Do Readers Like Short Stories?

Updated on July 10, 2017

Let's Define Short Story

Before we get into whether short fiction is popular enough to consider writing, let's define what we mean by short story. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America has a basic criteria that they use for the Nebula award categories, and it's the criteria that I use when judging whether my work is a short story or novella.

Word Count
Short Story
under 7,500
7,500 to 17,499
17,500 to 39,999
40,000 and over

But are they popular?

If you head over to any writers forum you'll often see writers complaining that short stories don't sell. Yet if you frequent any reader forums, you'll find that it's opposite the case, they say they love reading short fiction, so what gives?

Generally the case comes down to how readers are consuming their short reads.

Authors often will try to sell their fiction either self publishing online (at places such as Amazon), or they'll give it away for free as a lead magnet for their mailing list. For those authors trying to sell their fiction on stores like Amazon, they will find that, yes, sales for short stories aren't as high as novels.

That's usually because readers what to get value for their money, and if they can see a full length novel priced low, they aren't going to be interested in buying your short book as a comparison.

Some authors place their novels as low as $0.99 as a marketing strategy. The reader often asks herself why by a short at that price (or higher) when they can get a full book.

It used to be that writers could sell their shorts to magazines. There are still publications that accept short stories but they are becoming fewer as technology changes. In some genres this isn't even an option.

Readers are used to reading magazines that included short stories, so even though they might have paid for the magazine, they feel that reading the short was 'free'. Therefore the concept of paying for just one story from one author, isn't one that has caught fire yet.

Then of course, there are websites that have thousands of stories that readers can go to read for free. Places like WattPad are becoming increasing popular with readers who can devour all the content they want for no cost.

So there is a reason that short stories don't sell well (or at least not well enough to make a living from it), it's because readers aren't used to buying stories this way. It is changing, but until short stories become more mainstream, it's still unlikely to be a profitable strategy.

Unless of course you're smart. There are ways that you can make a living writing short. Some genres (like erotica) are made for low word counts, and authors can often charge much higher prices depending on the kink they write about.

Or you could write a series of short stories. Short story series are becoming more popular with readers because they can continue on with the story.

Readers do like them

It's clear that when you compare sales rates for short stories vs novels, that longer fiction is always going to win out. Reading on a Kindle or Nook is becoming more and more popular, and as the rise of ebooks continues to grow, so will sales of short fiction.

Readers do like reading short stories. They are the perfect length to read for travelling to work on public transport, or relaxing before bed. Imagine trying to finish a novel in one night, unless you're a speed reader, or the novel is exceptionally short, it isn't going to happen. It CAN happen with a short story. Finishing a complete story before going to sleep has a lot of appeal for many reasons.

And let's not mention that so much other media is vying for your readers attention, sometimes all they want is something short and entertaining.

The ebook revolution means that short ficiton is no longer relegated to magazines, that readers can turn on their e-reader and consume their entertainment this way. This couldn't happen ten years ago when traditional publishers were in charge. The cost of printing to sales ration made it almost impossible for a publisher to make a profit unless the author was already in high demand. Now, with no more need of printing, the cost now is the time of the author to write the story (and whatever professional services they choose to use such as cover design and editing).

The time cost to write a short story is much less than a novel, so even if it sells much less, it can still make the author money as they'll be able to produce many more of them in the same time frame. And, if the author bundles their works, it attracts a whole new set of reader eyes.

Readers of short fiction often say they like the tight pace and quirky characters. They like that authors can push boundaries to see what works before committing that idea to a longer novel. In fact, novel writers often do this, they'll write a handful of short stories and give them to their readers seeing which stories resonate the best before writing a longer novel.

Many short stories have gone on to be optioned for film and television. Shorts that have been turned into movies include iRobot and Brokeback Mountain. Independant author Hugh Hower got his short story Wool optioned for a movie by Ridley Scott.

There are many reasons to write short fiction, and readers are buying them.

Do you like reading short stories?

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