You’ve probably heard it a hundred times by now: the best way to build a career as a writer is to write a lot. You need to have a series; you need to expand to related markets; you need to blog every day—the list of recommendations seems as endless as the amount of content you’re expected to create.
It can all feel really overwhelming, especially if you’re thinking in terms of books. It takes time and effort to write a book, let alone to write a good book. How can you be expected to bang out a 15-book series while working, walking the dog, taking care of the laundry, and still managing to eat and sleep sometimes?
The answer is that you don’t need to be writing books in order to be expanding your offerings! Short stories, traditionally a starting place for many writers looking to make a break into professional publishing, are still an amazing way to stretch your creative talents and expand your readership. In the modern age of digital publishing, they’re a perfect way to balance life, writing, marketing, and creative development while bringing in some extra income.
Here’s eight reasons you should be writing short stories.
The more you write, the easier it is for people to find you. There’s more opportunities for your work to show up in someone’s Amazon recommendations, more chances for someone to review something you’ve done and spread the word that way, higher odds of someone sharing that they’re reading your work on Goodreads, and so on.
Maybe more importantly, there’s a bigger chance that you’ll start showing up in “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought” on Amazon. With more work out there, it’ll start turning up in Amazon’s algorithms more often—both on your own product pages and on suggestions made for people browsing other authors who write in your niche.
And, of course, the more you show up in someone’s feed, the more likely they are to finally pick up your work! In sales, there’s a theory called the “Rule of Seven” that holds that you need to establish contact with someone seven times before they’ll consider buying your product. While this might not be true all the time, it’s a good rule of thumb—people need to know who you are, recognize what you stand for, and trust the quality of what you’re offering before they’ll be willing to make a purchase.
So having more ways they can find you—that is, more books and more short stories—means that readers are more likely to “touch” your writing more often and once they’re familiar with you, they’re more likely to buy.
2. Multiple Price Points
Short stories also make it easier for you to offer multiple price points for your work. A potential new reader might be hesitant to spend $6.99 on an epic 300,000-word novel by an author they’ve never read before—but perfectly happy to spend 99 cents on a short story by the same author.
Plus, readers who are already fans are usually delighted to be able to pick up a new work by their favorite author that’s priced so low that it’s practically a no-brainer to buy it. While pricing your novels at 99 cents on a regular basis may not be a winning strategy—you should always make sure your price points adequately compensate you for all the hours it took to write your book—offering a short story at 99 cents is totally reasonable.
Now you’ve got several 99-cent stories, maybe some novellas at $1.99, and your novel at $4.99. That makes plenty of price points to match up with any reader’s budget and eliminate excuses not to buy.
3. Entry Points
A related reason to be writing short stories is to give your readers entry points to your work. Just like a new reader might be hesitant to spend $6.99 or more on a mega-novel, they might be skeptical of devoting the hours it’ll take to read those hundreds of thousands of words.
Short stories have no such challenges! By nature, they’re short! A new reader can dive right into your writing style, setting, and characters without a huge commitment. And once you’ve got them reading, you can get them hooked and eager to dig into your longer work.
Giving away copies of your work is an excellent strategy to win new readers. But what if you don’t have a series of novels where you can make the first book free? Or you don’t want to give away a thousand copies of your novel just to get 35 paying buyers?
Easy: write short stories! Because they don’t take as long to write as a novel, short stories give you a practical way to offer more giveaways of your work. You can post short stories on your blog to draw new readers, offer story downloads to newsletter readers (a great way to build your email list!), and do Kindle freebies to build your readership.
5. Practicing Your Craft and Trying New Things
Many authors swear by short stories as a way to improve their writing. Because you’re not devoting the time and energy that a novel requires, you can be more open to experimentation and pushing your creative boundaries.
What about writing from a point of view you’ve never tried before? Or tackling a new genre or time period? Have you always wanted to write historical fiction, but been intimidated by the amount of research necessary to make it realistic?
Give a short story a try. Because it’s less of a commitment than a full novel, you can experiment, practice, and fling around crazy ideas. So what if it doesn’t work? You tried, and heck…maybe you should post it on your blog anyway and ask your readers for feedback. Writing is a process of continual learning and growth, and even the failed experiments can help you become a better writer and build better relationships with your readers.
6. Expanding Worlds and Backstories
Fiction writers always have more ideas than they can possibly explore. Characters have a way of demanding to have their stories told, and for science fiction and fantasy writers in particular, there’s always some aspect of the world that can be expanded on.
Short stories are a perfect way to do this. Is there a secondary character in your novel that you just love, but who barely appears on the page? Give him his own short story where you can explore his background, personality, and life outside nudging the main characters in your novel! You never know, you might wind up with a fan favorite and the seed of a new novel in your series.
Stories also give you a way to explore more of the world you’ve created. If you’ve written a historical romance novel, consider writing some short stories that take your readers through another part of the setting, bringing in some of the research you did on, say, the railway system in 19th-century France that you couldn’t fit into the novel.
If you write fantasy, think about short stories that could expand on the magic system in your world, or that take readers deeper into how people live in the world and how it’s different from ours. The possibilities are endless!
Plus, by giving readers insights into your characters and worlds that go beyond what’s in your novel, you’re giving them more ways to connect with your work and get really passionate about it. And that creates true fans who will spread the word about your writing and get even more people hooked!
7. Pilot New Ideas or Characters
Similarly, short stories give you a good way to pilot new ideas or new characters. If you have an idea for a new character that might be a great sidekick or partner to introduce into your planned series, you can play around with your ideas in short stories to see what works before actually digging into a full novel. By giving away these stories to readers and asking for feedback, you can see if the character or scenario resonates with them before spending the time and effort needed to write a long novel.
If you’re writing in a niche like science fiction or historical romance, it can be really scary to consider delving into a new genre. Will your readers hate it? Will you succeed if you go from writing hard space opera to contemporary sweet romance? Short stories are a good way to dip your toe into a new genre—or even just a new area within your genre, like moving from swords-and-sorcery fantasy to doing some urban fantasy—without making a huge commitment.
8. Create Collections
Once you’ve written a bunch of short stories, you can collect them into an anthology. This links back to points #1 and #2, discoverability and price points. A bunch of short stories assembled into a collection gives you a new work to sell at a novel-type price point and adds yet another product to your lineup…and a new way for readers to discover you.
Including a couple of unpublished, brand-new stories will encourage readers who’ve already followed all your earlier short story adventures to pick up the new collection by adding value and freshness.
Short stories can allow you to stretch your creative muscles, attract new readers, expand into new markets, and build a loyal fan following. What’s not to love about these little gems?
For great tips and tricks on how to write more, check out these articles:
- Time Management for Writers: The Stopwatch Method for Massive Creative Productivity
- Why I Switched My Keyboard from QWERTY to Colemak. How to Type Faster with a More Efficient Keyboard Layout
- How to Get More Done in Less Time: Create Systems That Work for You
Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design.
In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!