Thursday, June 29, 2017

Self-pubbing short stories

I’m the kind of guy who’s always been of the mindset that traditional publishing is the way to go. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had opportunities to speak with several indie authors and I love that they’re earning a living (far more of a living than I am with my day job) doing something they love. If I were any other kind of person I’d be jealous and rushing to join their ranks. Thankfully, patience is my middle name.

I’ve written and “trunked” three novels over the past four years for various reasons. I’ve had some short stories published, but nothing professional (i.e., no payment for the publishing). I’m currently working on (what I plan and hope to be) a series of novels I believe will not find themselves in the trunk. (In other words, I feel like I’m on the brink of some kind of success).

With this series, and more importantly the first book, I’m on the fence about whether to pursue self-publishing. For reasons stated here and here, I feel I want to continue with my die-hard pursuit of a traditional publishing contract. However, given all the buzz from the indie world (and some buzz from folks I’ve spoken with in the traditional world) I fully understand the need for an author to have an ability to promote and market his or her work, despite publishing options. With that in mind, I’ve been developing a website and working toward building an email list specifically to help with this promotion and marketing.

I realize this seems more a self-publishing tradition, but I assume (perhaps wrongly) that it wouldn’t hurt a traditionally published author to have a bit of a following. To help generate that following, I intend to offer short stories as a lead magnet to entice people to join my mailing list, etc. I’m also toying with the notion of self-publishing several other short stories and novellas to continue generating interest until (not if – fingers crossed) the first book is published.

Here's my question: given all the talk we’ve had about how bad self-publishing gives you baggage (and realizing that I would treat these short stories as professionally as I would a novel) would self-publishing shorts in this way be detrimental to a future traditionally published career? (i.e., I’m concerned about all the talk we have about sales figures from a previously self-published author with a second book being the “baggage” agents and publishers won’t want to touch.) I want to be proactive, but I’m also afraid (woodland creature)

My instinct tells me to be cautious, but it also says that shorts are a different animal than novels so I might be okay.

You're just not phrasing this correctly. Here's what you mean to say: I'm building my mailing list by publishing work that will appeal to people who will want to read my novel.

Once you phrase this correctly, you understand this is a very good thing, and huzzah to you for taking the promotion bull by the horns and giving him a waltz around the dance floor.

Far from being a detriment, this is something that would make me sit up and take notice in a query. You don't need platform to sell a novel, but if you include "I have a robust mailing list of 500+ readers" in your bio, well, yes, that makes my fin wriggle.

And if you need an example of a guy who's doing this, you need look no further than Jeff Somers.  Follow his Twitter feed to see how he promotes his self-pubbed stories, and builds his mailing list.  Jeff is a lot of things (likely drunk, likely pantsless, likely to be eaten by zombie cats after the apocalypse) but not proactive isn't one of them. He calls himself lazy; I roar with laughter when he does. Watch what he does, not what he says.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Okay, so let me get this straight.
I don’t drink. I take my pants off, always with the lights out. The only cat I had died year ago, with no hint of late night roaming while exhibiting an insatiable thirst for my blood.
The only reading list I have is buried somewhere in a newspaper’s stats.
I’m lazy, I’m boring, I’m screwed.

Good luck OP.
You are braver than I.

AJ Blythe said...

2NS, I cannot wait to read your book.

OP, good on you! I've nothing to add, other than best of luck with all you are doing.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Good luck, Opie. You have ambition and that is a good thing. Le Sharque here has told us what makes her fins happy.

And, I'm just amazed at how well detachment serves to cut through and succinctly state the sentences and paragraphs a woodland creature stews and stews over. I am in great admiration of Janet's phrase here's what you mean to say and her restatement. Of course, that is Janet's voice. Not Opie's voice. The Kill Zone blog had this same theme yesterday in the form of taglines and loglines and blurbs, oh yes.

This authorship quest we Reiders are on? holycow. Writing a novel is like juggling sand.

Colin Smith said...

Opie: Sounds like you're trying to go into all this with eyes wide open and trousers up and buckled. As long as you understand the slings and arrows of self publishing, you should be fine. All the best to you!! :)

So... mailing lists... do I need one? I mean, at this stage in my writing career (i.e., unfinished novel, short story rejections, no prospect for even an agent on the horizon, let alone any kind of publishing deal...)? I mean, I can't imagine what people would want to hear from me. "Hello, it's me again. I got another rejection for a short story! And... I maybe wrote another paragraph in the novel, but I'll probably delete it in edits. Doctor Who was good, though, wasn't it? Ummm... see you next month!" Hardly "Oooo! Can't wait to pre-order the novel!" stuff. More like, "Was I drunk when I signed up for this bozo's verbal swill? Do I hate my inbox that much?"

As for Jeff Somers, I heartily concur with everything his agent says about him. At least the nice things. The other things are her prerogative. :)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

My nearest and dearest writing friend laughs and scolds me when I call myself lazy, so I empathize with Mr. Somers here.

I can park my butt somewhere and crank out the novels, the stories, the social media interaction, null sheen, chummers. I doing the dishes? The laundry? I don't know about Jeff Somers, but that's what I mean when I call myself lazy. Oh yes, I'll write. I'll write things nobody else wants to read, and "assignments" from the storytellers in the game I'm in, and novels I plan to self publish and the novel I'm still querying. But outside of writing, I am lazy as hell.

(I also had the exciting/terrifying thought yesterday: what if I rewrote that whole novel from the other perspective? What if I added a second POV? It's third person anyway. What if I drive myself nuts fiddling? Ugh.)

MA Hudson said...

The mailing list. Ugh. I've got a website, I'm on Instagram, starting on FB and twitter, but I need a mailing list too? Yikes. I'm with Colin - why would people want to hear from an unpublished writer?
Not whining, just bamboozled. I will sally forth and give the darned thing a go anyway.

Joseph Snoe said...

Jeff Somers give me hope. I'm lazy, too.

OP, I have this sneaky feeling your future in the publication world is having your novels published; and my future is reading your novels.

Theresa said...

Colin, you have an active blog with followers, right? You could start building a mailing list from your followers and use something like Tiny Letters to send out a periodic roundup of favorite blog posts and other news, maybe including some unpublished stories, etc. I need to pull together a mailing list before my next book comes out. It is a good way of building a reader base.

french sojourn said...

Brilliant post, advice, and comments today. A blinkin trifecta, thanks JetReid!

cheers Hank.

John Davis Frain said...

As I was reading this post, I was sure hoping for a particular answer.

Thank you, Janet, for coming through.

I also notice the label at the end: "writer anxieties." I wonder how many hits that category will give you. My guess -- hours of endless posts.

Time to find the bar! I mean, Jeff Somers. Sorry, I'm just being redundant now.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Good information. No sleep last night, brain on vacation so I will need to absorb this later. Just in case one of my book babies finds the light of day.

CynthiaMc said...

True confession: I hate mailing lists.
I still belong to some either because I like the person and know it helps them or because I need the information to stay current.

Housework is great for curing writer's block. If I get stuck I go clean something. My brain gets bored and delivers plot after plot.

The older I get the less inclined I am to do anything for free. The more of my old newspaper columns I unearth the more I think "I should've done more with this." The more paid stuff I unearth the more I think "I definitely should've done more with this."

Clearly my word of the day is More.

Wishing you all more writing and more income from it.

Casey Karp said...

I wasn't crazy about the idea of doing a mailing list either. But if Fearless Leader says we need a mailing list (when She says "should have" I read "must have"), well...

So once a month I babble incoherently about something vaguely related to writing for a couple of hundred words, toss in a similarly-sized excerpt from my current WiP to whet appetites, and send it out.

It's not nearly as painful as I expected. And the list is growing. Slowly enough that it's not ready to mention to agents, but growing.

Seriously, it's an investment in my future, just like the website.

Which reminds me: I need to go babble for a bit. July newsletter comes out Monday, and it'd be embarrassing if there was nothing in the email.

kathy joyce said...

I'm learning. Even if it's not your full-time job, writing is a full-time job!

Susan said...

Not sure I like the thought of any books I write and publish as baggage no matter how they fare out in the world, but that's a rant for another day...

I'm not a fan of mailing lists in general, but I can see their purpose. I used to have a monthly-turned-quarterly newsletter with writerly resources, tips, writing challenges, and my own news, but it became a chore rather than a pleasure. I've been revamping it to include a roundup of book news and press with some exclusive content like a poem or short story thrown in. It's a lot more fun, has a set purpose, and I'm not diluging people's inboxes anymore.

I think everyone has to find what works for them. If you don't enjoy it, that will be apparent. And there are other means of connecting with people.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm with Susan and a few others on the topic of forcing yourself to something you consider a chore. I have (had) a newsletter for the sanctuary. It used to go out monthly, to over 1000 people. I would periodically talk about my books, remind folks where they could purchase them (wherever books are sold!), but mostly provide updates about the horses and other critters living here. Unfortunately, writing it every month started to make my hair hurt. So I quit. And removed the "sign-up" thingy on my website.

I've also removed myself from just about every newsletter I used to receive. Right now, for my books and the sanctuary, I'm happy with the interaction I get on FB.

BJ Muntain said...

Bad self-published novel sales can cause problems. Short stories are a whole different beast. Even if you publish short stories then get a traditional contract, you are STILL a debut author. Because short stories don't count when it comes to getting book stores ordering your books. I don't think BookScan even looks at short stories - I think they only track full-length books (I may be wrong, but I don't think so.)

Bookscan is used by book stores to see how many books by an author they need to order. They don't want to order too many copies of a book, just enough books to satisfy the readership. If you have high sales - traditionally or self-published - they'll figure they'll need to order more of your book. If you have low sales, they may order fewer - and this is the problem with bad sales figures from previous novels.

Book stores don't sell short stories, so I doubt short stories are even footnotes (does Bookscan have footnotes?) in a Bookscan record. Therefore, when it come to past publishing success or failure, short stories don't count.

As for having a following - that can get you published. It probably won't affect how many books book stores will order for your first novel, but a publisher will sit up and take notice. A publisher cares about your readership, about how many people will buy your book. A book store only cares about how many books they can sell. What's the difference, you ask? The difference is, a book store can only sell books that have been published. If a publisher sees a good following, a good social media presence, a good promotional strategy, they're more likely to not only publish you, but to help you with your promotions, in some way. They'll get your book into book stores, and the work you've put into promotion will have the stores ordering more and more of your work.

Good luck, OP! You're doing a great job!

BJ Muntain said...

Regarding what to put in an unpublished writer's newsletter (a response to Colin, mostly:

My imagination started working as you mentioned 'what could you include in a newsletter at this stage?'

First thoughts, for an unpublished writer without a publishing deal and upcoming book:

Write about something that interests you, that would interest your readership. If you wrote Dr. Who-ish SF/Fantasy, you could include an article or list of new links regarding Dr. Who in all your newsletters. You'd have to keep a lot of this up after you're published (that's why people started reading your newsletter, after all), but with your level of passion, that wouldn't be difficult.

But I don't think that's what you write (you've never really mentioned, but you seem to have a preference for the mystery/thriller/etc. genres.) Choose a subject of some sort from your genre, from the work you want to write, something you're passionate about, and write about that. Include flash fiction stories, like you've done on your blog. It can't be as difficult to write one flash fiction piece per month (or per two months, or three, depending on how often your newsletter comes out) as it is to write one every day for a month. :)

Now, talking about writing is okay if your primary readers are writers, but writers are a relatively small portion of readers. Choose a subject that is interesting to most people who read your genre - a more genreal approach? (I know, I know. I'm terrible at concocting puns.)

When I realized that the two blogs I had going at one time were aimed mostly at writers, I started another called, about Science for Imagination, about science news that generates interesting ideas - and often, excitement. Unfortunately, I may need to stop calling it a blog or something, as I haven't been able to keep it going. But science is something I'm interested in - especially the science that can fuel my science fiction. And people who read science fiction - no matter how technical they are - usually like to learn new things about science, if it's not too technical. I really need to get back to that.

Your newsletter will include things you are passionate about, that you can write about month after month, and that your readership can get excited about.

My thoughts on my own newsletter - to come when I can properly keep my mind on a real schedule - is to also include links to my friends' books, as well as my own when they come out. That way it helps my friends, my readers get good book recommendations, and it sets up a good audience for my newsletter. Win-win, all around. :)

Steve Stubbs said...

OP wrote: "IÆve had opportunities to speak with several indie authors and I love that theyÆre earning ... far more of a living than I am with my day job."

Um, who are these people? Are they freelance tech writers or novelists? Yes, tech writing is lucrative (although not as lucrative as engineering) but it is boring as hell. I have had to write a lot of documents to IEEE STD and MIL-STD 2167A as part of the engineering work I have done. We also had tech writers on staff to do manuals, etc. It teaches you to write for a customer and not for your own amusement. But Ms. Reid's followers need not be jealous. Eight hours of that is a rugged day and I usually put in more than that.

OP: "Patience is my middle name."

Lordy. A man named Patience.

Anyway, very best wishes to you.

I despair of competing with Jeff Somers. I seldom drink anymore (even though I have plenty of reason to get drunk and stay that way), and always wear pants when I am alone. I am lazy as hell, though, so he and I have that in common. Maybe there is hope yet.

Colin Smith said...

BJ: My question really wasn't about content. I can come up with content. I'm just not sure why anyone would read the ramblings of an unagented, unpublished writer, versus the ramblings of a published writer. That's why I asked "Do I need one?" and "What would people want to hear from me?" Not "What would I say?" :)

Terri Lynn Coop said...

So, that I'm going to have my own podcast with an average of 100K live listeners per week is a good thing?

Coming in August . . . .


BJ Muntain said...

Colin: That's the question I was answering: What would people want to hear from you?

If you're passionate about something, people will want to hear about it. People like reading things with energy, with humour, with passion. People enjoy your flash fiction. THAT's why people would sign up to read your ramblings. And even if you only get a couple hundred people subscribing (I'm sure a lot of Reiders would be among that group), that's a darn good start.

Steve: A lot of indie fiction writers do make good money. Not a large percentage, by any means, but there are enough out there. I know a few who make a fair living off it. They get a following and - as in traditional publishing - by book 3 or 4, they're selling well. I know an author who pays her mortgage by writing a novel a month and self-publishing it. I know another who writes two or three books a year, and has come to the point where they can live off their fiction. It's not easy, and not everyone can write quickly enough to make that kind of money, but there are people who do it. There are more people who crash and burn because they publish their first drafts and just leave them online to gather virtual dust. But people who work hard enough at it - and write books that people enjoy - can make a living.

BTW, I've done tech writing. It's not boring, especially if you're moving from contract to contract. Maybe it doesn't use all your engineering skills or writing skills, but I used to enjoy it. Especially writing manuals. I found manual-writing to be quite easy and a pleasant way to spend the day when I was tired of dealing with people in person. And writing for a customer isn't bad practice for writing for yourself. You need to be clear. You need to be concise (which I've lately been failing at online). You learn to write according to the appropriate style guide (corporate or other, it doesn't matter). Of the million words you're supposed to write before you become a good writer, a lot of mine were included in technical manuals. And there's nothing wrong in writing for your chosen audience, whether your audience consists of tech people, software users, the general public, or genre readers. I think the work I put in as a tech writer gave me the ability to look at my work objectively and to see it as others would see it. You also learn to work to time constraints, to write to deadlines, to write well in your first draft, so you don't need to write innumerable drafts - because you don't have time to do that. Tech writing is a great background to have when wanting to be professional in your writing career.

Lennon Faris said...

Does 'self-publishing' short stories mean posting them on OP's website/ newsletter (free for anyone who's interested)? Or selling them?

Just trying to follow the train of thought here...

I did a blog for a while, but as a once-a-week post consumed about 30-50% of my writing time, I stopped. I'm a slow writer.

Colin - in general I am OK with occasional emails as long as they are super informative/interesting OR funny and no matter what, SHORT. When they get more than a few scrolls long, I start skimming.

Joseph Snoe said...


A local man who owned a music listening club emailed a weekly newsletter promoting upcoming acts at his club.

At the beginning of each newsletter, he wrote something, usually a page or so, a reflection on current affairs, his travels, people he knew, struggles of being in the music industry, life in general, whatever.

Every newsletter sparkled. I was amazed he hit the target every week. (and I learned who was coming to his club in the near future)

Craig F said...

I think I have read this question six times, I am not sure because each time I get to the bottom I have to go back to the top and try to find what I missed. It is like a puppy I once had who chased his tail.

Publishing is simple. You write something that will burn the literary world down and then you query it. If an agent agrees that it is a torch it continues on.

It is good to be able to show some hard numbers about people you might be able to talk into buying your book. You still have to write that book and query it.

So write that first book of this new series and query it. Jump in with both feet. Go for it.

Panda in Chief said...

People sometimes ask me how I keep so many balls in the air (panting, printmaking, panda satire) and I always say, i've given up housework. Mind you I can't afford to pay someone else to do it either, so draw your own conclusions.
I have one blog thats pretty much dormant, my fine art blog, which I'v e switched around so it's more of a place people can see my paintings. The only one that I post regularly on is The Panda Chronicles, which is my 3 x weekly place to post new cartoons. That does double duty as the cartoons for the next self published collection, as I do enough cartoons in a year for a new book. Although I'm not getting rich yet, when my agent finally sells my graphic novel, I have my own cheering squad.
I do have a mailing list, but I haven't sent out anything regularly for a while, and I would take it off my blog if I could remember how to put it back on should I decide I'm ready to use it.

Congrats, OP on having a plan, ambition, and your pants on. I think it's a winning combination.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Steve, I personally know three indie authors in my local area who make enough from writing Romance to live quite nicely. One of them made six figures last financial year. Granted, she turns out four novels a year and promos like nobody's business.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Opie, if you're writing shorts, don't necessarily go straight to indie publishing with them. Hit up the paying magazines. Get some pocket change and a respectable pub credit from them first, then you can take them indie as soon as your contract lets you.

My newsletter sweetener is one of my voiciest short stories (and my quickest sale evahr) I got pubbed in a respectable Aussie mag.

My first indie permafree is a collection of shorts that other magazines paid me for for first serial rights, and non-exclusive web rights.

Don't consider your shorts as a single-shot chance at publication, but a collection of rights that can be applied in many, many ways for your financial and marketing benefit.

Otherwise, you sound like you've got a great plan.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Another thought, regarding newsletters and the building of a mailing list:

As I don't wander in to the Day Job for another hour or so, I was catching up on my novel promo work. I noticed something I did, almost without thinking. I posted something interesting, completely unrelated to writing, but at the end, I tagged, "Now go buy my books."

Want to put out a newsletter? (Mine is quarterly.) Be interesting in your newsletter. You're a friggin' writer. It's your job to make the average sound interesting.

You don't have to talk about writing exclusively, especially if you don't have any forthcoming news. Talk about what's interesting in your life. Writers tend to live interesting lives, even if they don't think so. Talk about what you do in your life. Writers do research. Talk about that. Talk about your weird neighbour, and the impact she has on your life.

I am subscribed to a few author newsletters, and I find them a fascinating read. I find Gail Carriger's Chirrup a fun read. Her personality shines through.

You're a writer with voice. If it shines through your novels, it should shine through your newsletter, and people will want to read it.

Panda in Chief said...

What Her Grace says, about writing interesting stuff that is not neccessarily about writing or your books, is spot on. Think about who your readers are, what their other interests might be, and if there is an intersection in your life and interests, write about that.
Mostly, no one but you cares that you are on the 43rd revision of chapter 12.
Sad, but true.