Short Stories as eBooks: A Discussion with Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Blake Crouch, Scott Nicholson, and David Gaughran


Recently, Cemetery Dance Managing Editor Brian James Freeman talked to Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Blake Crouch, Scott Nicholson, and David Gaughran about their success publishing their short stories as eBooks.

Brian James Freeman: Why did you decide to try selling shorter works as eBooks?

Joe Konrath: The more work you have for sale, the more virtual shelf space you take up, the easier it is for readers to find you. Much of my short work links to my longer work, and it is less expensive. Like a gateway drug.

Dean Wesley Smith: I have written and sold so many hundreds of short stories, when eBooks opened up to indie publishers, it seemed like a logical place to start. A good place to practice, actually. Plus, as the former owner of Pulphouse Publishing, which only published short fiction, I love it.

Blake Crouch: Actually, short stories were the first thing I put on sale as an eBook. Aside from Cemetery Dance, AHMM (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine), and EQMM (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine), there just aren't that many venues for publishing short fiction these days, so I was hopeful I could find an audience on and other online eBook retailers.

Scott Nicholson: I had a lot of stories available and the reprint market is very small, so digital books offered a new way to easily make them available to readers. It's senseless to leave the stuff in a drawer or on a hard drive when you can reach even one new person.

David Gaughran: I'm relatively new to this game. I self-published my first title in May, deciding to start with a short story. They are cheaper to publish, and I wanted to use it as an experiment to see if I could publish professional looking books, to see if I could sell anything, and to see if I enjoyed the process.
I had some success publishing shorts in magazines so it seemed a natural place to start. My sister is a cover designer, editing costs very little for a short, and I learned the rest myself. Before the month was out, I knew I would be doing everything this way.

BJF: So far, how do sales compare to longer works?

JK: Novels far outsell shorts and novellas, though a few of mine ("Truck Stop," "Killers," "The Screaming") are selling a few hundred per month.

DWS: Sales of short fiction is way under novels and short novels. Collections sell pretty well, but not as much as novels either. And the 99 cent price tag on short fiction means you have to sell a lot to make any real money.  But right now WMG Publishing, the company that is publishing my stories and Kris's stories has over 120 short stories published. Trust me, at an average of even five sales per story per month across all the sales sites, that adds up to nice money.

BC: My novels sell better than my short fiction, but still, I am constantly amazed at my monthly income for short fiction over the last year. I have a 10-story collection called Fully Loaded which I sell for $4.99, two smaller collections, and six individual short stories, and I probably will sell over 12,000 short stories this year, not including the tens of thousands of copies of Serial that Konrath and I give away.

SN: My story collections and novellas do as well as some of my novels, which is a little surprising. I think it's partly because of price and convenience, and partly because it's so easy for a reader to get all my books at once at any time.

DG: They (short stories) are lower. I think only romance and erotica writers see higher sales for shorts. I have two out now, selling over 300 copies in just over 3 months. Considering I was starting as an unpublished, unknown writer, I'm pleased with that.
But to really boost sales, I need to get more up. I have five or six at various stages of completion, and I want to publish those before Christmas. I think you really need to have a few out there before the sales can really play off each other. After all, if a reader likes one, they tend to buy the rest.
As a comparison, my first full-length book has been out only a month, and has sold over 500 copies - so there is certainly greater demand for longer work.

BJF: Have you been hearing from readers who love short stories/novellas? What's the feedback like?

JK: The trilogy of novellas I did with Blake Crouch ('Serial Uncut', 'Killers', 'Birds of Prey') gets a lot of feedback, much of it negative. Some people are shocked that stories about serial killers feature graphic violence.

DWS: Feedback is wonderful, actually. And numbers of readers have said they read a short story by Kris (Kristine Kathryn Rusch) and then went to her novels, so the short stories are working as great hooks into longer works. All positive so far.

BC: Yes, I constantly hear from readers who are loving this newfound easy access to short fiction, and more importantly, that tough category known as the novella. They're happy to read it, and I'm just thrilled to have a viable venue for selling short fiction.

SN: A big advantage for me is, because I write in multiple genres, I can break the collections into pieces that can find their best audience. I get email all over the place, and short stories serve as a good introduction to a new author. Many people who tell me they've tried short stories then go on to the novels.

DG: The feedback has been great, but I think a lot of short story writers are still educating readers about the form. I seem to be reaching readers who never read short stories and don't know what to expect. While enjoying the work, some complain about length. Others don't even seem to know what a short story is - I had one reader describe "Transfection" as the shortest novel he ever read, but that he loved it. It's 20 pages!
I'm big on twists and ambiguous endings. I always loved stories which had many possible interpretations, where readers can argue about what really happened. But the best reaction - for me - has been from readers who had never read a short story before, and have been seduced by the form, and gone on to buy more. That's extremely pleasing.

BJF: Do you think short stories as "eBook singles" are an effective way to reach readers or would authors benefit from publishing collections instead -- or should authors offer their stories both ways?  Is there an advantage to the "singles" approach?

JK: Do both. I have singles, which I bundle into collections, and then I bundle the collections together. You can get one story for 99 cents, or 20 stories for $2.99, or 65 stories for $5.99.  See the shelf space comment above.

DWS: I think it would be silly to not offer stories both ways. For example, we offer "singles" for 99 cents and five story collections for $2.99 (which brings the per story price down to 60 cents.)  And we offer ten story collections of the singles for $4.99.

Think of albums in music. A single song is 99 cents usually, but albums with that song on it are more.  Same thing in short stories and books. The story should be both ways to give readers choices.  Besides, collections sell slightly better.

BC: Do everything! As long as you're clear about what you're selling, you can't lose by making your stories available separately, and in a variety of collections. This has the effect of expanding your digital shelf space, and making you, as a writer, more visible. I also like to think of the $.99 stories as little gateway drugs to my longer works.

SN: I haven't done any singles because the pricing isn't structured well right now. I think 99 cents is too much for one story, since I often sell entire collections for that price. If I can give a reader 8 or 12 stories for a buck, then we both still come out ahead. But I know others feel differently, so it's up to each author and each consumer to find an individual comfort level. Twenty-five to fifty cents would seem a more natural price for a single story to me.

The most important thing is to clearly describe what you are offering in your product description. Nothing ticks off a customer worse than feeling tricked--and many people sell entire novels for 99 cents, so there's room for confusion. Even a 99-cent novella will annoy some people because they think it's too "short" for the money. You can say those readers are unrealistic, but the customer is always right. It's all wide open at this point.

DG: My singles are 99c. When I have five up later in the year, I will bundle them into a collection for $2.99. A reader may like the sound of one story and not the rest, and may just want to buy that. Some readers only purchase collections. Others prefer the flexibility of singles. To maximize your sales, you should give them both options.
Single short stories are never going to make you rich, but each one of them is an advertisement: it increases the amount of titles I have out there and gives readers more ways of discovering me and my work.

BJF: What do you think eBooks mean for the future of the short story?

JK: More readers, more sales, more freedom for the author. It's one big bowl of win.

DWS: I think the eBooks for short fiction will drive a new golden age of short fiction. It's already started. I'm back writing a ton of short stories again, the markets are booming, and even Asimov's and Analog's sales are going up because they are offering electronic subscriptions and doing new electronic collections of their stories.

It's wonderful and the future is bright for short fiction and honestly, I love it.

BC: A very bright future. There is nothing like a compact, concise, well-structured piece of short fiction, and now, finally, there is the perfect place to bring it to market. As a writer, and more importantly a reader, I couldn't be happier.

SN: I think short stories are undergoing a renaissance. We're in a digital pulp era, so cheap content will be able to find niche audiences far more easily. Before, you had to drive to the store and hope they had a copy of your favorite magazine, or you waited by the mailbox. Now you can get it instantly and jump right in. No matter where digital publishing goes from here, it's nothing short of remarkable and I am thrilled to be here as it's happening.

DG: I think the traditional short story market is in reasonable health, but eBooks will help bring short stories to a wider audience. More writers are experimenting with them and, from my limited experience, most readers seem new to the form. This can only be a good thing. Short stories are never going to be for everyone, but I think they could return to the kind of popularity they had in the past. In many ways, they are perfect for the modern reader who can struggle to find the time to immerse themselves in a novel.

Brian James Freeman:
Joe Konrath:
Dean Wesley Smith:
Blake Crouch:
Scott Nicholson:
David Gaughran: