Last year, I wrote thirty short mermaid-themed stories for the Blog Your Book in 30 Days challenge. This year, I am writing short fairy tales and paranormal-themed stories for the challenge. I have had many short stories and flash fiction published in a variety of different anthologies. I think it is safe to say that I enjoy writing short stories. Writing short stories allows me to test out characters and possible story-lines ahead of time and see how others respond to them. It allows me to flex my creative muscles in new ways with each short story I write. So I thought it might be useful for me to share a little bit about the history of short stories, current trends in the short story market and how writing short stories can be an excellent marketing tool.
Years ago, before we had a written language, stories were told verbally. The stories told served many purposes, from preserving a group of people's history, culture and beliefs to ways of explaining things that had no explanation in those days. Stories helped people to be less afraid of the unknown by creating stories around things to explain how they came to be. The oral stories served as lessons to the younger generations.
Short stories and poetry was often interconnected, as many of the writers in the days of Old English and Medieval English told their stories in rhyme or in the metered and measured way of poems. In medieval times, bards often sang their stories.
Short stories were a popular from of storytelling from the 1400s onwards, but, in the late 1900s, the growth of print magazines and journals created a stronger demand for short fiction. As time went on, longer length novels became the new normal and began to take over the market. It wasn't until the emergence of the e-book market that the short story would take on new life. Shorter attention spans, busier lives and the popularity of mobile devices spawned more demand for stories in their shorter forms.
This new demand for short stories has given them a new value in the marketplace. Authors are producing short story collection and multi-author anthologies of short stories. Short stories are being sold on their own as e-book purchases, and e-book covers are made for them just as they are made for longer novels. People are buying books as "serials," only getting a small portion of the story sent to them at a time and paying for each installment.
Searching the Amazon e-book marketplace today under the search term "short stories and anthologies" pulled up 50,916 anthologies and 133,207 short stories. Many of the books listed under "short stories" are collections of short stories.
If you don't want your short stories published in a collection of your own, there are many paying markets for your short stories, from other anthologies to magazines and even short story competitions.
If you do publish your short story in an anthology that doesn't pay (or offer your short story for free on Amazon and other sites like it), you might wonder what benefit you will get from doing so. Some authors may tell you never to give away a story just for "exposure." They maintain that the value of exposure is not enough to make it worthwhile, but I am suggesting otherwise. Short stories do not take as long to write as novels. Short stories also do not take as long to read as novels. A reader might be more willing to try a short story from a new author than a full-length novel. And if readers like your story, they will look for longer works by you.
In some recent anthologies in which some of my stories appeared, I found that I gained some new fans. These fans read my short stories and then tracked me down on social media to see if I had any other offerings, some of them even suggesting which of my short stories would make a great subject for a longer book. By publishing my short stories, not only am I gaining some readers who are now looking for more work written by me, but if I continue some of the stories they seem to like best, or write my novels in the same genre as those short stories, I may be able to turn these fans into lifelong fans. And those are the kinds of fans who help build a reputation, and that is one of the ways authors can find themselves becoming best-selling authors.