Should Writers Self Publish Short Stories?

Should you self publish short stories?

I wish I had a definitive answer for you, but sadly as always, the answer is maybe.

1. The Shorter The Story, The Better It Has To Be

The minimum you can charge for anything on Amazon Kindle or Smashwords is 99 cents US. This might not seem like much, but considering the fact that you can get entire novels for 99 cents, your short story had better be good if it’s going to satisfy a reader.

This means you have to be very careful with your formatting, you grammar and spelling and you have to be quite sure you’ve got a good story on your hands. Get some other people to check your work, to give you honest feedback on what you’ve written. Remember that your story may end up on the Kindle of someone in the industry you’d quite like to impress, so it had better be the best you can do.

2. You Still Need A Proper Cover

The need for a professional looking cover is something self publishing gurus have been on about for awhile now. Nothing screams “bad story” like a bad cover. It’s not fair, but people really do judge a book by its cover.

They’ll judge your short story too. They’ll judge it hard.

For some reason a lot of short stories and novellas go up on Amazon with covers that look like were designed by an enthusiastic marmoset.

Marmosets are not known for their artistic ability.

He gets by on his looks.

He gets by on his looks.

I can’t draw, not even stick figures. I have no graphic design skills. Realising my limitations when I needed a couple of covers I got the spectacularly awesome Rebecca Treadway to design my covers for me. She did it quickly and well and for a very reasonable price. Even if I don’t break even on selling the stories, having Rebecca’s covers on there is still worth it present a professional image.


I’ve since taken the stories that had the covers on then off the market to be put into a collection, however Rebecca is still awesome.

If you’re interested in hiring Rebecca you can find her rates here.

3. You Might Not Sell Any

Short fiction is a tough sell online. As I said above for 99 cents someone can buy a full novel, so convincing them to invest in your short fiction can be hard. With that said, the same marketing principles apply to short fiction that apply to longer works.

Word of mouth is king, if you get enough people loving your short fiction it won’t matter that it’s not a 400,000 word magnum opus. A good cover will help with promoting your work, and the more stories you have available to sell, the more you will sell of each one.

4. You Must, MUST, Tell Readers That It’s A Short Story

I’ve already said it can be hard to get people to shell out for short stories, but that is far preferable to annoying potential readers by failing to mention that what you’re selling is a quick bite instead of a full meal.

Makes sure that the words “short story” appear both on the cover and in the description so your readers will know what they’re getting.

5. Be Prepared For Feedback

It’s much easier to judge a short story than it is a novel, simply because it’s shorter. If someone doesn’t like your novel they may just put it down without finishing it, or they may finish it without deciding to leave comments on your Amazon page.

Short stories are different. Someone can read it and comment on it within the same hour. This is great if they like your stuff, but if they don’t you need to be prepared for them to say so.

You can’t challenge bad reviews, no matter how tempting, or how unreasonable the review. To do so makes you look petty. A lot of authors refuse to comment on reviews at all, and to me that seems like the best policy. There are ways to comment without making yourself look silly but no matter what; if you comment on a review, good or bad, you’re taking a risk.

Do you think you’ll self publish any short fiction? Do you have any for sale at the moment? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll pick a commenter at random and send them a copy of The Long Tour and Night Record.


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20 Responses to Should Writers Self Publish Short Stories?

  1. CherylNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about digging out some of my old stories and seeing if any of them are worth publishing through Kindle. After all, someone might buy them, and that can only help whenever I get my head together and get back to my novel. I’m pretty sure I’ll follow through on this idea later in the year — I’m moving to a different state at the end of the summer, so I’m a little preoccupied right now.

    One of my writing comrades, Scott Niven, self-published some of his short stories on Kindle, but he bundled 3 stories together as one e-book. I like that idea, since it gives the reader more material for their money and improves the odds that they’ll find something in there that they like. He put out one volume in March and followed up with 2 other sets, so somebody must be buying them. :-)

  2. I love short stories, so I am very excited to see a resurgence in them in ebook form, but I generally think it is wiser to sell a collection. I published 16 short stories in an ebook called Savage Fire on May 31st, and it has gotten pretty good traction and almost all 5-star reviews. People like value, and 40K words seems to justify $2.99 more than 4K words justifies $0.99 (even though word count is hardly a good measure).

  3. Amelia JamesNo Gravatar says:

    I’m thinking about publishing a short story just so I have something I can sell for 99 cents. I don’t want to lower the prices of my novels. I think they’re worth more than a dollar, but I know there are a lot of readers who look for the $0.99 price.

  4. Jim BreslinNo Gravatar says:

    Andrew – you ask some excellent questions and I agree it’s not cut and dry. I would like to see downloading a short story become as popular as downloading a single song for 99¢. Will it happen?

    From a financial standpoint, two obstacles stand in the way of publishing a short story through Amazon. 1) Cover creation – I believe a quality cover is important and that this can cost a good chunk of change. If the cover is poor quality, I assume the the story was not professionally edited either and the story won’t hold up. 2) Amazon is restricting who they place on the Singles Program. This means the author gets 35¢ on a 99¢ book instead of 70¢. Recovering your outlay for a quality cover and editing is hard to do under these circumstances.

    My collection of 21 stories, Elephant, is $2.99 for Kindle. I put out two stories from the collection under Were Not Dog People, to see if readers might try that before buying the full collection. Elephant has continued to sell better than the two stories for 99¢. And paperback is still selling better than Kindle version.

    Also – A review of my two stories was just posted today on which focuses on short stories. You might want to submit yours for review.

    Good luck!

    Jim Breslin

  5. David GriggNo Gravatar says:

    I would say “yes” – attention spans are shorter these days, so good short fiction should have a market. And one solution to the value for money concern is to publish short stories in a collection, as I have with my SF story collection “Islands”, now available via Smashwords and the Amazon Kindle store.

    – David R. Grigg

  6. BrandyNo Gravatar says:

    How different would you say that releasing an anthology is from releasing a short story for sale?

    I had planned to release a short story for free, then include it with three or four other short stories as part of an anthology. I was thinking about pricing the anthology at 99 cents.

    Your advice about whether or not this is a good idea would be appreciated.


  7. CarradeeNo Gravatar says:

    I have 1 short story widely available for free, and another one I’ve released for $0.99.

    The free one (traditional fantasy) was already published because it was written for a challenge on a public forum. I figure it was already publicly available for free, so I’d stick to that. (It’s also really short, about 2k words.)

    The $0.99 one (urban fantasy) is longer but not long, slightly over 4k words. I’m forthright about its length, and I’m not surprised that it hasn’t sold much.

    Why? I figure a lot of readers are like me, who will only buy a short story after we know we like an author—or after we’re familiar enough with the author that we strongly suspect we’ll enjoy the story.

    And even then, I’ll eye a bundle before I eye a short story. Which hasn’t stopped me from buying 2 short stories, recently.

  8. AndrewNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Cheryl, I picked your name out of the hat for winning a copy of The Long Tour and Night Record, congratulations and thanks everyone for the comments.

  9. AndrewNo Gravatar says:

    I think that’s actually a great idea. You can’t go wrong with a free taster. The only downside I can see is marketing that free short story, but as long as you get it out there I don’t see a problem :)

  10. ZacNo Gravatar says:


    Try this short story… This is sheer brilliance.
    It’s called “The Day You Dread”. It’s just 2 pages and so gripping. This is probably a new medium of expression. This is the link. I swear you won’t regret it if you buy it.

    So, the author of this article is right. It doesn’t matter how much it costs. It is the quality that counts.

  11. MattNo Gravatar says:

    Hi, I just stumbled across this while looking at how to publish on Amazon kindle. It’s good because I was thinking of publishing short stories! In fact, I was thinking of making iphone apps of my stories (including a few special features) but then I thought “why not just sell it straight on kindle?”. I can’t do special features that way but it is a lot quicker and easier.

    After reading, my thoughts are that it is still a good idea to publish. I think Amazon has a much better exposure for literature than an Apple App, because I don’t think people really search for stories in the App stores, but then there is more to compete against in Amazon’s listings.

    I think I’ll try both and see which one sells more!

  12. Amy KeeleyNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you for this information. I’d originally put “A short story by” on the cover of the one short I have up on Kindle and Smashwords…but took it off because I didn’t like the way it looked. Besides, I’d thought at the time, people can tell it’s a short story just by looking at how many words are in it.

    Looks like I’m going to have to fix it. Thank you for saving me from angry customers.

  13. Pingback: upload a cover, make my story unavailable « where i put my stuff

  14. AndrewNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Amy, no worries. I hope the short story goes well :)

  15. DanielleNo Gravatar says:

    Hi, so glad I stumbled across this page!
    I have 2 short stories I would like to
    publish on the Kindle/Amazon and wanted some
    information about how to do just that! Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a lot
    of information out there? Unless I’m just not looking in the right places?
    Any information would be great!

  16. Lucy PireelNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Looking for the answer to whether or not I should bundle a few shorts to self-publish them on Kindle, and Smashwords, and Lulu–yes, I like to spread my wings–I stumbled upon your post. What you say is very helpful, specially about the making it very clear it’s a short, or a collection of shorts.
    However, my cover is being done as a favour by a professional and I’d hate to come back to him asking for a change. Just to add in the “Collection of shorts” Besides that, between title, sub-title and byline there isn’t much room left.
    Do you really think people wouldn’t know they are buying a collection of shorts if it’s only in the description?

  17. Joseph BoneNo Gravatar says:

    I have written a short story and wondering should I get it copy written before I try self publishing it on Amazon/Kindle or Smashwords, and Lulu.

  18. PaullaNo Gravatar says:

    Quick question – I browsed the other comments, but didn’t see anything about it there. A colleague told me today that if one publishes a book (or short story) for free on Amazon, after the first 100 downloads, Amazon offers some kind of compensation (she thought a gift card) and then gives the option to change the price.

    I’ve been searching through Amazon all evening and can’t seem to find evidence of this. Does it sound like something anyone here has heard about?


  19. AndrewNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Paulla, Amazon certainly used to do this. You got credits on your KDP sales from what I remember but I don;t think it happens anymore. I’ll do some checking and see. Thanks for asking!

  20. JimNo Gravatar says:

    I regularly submit short fiction to a few of my favorite lit mags. And while I have gotten close to getting published (I’ve gotten the response a few times, we like your story but it’s not for us) I am now thinking of self publishing.
    Your article was very informative. Thanks.
    Question though, how much self promotion do you do and through what channels?

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