For those that frequent my blog, or have been here for a while, know that I’ve dealt with trials and tribulations of self-publishing. Recently, I’d say within a year or so, my writing friend Matthew Quinn made the jump with several of his short stories. I invited him over here to write up a post on his experience with his short stories.
My Career as a Kindle Direct Author, Thus Far
Hey everybody. My name is Matthew W. Quinn. Jeff graciously allowed me to make his blog a stop on my blog tour promoting my newest Kindle-published stories — the alternate history spy tale “Picking Up Plans In Palma” and the supervillain protagonist tales “Ubermensch” and “Needs Must.”
I’ve been writing short fiction and trying to sell it to magazines since 2001. 2006, when I was a senior at the University of Georgia, brought my first sale — “I am the Wendigo,” sold to the now-defunct webzine Chimaera Serials. A few more sales followed— the college tales “Nicor” and “Lord Giovanni’s Daughter” to the print magazine Flashing Swords in 2008, my licensed BattleTech tale “Skirmish at the Vale’s Edge” to BattleCorps in 2009, “Coil Gun” to Digital Science Fiction in 2011, and most recently, “Nicor” to Heroic Fantasy Quarterly in 2012.
(Flashing Swords paid me for both stories but went on hiatus before they could be printed.)
However, I still had many I wasn’t able to sell. I used feedback from the markets that rejected them and commentary from online groups like Critters and my two real-life groups to improve each version of the story, but as the markets for short fiction declined, I soon ran out of acceptable places to submit.
So I decided to self-publish. The first was my horror tale “Melon Heads,” which I started writing in 2004 after coming across an urban legends website in college. “Wendigo” came next, a glorious resurrection requiring e-mailing an Internet forum someone posted the text on to get them to remove it. My last two were also college stories, the Ottoman-era Lovecraftian tale “The Beast of the Bosporus” and the science fiction “Illegal Alien.” I decided to self- publish three more after figuring I wasn’t likely to find a paying home for my supervillain stories (subject matter) and “Palma” (length).
Here are some lessons I’ve learned, some the hard way:
*Social media advertising for short stories is not worth it. Buying Facebook ads and paying to promote the posts announcing new publications may have gotten me a lot of Facebook followers and a few sales, but they were a net loss. And my attempt to use Google ads to promote “Melon Heads” failed miserably. I made no “Melon Heads” sales at all while the Google ad was active.
*Internet message-boards, though time-consuming, are a better option. I had a review for “Palma” from a fellow member of my alternate-history forum within a day, while a former member and I have swapped reviews for each other’s work. And I made a couple sales of “Palma” within days of posting a publication announcement on the forum. The message-board also got me in contact with Alex Claw, who has provided excellent covers for most of my stories, as well as loyal reviewers Sean C.W. Korsgaard and Matthew Stienberg.
*Twitter can be useful. Author Saladin Ahmed is a proponent of increasing diversity in speculative fiction and when I tweeted him the announcements for “Ubermensch” and “Needs Must”—stories whose protagonist is an irreligious half-Indian biomedical engineer—he re-tweeted it to his many thousands of followers. I don’t know how many sales resulted, but I’m fairly certain I acquired a few Twitter followers.
*Don’t expect rivers of cash from short fiction alone. I’ve made more money Kindle-publishing the first four stories than I would have made from non-paying or many token markets, but my Kindle revenues combined are less than the penny a word Flashing Swords paid me for “Nicor” or “Lord Giovanni’s Daughter” individually. I’m thinking the money will come long term, once I have published books drawing people to my Amazon author page. William Meikle has Kindle-published many short stories he’s sold to dead magazines and anthologies and considering how he has many novels in print, I imagine he’s doing well. Of course, that presupposes I’ll sell one or more novels and we all know about not counting chickens.
*Elaborate cover art doesn’t guarantee sales. “Illegal Alien” has a beautiful cover, but at this rate it will be years before it sells enough copies to pay for it. “Melon Heads” and “I am Wendigo” have simple covers I got for free and they’ve sold far better. If you’re going to invest in a fancy cover, do it for a book, not a short story.
Matthew W. Quinn is a freelance writer and editor from Marietta, GA. Those interested in finding out more about him can visit his blog, The World According To Quinn.
The first LibertyCon I attended, there were many panels talking about self-publishing. What I heard the most often was that you needed at least 20 to 25 pieces of work on Amazon before you started to see decent sales. That number is the general point when your short stories start to feed off one another. I think Matt is well on his way. I’ll be interested to see what happens in the near future.
Thanks to Matt for the post!