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Is Short The New Long?

Writing a great short story used to be the training ground for writers. Hemingway started his career by writing them, as did Stephen King, and many renown others.

For many years, the appetite for short stories, nearly disappeared, cutting the number of magazines that included them substantially, and leaving only classic short stories on the book shelves. However, I believe the tide is changing among today’s readers. Their time is limited and there are times when they just want something worthy and short while they’re waiting in a doctor’s office or school parking lot.

Also, many are now reading on their phones, and reading a short story is more feasible on the small device.

This month, I dove into the short market with a novelette titled Perfect Moments. It released on February first. I was nervous about writing it because shorts have a totally different writing style than a full length novel. It was a learning experience, but after receiving emails from readers requesting to know whether Elizabeth and Bob Kincaid (from Perfect) made it home from their overseas duty, I decided to give Elizabeth and Bob their story. Their short.

Another reason I decided to try my hand at writing a short story was because today’s reader wants more product from an author, and quicker. I’m comfortable writing a full length novel in a year, sometimes nine months. But to write quicker, I know the quality of my work would decline. I want to continue to improve my craft, not hinder it. So to feed my fans cravings, writing short stories might be the way to go.

 

I asked my Ruby Sisters their thoughts on writing short stories.

 

Rita Henuber said she wrote her short stories because, “I have many stories bumping around inside my skull. Characters screaming at me to tell their story. Some are absolutely not full length novel material. All but one in my collection of short stories began with an experience of mine. I had to write them.”

And Jeannie Lyn said, I actually LOVE shorts and think they’re a great way to pack a punch in a short amount of space as well as introduce writers to your voice. The last short story that I wrote was meant to be an introduction to my steampunk world for new readers and a little bonus for existing readers.”

Ruby sister Ava Blackstone stated she wrote a short after reading an article in her RWA chapter’s newsletter about writing for Woman’s World. “I decided to give it a try. I found that short stories were great palate cleansers when I was sick of my main WIP. I also liked the freedom to experiment with different writing styles without worrying that I was wasting months on something that might not work.”

And Vivi Andrews stated, “I’ve always written short stories for anthologies, usually with open submission calls that provided the opportunity to get my writing in front of more readers.  My little gateway stories to lure readers into my world. 🙂  This spring I’ll be participating in the 2nd RWA Anthology.”

I then asked the sisters if they found writing shorts difficult? I know I found it challenging not to add more conflict, more points of view, more of everything.

Vivi said, “Actually, I don’t find them difficult at all.  I was nervous initially about stepping out of my comfort zone, but I wound up loving the opportunity to tell more compact romances.”

 

Rita stated, “Not at all. I enjoyed writing the shorts and the side benefit of stopping those people in my head screaming. I view shorts as a moment in time. A snapshot event giving the reader something to ponder.”

 

Jeannie started writing shorts before she wrote novels. “I have a totally different mindset when I switch back to writing shorts. They’re not just shorter novel storylines — the way I plot and present a short story is entirely different than what I do in a novel.”

 

Ava said, Writing that first short story definitely required a paradigm shift. I had to come up with a much smaller-scale conflict than I was used to writing so that I could wrap things up realistically in 800 words. It helped me to think about it as though I was writing a scene instead of a novel. So then it was just a matter of coming up with a compelling scene that could stand on its own.”

 

 

 

 

So why write shorts? I’d heard shorts help with sales on other books, especially if their part of a series. Perfect Moments just released, so I don’t have a track record to share, so again I questioned my sisters who had published short stories.

 

 

Jeannie stated, I actually have found it helpful bringing in new readers with shorts. Since my settings and worlds are not so mainstream, I think readers find shorts an easy way to get a feel for me without having to commit to a novel. Short stories with direct tie-ins and characters from other series are the best way to go in terms of hooking readership. Teaming up with other authors in anthologies is a also a great strategy for getting that first look.”

Ava had a different use for her short story. I give it away to readers who sign up for my mailing list, and it has worked great as an incentive to drive signups. I’m planning to write another short to go along with my next Ava Blackstone book.”

 

 

 

 

If you’re considering writing a short story, I have some advice.

  • Read short stories. There are many; The International Thriller Writers have released collections titled Face Off. And, I know the Mystery Writers also release an annual collection. Then you have classics like William Faulkner’s That Evening Sun.
  • Pick your story’s moment or moments that really matter and write about them.
  • Stay with one main character.
  • No subplots.
  • Write more words than you need and then pick the words that show don’t tell, show character’s change, and that moves the story forward.
  • Go through the same editing steps as you would for a novel.

 

 My sisters also offered advice or suggestions?

Rita said, “I go by what I love to read. IMO a short story is for a reader’s experience. I will also say I think there is a difference between what is considered a short story to a novella. With a novella, because of its larger word count, I expect story structure, GMC, story resolution, the whole enchilada. Shorter stories can certainly have all that good stuff but I think of them as a bite of the enchilada not the whole thing.

Vivi offered this advice, “I didn’t take any online courses or read any books on the subject.  I will strongly recommend that anyone looking to write short consider the kind of conflicts that can be resolved quickly.  If you give your characters more than they can reasonably solve in a short format, you’re going to have some very grumpy readers.”

Jeannie recommended, Rather than craft books (which I normally love), the best way to learn for shorts is to read how others do it. I think there’s MORE of an art to writing short than writing a novel. The good thing is that they’re short. 🙂

Some authors I love:  Ray Bradbury (for voice, tone, memorable setup and hook). If you can find it, read “A Laurel and Hardy Love Affair”.  Edgar Allen Poe (check out his word choice and how effective his opening lines are)

For romance, these authors’ shorts are actually novellas,  but they establish character and emotional stakes in a relatively short amount of time. Courtney Milan – The depth of characterization is amazing. They feel as emotionally complete as full novels. And Ruthie Knox – She sets up emotional tension wonderfully between hero and heroine

Thank you, sisters for sharing your experiences in the short story market. 

Please ask any questions that you might have and we’ll try to answer them for you.

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Autumn Jordon is an award-winning author of romantic suspense/thrillers and contemporary romance.  Join her newsletter at www.autumnjordon.com. And don’t forget to check out Perfect Moments.

Ava Blackstone is a winner and two-time finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® contest and has five short romance stories published in Woman’s World magazine. She is currently hard at work on the next contemporary romance in her Voretti Family series. You can find her on the web at: http://avablackstone.com  PRETTY IN INK

Jeannie Lin is known for writing groundbreaking historical romances set in Tang Dynasty China starting with her Golden Heart award-winning debut, Butterfly Swords. Her Chinese historicals have received multiple awards and starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. SILK, SWORDS, AND SURRENDAR

Rita Henuber; I’ve always had stories in me and now I’m sharing them. I married a Marine, a man I’d known since I was fourteen. I’m fortunate to have lived many places and traveled to the states and countries I didn’t live. I moved back to the barrier island in Florida where I grew up and now spend time writing, weaving my experiences into my stories. My first books have heroes and heroines in the military or government service. But, I’ve started on a new series of books with collections of short stories. LET ME TELL YOU A STORY

Vivi Andrews is a Golden Heart winner & 2-Time RITA finalist. As Lizzie Shane she writes contemporary romance with a pop culture twist, and as Vivi Andrews she writes paranormal romance. ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19 responses to “Is Short The New Long?”

  1. Addison Fox says:

    This is a wonderful post and about reason million and eight why I love the Ruby blog. I love the different perspectives and the constant focus on the industry.

    You’ve touched on some awesome points here, including how to stretch ourselves, how to remain present for readers in between bigger books AND how to cleanse our creative palate with our work. Great article!!!

    Addison

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    • Thanks, Addison. I do believe our readership stays with us because we’re so willing to share our experiences and thoughts. And we’re a hoot!

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  2. Elizabeth Langston says:

    How many words can a short story be? Ava mentioned 800. Is there a range? I’d be willing to give it a shot if it could be a bit longer.

    I’ve just finished writing a bonus scene for one of my books. It ended up being about 4 pages. I think I could turn it into a short story, but I’d need to make it closer to 20 pages.

    Also, just curious… if you’re not joining an anthology, do you typically make shorts 0.99 or free? Post them on your website?

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    • Rita Henuber says:

      I have 8 stories ranging for 2,000-10,000 words. I didn’t want to come up with different covers for each one (color me lazy) so I put them together. For me the beauty of short stories is you are free to experiment with your writing and then with the different ways of getting it to your readers. Not much help am I?

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      • Rita, You wrote a wonderful collection of short stories that are not related to your novels, and I believe you were very smart to put them up as a collection.

        I’ve seen authors who put up shorts for their series and label them, story 4.5. They are shorts. Lisa Gardner is one author off the top of my head.

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        • Rita Henuber says:

          I’ve been blogging about lighthouses on my personal blog for a while. Soon I’m going to offer a free lighhouse short story on that page. It will probably come out around 5,000 words.

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    • Great Qyestion, Elizabeth. Check with the magazine if you’re submitting to them for their word count. Usually, it’s between 500-2500 words.

      From what I’ve learned short stories are usually 500 to 7500. 7500 to 20k are considered novelettes. Then you have the novellas to 40K

      Perfect Moments came in at 10574. I gave it away to my newsletter subscription members as a gift for their loyalty and it’s now up on Amazon for sale at .99.

      Will I set it free? I’m not a big believer in giving away free all the time. Authors need to pay bills and eat too. However, that is not saying I might set it free for a day down the road as a promo, but not for a while. It’s a new work and needs to earn it’s cost of development.

      Again, that is just my opinion. Others might feel differently.

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  3. Rita Henuber says:

    Absolutely agree with reading shorts to learn. Bradbury’s shorts are genius. So are those of Margaret Attwood, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King. Even George R.R. Martin has written short—as in less than 100 pages—The Princess and the Queen. Some of my stories have unexpected endings. My goal was to entertain with laughter, sniffles and even shock.

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    • Thanks for adding to the list of authors, Rita.

      As I said above, wonderful stories. I’m in awe how each of your characters have a totally different voice. A few of your endings will stay with me forever,

      So writing shorts really can help you develop skills, like character voice.

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    • Neil Gaiman! I think “The Graveyard Book” struck me as a collection of short stories, or maybe more like distinctive episodes in a series. He’s an incredible writer.

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      • Rita Henuber says:

        I loved NG’s short stories Trigger Warning and Smoke and Mirrors. I think it is because he lets his imigination soar. Tomorrow his Norse Mythology is released. Not quite sure about this one but I intend on giving it a try.

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  4. Short stories are hard! LOL

    Seriously, though, this is a timely discussion for me. I’ve been toying with which WIP I should go back to after a short absence from writing…the 3 holiday novellas (not short stories, they’re more like 25,000 words) I’d been working on and planned to bundle into an anthology (with Jeannie Lin’s point about gaining new readers in mind as well as your point about readers having less time these days), or charging forward into a new series.

    With the novellas, I was toying with pricing ideas, too. Was going to do $1.99 each, and the anthology would be somewhat of a deal at $4.99 (which matches my other self-pub books), but my publisher put my original series at $1.49 for the first book, so now charging more for a novella seems weird. Sigh. Not sure what I’ll do about that yet.

    Either way, thank you for this list of shorts that I can maybe read for inspiration. 😉

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  5. Great info, Autumn! I love reading shorts, particularly themed anthologies. It’s amazing how a dozen different authors, given a topic such as “a box”, can come up with such wonderfully different stories and treatments. There seems to be a greater level of freedom and experimentation in shorts…one of the main reasons I love to write them.

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    • Thanks, Shelly. I’ve done a box set with others, but I haven’t done a theme anthology yet. Now that I’ve gained some experience with the new release, I certiainly would be open to trying.

      Another point, concerning shorts. They must sale because Amazon has how many worlds going string. So there is a market,.

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  6. You’re welcome, Anne. I love the idea of doing holiday follows for your characters. You write romantic suspense, so like my readers I bet your readers would love to see more of the HEA.

    What is great about indie publishing, is that you can play with the price. I’ve heard $1.99 is a dead zone, but I see others putting their books out there for $1.99. I think your readers would definitely buy though. Call it when you’re ready.

    So excited for you.

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  7. Great post and very timely. I’ve been reading more shorts now–something I never picked up before–simply because of time constraints.

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  8. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    I have taken a couple of days to read through this as there is so much “meat” to it and it has taken me a bit to digest. Great information, lessons and perspectives!

    Thank you, Autumn, and all who contributed!
    “Cinnabar”

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