Oh, you perverts.
This is a craft post, loves. I don’t blame you for thinking the other, because I do sort of make a career writing about people falling in love and, yes indeed, having sex. However, I also make a career out of writing <gasp!> short fiction.
By short fiction, I mean anything shorter than category length–under 40k words. Last week, a writer I know was lamenting on twitter how she hasn’t written a novel, and feels pressure to do so in order to be a “real” writer.
Let’s stop that “real writer” stuff right there. Do you write? If the answer is yes, you’re a real writer. You aren’t imaginary, and the words on paper aren’t pretend. You’re a real writer. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about the craft of writing short, and about making a career of writing short. I’m primarily talking about writing genre romance and erotica, because that’s what I do.
Writing a novella or short story requires a different sort of focus than writing a novel. For a novella, you pare down to one major plot (in romance, that’s the relationship, in erotica, that’s the sexual journey), and one or two subplots. These subplots need to demonstrate something about your characters and propel the story forward. You don’t have time to meander. For example, in my forthcoming novella, Double Up, a subplot involves a wakeboarding competition–providing a setting and a timeline, and illustrating character traits about my two main characters. If a subplot can’t enhance or enrich the story in some way, it doesn’t belong. Excise anything that doesn’t belong.
For a short story, under 10k words, focus needs to be even tighter. You need to perform a little relationship synecdoche. You might have to pick a certain moment, perhaps a proposal, or the first time two characters make love, how they meet, or the moment they realize they are in love–and let that piece illustrate and symbolize the whole relationship. Subplots should be used very judiciously if at all. If you feel you require a sub plot, maybe you really want to write a novella? Think about it carefully–can the story you want to tell be told without that subplot?
Now, once you’ve written your short or your novella, you need to decide how to publish it. Many agents don’t represent short fiction, for obvious reasons–big publishing houses aren’t buying single shorts. It’s not a productive use of the agent’s time to rep it. Don’t just query them anyway hoping they’ll make an exception. They won’t.
The good news is, many digital publishers publish short fiction, and you can query them directly. Research the houses that publish your genre carefully, talk to the authors who are published with them, and follow submissions guidelines.
Are you considering self publishing? Study your market and look at your timeline: For example, there is a market for frequent publication of short form erotica at a $2.99 price point. If erotica writing is your thing, and you can produce a quality short once a month or more, this may be a good route for you. By “produce,” I am talking about having the book professionally edited and formatted, as well as having a professional cover made. This type of timeline favors self-publication, but don’t rule out working with a publisher–especially if that relationship is already there. Talk to your publisher about how you are building your author brand, and your plans for this type of work.
It is absolutely possible to build a career–or supplement a novel-writing career–with short fiction. Know your story; know your market.
Do you write and publish short fiction? Would love to hear your strategies in the comments.
Have questions for me? I’m all ears!