Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Why Write Short Stories?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 11, 2018

It’s been an incredible three years for me as a writer. I’ve gone from finally having my first short story published, thinking I would “get it out of my system,” to having six stories published last year, winning the Dragoncomet short story award, my story getting included in the Hugo Award voters’ packet, and my first novel, Blood Creek Witch, releasing last month. And things continue to accelerate.

(ICYMI: You can get  Blood Creek Witch on Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble)

My focus has turned more to novels now (I’m prepping the sequel to Blood Creek Witch for submission right now), but the urge to write short stories hasn’t subsided. I’ve improved a lot since my first short story, “Dots, Dashes, and Deceit” was published a few years back. I’m still not as fast as I’d like, and I still have a lot to learn and improve upon, but writing short stories is definitely a pleasure that I can do in-between larger efforts. So… that hopefully means I’ll be able to keep up at least a moderate output of short stories in spite of trying to write two new novels this year (on top of the Day Job being as busy as we’ve ever been).

I have had one story published this year (in the Planetary: Mars anthology), and two more that have been accepted for publication this year. Before I left for Disney World, I turned in three short story submissions. One was due mid-week, and the other two were due at the end of March.

I received a rejection for the mid-week submission while I was standing in line at Space Mountain. That didn’t bother me much, as it was a reprint of a story that had already been published and the exclusivity period had expired. I was just trying to see if I could get paid twice for the same story. Plus, I was with my family ABOUT TO RIDE SPACE MOUNTAIN, and couldn’t really be bothered.  That’s probably the easiest I’ve ever taken a rejection. That’s a tough situation to repeat, so as far as advice for handling rejection, I can’t really recommend it as a strategy.

I’m still awaiting word on the other two. Those are both new stories, and I am no longer at Disney World, so I expect rejection on those to be a little bit tougher to handle. One is for Writers & Illustrators of the Future, which is extremely competitive, so my chances are slim. My goal is to become disqualified for that one within the next two to three years, which can happen if I either win or qualify as a pro. Either way would be a tremendous victory for me.

When I’m selling books at conventions, I constantly run into people who don’t bother reading short fiction. They want novels. That’s where the money is, right? So why “waste time” writing short stories? Amusingly, Jon Del Arroz wrote a big essay on why it was a waste of time almost exactly a year ago, and he’s the editor of the Planetary: Mars anthology, and has since appeared in several pulp-style magazines. He had a tough time taking his own advice. Probably because he, too, loves a good short story. Even if it doesn’t make the most business sense.

Or does it? Why might writing short stories still a valuable use of your time as a writer? Especially as a beginner, but even as a veteran, it has advantages:

Writing Practice: While there are different skills required for writing short vs. long-form fiction (and, I’d argue, short versus “flash”), there are also a lot of skills they have in common. Writing short fiction is a great way to practice and get quick feedback from readers. There’s a lot that can be learned from finishing a project and telling a complete story, and performing a full revision pass or three on it. Rather than making the same mistake for a hundred thousand words before anyone else looks at it, you can tighten your loop.

Feedback / Readers: If you are an “unproven” author, it is easier to find people willing to read your 4000 word short story than to read your 140,000 word draft novel.

Learning to tell a tighter story: While a novel gives you far more room to explore your world and characters much more than a short story, every storyteller needs to learn to keep their writing tight and do a lot with an economy of words. Short stories can teach that.

Marketing: Short stories (and novellas) can be used to market yourself, and your books.

Earn While You Learn: Julie Frost (now a friend, but I didn’t know her at the time) once commented on a panel that while your “first million words” are generally considered practice as a writer as you gain competence, with short stories you “may as well practice submitting while you are practicing writing. And that may lead to getting practice signing contracts, and practice cashing checks.”

Contests & Awards: There are several awards out there for short stories. While this is really still more of a marketing thing, I think being an “award-winning” writer can help open a few doors and convince readers to take a chance on you. Awards can also help your confidence as you develop, add to your list of published works, and may even offer cash or cash-equivalent prizes worth equal or more than a standard sale at your level.

Experimentation: Short stories are a great low-commitment way to experiment with new things, practice unfamiliar skills, explore new genres, and basically try new things you might fail at.

Developing Professional Skills: Writing. Writing to a deadline. Writing to specifications. Revising. Proofing. Submitting. Dealing with rejection. Handling contracts. Professional communication. Writing queries. Working with editors. Writing brief synopses. Promotion. Writing author bios. Basically, getting all the crap done on time in a professional manner that is an integral part of the business. With short stories, you may be doing this not only several times a year, but maybe several times a month.

Tell Smaller Stories: Face it, there are a lot of interesting story ideas out there that can’t support 70,000 words… or even 20,000 words. Short stories give you a chance to write something smaller without shoehorning it into a novel as a subplot. Short stories can give you the chance to tell little backstories or side-stories about your characters that don’t belong in the novels, but your readers will enjoy.

Cred: Having some published works out there counts, with readers and people in he industry. Maybe it doesn’t count for a lot, but it counts. If nothing else, it raises you from being an “aspiring writer” to a “writer.” What does that mean? It means you were willing to put in the effort, submit your work to scrutiny by strangers, and probably face rejection multiple times. It means you have been developing those professional skills I mentioned above, and have been around the track a few times.

Networking: The cool thing about short stories is that they are generally collected into groups of stories by other authors. You work with different editors, publishers, get to share the table of contents with other authors, and sometimes cross-promote each other.  Short stories can be an accelerator on this process. Writing is frequently considered a solo endeavor, and it is–up until a point. And at THAT point, networking–having relationships with other people in your field–can be a huge accelerator. I won’t go into the hows and whys of it now, because that could be a whole ‘nother blog topic.

Opportunities: I subscribe to the belief that a successful business / career is made up more by “base hits” than the home runs. A lot of the writing opportunities out there are are small “base hit” short story deals that can pay a decent amount, give you greater visibility, let you work with cool people. But they may require you to exercise those professional skills, perhaps writing in someone else’s world on a tight deadline, or acting as a judge for one of those contests.

Cold, Hard Cash: The pulp-era days of making a decent living as a short story author are quite a way behind us. HOWEVER… that’s not the same as saying there’s no money in it. Especially when you start selling at pro market levels, and consider reprints and self-publishing on top of that, or get in on a royalty-based anthology with popular authors.

Fun: Bottom line, writing short stories can be a lot of fun, and can recharge your creative batteries. So why not go for it?

Filed Under: Short Fiction, Writing - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Happenstance said,

    Interesting. Are you not working on FK2 anymore? Feels like it’s been a while since I’ve heard anything about it.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I should really prepare a blog post soon about FK2’s status. Short version: Yeah, it’s taken a back seat over the last 18 months, due to the Day Job programming, and due to my efforts on the writing front. But it’s still simmering over a low heat. I have some hard decisions to make about it soon, which I’ve been avoiding, but said decisions are about HOW to get it finished, not IF it will get finished.

  • lakerz said,

    Congrats on the new fork in your life’s trail Mr. Coyote. Wish you success as a master wordsmith, but I hope you will never stop developing cool games as well.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I hope the same. I love making games too much. I think I’m better at that… certainly more experienced at it… than writing, but there are a LOT more dependencies on other people with game-making.