1. johnjames
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    johnjames Member

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    Smashwords short story publishing - is it profitable, or at all worthwhile?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by johnjames, Jul 28, 2010.

    I am an author, and have already a novel series pending publication through print.
    I do, however, have also a large collection of short stories I have created.
    Now, I am only a young and unknown author, and - not intending to sound pompous - I am very good. I focus on mainly on fantasy, science-fiction, romance, philosophy and socio-political criticisms and parodies.
    It is difficult to professionally publish short stories like mine - at least, while I am an unkown. I've yet to find a reputable agent in Australia without a "no short stories" notice.
    Taking a look at Smashwords, it seems a decent solution.
    But, it also appears as though - and no offense to any authors already published on Smashwords - it appears as though a large portion of books published through that service are there only because they were not good enough for mainstream.
    I fear that if the expectation of quality is low, my stories would get very little circulation regardless of their own quality.

    So, my question is - and please, only answer if you have experience with Smashword publishing - if my short; for example a serious sci-fi romp of about 17,000 words priced between $2.99-$3.99 and available as Premium were floating around and could genuinely claim the high quality I do, would I ever see any money?

    I don't mean mega-money of course, and the site itself cautions against high expectations, but I have other projects, and converting to or writing new ebooks takes time from them.
    I need to know if it's reasonable to expect sales at all - say, even as low as roughly $30-$50 a week, but if I'd only make $7 in three months - remember, the example is supposedly a very popular piece - I could find better uses for my time.

    Thanks for reading, and thank you to any who answers my question seriously and honestly.


    (I had initially posted this question on Yahoo Answers; but as the typical answers in that site consist mainly of "lolz" and suggestions to Google search, I've reposted here.)
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Vanity press is still vanity press. Even if you don't have to pay a big up-front payment, you will have to do your own marketing. Your total sales are unlikely to greatly exceed the number of friends and relatives you can cajole.
     
  3. johnjames
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    johnjames Member

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    That's one of my concerns - but, apparently Smashwords published ebooks have exposure on Amazon, are available on iPad and other popular devices.
    It's also apparently a non-binding publishing agreement, so there's nothing stopping me from collecting my shorts in an anthology for print publish at a later date.
    Nothing, except potential negative association with vanity publishing.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That plus a traditional publisher normally won't touch anything that is previously published. A new writer is a big enough risk, and if the same book is available at lower cost elsewhere, their chances of making back their investment are that much worse. Not a good bet.
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    The question with these kinds of alternative online publishing routes is always how quickly do you think the market is going to shift towards them. That traditional print publishing is on the way out is a given, and new forms of publishing online are going to become increasing valuable as they lose the stigma imposed on them by traditional publishing and the previous generation(s). So the question is how much confidence do you have in them? Are you willing to risk losing a conventional publishing deal in favour of exploring new alternatives? There are success stories, and if you work hard and are smart about things, you might be one of them. Or, you try to pursue conventional publishing, where its far less likely that your work will be published in any form, but you remain in favour with those who refuse to adapt to a new writing and reading environment. At this point, its still a relatively difficult choice.
     
  6. johnjames
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    johnjames Member

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    That is true. Still, I am attempting to have an unrelated novel series published, and the short stories I may publish with Smashwords are under a pen-name.
    Even so, pen-names do have limits to their relative anonimity.
    So, I would not be presenting anything self-published to any other publishers.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    While, yes, publishing may go more electronic and, yes, that may mean that more books are published because the investment for each one is lower and, yes, since the investment is lower that may reduce the influence of big publishers, I don't think that any of that eliminates the need for an editor. And self-publishing, as far as I can tell, generally does eliminate the editor.

    Can many authors, even very good and professional authors, get along just fine without an editor? Are they really able to see their book with completely clear dispassionate eyes, and find and correct what's wrong with it? Are there lots and lots of authors whose editors do essentially _nothing_ to their books, so that the editors are totally unnecessary? I have trouble thinking that that's true.

    ChickenFreak
     
  8. johnjames
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    johnjames Member

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    True, having no editor could allow poor content through.
    I regard myself as a reasonable self-editor, which suffices for most corrections, but an insistence that because a sentence makes perfect sense to me it will to everybody else who reads it, for example, is better handled by a third party.

    Even still, that's more a professional criticism - ordinary buyers tend not to think of the depth of the literary industry.
    Granted, your point I think was more that a lack of editors should allow unmitigated crap to be published.

    But, these are short stories I'm talking about, and I am confident of their quality.
     
  9. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    JohnJames,

    If your writing is as good as you indicate, then you should not have a problem selling the short stories to pro markets. While 17,000 words isn't a short story, if you sold it to a pro market, you'd earn about $850. You could always reprint it through smashwords once the contract (usually a year--but it depends on the market) allows you to--they often retain rights for a certain period and/or have a no competition type clause.

    If you're an unknown, exactly who is going to seek out and purchase your short fiction at Smashwords? How are they even going to know it exists?

    A couple of benefits of Smashwords, are that there can be (depending on the length of the work) an option where someone could read part of the work for free (the first 10 or 20%). Also Smashwords has agreements with other vendors, that if you list with them, eventually your work will be available through Barnes&Noble in eformat, for their Nook. I don't know about short stories with that, but I do know it is so for novel length works.

    In addition to print, my publisher (Gryphonwood Press) lists my work in ebook form through smashwords (and thus B&N), but also the Amazon Kindle. As of my last royalty statement, I've sold about 5 times more ebooks through the Kindle than Smashwords, and the curve for Kindle sales has a slight but steady upward trend, while smashwords is pretty flat. You can look here for more details: Sales Analysis for Flank Hawk.

    If you had a novel or some other work available, you could use the smashwords stories as a promotional tool (you can get 'coupon' numbers for free giveaways for example).

    But unless you have a stong way to get word out--your goal of selling 15 or so copies of your short story a week to earn the $30.00 a week is very unlikely.

    If your writing is strong and would be of interest to readers, find short story markets and sell to them. You don't need an agent...agents representing short stories are so rare it's pretty much unheard of, except possibly for short story collections. Such collections are generally only purchased by large houses from well-known writers. There are niche markets that accept them, but they're usually pretty small operations.

    Good luck.

    Terry
     
  10. johnjames
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    johnjames Member

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    Thanks, Terry.

    Yeah, I guess 17,000 words wouldn't be considered a short story - but, personally I consider it to be very short compared to the novels I've written awaiting publication.
    Almost as a habit, I call anything less than 60,000 words a short story.
    My as-yet-unpublished series has about a half a million words total.

    Thanks for the link to your sales figures - you gave me just the sort of information I was looking for. I'll seek out the pro market here - smashwords sales are just too low, and judging from reviews your book is popular.
    For an unknown like me, I wouldn't move dust.

    The only thing now is that the pro short market in Australia is very small in the modern day, but I have found a few magazines and competitions that may give me a foot in the door.
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, at the price range you mention for Smashwords, I might hesitate. I have purchased from Smashwords. The items in question are Storm Constantine's Wraeththu series (both trilogies). Storm Constantine is a known entity. My first purchase of her books were in hardcopy print from Borders. She is excellent, in my opinion. Her wares up for offer at Smashwords are priced at a very economic $5.00 USD.

    Known Author + Very Economic price = Reticence to pay much the same for an unknown.
     
  12. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    JohnJames,

    Although sales of Flank Hawk have done pretty well, if I was with a large NY House, they would be anemic. What I am saying is that in the wide world of publishing and readership, I'm still a virtual unknown.

    You don't need to only submit to Australian markets. My publisher is based in the USA, but has published one UK and two Australian writers. Erica Hayes (who read and provided a blurb for Flank Hawk) lives in Australia and has had two novels published through St. Martin's Press, has another one contracted on the way, and is writing a 4th.

    Authors getting published outside their home country is not uncommon, short stories included.

    I am not sure what you're indicating when stating 'pending' (accepted but currently negotiating the contract?) but getting short stories published, especially in the same genre, can help generate some buzz and interest for when your debut novel is released. If nothing else, most markets have author bios that offer the opportunity for a listing/link to the author's website and works published or forthcoming. If the readers enjoyed the published short story, the theory is they will follow the link to find something else by the writer. Of course, having a pen name would inhibit some of this.

    Terry
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I was watching a podcast by Mike Resnick, who is one of the most successful (and long-standing) science fiction writers and editors out there.

    He said, basically, that a new author should never sell to non-pro markets. His opinion as an editor is that you're basically saying to the world that your work isn't of professional caliber, and he thought that was a bad thing. He felt that having a writing bio that consisted of a bunch of non-pro (based on pay rate) sales wasn't a good thing for an editor to see.

    Throwing that out there from someone with a lot of experience in the business, for what it is worth.

    I agree with the above poster who said if your work is really that good, you should sell to pro markets. That will be better for your career as a writer, in my view.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    Yeah, I guess 17,000 words wouldn't be considered a short story - but, personally I consider it to be very short compared to the novels I've written awaiting publication.
    Almost as a habit, I call anything less than 60,000 words a short story.

    ...if you want to be considered a 'professional' writer/author and not an amateur, you'd best use the terms pros use... and a novella [or undersized novel] is not considered a 'short story' in the writing world or the publishing industry...
     
  15. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Steerpike,

    I recall reading an article in The Bulletin (SFWA's Quarterly Magazine) where Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg discussed the point you made in one of their "Dialogue" articles. If I recall, they didn't come to full agreement while discussing the pros and cons but what Mike Resnick indicated definately has merit. If they were always in full agreement, their quarterly "Dialogue" article wouldn't be much of a discussion ;)

    I just signed a contract a couple weeks ago with an ezine that pays 3 cents a word, but maxes out at $100.00, and got an acceptance last week from a market that pays a flat rate of $25.00 (July has been a good month:)). Neither is on the SFWA approved pro market list as they don't pay 5 cents a word, but the money (even if less) spends and people do end up with the opportunity to read my works.

    But, as indicated, Mike Resnick is a pro who's had staying power in the writing business.

    Terry
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Terry:

    I'm inclined to agree with the action you took, and I would do the same. I think Resnick overstates the stigma attached to semi-pro markets for most pro editors. Granted, if you submitted to something Resnick was editing (like Jim Baen's Universe, before they stopped) I suppose listing semi-pro sales would be a negative. But I don't think for most editors it will hurt you if you submit a pro-quality story to them.

    But Mike knows a hell of a lot more about the industry than I do, so...
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    While it may not be an ideal "pro" situation, this does seem substantially different from the self-publishing scenario - money was flowing in the correct direction, and there was a selection process involved, rather than you just deciding for yourself that your own work is good enough to publish.

    ChickenFreak
     

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