The conventional wisdom in publishing says that it’s impossible to make a living writing short fiction, regardless of the genre that you’re working in. The individual story markets don’t pay enough, the phrase I have a short story collection you may be interested in seems to terrify publishers, and readers seem to have thrown their weight behind the novel as their preferred narrative format.
Which is why, as a writer who enjoys short stories, Dean Wesley Smith’s post about Making a Living with Short Fiction in the digital age immediately caught my attention. He speculates that a hard-working writer, utilising electronic self-publishing and traditional short-story markets, could conceivably be earning a $40,000 US income within six years.
There’s plenty of assumptions at work in Smiths’ post, especially in terms of how much a writer produces (50+ stories a year), how many will be accepted into traditional markets (10+ sales) and reprint markets, and the average sales that can be expected released electronically.
Taking those into account, you’d need to be a dedicated and hard-working writer to make Smith’s plan work. At the same time, the pace he suggests doesn’t strike me as impossible for a full-time writer, and there’s plenty of discussion in the comments that offers anecdotal evidence to support his numbers.
I should also note that Smith’s plan misses several of the opportunities available to short story writers who are interested in connecting with the audience directly. Off the top of my head I can think of two fantasy writers - Catherynne M. Valente and Caitlin R. Kiernan – who have used electronic delivery methods to offer short-story subscription services to their fans. Factoring this sort of crowd-supported subscription program into the plan Smith creates some intriguing possibilities, especially once a writer has a small base of fans willing to pledge their long-term support to the writer’s work.
Could we be on the verge of seeing a new breed of full-time writer, working exclusively in short fiction instead of non-fiction or novels? It may be a few years before we know for sure, but either way it’s going to be an interesting time for short fiction writers.