Wednesday, March 6, 2019

In Case You're Wondering, Novels Really Are Easier To Sell

I love reading short stories. I've always enjoyed the art form, and I treated both collections and anthologies as a kind of sampler platter. Which is to say, they were the thing I checked out when I wasn't sure what I liked in a genre, or when I wanted a lot of different flavors by the time I closed the back cover. These books were often how I found new authors, and how I explored new aspects of genres I liked. That was why I started writing short fiction; I figured it would give people a sample of my work so they could decide if they liked it or not.

Then I wrote a novel. And let me tell you, the difference in selling these two very different products is like night and day.

"So this is my fantasy novel-" Great, I'll take two.

People Really Like Novels (While Shorts Remain A Tough Sell)

For folks who haven't been by My Amazon Author Page lately, I've been a part of a lot of short story anthologies over the years. I've also released my own collection of steampunk noir shorts, titled New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam. From fantasy and sci-fi, to horror and romance, short story anthologies have been universally difficult for me to sell. That is not to say that they don't sell, of course, but you really need to have your pitch down perfect to get people to take a bite on a bunch of shorts. And even then, you're more likely to get them to take a card than you are to close a sale.

By contrast, I released a sword and sorcery novel last year titled Crier's Knife. And you know something? It is a lot easier to get people to buy copies of this book than any short story collection with my name in it.

Speaking of, go buy your copy today!
To be clear, I am not selling gangbusters. But in my experience, both online and in-person, novels hook more potential readers (and buyers) than short stories do. Especially because, with an anthology, someone tends to get entire stories with their sample. With a novel you only get a few chapters, which is enough to draw you in, but not enough to satisfy you. When you combine that with the fact that readers seem to enjoy long-form fiction, it's just easier to convince people to check out your book if it tells a single story, and has a bit of heft to it.

I'm not the only author who's noticed this phenomenon. Jason Sanford talked about it on his blog in the post Should Authors Avoid Short Stories if They Desire Literary Success? In this post he brought up something interesting... mainly that we don't consume our fiction the way we used to. Which is to say that in the old days we got our sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc. mainly from magazines. They were all over the place, and they were paying big money to fill their pages. So much so that many writers would use short stories to pay their bills while they completed novels, thus making it seem that you should write short stories to build your audience and start stacking checks, and then release a novel to cash in. Then, as novels began to grow more common in new and burgeoning genres, they became the main meat for readers, and short stories became a kind of side dish.

In today's Internet age, magazines are niche publications. While there are lots of digital places where short stories are more than welcome, collections tend to move minimal copies unless the people in them are already famous, and have a following eager to gobble up any new content from them. And while you can do well with novellas (at least according to some metrics), short stories still tend to fall into the bottom of the barrel most of the time when it comes to sales.

There's A Market For Everything

Now, does that mean you can't make money writing short stories? Of course not! You totally can. Writing for open anthology calls can make you semi-regular paychecks, get your name out there, and help you build both your network and your readership. It pads your archive of work, and helps draw more people to you.

However, if you had the option of spending a year putting together a collection of short stories, or a year working on a novel, you're going to get a lot more bang for your buck out of the novel. Whether you're bringing it to readings, trying to move copies at a convention, or just doing online link sharing, a novel will almost always score higher, all other things being equal.

Just something to think about.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing installment. For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive. Also, I'm on Pinterest now, so come take a look at my boards where you'll be able to find all kinds of fun stuff! To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

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