WHY WRITE SHORT-FICTION
by Dennis Doty
I’ve had quite a few writers over the last year tell me that they don’t write short fiction. The reasons have been as varied as the writers. Some say, they have no interest in writing short stories, some say they just can’t seem to get the hang of the form, others say that they have been working on their novel for (fill in the blank) length of time and they don’t want to think about short stories until they are done.
That’s all fine and well, but there are some serious advantages to writing short fiction that should be considered. No matter what stage your career may be in, we all strive to improve and perfect our craft. Writing short fiction will, without a doubt, make you a better writer.
When writing a novel, it isn’t at all unusual to take a paragraph or even half a page to set a scene, show the reader your character’s motivations and goals or establish relationships between the characters. With a short story, you simply don’t have that luxury. By necessity, you learn to paint with an economy of strokes, a minimalist approach to the story. You still must have strong characters, the story still should flow, the pacing is still important, but you must do it all in a very short space.
The successful short story writer is very aware of what can and cannot be included in their story. Every word is weighed for its value to the story. Does it move the story forward? Does it illuminate the character? There’s little room for fluff.
Sounds tough, doesn’t it? It is. But I think that it’s totally worth it. I’m not the guy who wants to wait weeks, more often months and sometimes years to see my project completed. In High School woodshop, I didn’t have the patience to build a sideboard or a dresser. I was the guy who built a gunrack out of four pieces of red cedar so I could finish in a week. Never mind that my parents didn’t own guns. Grandpa did.
Short stories aren’t instant gratification, but they certainly are completed a lot sooner than a novel. Instead of one, two or maybe three projects a year, I can easily finish two per month. More, if I really work at it. They may not net me a five-thousand-dollar advance, but they will sell.
Now consider my ability to learn and master my craft. I don’t think that anyone will argue with me when I say that the two most important parts of any story are the hook and the denouement. Without a strong hook, you aren’t likely to get the reader to read your whole story. Without a satisfying denouement, you leave the reader feeling unsatisfied, cheated or confused. Getting these two parts right, takes practice. I’ve heard more than one professional writer say that it takes approximately half-a-million words to be really competent as a professional.
Let’s do the math. A novelist will write six or seven books to reach that word count. That’s six or seven hooks and six or seven denouements. As a short-story writer, I will have written over one hundred and forty of each before I reach a half-million words.
Finally, let’s look at profitability. Let’s assume that our novelist has seven titles in his or her half-million words. It’s taken him or her say three years of hard work to write these books and they can expect to continue to produce two books per year. I, will have produced around 140 short stories, and will continue to produce about thirty per year. If our novelist sells his book on Amazon at $14.95 per copy and sells one copy of each title, he will earn $73.25. If I sell my short stories on Amazon at $1.99 and sell one copy of each title, I will earn $97.51. Not only do I earn over thirty percent more than my novelist friend, but I can also combine stories into collections with some of the more popular stories in each and sell them for $15.95 for 25 stories. So now, I have 5 more products earning another $55.83. Selling just one of each title, I earn $153.34 compared to my novelist friend’s $73.25, more than twice as much for the exact same word count.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s not a thing wrong with writing novels. I’m continuing to work on mine and plan to be a successful novelist one day. But I’m sixty-seven years old. I don’t have all that much time to perfect my craft and writing short stories gives me a lot more bang for the buck.
Last time, we discussed Alpha Readers and Beta Readers. I promised that there would be more. So, let’s get started.
For a short story, you may only send it to one editor, but for our purposes, let’s assume that it is a novel. Your first stop is a Structural Editor.
The Structural Editor: A Structural Editor (sometimes called a Substantive Editor) will read your story with an eye towards the story and its strengths and weaknesses. He or she, is your first paid professional to look at your work.
As they read, your structural editor will ask themselves questions such as, does the story flow well, is it accessible (not overwritten or high blown, nor too simplistic), does it make sense, do I connect to the characters, are the characters well developed and believable, does their role fit their personality? They will look at your point of view. Do you use too many or too few? Is the voice consistent? They will look at the pace of your story. Does the tension build at an appropriate pace? Should this action happen sooner or later? Is your dialog appropriate and authentic? Does it flow smoothly and is it something which that particular character would say? They will look to see if your back story is overwhelming your plot. They will look to see if there is too much exposition or too much dialog. They will seek to identify your theme and see that it remains constant throughout your story. Everything that they do, is with an eye on the big picture. Their feedback may come in one or more forms. They may, and probably will, annotate your manuscript with notes, pointing out plot holes. They may cut large portions or rearrange chapters. They will likely send one or more emails detailing what changes they feel are needed. Phone calls are not uncommon between writers and their structural editor, but often are limited by number or time in the contract between the parties.
Yes, I said contract. Your structural editor is likely to send you a contract detailing what they will and won’t do with your manuscript and when you can expect the work to commence and when to expect it to be completed. Don’t be alarmed. This contract or sometimes a letter of understanding is to protect both parties and prevent or resolve any misunderstandings. It will also spell out how your editor expects to be paid. For short stories, they will generally expect to be paid up front. For novels, there is often an up-front portion of their total fee which is paid prior to any work being started. After that, there are likely benchmark payments to be made. An example would be a contract or letter of understanding stipulating that the editing fee will be divided into four equal parts. Assuming that your novel is in the normal 80,000 word range, that would work out to approximately 320 manuscript pages. An editor might ask for progress payments of 25% of their fee up-front, and after each 80 pages of completed work.
So, how much should you pay for structural editing? This will depend on both the editor and the condition of your work. The better you have self-edited prior to sending your work to the editor, the lower your fees should be. For more on editorial fees see http://the-efa.org/res/rates.php and https://jaefiction.wordpress.com/…/…/what-does-editing-cost/.
When your manuscript comes back from your structural editor and you have made or rejected any changes they suggest, you need to send it out to a line editor. A line editor is much more than a professional Grammar Nazi. Yes, he/she will fix your grammar issues. They will also fix usage, missing or extra words, clarify areas which are ambiguous in meaning, substitute synonyms to prevent repetition, eliminate over use of run-on sentences, and let you know if there are areas in your work which might have legal consequences such as song lyrics or extensive quotes.
When your work comes back from the line editor it is a polished manuscript and should be ready for typesetting. You should read over the edits, accepting most and rejecting possibly a few to retain the author’s voice and the speech patterns of your characters.
Finally, you are ready for a proofreader. Your proofreader, unlike the Alphas, Betas and editors, does not get the manuscript in a .doc, .docx or .rtf file format. You should be sending them a PDF format of the final proof you will be sending to the printer. This is because your proofreader won’t be looking for grammar, plot holes and all the other mistakes and inconsistency which your editors should have already fixed. Your proofreader will be looking at how the actual book will look. They will check for consistent page numbering, hanging sentences (where you start a paragraph on one page, but the remainder is missing on the next), unintentional changes in font size or typeface, correct margins, and all of the visual aspects of your finished product. You can find typical proofreading rates in the articles I suggested above, but I would look for one who charges one cent per word or less and has excellent references.
When they return your polished manuscript, you will read their notes, make any necessary changes and you are ready to send it to the printer.
Is this a long and expensive process? Yes, but if you want to build a professional reputation and maximize sales of your work, there simply is no short-cut. What do I do if I can’t afford to have my novel professionally edited? Writers ask this a lot. The answer is painful. The correct answer is “find the money”. Maybe you will need to cut out soda pop or alcohol (God forbid). Maybe you will have to stick to the short story market until your sales can pay for the proper editing and printing of your book. We all make sacrifices to do what we love. And, if we truly love it, then we don’t want to put anything but our very best out there.
I hope that you have found this article helpful and that you will come back to visit my author page and website in the future. If it was helpful, please leave me a like.
#writing, #editing, #proofreading