10 Reasons to Write Short Stories (by Daniel H. Wilson & John Joseph Adams)


We all know the money isn’t in short stories and anthologies, but authors should consider writing for them anyway. I’m summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting and excerpting from  Ten Reasons to Write Short Stories Even Though the Pay is Peanuts  by Daniel H. Wilson (above right) and  John Joseph Adams (middle). Noah Fregger (left) is pictured because he writes short stories too, but mostly because he’s so cute {smile}, he’s a Navy vet, and he’s too humble (and busy writing!) to invest time in social media. (We have ways to make you tweet, Noah!)

Wilson and Adams, “As co-editors of two anthologies, including Robot Uprisings (Vintage, 2014) and Press Start to Play (Vintage, forthcoming), we have often been confronted with a reticence among authors–especially those who had not published any short fiction prior to becoming acclaimed novelists–to commit to writing short stories for anthologies simply because it appears to be an unprofitable endeavor, or not an effective use of their time.”

— A five-thousand-word piece that you labor over for two weeks (and fiddle with for two months beyond that) will not likely amount to even part of one mortgage payment.

— accomplished, bestselling authors and journalists (earning upwards of three dollars per word) may not profit enough to invest time writing short stories

“But there are many reasons to write short stories, besides the love of the form (and the relatively small upfront fees)” —

Publishing Short Stories Creates Intellectual Property (IP)

Published short stories create their own IP, which can then be sold or optioned to filmmakers, video game developers, playwrights, comics publishers, etc. Without this IP, the author has nothing to sell except for a pitch …. naturally, having the work published makes it infinitely more likely that someone will stumble across it and want to buy or option it. (Since it’s extremely unlikely they’ll ever discover it while it’s still only in your head or on your hard drive.)

Publishing Short Stories Can Get You Award Recognition

Short stories are up for their own series of awards that can generate a lot of publicity, such as the Hugos, Nebulas, and World Fantasy awards … even if your story does not win an award, there are several “Best of the Year” compilation anthologies in which your story could be featured.

Publishing Short Stories Can Help You Stay Engaged With Your Audience Between Novels

Novels tend to come along rarely–only once a year (if that)–but short stories can keep an author’s name circulating among readers during the down times of the publishing cycle. In addition, writing short stories that take place in the worlds that an author has created for novels can give fans a little snack to tide them over until the next novel.

Short Stories Can be a Playground for Literary Experimentation

Novels are big, complex creations that typically take a long time to write.

Trying something drastically new is risky

a failed novel can be a major blow to a writer’s career

Short stories take much less time to write

If one short story fails, impact to your career/fan-base is minimal

(Former SFWA President John Scalzi discusses this latter point in a blog post talking about writing his novelette “The Sagan Diaries”: scalzi.com/whatever/004692.html.)

Short Story Reprint Opportunities Abound

Once a short story is placed in an anthology, the rights to that story usually revert back to the author after some period of exclusivity (usually 12 or 18 months). With those rights reverted, you are free to re-sell your short stories as reprints to other anthologies and/or as standalone ebooks.

… short stories can be–and often are–translated into foreign languages in a variety of magazines and anthologies overseas.

China’s Science Fiction World (for one) boasts, by far, the largest circulation of any science fiction/fantasy periodical in the world.

… Frequent translator/translatee Ken Liu says that having his short work appear in foreign translation so often even lead to him receiving a week long, all-expenses-paid trip to Singapore.

…short stories also offer the possibility of academic reprints.

Short Stories Provide Audience Crossover Potential With Other Popular Writers

An anthology works like a sampler plate–twenty-plus authors, many of whom will have substantial fan bases of their own, are given the opportunity to cross-pollinate their audiences. When fans discover an author’s story and enjoy it, they will often go in search of that author’s other work–even if they originally picked up the anthology because “George R.R. Bestseller” contributed a story. Even if you yourself are a bestselling author, there are always readers out there who may be a fan of GRRB but still have not yet tried your work, so the opportunity to make new fans is there for everyone involved in the anthology.

Short Stories Can be a Way to Pay It Forward

— Most anthologies have some mix of established authors and newer authors, and a new author getting to appear in a book alongside GRRB is potentially a huge boost to that new writer’s career…

Short Stories Can Later Turn Into Books

Once you have written enough short stories, they can be placed together into a collection and sold as a regular book or ebook. Collections don’t typically sell at the same level as novels, but they’re also eligible for their own slate of award nominations.

….a way to generate passive income, since collections are usually comprised entirely of material that has been first published elsewhere.

…. Or you can publish a piece of short fiction and judge the audience reaction, and if it’s good enough later expand it into a novel (e.g., Ender’s Game).

Short Stories Can Actually Make You Money

Though it may not be very likely, it is always possible that you actually will earn a lot of money from a bestselling anthology. Each author normally receives a pro-rata portion of the royalties from the anthology’s earnings, and a bestselling anthology will see authors receiving royalty checks for many years into the future …

…  it’s possible to get your individual short stories up as ebooks and have them sell for years and years (possibly providing an inexpensive gateway to your works for new readers).

Most ebook marketplaces penalize you for pricing your ebook (even if it is a short story) at less than $2.99, but in some cases you can still get the attractive 70% royalty rate option. For instance, if you sign up for Kindle Select, you can price your story as low as 99 cents and earn 70 cents on the dollar.

Bestselling indie author Hugh Howey has a couple of stories that are each selling about 70 copies a day (which generates about $25 per story)–not too shabby for short fiction!

Multiply that by a number of short stories, and it starts adding up fast…

Short Stories Can Be a Gateway to New Communities

Writers who contribute to an anthology are likely to check out each other’s stories once they get their contributor copies. Sometimes, these authors will appear on anthology-related panels together, sign the anthologies together, or maybe will just be open to grabbing a beer or a coffee at a con, as fellow contributors. Contributing to an anthology can give authors a chance to be read both by and alongside some of their heroes–and that’s an amazing feeling that money can’t buy.


Daniel H. Wilson is a New York Times bestselling author. He earned a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he also received master’s degrees in robotics and in machine learning. He has published over a dozen scientific papers, holds four patents, and has written eight books. Wilson has written for Popular Science, Wired, and Discover, as well as online venues such as MSNBC.com, Gizmodo, Lightspeed, and Tor.com. In 2008, Wilson hosted The Works, a television series on The History Channel that uncovered the science behind everyday stuff. His books include How to Survive a Robot Uprising, A Boy and His Bot, Amped, and Robopocalypse (the film adaptation of which is slated to be directed by Steven Spielberg). He is also co-editor, with John Joseph Adams, of the anthologies Robot Uprisings and Press Start to Play (forthcoming). He lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Find him on Twitter @danielwilsonPDX and at danielhwilson.com.

John Joseph Adams is the series editor of Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He is also the bestselling editor of many other anthologies, such as The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, Armored, Brave New Worlds, Wastelands, and The Living Dead. New projects coming out in 2014 and 2015 include: Robot Uprisings, Dead Man’s Hand, Operation Arcana, Press Start to Play, Wastelands 2, HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! and Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects, and The Apocalypse Triptych: The End is Nigh, The End is Now, and The End Has Come. He has been nominated for eight Hugo Awards and six World Fantasy Awards, and he has been called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes & Noble. John is also the editor and publisher of the digital magazines Lightspeed and Nightmare, and is a producer for Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. Find him on Twitter @johnjosephadams and at johnjosephadams.com.

About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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1 Response to 10 Reasons to Write Short Stories (by Daniel H. Wilson & John Joseph Adams)

  1. Having written my first short story for the upcoming For Whom The bell Trolls antrollogy, I couldn’t agree more


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