25 July 2020

The Best Thing about Writing Short Stories (and it's not the money...)

Beyond the delight of creating a story that swings on a single plot point/twist...

Beyond the excitement of putting together a really professional product in just a few weeks...

Beyond the satisfaction of mastering the craft of the short story in another tautly written tale that speeds along with the impact of a runaway commuter train...

Here is the real reason I love writing short stories.

My 17th book is done.  Sent to agent in New York.  I sit back, awaiting the inevitable comments, rounds of edits, during which I will alternately cry, fume and laugh hysterically.

Then off to the publisher it goes.  After which there will be more edits, more crying, fuming, and possibly, more drinking.  (Okay, that's a cert.)

Which is why I love writing short stories.

To Wit:
I've been a novelist for over 15 years now.  My 16th book came out this February (yes, possibly the worst timing in the history of the human race, with the possible exception of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, but I digress.)

So I've had two traditional publishers and three series, but believe it or not, I got my start writing short stories.  In fact, I have over 50 of those published, and 24 of those were in print before I even gave a thought to write a crime novel.

Why do I love writing short stories so much?  Short stories come with less stress than a novel because...

Short stories are all mine.

In order to get a novel contract with a medium to big house, you really have to keep the audience in mind.  Sure, you write what you want to write, but with the publisher's audience always in mind.  Then your agent gets hold of it, and makes comments and suggestions.  Next, your house editor will be asking for changes to the manuscript, and possibly even to the story to make it most appealing to their audience. 

All good.  All with the purpose of increasing sales, which I'm sure it does.  All tedious as hell.

Yesterday, I sent my 17th book to my agent.  She really liked the first 30 pages sent months ago.  I probably won't sleep until I hear she likes the next 200.

If she does, it's a sparkling vino moment.  If the publisher does too, then break out the Bolly.  (I do love Ab Fab, by the way.  Just call me Eddie.)

But then the fun starts.  I have to wait for the inevitable tinkering.

I can see now that one of the great joys of writing a short story is there is no interference.  It's MY story, just the way I want to tell it.  I've been published in AHMM, Star Magazine, ComputorEdge, Canadian Living Magazine, Flash Fiction, and others, and no editors have ever suggested substantial changes to the stories they've published by me, or even requested minor changes.

Writing a short story is a more independent project than writing a novel.  I love that.

But back to the title (and it's not about the money):  I have actually made more per word with some short stories, than I have with some novels.  Mind you, if I'm making a dollar per word for short stories, that would translate to $80,000 per novel, and I don't reach that with every book.  

So although we say you can't make a living writing short stories anymore, it is possible to make some Bolly money.  Usually hobbies cost you money.  This is one that allows you to make some!

I've always said that when my novel career wanes, I will continue to write short stories with gusto.

It's true what they say:  you never forget your first love.

Melodie Campbell has won the Derringer, the Arthur Ellis and eight more awards.  She didn't even steal them, which will be explained if you look up her wacky Goddaughter books...


  1. It's hard to believe that people actually did make a living writing short stories in the 20th century, isn't it? Ah, for the good old days. But short stories are fun, and besides there's the instant gratification of finishing something relatively quickly compared to novels. Though I've had stories that seemed to take that long... But it is nice to get a finished product in a shorter time. Of course, then you have to wait, and wait, and wait (like they did in Casablanca) to hear if it's been accepted.

  2. Yes, it does seem a lifetime ago, when we could make a living from writing fiction period, Paul! Well, I make something of a living at it, but you could probably make more managing a Starbucks. But short stories alone - no way. Money doesn't matter for me now. I will always love the gem of creating a great short story.

  3. Melodie, I make enough on short stories to do a 5-year amoritization schedule on my computer and blow the rest on a Bouchercon or a Left Coast Crime Conference, so it's lucky for me that I have a good pension to pay the bills. And, I can't call my short story writing a hobby, else the IRS might take me to task for some of my other deductions, although an IRS friend I used to work with once told me, with a wink, "It's all deductible unless they catch you."

    Glad to hear how you're getting by. You do tell an interesting story..

  4. RT - I heard one mid-list author put it well. She said that writing paid for the finer things in her life - conferences, trips she wouldn't otherwise have. And I think that's a terrific way to be. Don't expect to live on it, but enjoy splurging when those advances come through!

  5. My writing career manages to pay most of my bills - for writing the short stories. Paper, toner, software, etc. And every once in a while, some Bolly. Or
    Eddie: Sweetie, what are you drinking?
    Patsy: Oh, this? Chanel No. 5.

  6. My writing "career" hasn't paid for anything recently. I was in the hospital for six months in 2019 & one story I wrote just before I got sick was accepted for an anthology a couple weeks ago, but no money yet. Right now I'm revising a longer story I started in 2018 or maybe even before.

  7. Eve, LOVE Ab Fab! My friends have been calling me Eddie for years...

  8. Elizabeth, I'm sorry you were in hospital so long. Hope you are feeling much better and can find time to write now.

  9. In 1928, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a standing deal with one magazine--maybe The Saturday Evening Post, but I don't remember for sure--that they got right of first refusal on his short stories, and they paid $3500 dollars. That's half what I made for my first year of teaching 40 years later. Nobody makes that now.

    I love short stories, Mel, and I love your attitude. They're really therapeutic, especially after the long slog getting the latest round of a novel right. They're like that two-week getaway to make new friends you'll never see again, but enjoyed for the visit. I wish I sold more of them, but two more will appear this year, and another one has sold that doesn't have a pub date yet. Nothing beats the rush of that acceptance letter, especially with all the competition out there now.

  10. I absolutely love your comment, Steve: "They're like that two-week getaway to make new friends you'll never see again, but enjoyed for the visit" - I shall quote you forever on that! And thanks for the info on F. Scott. It makes me even sadder to know that, however. We simply aren't valued now.


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