As much as I see the authors waiting to get that agent or NY Publisher to pick them up, getting rejected over and over, even though their work is as good or superior to a lot of what Big Publishing puts out, I see authors trying to work the short story circuit in an attempt to “build up enough cred” that they’ll get noticed by one of these publishers.
It doesn’t work.
Now before I get a ton of comments saying “what about this person or this person” yes, there are exceptions to every rule. This is aimed at the vast majority of writers. I’m also not telling people to never write short stories. This is more targeted if your goal is 1. Exposure/Fame 2. Making money as an author from a newer writer perspective. Obviously if you have stories to tell in short form, you have stories to tell in short form. As I write this, I am intentionally working on a short story which is already shaping up to be the best short I’ve ever written. I can’t wait to share it with you. But that said:
Submitting To Short Story Markets Is Even Harder Than Novels
It’s pretty easy to submit novels to a small press. Their overheads are not that high, to break even on a book isn’t all that hard. But short story markets are very small. There’s only a few “pro” paying presses, and they’re flooded with submissions. I’ve done a lot of slush reading for non-pro/token payments, and even those are overwhelmed. Your odds of getting a story published without being a friend of the editor, or someone with an established name is about 1/300. If you’re spending a couple weeks on a short story, taking that time even in non-pro markets, you’re going to get $50 for your work and very rarely at that. It’s not going to move the needle financially for you. Even if you manage to get in the Asimov/Analog queue, you’re still talking $250-300 and they’re only gonna publish a couple stories of yours per year, if that. Even long time folk who have gotten into that magazine get rejected more than not, and keep in mind they have a leg up on you because the editor has dealt with them before.
Then you go to the anthology market. Authors are invited for the most part to these. And usually they have 2-3 open “slots” for submissions. Pro-tip here: publishers use this as a marketing tactic to drum up interest for the anthology. Most writers are readers too, and it gets them exposure. You’re again a 1/300 shot at getting a slot there, and half the time those slots get filled by friends of the editor. If you’re not invited to begin with, you’re not in.
Frankly, for the investment and time, it’s not worth doing from that perspective. If your goal is to make money, the short story market is a disaster.
Your Story In An Anthology or Magazine Won’t Help You Build An Audience
Readers are fickle. There’s a reason why anthologies and mags get big names to headline them. There’s the hopes that BIG NAME will have their following buy the book, as there are completist collectors. That results in the vast majority of anthology/magazine sales. They do have some regular readers, but a lot less than you think. Here’s the main kicker though: just because you’re in a book with BIG NAME doesn’t mean people are going to read your story. Most the folk buying for that person are going to skip over other stories and just read the author they like. It’s a sad reality, but true. It’s very low help from a marketing perspective. You’d be better off trying to get people to find you through other means.
Publishers Are Looking For Novels. For Practice—Write Novels.
The end goal if you’re not self-publishing and building an audience that way (which I recommend), is to have a publisher believe in you. If you have a few short stories out, so does everyone else. Publishers will want to see that you have completed long-form work that’s good, because that’s what sells. Short story collections don’t sell nearly as well, even big authors like Brandon Sanderson have their short story collections not do as well as their novels. For whatever reason, the novel is the preferred form of entertainment in reading and publishers know that. You may as well work on perfecting your craft in a way that’s going to be the most benefit financially to you and publishers in the future, by writing full length works.
As Sarah Hoyt said last week and I echoed, waiting to get that real contract is only going to slow your advancement down. If you spend all your time on short stories, it’s going to do the same. The market is what it is for now, and it’s possible it’ll eventually change. But get your full length works out there and keep writing them as fast as you can.