Promoting your only novel is so stupid as to be laughable. Imgine walking into a store full of empty shelves and only one product on the shelf. Just one. That’s how stupid that is.

So how do I promote for free?

One way is to use short fiction…

With short fiction, do the following plus more of what you can think of while writing your first twenty novels…

  • 1… Mail all short stories to major markets with the idea they will sell (not get rejected.) This is by far the best promotion you can do for yourself. Costs nothing, makes money.
  • 2… After a year of two, if the story has not sold, publish it stand-alone for $1.99 or $2.99. (Never 99 cents.)
  • 3… After you have five or more stories published stand alone, do a collection of short fiction. (That counts as a major book. $5.99 or $6.00 cover price electronic.)
  • 4… Have a mailing list that people can sign up for and give every new sign-up a free short story.
  • 5… Have a Shopify store and give a free short story with every merchandise sale through your store.
  • 6… Do Kickstarters at times with your collections. We have done two this year so far, Romance Collides and Bryant Street. All short fiction that made us over $30,000 total.

And so much more. Be creative. For a decade now Kris has put up a short story on her web site every week and has not missed. Readers love it and it often sends readers to a series of hers to buy.

Short fiction helps a ton in discoverability and making readers happy. If you use it right.

But it must start by mailing every story you write to a major market, no matter what you think of it. Finish and mail.



  • Mike Zimmerman

    Dean, what’s the cutoff for a work counting towards discoverability? Is it word count, page count, price? If a 5-story collection counts, that sounds like the 15K+ word range…?

    • dwsmith

      Are you charging $5.99 and up and does it take a while for readers to read it and if they like it can they find more products like it???

      Not a clue about word count and honestly, readers won’t care either if it is a good read and worth the money.

  • James Palmer

    Great advice, Dean. You can also publish short stories for backers on Patreon, Substack, and Ream. Submitting to magazines can be a challenge because there are a lot less publications still around, and all of them have word count restrictions that exclude me right out of the gate as I tend to write a little long.

    I’ve got a story I’m really proud of, that got honorable mention in Writers of the Future, but it’s too long for every market for which it would be appropriate. But I do release stories as an ebook single on occasion, and I’ve done a Kickstarter for a collection, and I’m compiling more stories for a second one, so there is great utility in stories, and lots more we can do with them after (or instead of) submitting them to magazines.

    • dwsmith

      James, actually there are more magazine markets that pay 4 cents and up (professional rates) these days than there has ever been in the history of publishing. Even back in the pulp era.

      Back in the mid-late 1980s I could keep 70 plus different stories in the mail at the same time and today it would be even easier. So a myth about the magazines. But some writers are just too much in a hurry to go for great promotion that makes them money. Magazines for every story should always be first for any short story unless it is already sold to an anthology.

    • dwsmith

      Chris, anything that pays 4 cents a word and above. In all the history of publishing, right now has the most magazines for writers. Even better than the pulp days. It is a myth that there are very few markets.

      • Peggy

        May I ask, what metric is the 4 cent rate based on? As far as I can tell, SFWA’s pro rate is still 8 cents per word…and as I type that, the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if the powers that be at SFWA are deliberately keeping their pro rates high for some reason…

        I’m just curious why your pro rate appears so low, comparatively?

        • dwsmith

          SFWA is an organization run by baby writers who have no idea how the industry really works. Better to ignore them and stay away.

          4 cents per word means the magazine is investing money in paying writers and has a readership that will help you as a writer. And that they are doing their best to pay their writers up front. What difference does “pro rates” make? Just avoid pay-to-play or magazines that don’t invest anything up front and do royalty share. Those won’t help you.

          • dwsmith

            Oh, my… I was only hired by publishers in that same period of time and never got under $25,000 per project and sometimes more for a 80,000 word book or about 30 cents per word. (Wow, was I overpaid. (grin))

    • Kate Pavelle

      Chris, are you on Duotrope? It’s a platform that connects writers with short story markets for $5/month. You can search by genre, type of publication, and pay scale. You can also look up a magazine you want to ideally write for, and use their “more like this” suggestion feature. They have a submission tracker and a way to rate the magazines from the author point of view.
      I used to be on it and I am going back to it. Good luck, and enjoy the ride!

      • Emilia

        There’s also The Submission Grinder (free, possibly narrower range of market’s than Duotrope), and Authors Publish Magazine which sends a list of new publishers and anthologies seeking submissions.

      • A. J. Payler

        Don’t pay for a submissions tracker like Duotrope or any of the others, they absolutely don’t do anything valuable that Submission Grinder doesn’t do for free.

        $60 a year spent on Duotrope is money you could be spending way more productively in any number of areas that actually matter.

        • Mary Jo Rabe

          I have to respectfully disagree. YMMV, but Duotrope helps me to keep track of the 2195 entries I have made so far as well as to discover new markets.

  • Greg P

    This is great. I love reading short stories, and wrote a few early on when I was trying to find my path. Readers enjoyed them, and I had so much fun writing them. (at the time thinking I could be Raymond Carver. Or at least make some kind of living writing about everyday people/blue collar/real life/love.)

    But I followed the “guru” advice… find a niche genre, only write novels in long series…run ads…

    I recently rewatched both classic short story classes (yours and Kris’s) and am now challenging myself to get out at least one short story a week. But I’m going to write what I want to write… and also need to get over the fear of sending my work out there.

    That last part scares me a bit, but the thought of it is kind of exciting. Thanks Dean!