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How Well Does Short Fiction Sell in Ebook Form?

| Posted in E-publishing |

46

A couple of months ago, I did a post called Novellas and Short Stories–Ebooks Not Just for Novels. It turned out to be pretty popular with authors, and why not? It takes a long time to write a novel, so there’s a definite appeal to writing and publishing short works…if they sell.

Do they?

I hope other authors will chime in below, but based on my experience I’m going to say…

Yes. Not as well as full-length novels, but you can find plenty of examples of shorter works doing well in the Kindle Store (and other places as well).

I haven’t tried selling a short story (less than 10,000 words) yet, though my Ice Cracker II is available for free at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. The minimum price you can list an ebook for is $0.99, and that always seemed a little steep to me for such a short piece of fiction.

However, I did release Flash Gold, an 18,000-word steampunk novella (if you want to be picky, you might call it a novelette) at the beginning of April. It’s my third best seller, after The Emperor’s Edge and Encrypted, and it’s already covered its production costs, thanks to a good deal on cover art and the fact that editors charge by the word (it costs a lot less to have someone proofread a 20,000-word story than a 100,000-word one). That said, some of the reviews do say they wish it was longer (demanding folks, hah!).

In addition to turning novellas and short stories into ebooks, you can also do collections of short stories. I have two of those, and they’re my weakest sellers (especially the children’s one). Of course, I haven’t marketed that one in months, and I haven’t marketed the three-story fantasy collection at all, so that may affect sales.

I think, though, that short story collections or anthologies just aren’t that popular. I have to admit I’m unlikely to buy them. The exception would be if I already knew and liked the characters from a book series and the same characters were in the short stories. (That’s how my fantasy short story bundle works–it features the heroes from The Emperor’s Edge.)

That said, if you have a bunch of short stories collecting dust on your hard drive (maybe you wrote them to submit to magazines and anthologies at one point), you can certainly put them together and turn them into an ebook. I do make some sales with my short story bundles, even if it’s not a lot, and 25 or 50 sales a month can certainly add up over the life an ebook.

I thought I’d poke through Amazon and find a few examples of shorter fiction that’s selling well at the time of this post. To the best of my knowledge, I only picked indie and non-free stories. Check them out for ideas or if you’re just curious to see what’s selling:

There you go: some folks doing well with short fiction!

What are your thoughts on short story, novelette, or novella ebooks? If you’re a reader, do you like buying these shorter works? If you’re an author, are they selling well for you?

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Comments (46)

As a reader, I really like to read novellas on my Nook. It just seems a reasonable length for an ereading experience. I’m hoping that ereaders will bring novellas back into popularity.

Short stories are my bread and butter money: literally, they pay for food. I find they sell consistently, month after month, and people find paying 99 cents for them quite fair. 99 cents adds up if you have enough of them available. :)

My research, polls and sales lead me to conclude that unless the short stories are obviously related (same characters, for instance), singletons sell better than collections, though. People seem to enjoy picking and choosing single stories that look of interest to them, rather than huunting through bundles.

I am only offer novellas, with characters who do not carry over from title to title. I offer them in paperback individually and optionally as a collection if they want to buy more and save. Do you also offer the novellas in paperback as well?

Though I have a short story listed and a couple pieces of flash fiction, I’m not really into them. I generally won’t even check them out if they’re free unless I know the author. I’m the type of gal who likes to curl up to a good book. With shorter works, I haven’t even gotten comfortable before I have to search for another story.

As for novelettes and novellas, I’m really digging those, especially novellas (20-50k words). It’s a small time investment for a complete story, and they’re usually short enough words aren’t wasted on filler. Unless it’s from an author I really, really like, I’ve been looking at full length novels (especially the 80K+ ones) and thinking “Yikes! Does the author have what it takes to keep me interested for 300+ pages?”

One of the things I like about indie work is the opportunity authors have to just write the story and not worry about word count. The story is finished when it’s finished without trying to look aesthetically pleasing on a bookshelf.

I like a long book I can get my teeth into, but with the option of buying novellas and short stories when they sound interesting, rather than hearing of an interesting one and having to hunt down an anthology consisting mostly of stories I don’t want, I’ve found I like those, too.

I have no problem paying 99 cents for a short story, or buying a collection of short stories at a higher price, if I like the author’s writing. (One free short story is a really nice hook into an author’s work, to sample a complete story, rather than the first x%.)

Come to think of it, the first ebook I bought was a collection of short stories (featuring the same characters) which I had all read before on the author’s Deviantart account.

On the collection vs single title front… I think I may prefer single stories. Not so much when they are closely connected, but if I’d like to list the stories under different tags, I’d like to be able to do that. Plus, I just like to have the titles listed separately on my reader. I can’t even remember the titles of the “Other Stories” in the Ice Cracker II collection, which is kind of a shame.

Interesting post. I published my short story collection ‘Box of Lies’ last year, before I knew I’d be publishing on Kindle, as well. I think the publisher views the shorts as a possible gateway to my novels. Too soon to say whether he’s right or not, although we’ve seen some interesting sales spikes on Kindle.
As for my personal tastes, I like having a collection of good short stories on hand. They’re perfect for those times when I don’t want to make a commitment to a longer work. Short stories are like quick romps in sleazy motels, I guess, as opposed to the longer, more meaningful romance.
I’ve probably said too much.

It solely depends on the writing to be honest. If the writing style is good and something I enjoy, I’d read anything by that author. I don’t have a Kindle yet, but put the app on my PC so I can support my friends. :D

I’ve thought about publishing novellas and started working on a series. We’ll see how it goes … after I finish revisions on the novel.

How’d you go about finding an editor?

PS, I spent the weekend reading the backs of books. Hundreds of winning query letters at my fingertips. Sometimes, I’m an idiot. :D

I currently have 10 single short stories (word count range 2K-8K) available and 5 collections (which include some of those same stories). Everything sells, though, not hugely. The collections, so far, sell at about the same rate as the single stories. Ask me again in 6 months. Then I’ll have real data. =)

-David

This is very encouraging for me, as I’m hoping to release two novella’s in the fall. Prior to the ebook phenomenon, I didn’t even think about trying to sell anything less that 50k because publishing houses weren’t looking for it.

As for short stories, I like to publish them through online ezines. :D

I love Google alerts :).

Just so my current sales rank for Matchmakers 2.0 (the novella Lindsay mentioned) doesn’t lead anyone astray, it’s not gonna stay there :). Amazon put it into the freebie bonanza last week, and 27,000 people downloaded it (which bumped me way up an bunch of lists temporarily, but I that should drop off over the next few days, I’m guessing).

Prior to all that craziness, both my novellas drifted in the 5-10K sales rank range. Nice steady sales, and readers enjoy them, but…. I get a TON of requests for sequels and “make it longer”. My writing style is very character heavy, so even when the plot wraps up nicely in 20K words, readers protest having to let go of the characters that quickly. As a result, I’m not sure how many more of them I’ll write (the plan was to write lots – they’re fun and easy to do between longer books – but reader demand, at least for my works, says do series).

Anyhow, just my very limited experience :).

I haven’t paid for a short story single yet. I’ve checked out several short story anthologies (both multi-author and single-author) when I wanted a break from full length novels, but I haven’t paid for one either. The reason for the former is that the time investment in assessing to buy the short story (esp by an unknown author) vs. the actual time spent reading it feels a little inefficient for me. The reason for the latter is that the samples didn’t grab me. I was actually contemplating buying Dragon Lords and Warrior Women from Book View Cafe (with stories by a variety of authors including Ursula K. Le Guin and Vonda N. McIntyre), but I was underwhelmed by the first story and bored by the second that I didn’t feel like purchasing it. Maybe I would have liked some of the other stories in the anthology, but the sample didn’t live long enough on my e-reader for me to find out.

Thanks for commenting, Margaret. I’ve found a couple of novellas I’ve enjoyed, too, since getting my kindle. I’m so busy these days that I don’t actually mind shorter stories. *g*

Glad to hear your stories are doing well, MCA!

I’m with you, Reena. It usually takes me more than 6,000 words (or whatever) to get into characters. A good author can grab me in 20,000 though. ;) Of course, then I expect them to put out a series with them!

I had to think to remember the names of the “other stories” in the Ice Cracker trio, too, Anke. *g*

Glad you enjoy spending time in sleazy motels, Mark. Er, reading short stories. Yes, that’s what you wrote. :D

Mary, I’ve worked with two freelance editors and they’re great ladies (links are at the bottom of my side bar). I first heard of them on the KindleBoards.

Looking forward to seeing those novellas, DC!

Debora, thanks for popping in! I’ve been to scared to use Google Alerts for myself. Not sure I really want to know what people are saying about me out there (or be depressed because they aren’t saying anything *g*). I am vain enough to look myself up on Twitter now and then.

Frida, that always happens to me with multi-author anthologies. I’ll get it because so-and-so has a story in it and then be disappointed when most of the other stories don’t grab me. I get them from the library now, heh.

Interesting. It makes me think about the similarities and differences between multi-author short anthologies and SF/F magazines like Asimov, Strange Horizons, etc.

I *like* reading short stories in SF/F magazines, but then I admit I haven’t bought many because I just snack on the online freebies over several magazines with Instapaper (sorry guys. I was about to pay for a subscription to my favourite when I found out that it was only available through Zinio. Did not make this Kindle owner happy). Maybe I like SF/F magazines more because of the editorial choices. They’ve had more time to figure out the audience.

On a tangent, where do SF/F magazines (whether print or online-based) fit in the indie e-publishing ecosystem? Are the readers on those magazines, or are the readers more likely to be on Amazon?

Another tangent, I think the successes of SF/F magazines are dependent on the formats they can be read in (print, electronic formats), and it should be consciously thought about with regards to their marketing. I passed over this publication over several months ago http://www.steampunktales.com/ because of the “for your iPhone” tagline when I had a Kindle, when they actually do have Kindle formats available.

Lunch Break Thrillers, a compilation of 12 short stories, has exceeded my expectations. It jumped straight in to the charts for its category at number 4 in the UK and has stayed in the top ten ever since. It averages between 1/2,000 in the overall charts in the UK out of 450,000 books and 28,000 in America out if 950,000 books.

I try to pick themes that are topical. E.G Identity theft, drugs, home foreclosure/debt, eDating, self doubt etc and have a mix af male and female MCs.

I could have split them in to individual stories, but decided to go for value for money as a motivation to reach a wider reader base.

LOL Lindsay :). I like the google alerts – I’ve found out about some nice book blogger reviews I might have missed otherwise (including one in German – still not sure what that one says!), and also two attempts to pirate my books. Mostly it’s just fun, though.

I think part of my (obviously long winded) first message got cut off) – the part where I waved to everyone and thanked you muchly for the mention – so I’ll put it here!

Lindsay,

I’m thinking that Novellas are going to catch on, because everyone is just so damn busy these days. It’s probably a bit impractical to publish one in print unless you slap two or three together, but the ebook format is changing all that. The time it takes to read a novella is just too perfect for the modern age – a delayed flight at the airport, a long bus ride, a few lunch breaks at work, etc. Hope to see more of this format in the future.

My foray into epublishing is with a collection of stories I’ve gathered together. They follow a common theme – Edinburgh – so it made sense. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see it selling steadily.

Lindsay,

I am a very busy fellow and I have found that either a light easy read, or a novella are only bit of reading I can get in these days. I have an iPad with literally dozens of novels in my ‘to read’ cue, but the short stories are the ones that I devour at any regular rate. I grabbed your Flash Gold and ripped through it in a single sitting and seriously loved the tale. (So much, I posted a review on my blog about it.) While I will pick up a longer book, it is these short, easy reads that seem to be what I look for in this crazy modern age.
In fact, I just got your “The Emperor’s Edge” story and I hope I like it just as much as Flash Gold…though I would really like to see another tale with Kali and Cedar. Great writing!

I’ve sold thousands of copies of my novellas and my novellas are the reason I don’t need to have a day job anymore. Now granted I write erotic romance (among other things), but the market is there. As a reader – I’m also a fan of short fiction. Especially when I’m working (i.e. writing). Sometimes a novel is just too much of a commitment when I’m busy. ::shrug::

You said: “…short story collections or anthologies just aren’t that popular. I have to admit I’m unlikely to buy them.”

I, on the other hand, have always loved story collections, especially of multiple authors, for one big reason: if I hate one author’s style or story, I can move on to the next. I’m not stuck with a whole book of his junk, merely one story. The rest of the dozen-or-so stories in the book can be approached with a fresh outlook and have a chance of being better.

I think story collections are great. If they don’t sell well, whether in print (though I thought that they did well there) or in e-books, I don’t know why.

As an author, I love writing fictional short stories. My two contemporary romance books are Shades of Deception is an anthology of ten short stories and Malicious Acts, which features five short stories. They are available at Lulu.com, Smashwords.com and Amazon’s Kindle.

However, my first book Making Dollar$ And Cent$ Out Of Online Dating is more popular than my other two book. Go figure. :)

What a difference a day makes. Just to update I said I hadn’t published my thriller shorts as individuals which vary fro 5,000 to 8,000 words.

After a change of heart, I have published them on kindle US and Germany and also at smashwords, but so far not in the UK.

I have also published two if them with German translations and included UK and an American English version, with links fo the customer to make the choice of language. In all the other 12 shorts, I include UK or American English as a choice.

The results have been staggering. What I have found is that in America, people are sampling the individual stories and then buying my anthogy. In Germany the reverse is happening and I have 10 top ten ranks fro their catagory and a number one rank.

As for smashwords… well people expect them free on there so I am not holding my breath.

More power to short stories.

Congratulations on your success, Declan!

I just had Amazon list one of my short story anthologies for free, and I’m surprised how many downloads it got in the first 24 hours. I have no idea how people find those freebies, because I didn’t do anything to promote it. I hope it increases sales of my EE novels. :)

When I get on Amazon, I specifically search for free books, or I pull up a category and sort it by price, so the free books come up first.

Reading people’s stuff for free is what gave me the idea of doing some stuff of my own for free/cheap as a form of marketing for the novels I want to get published. But, after reading your blog, I’m starting to think I might make a little income from publishing short stories, in addition to using them to get my name out there.

I’m in the middle of formatting a 15,000 word novelette for Smashwords and Kindle. I think some writers do better with shorter stories than long. I had originally wanted this story to be a full length novel, but I found myself forcing the story. I’d rather write a shorter version I’m proud of than 50,000 words of dribble. Besides, with indie writers being under so much pressure to create a backlist, it’s easier to create several 20,000 word stories without losing quality.

[...] As we’ve talked about before (How Well Does Short Fiction Sell in Ebook Form? and Novellas and Short Stories — Ebooks Not Just for Novels), there are no rules when it [...]

I’m really surprised to see such good sales of individual short stories and novellas. I didn’t think they’d do that well, considering that short stories have never been a popular seller (although, I must admit that I’ve started enjoying short stories on my Kindle).

Maybe that’s because, as you say, people don’t want to read an entire anthology of unrelated short stories, but publishers won’t sell individual short stories or novellas because they’re too expensive to publish.

I have been trying to find an agent for my urban fantasy trilogy for a couple of years. I finally decided to put it on the back burner and try my hand at historic romance in the hopes that I would have an easier time getting a publisher for a romance novel. Then, once I have a publishing credit under my belt, I can try again with my fantasy trilogy.

But when I got a Kindle for Hannukamas, I started rethinking my strategy. I started publishing a free, weekly serial novel on my blog and now I’m ramping up to put some short stories on Amazon. I’m hoping that, after a while, that will start generating some name recognition and if I can’t attract an agent with blog stats and short story sales, then I’ll at least have enough of a following to try self-publishing some of my novels.

Something that I’ve had in my mind lately is the idea of the Victorian penny-dreadful or the dime Westerns–serial stories or novellas cheaply available for a wide audience. Publishing shifted to focus almost exclusively on novels, but maybe we can see a resurgence of quick, fun stories via e-book formats.

[...] this blog post is making me think that there might actually be some money to be made in selling short stories on [...]

[...] I think, “Eh, that seems kind of expensive.” (I’m not the only one who does this; Lindsay Buroker says she felt that 99-cents was too much money for a short piece of [...]

I’ve been pleasantly surprised. My debut, Dead Man Walking, is a tiny little thing at about 8800 words but it’s selling at a steady pace. Of course, zombies are the in thing these days so that probably helped.

My second title, Little Demons, is longer but still falls in novelette range. It’s only been on Amazon for two weeks so it’s a little early to see how it might do… but I have my fingers crossed :)

Could you please direct me where and how I can submit my 20,000 word poem titled A Letter to Tina for sale on google ebook?

Really interesting comments; i write under various pen names ebooks have been a lifesaver for getting characters out of my head!
My general fiction book is full length and sells steadily. I also write erotic fiction short stories which i sell as singular pieces they feature one main characters again uptake is slow but steady but my erotic romance in comparison of novellas has really taken off. Theres definitely appetite out their for shorter stories at an affordable price.

Hi Elizabeth. I have a couple of unpublished short stories and was very interested in what you wrote here about pen names “i write under various pen names”

Could you kindly share some information about the pros and cons of writing under a pen name. Most importantly does one have to register a pen name? What does the use of a pen name entail. I am seriously considering using one for my stories but need some guidance.

Thank you.

I believe there is a market for shorts. And I also believe as the ebook reader market grows this will become more and more appealing. Allot of people simply don’t have time to read longer works. They want something fast to read while commuting or on lunch. That said the biggest “obstacle” is how to price a short?

Anyhow great write up

Agreed, Pieter. Perhaps authors shall make a better profit from bundled collections that can be priced higher than 99 cents, for example?

I am endeavoring to add value to my upcoming bundles by releasing original songs (written and recorded by me and inspired by the stories) as part of my audio book release.

It’s the new frontier so why not, hey?!

What I’m working on now is to publish a bunch of short stories (called “Cybernetic Mysticism”) which are complete artworks in themselves, but interweave, too–with persistent characters, an overal narrative framework, etc.–imagine a vast space opera, except ultra-psychadelic. The hope is that if people read the first two stories for free (“Don’t Call me Jonathan, Call Me Starhunter” and “Goodbye Alice, Goodbye Sunbeard), they’ll want to keep following the storyline and buy the other stories. We shall see!

I’ve recently released my first novel (both print and digital), which is a full-length epic fantasy. The sequel will be hefty as well and will take me awhile to write. I’ve read again and again how important it is for self-published authors to have multiple titles out there, but I’m just not willing to rush the sequel. I don’t want the story to suffer. Reading this post has encouraged me to think about releasing some short stories in the meantime. I just started a document with a list of short story ideas, many of which have ties to my novel. Thanks for the great post!

I’m just learning about ebooks. What about short stories of 500 – 3,000 words? I would like feedback on that and how to get started.

Lenna, you might find a lot of helpful info on Smashwords.

I’ve recently published Invasion of Privacy and Other Short Stories that’s free on Amazon. It’s currently ranked #2 in Free Fiction/Short Stories. The title story is 10,000 words and the 9 other stories are 1,000 to 2,000 words, more like flash fiction.

My reason for offering it free is to attract readers and hopefully sell them my next book coming out soon.
I think it’s doing well, but I agree about readers liking novels because of their length.

I’ve always been a fan of short stories and enjoy O’Henry and Poe. I think there are plenty of people out there who just don’t have the time to get involved in a long novel.

I totally agree, Jim! Good luck with your releases.

I have completed one novelette (17,000 +Words) and one novella (31,000 Words) and have not published either of them yet. I am putting the finishing touches on one short story and have ideas for and briefs written out for eight more. I also have a idea for a second novella to continue the characters story of the first novella. My question is should I go forward with publishing the first two now or wait until I have more completed and ready so that I might get more sales from readers that migh like my work. Thanks

I’ve written one novella so far and I’ve published it already on Amazon. I feel that my first novella will help me get the word out by the time my second novella is ready.

Oh! I didn’t mention that all of my work so far is adult erotica. I plan on publishing on Kendle Direct Publishing, should I publish them elsewhere also? Then how should I market or advertise my work?

Thanks for much for this post, Lindsay! As I continue the writing process for my first ever Ebook (Yayyy! :]) I am looking for all of the advice I can get. A number of articles here on your blog have been quite helpful. Thank again! :]

As a newbie self published author of short stories I really enjoyed this post and the helpful resources here. I agree with the folks who feel short stories suit busy lifestyles and our often short attention spans. I’m looking at mine as literary quickies. lol. :))

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