How to Write and Sell Shorter Fiction

Here’s a secret some self-published authors already know: the more write, the more you sell, and the more money you make. We’ve known that since the days of Dumas and Shakespeare. 

But with self-publishing on Amazon, it goes beyond that. 

Obviously, if you have three books out you will make more money than if you have one book out. But what about the difference between three books of 100,000 words each, and 12 books each about 25,000 words long? 

So on Amazon, even when you’re publishing shorter than is traditional for your genre, you have a chance to make more money faster if you write shorter books. But writing short is its own skillset, which not all authors have. Let’s take a deeper dive into what you need to know about writing short fiction and selling it on Amazon. 

Advantages of Writing Shorter Fiction

Faster to the Starting Line

Books can’t sell if they’re not complete and out on the market. When you write shorter books, each book gets out there and selling sooner. A book for sale isn’t just a book available for people to buy. It’s also a book to promote and build sales for everything you’ve written. 

You Can Layer Production

With longer books, you have to write the first draft, then the second draft, then send it to beta readers, then make revisions, then do a final draft, then get editing, then do layout, and finally put it up for sale. Actually, you need to do this for all books, but when writing only long forms you have to do them in order. 

If you write multiple small books, you can work on the first draft of one book while another is with your beta readers, while you have a third in layout. It produces your work faster, and gives you ways to change the kind of writing you do if you’re having a bad day for one type of writing.

Works Better with Newsletters and Social Media

If you use your newsletter an social media to promote your work, but only write long books, your promotions can get stale. You’re rotating through the same handful of titles each time. But if you’re consistently producing shorter work, you have a constant supply of new things to talk about and promote. Your followers are more interested, and you sell more books. Everybody wins. 

More Variety in Your Artwork

Similarly to the above, if you have more books you have more book covers. That means you have more variety in art you can put on your feeds, on your pages, and in your promos. More variety sparks more interest, which sells more books.

More Excuses for Celebration

Countdowns and events are pure gold when it comes to social media promotion, and for authors a book launch is the best possible event and countdown. More books means more book launches. More book launches means more buzz and celebration on your page. 

Smoother Cash Flow

Books wax and wane in popularity according to various trends, as well as how old they are, which can make your income from writing rise and fall in unpredictable ways. If you have a lot of books to sell, they will wax and wane at different times. When one’s slacking off, another one is on the rise. Your cash flow will be steadier and more reliable, which helps you live your life and run your writing business. 

Dos and Don’ts of Writing Shorter Fiction

Do Write In Series

Every stand-alone book requires extra work to get readers interested, even if those readers like other books you’ve written. Series, on the other hand, sell the next one by themselves. Writing book series capitalizes on this fact. Bonus points for turning what you had imagined as a long book into a “series” of books, each a section of the longer project. 

Don’t Overprice Short Work

Keep short books near the minimum price for getting the full commission from Amazon. People don’t like to pay full price for a short book. But don’t worry. The combined total of small commissions you earn on a long book’s worth of short books will be more than you would have earned from the long book by itself.

Do Use Similar Art

Each book in a series should have similar themes, coloration, and layout so it’s obvious they’re part of a set. Make each different and unique in some areas, but keep enough common elements they clearly belong together. As a bonus, you can usually get a discount on cover design if you get them in batches this way.

Don’t Forget the After Matter

In the back of each short book, include a request for reviews and a short preview of another one of your books. If it’s a series, the next book in the series should go here. If not, just promo the book you think best follows the one they’ve just read. 

Do Create Spinoffs

Although it’s easiest to sell books in the same series, you can also get a lot of traction out of spin-off books. There are books that have to do with the series, but don’t follow the main stories. While you’re at it, consider low-content books like atlases, journals, and sketchbooks you can sell to fans as companion pieces. 

Don’t Get Cute in Your Description

Although ebook readers are patient with authors, they do not like to be mislead. Never try to imply that your short works are longer than they are. Make it clear you’ve got a novella, short story, or short novel, so they know what to expect when they spend their money. 

Do End With Cliffhangers

If you do a series, and end a book on a cliffhanger, readers will be compelled to go ahead and buy the next book to find what happens. It works with next chapters when you really should be going to sleep, and it works with selling books. 

Don’t Delete Anything, Ever

You have to excise a lot of your rough draft before you have a decent second draft, but don’t delete those scenes, characters, and descriptions completely. Some of them can form the core of other books. As your fan base builds, you can also release “cutting room floor” volumes with almost no extra work.

Don’t Forget Act Structure

Act structure helps you write books, and can also help you write lots of books. If your different volumes each complete an act of the full story told in a series, readers will find each ending satisfying. Just remember: you can always end acts on cliffhangers.

Do Find Crossover Potential

When you have multiple books or series, find ways to introduce elements of one into the other. Have the main character from series A do a cameo in series B, or put a villain in all of your series, facing off against each of your heroes in turn. This will help encourage your readers to get excited about everything you release. 

Don’t Close Every Line in Every Book

Resist the temptation to answer every question, defeat every adversary, and close every loop in each book you write. Instead, use those open questions as the foundations of further volumes. It will help you keep readers engaged and give you more ideas. 

One Last Little Thing

I’ve seen this mistake often enough I feel the need to point it out even though you, of course, would never make it in a million years. 

Some writers relax on quality when they write short. They feel the story doesn’t need to be taken as seriously, because it’s shorter. Or it’s incomplete anyway, so why bother?

Never make this mistake. You are asking readers to buy more books from you, more often. If you give them an excuse to stop, they will. Remember the old adage: a novelist is a failed short story writer, and a short story writer is a failed poet. It takes extra skill, not less attention, to write the short form well. Give it all you have. 

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood.