Friday, June 15, 2012

Marketing Short Stories

I've heard a few complaints lately about the lack of markets for short crime fiction, both paying and non-paying. But I don't think there's a lack of markets, only tunnel vision on the part of the genre’s writers. They tend to look down the tunnel and see Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock as the only paying markets. Along the tunnel length there's online zines like A Twist of Noir, Plots with Guns, and Spinetingler (And yes, there's others, too numerous to mention.) There's also a few print magazines along that tunnel like Needle, Pulp Modern, and Big Pulp. And, of course, there's the very few crime anthologies out there that beckon but many of those slots go to the name authors who can attract sales. What bothers me about this tunnel vision is that mystery/crime writers are failing to use their imagination. They write themselves into a box and refuse to claw their way out.

I know writers hate when you use the phrase transcend the genre, but I think it applies to finding new markets for your short fiction. Joe R. Lansdale is one of those writers who transcend the market box. Consider his story, “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road”  This is a crime story but he’s marketed the story as Horror. And “Torn Away”  another crime story marketed as fantasy. Lansdale has mastered marketing his crime stories by thinking outside of that constricting box of the mystery genre.

The markets are what they are. Whining about getting the “organizations” to do something about the lack of paying markets is useless. That’s not their focus and they don’t give a crap about shorts or their authors. For them, short stories are merely a way to draw attention to the writers in their own membership of novelists.

You want to sell your short stories? Look at the markets that pay in the range you’re happy with. Sci-fi, Spec-fiction, Horror, Romance, Fantasy, and Erotica all have good paying markets, both zines and anthologies. Give yourself the freedom to reimagine your crime stories. Don’t follow the strict rules of the genre. Cut loose and let your imagination run wild. The only one holding you back is yourself.

And, dear God, please stop the whining. If you want to write shorts, write them. If you want to find paying markets, look for them in the unusual places. Make yourself happy, not the genre.


Steve Weddle said...


Thomas Pluck said...

Right on. There are paying markets for crime fiction. Not as many as I'd like, and some like Savage Kick don't seem to answer emails, but they exist, and I find myself preferring the challenge. Not all markets need to pay, and I still submit to those who don't, but nothing makes you up your game and consider better ways to tell a story than wondering if your idea could be crafted differently than your default setting.

Will Entrekin said...

"You want to sell your short stories? Look at the markets that pay in the range you’re happy with. Sci-fi, Spec-fiction, Horror, Romance, Fantasy, and Erotica all have good paying markets, both zines and anthologies."

I'd add "Consider Kindle." A lot of people debate whether 99c ebooks "devalue" writing (or something), but I've been using that price point to sell short stories, and they consistently perform well.

Bryon Quertermous said...

I absolutely love your comment about the tunnel vision some writers get into about just sticking to crime fiction markets. Adapting what we want to write for different markets is always a great idea. I'm reading a biography of John D. MacDonald and when he ran out of markets to publish his crime stories he adapted them to science fiction and westerns.

I still wish we could have a good discussion on why there aren't more readers for short crime fiction or how to get more readers for short crime fiction without it devolving into a reflexive screaming match about how everyone hates short story writers.

Court Merrigan said...

I agree with the sentiment of all this. Genre-bending is the way to go, or, just be cool with some exposure. That's at least as potentially valuable as a pay-off, if you catch the right eye, I think. Frank Bill, for one, rose through the ranks via Thuglit and others like it, for none of which he received a paycheck, I don't think.

As for why there aren't more paying markets for crime shorts, it's kind of a mystery. I'm on staff at OOTG now, and we're going to try and pay contributors down the road (I know, I know, everyone promises that) and I have no idea how we'll swing it. I guess I'll be able to report back with some knowledge here in a while.

Keith Rawson said...

I'll agree with Tom, if you want to get paid for stories, put together a collection. You might not be making a ton of dough, but at the very least you're monetizing your work.

And as far as organizations doing something for you (or for short crime fiction) when have they ever done anything for anyone except give out awards?

Just write what you want and eventually you'll start making money at it.

sandra seamans said...

Welcome to the Corner, Will. I never think of Kindle, mostly because I'm not very computer savvy. As for performing well, I've heard both sides of that coin, some doing well, others selling nothing. There's a lot of variables going with self-publishing.

I agree, Thomas, and wish there were more paying markets. And I love looking for that different angle to tell a story from.

sandra seamans said...

I'm puzzled as to why you think there are no readers for short stories, Brian.

Reading your blog and Twitter feed, and knowing that you rarely comment on stories published online, I'd think you weren't a short story reader. SMFS has over 1400 members and I know that they read shorts, yet it's like pulling teeth to get them to talk about a story they've read recently. If I go by that, I'd have to say they aren't short story readers either.

EQ and AHMM sell thousands of copies, all their readers aren't writers, but I also don't see people talking about their published shorts either.

And maybe that's where the problem lies, not in that they don't read shorts, but that they don't talk about them.

What's been wonderful for short stories the last few years, is that they're getting reviewed in a variety of places, Bookgasm, Elizabeth White, Chris Rhatigan, and Cullen Gallagher, just to name a few. And they're reviewing both single shorts and collections and anthologies. Those reviews lead to more readers.

You want more readers? Talk about the stories, spread the word about where you read that great story. Yeah, we're writers and we want people to read our stories, but if we only focus on the me instead of the us, we just turn readers off.

Word of mouth is just as important to short stories as novels. If you read shorts, open your mouth and tell us about them. That's the way to interest readers.

sandra seamans said...

There have been quite a few writers break out of the online short crime fiction world with a book deal, Court. It's a great place to earn a reputation as a writer who delivers good writing. As for pay, sometimes the pay is in your fellow contributors. I find it very ego lifting to say that I've published beside Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Dave Zeltserman and Hilary Davidson. I mean how cool is that?

Even their awards tend to shut out most writers, Keith. I love that the sci-fi/fantasy awards recognize shorts, novella, collections, anthologies, and even magazines.

Warren Bull said...


Your blog is a great place to look at for markets. Thanks for your help in finding short story markets.

sandra seamans said...

You're most welcome, Warren. I do my best to keep up with the various markets where crime fiction is or can be a good fit.

Bryon Quertermous said...


Thank you so much for raising these interesting questions. I'm kind of a fireballer when it comes to issues I care about and my delivery isn't always as refined as it should be. But I am a short story reader. I love crime fiction short stories and they've been responsible more than anything else for the bit of success I've had writing. That's why I talk about this so much. I don't comment on short stories online for the same reason I don't comment on most other blogs, I hate commenting because I go off on too many tangents and hate the space restrictions. I usually take to my blog instead.

I am a member of SMFS as well and you bring up a really great point about not talking enough about short stories. I do think there are readers for short stories but I don't think the bulk of them read stories online. I talk about this in my blog post today that it's inverted to sci-fi where the bulk of readers for short stories are online not in print.

I still contend that the pool for online short stories in small even though there are more places to publish. The same people who read Needle also read Beat to a Pulp, Spinetingler, Twist of Noir, Out of the Gutter, Plots With Guns, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Yellow Mama, Thrillers, Killers and Chillers and all of the others.

They're also the same people who buy the Kindle short story collections (which are usually compilations of stories previously published in the magazines I mentioned).

sandra seamans said...

Of course, they're the same people and the same stories, Brian. Because that's where the markets are. Tunnel vision, remember? We read where we think the stories are, and rarely wander from that view.

I read a large cross section of zines and try to point readers to stories. Pank has some great noir stories that have led me to other writers. Esquire has short stories online, many of them crime fiction. The Red Penny Papers, The Big Click, Shock Totem, The Writer and the White Cat are all great zines but if we don't yell at the top of our voices that they're out there, they can't be found. And they're all worth finding.

We just need to convince readers of crime fiction to climb out of the tunnel and find these other places that publish what they want to read.

That's why you'll find links over there on the right of the front page of this blog, so readers can find the stories. When new issues come out I post links so people don't forget about the monthly and quarterly zines. If enough people do this, the readers will follow. But if all you talk about is EQ or AHMM, or the ususal online zines, then that's as far as readers will go.

Readers love a good story and if you take the time to point them out, they'll go read them. I know because when I link to stories or markets from the blog, those websites are usually checking back to find where the link came from. I've had publishers comment, not just to say thanks, but to add more information.

Bottom line, if you find a great story, shout it from the rooftops.

David Cranmer said...

I'll second Steve's yes, Sandra. Good post.

sandra seamans said...

Thanks, David.

Adam Gaylord said...

Great post! And if you're looking for paying markets, I have a bunch of info on my site. Check it out:

sandra seamans said...

Welcome to the Corner, Adam! I posted a link to your site - it's always good to find new market sources.