On Writing,  publishing

The New World of Publishing: Helping Readers Find Your Work

This is the third article in a series. In the first article, I suggested that writers should just stop begging at the doors of traditional novel publishers. I was talking about novels and only novels.  In the second article I talked about how a person could make a living writing only short fiction. So now I’m going to go on here for a minute about the value of doing short fiction in this new world. And the incredible value of selling your short fiction to some traditional publishers.

It seems to me that everyone out there in blog land yells about visibility.

This article is about helping your writing be found by readers. In other words: visibility.

An Example I Have Seen Hundreds of Times Already: A young writer finishes a first novel, pays to have a cover done (because they are too afraid to learn how to do it themselves) and then puts the novel up electronically only, thus hitting only about 20% of all readers.

The young writer then tells their two hundred Twitter followers a few dozen times that the book is out, pounds their Facebook page, and then complains they have no idea how to get their book through the mass of other books because their sales suck.

Yup. And chances are, since the book is a first book, the book sucks as well. This is an international profession and it does take time to learn how to tell a professional-level story, even if your English teacher told you that you could write. There is a ton more to telling professional stories than just stringing a bunch of pretty sentences together. Honest.

But let’s ignore the ego of beginning fiction writers who think their first book should sell thousands of copies and just talk about how to get through the visibility issue that every writer faces.

Method #1

Numbers… (That’s numbers of titles available for sale.)

And then make sure all of them are branded titles… (You know, so readers know your books and they look similar…walk into any store and look at a row of books from the same bestseller and notice how their books look the same. That’s what you need to do as well.)

So method one is simply to have available numbers of branded novels and stories under the same name in the same genre.

How many?


Sometimes writing in series helps. But no matter what, you need enough titles for a feedback loop to start, where readers find one book and then over time buy the rest of the books. (This assumes, back to the ego part, that you have written books people enjoy reading.) Sometimes feedback loops start with ten to twenty titles, or less in a series. Sometimes it takes over fifty or more titles.

And again, even with fifty, if you have those fifty titles spread out over five names and every cover looks different, and you don’t have them branded to genre, no number of titles or writing in series is going to help you much I’m afraid. Sorry.

So in other words, there is a lot to this publishing business. And that’s right, it is a business. (Lost a bunch of writers right there.  Wave goodbye…)

So, to solve this problem, write more. Learn how to write better stories. (Not pretty sentences.) Write stories at all lengths. Write under one name if appropriate. (There are reasons for pen names… I spent an entire lecture in our lecture series, ten videos, talking about all the things that go into the very personal decision to take a pen name.)

And since every writer I know is in a hurry, sometimes write short fiction. Or shorter fiction. And if you don’t know how to write anything but novels, stop whining and making excuses and learn how. You’re a writer, aren’t you? Some stories only need five thousand words to be told.

Here are some good old math numbers people love to hate:

Say you are a mystery writer. Write one short story per week.  Put every short story up in electronic form with your name branded (meaning the same on every book… if you don’t know what I mean by that, look at these covers from a few posts back.)

So at one new per week, you will do five titles in five weeks. (You will have to learn how to do your own covers and launch books yourself to do this… and price them at $2.99 electronic.)

Every five weeks put five stories into a collection, get it up electronically, and out in paper. Price the collection at $6.99 electronic and paper at $12.99.

End of the year you will have 52 short stories up and ten collections.  And you will be starting to cut through the noise and visibility issue.

But it will only be a start. Most of it will depend on how good your covers, your branding to correct genre, and how good your storytelling ability is.

Method #2

Sell stories to traditional magazines and anthologies.

Here is the ugly truth. You need to write good stories and then people need to find your stories and enjoy them and want to read more. And then find more. No amount of blogging or tweeting or posting on Facebook will change that.

But selling to magazines and anthologies will help you find new readers. And readers who like the subject, the genre, you are writing in.

For example: To put a 1/3 page ad in Asimov’s and Analog Magazines, the cost is just under $1,000.00. Not bad, actually, since you get into both magazines. WMG Publishing did it a year ago to announce Kris’s new Retrieval Artist novel, Blowback, since she had been publishing short Retrieval Artist stories there, and had won the Reader’s Choice Awards for both magazines at different times.

But say you sell a story to Asimov’s Magazine. Or Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Thirty-to-fifty thousand readers will see your story. And you will be paid nicely for the opportunity to let those readers see your story.

So a percentage of those people pick up the most recent Asimov’s Magazine and read your story and like it. The first thing they do in this modern world is go online to see what other work you have available that is similar to what they just read.

That is priceless advertising!!!

You get paid nicely to get your work to readers who have similar tastes. Targeted advertising. It doesn’t get any better.

And here is the questions I can hear being shouted…

1… But Dean, what about the contracts?

2… What about the time delay it takes to submit and be rejected?

3… What happens if they won’t buy something from me? I’ve wasted all that time.

Okay, okay, I’ll take those questions one at a time.

1… What about the contracts?

For the most part, short fiction markets have gone exactly the opposite direction as traditional book publishers. They only buy first serial or first anthology rights (meaning you can’t have published it first, unlike book publishing) and they revert the exclusive story rights anywhere from two months to a year after publication.

They usually keep non-exclusive rights to keep the story in the anthology or magazine after that reversion, but that keeps up the advertising and you can put the story up yourself and in your own collections after the few months have passed. No magazine worth their salt buys anything but what they need, and then they release exclusive rights quickly.

The contracts are easy and short. The first few times you might want to have an experienced person look them over. But other than that, they are simple.

But stay with the top magazines in each genre.

2… What about the time delay it takes to submit and be rejected?

You people ever put down a “smart bet” anywhere? This is the same thing.

Examples of good or smart bets: Insurance on the pass line on craps. Or doubling down on an eleven in blackjack. Or playing the lottery when the odds are 1 in 240 million-to-one on winning, but the jackpot is 500 million. (Think it through.)

All decent odds bets, all smart. You lose a lot of them. Yup.

Now, what about the odds bet on submitting to traditional magazines?

Say you put a story up electronically? You sell five copies per month and make $10.00 per month total on that story because you are pricing your story at $2.99.  So in one year you will have made $120.00 at that rate from that story.

So you take the same story and spend a year sending it to three or four or five top magazines. One of them buys it, you get $500 give or take in actual cash, and you get fantastically expensive advertising for all your other work. Advertising that is hard to put a figure on. You know, real promotion.

So if your story sells 5 copies per month indie, for a year of submission time you are risking about $120.00 in lost income. But the payoff is fantastic.

If you sold even one in five stories, the money would break even. And the advertising of having a story in a major magazine with thousands of readers would be pure profit.

That’s called a good bet in my opinion because the return so outweighs the risk.

3… What happens if they don’t buy from you? I’ve wasted all that time.

Well, first off, keep trying with new stories. And keep working to be a better storyteller.

I still get rejected all the time. Nature of the business. Rejection means little.

As far as wasting time, well that question comes from every writer’s desire to rush everything. And what I find most interesting is that the writers who really say and think this are the writers who won’t spend the “time they are saving” writing more stories. Instead they will spend it online pestering their few friends to buy a copy of something.

And those of you still covered in the myth that traditional publishing gives you some sort of credibility, well sell short stories to major traditional publishers instead of novel publishers. You don’t need an agent or a lawyer for a contract and traditional magazines don’t try to force you to not write other stuff.  In fact, once you get in the door, they want more and more stories from you because the readers of their magazines want more and more of your work.

And that will get you the credibility your ego so desires.


There are two major ways to use short fiction to help cut through the visibility problem all writers have.

Method one requires you to write a lot, know covers, and get your work up branded so readers can find it.

Method two requires you to write a lot, know covers, and get your work up branded so readers can find it after they have read one of your stories in a major magazine.

Yeah, I know, sounds like a ton of work, doesn’t it?  It is. And that’s why this is called a profession.

But trust me, getting your work to targeted readers of a major magazine who like the kind of story you have written is priceless promotion.

So, stop begging at the doors of traditional NOVEL publishers and spend the time to get your short fiction going to traditional magazine markets. Your short fiction will promote your indie novels.

And when you go on Facebook, you can tell your followers to pick up your latest story in a magazine. It will give you a ton of credibility.

And besides, selling short stories to magazines and anthologies is a lot of fun.


Copyright © 2013 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.  I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie. 

In fact, this article is about 2,000 words long. I could have written a short story in the same amount of time.

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