Story Collections or Single Stories

In the print world it’s unlikely that a publisher is going publish a collection of short stories as a first book. The simple reason: novels are easier to market and sell. In the indie world the rules are different. The rules are as follows: do whatever you want. That freedom is liberating and intimidating because no one is backing you. You are responsible for the product you put out.

After considering my options and researching self publishing over the last couple years, I decided to self-publish a collection of short stories. However, my initial plan was to put one story out as a freebie (in this case “The Memory of a Salt Shaker”) and then publish the rest as a collection. But when the time came, I was unsure if I was making the right choice.

What the Vast Tube Array Says

There wasn’t a ton of chatter on this topic. However, Lindsay Buroker had the most thoughtful, though misleading, post regarding short stories versus collections on her website. She says, “As it turns out, readers seem to be less interested in short-story collections and more interested in single-story ebooks, regardless (to some extent) of length.” For her evidence she cites a previous post she wrote where she links to four short stories doing well at Amazon. The problem here is that she is conflating short stories with novelettes or novellas; all her examples are longer than a short story. A short story is usually defined by a word count falling somewhere between 1000 to 7500 words, give or take a few hundred. Novelettes are 7500 to 17,500 words and Novellas are 17,500 to 40,000 words. I have three stories in the collection that are over 7000 words and three stories under that length. The shortest being 5000 words.

Furthermore, Buroker isn’t “planning to break up [her] collections and sell the short stories individually since… each short story would be cost prohibitive. Also, most of [her] short stories are less than 6,000 words, and [she doesn’t] want to charge a dollar for something that short.” After I read her two posts (and a couple other authors’ musings) I began to wonder: if collections don’t sell and stories under 10000 words are not worth pricing then where does that leave me?

What the Pats Say

So I went to my dad, Pat. He has over 40 years experience selling retail. Pat is also an early adopter and has had a Kindle for a while. He usually keeps three books in rotation at least one fiction (usually a mystery or thriller) and a couple of non-fiction pieces. He’s a heavy reader and knows the brick-and-mortar marketplace fairly well. Instead of bundling, he advocated selling each unit separately and not worrying about the length. Pat said, “Bernie, if you can break it up into six SKUs then that’s the way you should go. With six items in the market then you aren’t hanging your hopes on any one item. How you’re going to get eyeballs on each SKU is another thing all together. Talk to your mother.”

My mother, Pat, (yes, her name is Pat as is my dad’s; most people call her Patti, I call her mom) works in a retail boutique and used to be my father’s business partner back when they owned a business together. She is also a massive reader. By massive reader I mean it’s no surprise if she reads three or more books a week, plus her newspapers, plus her magazines, plus her websites. She spends so much money and time at her local Barnes and Noble, and gets others to buy books there, the company should have her running a corporate division. She reads everything from Nobel Literature to “bubblegum for the brain;” from Pulitzer Non-Fiction to “fluffy memoirs.” Her wheelhouse books are horror, thrillers, mystery and feel-good pop lit. It would seem that the e-reader would be ideal for her rate of consumption, but she’s is a print junkie. “I can’t curl up with that damn thing. If it were the size of a hardback, then, maybe.”

Pat knows what she likes and she doesn’t like, “Bern, short stories are too short. That’s why there are novels.” However, she agrees with my dad, “With six separate e-books you may have a better chance at developing a readership.” And my mom is someone who follows authors, knows when their next book is and, if she likes it, it makes the rounds among family and friends. If I could get a reader like her, maybe writing would be sustainable.

An Actionable Plan

After consulting with the Pats, I may be wandering, but I am no longer lost. The long-term plan is to release each story separately as an e-book. My steps to total world domination are as follows.

  1. Split up the collection. Done.
  2. Make first story perma-free. Done (or will be perma-free when Amazon matches prices).
  3. Price subsequent releases.
    1. Even if they are under the 6000 words, charge for the story. The idea here is that by having a price, they have a real and perceived value.
      1. The problem: any price may prohibit people from even looking at any short story.
      2. The solution: Price well and write great stories; stories worth readers’ time and money. If someone buys your story, and it’s great, then prepare for more readers, because buyers evangelize about products they love.
  4. Establish a publication schedule.
    1. Goal will be: 45-50 days, a new release.
      1. It’s slower, but I’m aiming at building a long-term audience who I can then transition into longer works. Who knows; this may not work.
      2. With this schedule I can spread the stories out over the year and then when I am done have a novel or two (or more) ready to go at the end of the run.
  5. Eventually, compile a print collection into a trade paperback and/or collector’s edition.
    1. Something desirable, though. Print books should now be beautiful objects that we want to own. In other words, the art of the book must be as important as the words in the book.

Here’s hoping for a successful go.

In other news…

Over the weekend, “The Memory of a Salt Shaker” posted on Kobo’s and Sony’s stores. We are still waiting on Barnes and Noble.

The next story, a novelette, will be released in January. I’ll have dates as we get closer. Here’s a peek at the synopsis:

The Space Within These Lines Is Not Dedicated” follows Lucy, a late twenty-something, after a cicada tells her she only has three days to live. However, Lenny, the cicada and a representative from the Known Living Entities, offers her a different option, “Give us your potential. You are not using it.”

Over the course of three days Lucy tries to understand what they are asking of her while taking care of her alcoholic mother, attempting to come to terms with the loss of her father, and confronting her feelings for her best friend Faye.

It has talking bugs, tango, a love story, Philadelphia, what more could you want?

The Love Statue by Robert Indiana in Love Park, Philadelphia

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