In this Self-Publishing Conference Highlight, authors and educators Matty Dalrymple and Mark Lefebvre explore ways writers can use their short fiction to connect with more readers, while generating income at the same time. Opportunities in anthologies, foreign language markets, and audio, as well as effective use of short fiction as reader magnets or reader funnels are covered, alongside creative ideas such as incorporating short fiction in location-based apps, or using micro-fiction as part of your bookstore pitches.
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About the Hosts
Mark Leslie Lefebvre is the author (as Mark Leslie) of numerous horror short stories and curator / editor of horror anthologies. He writes, speaks, consults, and podcasts based on his more than a quarter-century of experience in writing, publishing, and bookselling. He established the Kobo Writing Life author program and is the Director of Business Development at Draft2Digital. Find out more at www.markleslie.ca/.
Matty Dalrymple podcasts, writes, speaks, and consults on independent publishing as The Indy Author; find out more at www.theindyauthor.com. She is also the author of the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels and Suspense Shorts and the Lizzy Ballard Thrillers; find out more at www.mattydalrymple.com. Matty is a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Sisters in Crime, and the Brandywine Valley Writers Group, and is the principal at William Kingsfield Publishers.
Read the Transcripts: Reaching More Readers with Your Short Fiction
Matty Dalrymple: Hey Mark. How are you doing?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Hey, Matty, good to see you again.
Matty Dalrymple: It is great seeing you, and it is always great to join you to talk with you about reaching more readers with your short fiction, which is what we’re going to be talking about today.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: It’s something you and I get really passionate about, isn’t it?
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, yeah. I think we’ve all told the story a couple times about how our book, Taking the Short Tack came about, because you were gracious enough to do a podcast episode on the Stark Reflections writing and publishing podcast about short fiction.
We did a lot of experimentation and collection of information in that book, and we’re going to share it today with the attendees of this ALLi conference.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: So, why don’t we actually get started by specifically talking about part one of this process, which is creating income.
Matty Dalrymple: So, I think that when people think of short fiction, the thing that springs to mind for them immediately is the traditional publishing market, and I have to say that when we were working on the book, I tried out all the recommendations we had so I could stand behind them, but you’re really the traditional publishing guy, and we’re going to be talking at the end about an example of how you’ve made great use of the traditional publishing market.
But just talk a little bit about, if people are thinking that they want to get their short fiction into a publication or somewhere in the traditional market what are the benefits? How do they go about that?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah, so my start in writing was that there was only traditional publishing options. There weren’t really self-publishing options, or at least the self-publishing options were print 10,000 copies of a book, and have them in your garage, and have them for the rest of your life, hopefully selling them.
So, the going wisdom in the industry was to establish yourself as a short fiction writer, because it was not as time consuming as a hundred-thousand-word manuscript, et cetera. You write stories, you submit them to markets and sell them to markets, and then start in the small press and work your way up to the pros, and then eventually that builds a resume for you. So, when you pitch to an agent or editor, you’ve got a track record and they can see that you’ve been published by certain magazines.
Now that comes with pay. So, in that market, which still exists, there are payment and copy where really small press regional, local zines, for example, maybe you get a copy of the magazine as payment. Well, that doesn’t pay the bills, but then the payments could start as low as $5 for a story, $25 for a story, $50 for a story. Then you get up to semi-pro and pro rates. So, pro rates are 6 cents, US, per word or more, maybe as high as 8 in some markets. Semi-pro rates would be between a penny to maybe 5 cents a word for pro rates. And that means, so if you think about a 10,000-word short story, I can’t do the math in my head. Can you do the math in your head, Matty?
Matty Dalrymple: I never do math in my head.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Okay, but a 10,000-word story or a 5,000-word story, you’re looking at between $250 and $500, somewhere in that realm.
I’m not doing the math top of my head, but you can kind of get a feel for what that’s going to look like. It’s not a lot of money when you consider the amount of money you can make from selling novels, self-publishing, et cetera, but the way I look at it with short fiction is, it’s an additional way to make revenue, and I’m a big fan of multiple streams of revenue.
So, there’s various markets that you can use for traditional publishing that I think are beneficial. There’s some online resources. We’ll pop up some of the online resources in the in the video that you’re looking at now. But the key to this is that you’re able to earn some upfront income, because when you sell your work to a traditional market, they will pay you for it and they will license it for a specific amount of time, usually either first English language rights or it could be first world English language rights, et cetera.
The nice benefit about this is when you sell to a traditional market, you’re working with professional editors, designers, et cetera, they have distribution, they have a platform. So, you’re getting your name out there, you’re getting your work out there, you’re getting paid for it, and it’s actually getting edited because somebody else is covering the cost of editing. They’ve selected it from the submissions and they’re putting it out there. And like I said, it’s to establish brand and name recognition, which is really kind of a thing you do, and even if you’re indie publishing that brand and name recognition is important because when people are shopping for books and stories, they don’t necessarily know how it’s being published, nor do they care how it’s being published, but they may say, oh wow, Matty Dalrymple, I recognize that name because I read a short story in an anthology or in a magazine. So, when they see a book by Matty Dalrymple, they go, wait a second, this is a mystery, and I read one of her short mystery stories in Alfred Hitchcock presents or whatever it is, ooh, it’s the same character, great. And that’s what you’re shooting for, that cross pollination population.
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, I especially like that idea that you’re working with a team of professionals and that is something that I think that people need to factor it in. What would you pay for editing work, and we’ll talk about that a little bit later; the logistics of short fiction in terms of the finances of short fiction, but it’s not just the money you’re going to earn from that, it’s the value you’re getting from that relationship with a professional editor, which I think is sometimes a hidden benefit.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Oh, for sure, yeah.
Matty Dalrymple: So, anything else that you’d like to mention about traditional publishing?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: No, I mean, we’ll come back to this, because this is where this gets beneficial, is this is the start of the journey and we’ll come back to that later on, but I think we’re ready to talk about that other side of publishing, aren’t we?
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, the indie publishing side. So, as I mentioned, when we were working on the book, I was determined to try all the approaches and so I wrote a short story. I went to the platforms like Duotrope, Submittable, the platforms where you can find and submit entries to traditional market platforms, and I sent my submission in and weeks went by, and months went by, and at this point, years have gone by, and I never heard back from the publication.
And I have to say that I didn’t keep pursuing it because I realized very quickly that, although I was glad I had done the experiment, I was uncomfortable with the traditional market for the same reasons that I’m un uncomfortable with the traditional market of novel length works, and that is that I don’t really like the idea of having someone else act as a gate keeper for my work; I want the readers to make the decision about whether it’s worthwhile and vote with their wallets or vote with their reviews about what they think about it.
So, the other option for getting a story out there would be to indie publish it, and for anyone who has experience, and actually I’m going to back up for a moment because I realize that the other plug I want to put in is along with the control, working as your own gatekeeper, not relying on another one, is that you have sort of the free reign of your creativity. You can write whatever story is in your heart, you’re not necessarily trying to serve the needs of a particular platform. They may be soliciting stories about a particular theme. If that theme doesn’t appeal to you, then if you’re publishing yourself, you don’t have to be tied to that, and you can keep using it forever if you have retained the correct rights.
And this is important on both the indie and the traditional sides. Our buddy Douglas Smith wrote the great book, Playing the Short Game, which I think is a great companion piece to Taking the Short Tack because Doug goes into a lot of detail about the importance of retaining your rights, and I’m going to get to cash in a moment, but what I ended up doing is I published my short story in exactly the same way that I would publish my novel length works.
You get a cover, you get a formatted interior, and this is all assuming you’ve taken care of the craft side. Mark, you and I talked about the craft side at ALLi’s last conference in 2021. Now, we’re talking about the business side. So, let’s assume you have a good story that you want to get out there and you can put it out on all the same platforms that you can use to put out novel length works.
I put mine out direct to Amazon on KDP and via Draft2Digital, Kobo, Google Play and Payhip, and so it’s out there earning me cash, and over the course I now have seven Ann Kinnear Suspense shorts out. In fact, coincidentally the seventh one is going up today.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Awesome.
Matty Dalrymple: So, I just experienced this, and I’ve made a couple of hundred dollars from that money. Now, that’s not maybe as much as I would’ve gotten had I gotten placement in a traditional market magazine, but I’m going to be making that money forever. So, it’s, as you were saying, kind of a nice little chunk of additional income, and Mark, I have not really pursued the print side of the indie option.
Do you want to talk a little bit about that, because I know you’ve pursued that?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah. So, I will talk briefly about print and audio. So, all the benefits that you talk about Matty, but again, you’re also creating SEO when you’ve created these shorts, because when people will find one of your Ann Kinnear short stories, they’ll lead in hopefully to a novel where you’ll earn more on those sales.
In the print market, I do a lot of comicons and shows, because a lot of my scary stuff tends to go well with the science fiction fans, et cetera, and a lot of my traditionally published books are $25 for the paperback and, well, my indie published stuff is cheaper, but, even the price points, they’re higher, right?
When you think about eBooks are typically a $5 price or less, and so at the table, one of the challenges is getting someone to open their wallet for a $20, $15, larger ticket item. I’ve taken some short stories and using Draft2Digital print, for example, which is free to use, unlike Ingram Spark that has a setup fee, unless you are a member of ALLi and then you get access to the codes, but that’s a lot of gymnastics that you have to do to do the codes and stuff like that. So, you can use Ingram Spark or Amazon KDP print, which is also free, and then make print copies of what I call chapbooks, sized 64 pages, 70 pages, a hundred pages or less, and put one or two or three short stories together, which I’ve done.
Then I’ve got a product that maybe I’m only making $1.50 or 50 cents, or whatever when I sell it in person, but it’s a $5 price point item, and then it could be an add-on to an additional sale. It could be like a little book that, well, if you buy this book, you can get this other one that’s regularly $5 for only a dollar, or you can sell it just to get people in the door, or even as a giveaway. Like, here, why don’t I sign this for you, because it only cost me a couple bucks to print. Well, the print cost of course is going up, but again, there’s some flexibility.
If I want to give something away, I don’t have to give away a $25 book, I don’t have to give away a full book. I can give away something that can give them a taste of what my writing is like, and if it is a short story that’s connected to or related to a series, that’s a pure marketing play.
On the audiobook side of things, just quickly is, the cost to professionally produce an audiobook when you’re paying a narrator is paid by the hour. If it’s a short story, 9,000 words is about an hour. If it’s a short story of 5,000 words, you’re only going to be paying that narrator for half an hour, so you can build up story by story, if you don’t have the budget. Short stories that don’t cost you a lot of money, then you can combine them into a, Matty, in your case, seven stories where you’ve had to pay for them little by little in chunks as the money’s coming in on other sales, and then you can have them sell as standalones for 99 cents or whatever the price is, and then you can have the larger, 40,000, 50,000 word, or a hundred thousand word collection of those stories, and if you’ve paid the narrator upfront, that’s just more flexibility you have as a writer.
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, I really like the idea of audio because I think one of the strengths of short fiction in general is that, in our super busy lives we’re always looking for grabbing those periods of time, sometimes short periods of time, to get our reading in, and sometimes those short periods of time are when we’re behind the wheel of the car and you don’t want to be looking at a chapbook when you’re doing that, and so I think the opportunities for audio there are great and I’m doing that this year. My narrator of my Ann Kinnear suspense novels is going to be also recording the audio. So, I’m excited about that.
I also just wanted to say on the print front, the different platforms have surprisingly short requirements for number of pages. Like, I think there’s some platforms, among the ones that we’ve mentioned, where you can get a 16-page book printed. So, that was another surprise I had that the requirement for number of pages was so small.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah, and I love that. Even at 16 pages, that’s a lot less of a cost. Maybe you can sell these like, not the penny dreadful’s, but you can sell them for a couple bucks, or just use them as pure giveaways as well. And again, this is something I learned from Douglas Smith years ago, when you had a short story nominated for Canada’s Aurora Awards, you would want as many people to read it as possible so they could vote.
Doug used to print, and actually print and bind and staple together, little chapbooks of the story to give away for free at conventions. Well now it doesn’t have to be that photocopied piece of paper. Now, it’s so much easier to have a nice, glossy cover; it just gives it a little bit more of that pristine look and feel, and maybe it’s something pretty exciting for collectors too.
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, it is special because that’s not something that everybody’s doing. Everybody else is giving out bookmarks and you can give out an actual story.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah, exactly, and then they get a real taste for you rather than, oh, this is nice art.
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, well actually I’m going to use the nice art as an entree to another aspect of standalone books. I was thinking of this in terms of standalone eBooks, but I think it applies in other scenarios as well, that a concern people have when they’re indie publishing their short fiction is the cost and logistics, and you’ve talked a little bit about what print offers there.
The two things that I always recommend people do are get professionally created cover art and a professional edit, and that’s easier to justify somehow with a novel, because you feel like, over the life of a novel that you’re selling for 4.99 or 5.99, or you’re selling print copies for $20, it’s easier to see where you’re going to recoup those costs.
But the two things that I did that were very helpful to me as an indie author, because I wasn’t getting the benefit you were talking about with the traditional publishing, about having the editing built into the process, and the benefit you’re getting from, is for editing, take advantage of your fellow authors in writer’s groups, for example. Find fellow authors who are proficient in and experienced with the genre you’re writing in, because you don’t want to write a horror story and then give it to the cosy mystery reader in your reader or writer’s group and ask them for their input. But any kind of pool of beta readers you can tap into, I think is a great resource.
Sometimes you can find editors who will edit short fiction for a price that makes it reasonable against the price that you’re going to be charging for it, but there are lots of nice, free options, especially if you’re willing to return the favour when that request is coming to you.
The other thing that I did on the cover front is that I have all my covers for my novels professionally designed, and I asked the designer of the Ann Kinnear suspense novels to create a template for me that I could use for my shorts. So, he came up with a nice font for the author name and the title, and there’s a certain tone to all my books, kind of a certain colour scheme, and so what I was able to do is, I use Canva, I put that template in Canva, and then when I have a new suspense short, I go to a place where you can purchase photographs, like Deposit Photo, or Shutterstock, or a royalty-free site like Unsplash, and find a photo that looks nice.
I can do a certain amount of adjustment in Canva, like the brightness and things like that, and so I can basically, for whatever I’m paying for the picture, I can create a free cover for my eBook, but it’s a cover that has had a professional eye on it in terms of the placement of the elements and the fonts and things like that.
So, just a couple of things that can make the logistics of the indie publishing side a little more manageable.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah, I like that. I like that a lot.
What’s one of the other elements of how we can leverage our short fiction? Is there a way we can use this potentially, the way you and I connected, is there a way for you to connect with others?
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, I think that the whole idea of finding readers. Of course, we all want to find money, but finding readers is sometimes the first thing. So, as an example, we were talking about author readings. I think this is something, Mark, that you’ve put short fiction to in a really good way in terms of connecting with readers.
Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: So, one of the great thing s with author readings is, the challenge with author readings when you’re presenting a novel, for example, is you’re trying to pick something from the novel that’s going to entice them to want to buy the book, and that’s always challenging.
I often find that things can go really long. You may not pick the right thing. It may feel too much like a teaser. Like, it’s too much like, ha, you have to buy the book to find out.
With a short story, if it’s a short enough story, you can tell the whole story. You can actually share; you can read the entire story. Give them the full story arc feel for this short piece and completely satisfy them.
That piques their interest, of course, in you as a writer saying, wow, I really liked what they had to do. The other thing is that potentially, if you’ve got those little chapbooks that I talked about, the little print books, that maybe that’s an easier sell to sell one of those $5 smaller books or less, than it is for the full.
So for example, if I had full length novels or full short story collection books available that are $10, $12, $15, $20, $25, and then I also have a $5 book, and someone’s like, well I kind of like him, but I’m not sure, why don’t I buy this because he read one of the three stories in this chapbook, and it’s only five bucks, that way I get his autograph or whatever.
So, I think that’s one of the things that you can do, in terms of author readings. But that’s kind of getting ahead of the game, right, talking about author readings and what you’re doing after it’s published and after you’ve produced it and you’re ready to promote it.
Let’s backtrack all the way back, Matty, to that thing, because you went through that process yourself in terms of figuring out where to send the stories to if you were looking at sending them or doing them yourselves. How’d you deal with that?
Matty Dalrymple: So, are you thinking in terms of the market research aspect of this?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah. I think that short fiction, it’s a great way to dip your toe in the water of any content in a way that’s manageable. So, the bad thing to do would be for me to decide that now I want to write sci-fi fantasy, and so I invest a hundred thousand words in my first sci-fi fantasy novel, I give it to some experienced sci-fi fantasy beta readers, and they hate it.
Well, maybe sci-fi fantasy just isn’t my gig, and so it is way more palatable to find that out after you’ve invested 4,000 words, or 8,000 words, or 25,000 words than it is if you’ve invested in an entire novel.
So, loving the nautical metaphors I do, I like this idea of creating a scale model. Boat builders will make a tiny version of the boat that they want to build, but will give them some idea about its capacity, it’s seaworthiness, I think is the best way to think about it, and if they’ve gone wrong with a tiny model, they haven’t invested that much.
In the same way, if we go wrong with a tiny story, we haven’t invested that much, and it’s easier to step away from it, or it’s easier to continue tweaking that and massaging it until we get it to a point where our readers really are excited about reading it.
I think that it’s just as important to test this for yourself as it is to test it for your readers. So, I might think that I’m real excited about sci-fi fantasy and I start in on it, and I get 50,000 words into my draft, and I’m just not feeling it, I’m just not inspired by it, but I’ve got 50,000 words now, I better keep going because you wouldn’t want to waste those 50,000 words.
So, if you start in on your new venture and you’re not feeling it, it’s easier again to step away from it without feeling like you’ve wasted time or wasted effort.
The same is true not only on the big scale of a whole new genre, but even on a smaller scale. So, as an example I have a character named Garrick Mazzer in the Ann Kinnear suspense novels, and he’s a character that a lot of readers like, he’s this sort of old crochety spirit sensor, as Anne is, a little more advanced than her. He’s been her mentor through several books, but Anne is gaining on him.
So, sometimes I’ve thought it might be fun to write, to spin off Garrick into his own series, but I have a theory that Garrick in small doses may be better than Garrick holding a story on his own, and it would be really fun to experiment by writing a Garrick Mazzer short story and seeing, does this feel like something that could become an 80,000 word novel, or is it feeling like, no, this is just like a little dash of fun; I’m going to keep Garrick in the position he’s in. So, you can use short fiction to test it for yourself, test it for others as well.
Thoughts about that, Mark?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I love that testing a character to see if they can stand on their own, have their own spinoff or whatever. Are people interested enough in this character to want more, because sometimes supporting characters are great for peppering or spicing up the story with interesting details, but they may not stand alone. What a great example of how to use that as experimentation.
Matty Dalrymple: I also wanted to jump back. So, we’re fascinated with each other’s insights and there was one thing I wanted to know back to, in terms of author readings, because I think that some people, so we’re recording this spring of 2022, in-person events are starting up again, people are feeling more or less comfortable with that. So, in-person author readings might not be something that strikes people’s fancy, but you have done some really interesting things with author readings virtually.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah, so I’ve done, I mean in Canada here, the Canada Council for the Arts and Author’s Guild of Canada, or sorry, Canadian Writers, one of the many authors associations I’m a member of, my apologies, I’ll pop up the proper logo at the time of editing this, offered grants for doing virtual readings during the pandemic because authors couldn’t get out there and do the promotions and library events and bookstore events, et cetera.
So, they would just give you a 15-minute reading, half hour reading, or whatever, and you would apply to get a grant to do a virtual reading because again, it’s Canadian content and stuff like that, but even just doing, I’d done stuff with local libraries, or I’d done virtual events with libraries and readings, and even crafted some of my content into short ghost stories because I do tell a lot of ghost stories, both traditionally published true ghost stories that I’ve re-adapted, but fictional ghost stories as well.
I used to go in and talk to classrooms, some of the stuff that’s safe for kids to read and had done that virtual as well. So, I think there’s opportunities to pre-record that, especially if you’re nervous about doing a live event, and just having that available.
I’ve even taken audio readings of my short fiction and put them up on YouTube just for that additional discoverability.
That’s kind of the stuff you were thinking about, right, Matty?
Matty Dalrymple: Exactly. I recall the Friday fright, am I remembering that right?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Free Friday Frights, yeah. That was a series, and that was, I think prior to the pandemic I started doing that.
I just wanted to get, and I alternated because I do fiction and non-fiction, so every Friday I would either read a story live streamed to Facebook and potentially YouTube. Although, back then it wasn’t as fancy, I wasn’t able to use all the tools. StreamYard wasn’t around, that makes that process easier. I would do fiction and I would talk about the story, and then I would also do non-fiction, and because of the non-fiction, I couldn’t just read a chapter because the publisher had the audio rights. Even though they hadn’t exploited them, it was in the contract that they had the audio rights, so I couldn’t just verbatim read from that chapter. But what I could do is talk about the research that went into making the chapter, because that IP is still mine. Even though that chapter and that writing, the way it is, is now in the possession of the publisher, they’ve licensed those rights.
So, I can’t exploit them myself, but I can exploit the IP that created them, and that was a fun thing to do. It is hard to measure, in terms of whether or not it was successful or not, but the great thing is I have a year’s worth or more of, more than 50 Free Friday Frights floating out there in the in the world that can still lead people to discover either my non-fiction or my fiction.
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, I think that those benefits of people getting the whole story that you mentioned with the in-person author events definitely applies, and that idea that they’re getting a taste of you, not just a taste of your work, and I think both of those things are real benefits.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah. So, we’ve given some examples, I think, of some of the things that we’ve done, but I think maybe it’s probably time for us to try to narrow this funnel down of all the different ideas that we’re kind of throwing out here, and maybe talk a little bit about some of the best practices, from either our own experience or things that we’ve seen other authors doing.
What say you, Matty, should we start sharing some best practices?
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, I think that there are two that we’ve picked out, and one of them is being an active member of the community.
Mark, I just think that you’re the poster guy for being an active and supportive member of the community.
Regarding short fiction, I think that one of the ways that being an active member of the community and building relationships within the community, where that’s applicable is with anthologies, and so I think for many people, whether they’re indie or traditionally published, the idea of being in an anthology is very appealing.
Can you talk a little bit about the process by which anthologies are put together and then how being an active member of the community can help people tap into that opportunity?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah, thanks Matty. Whether an anthology is traditionally published or indie published, what I love about them is it’s a bunch of writers coming together. We do everything in isolation. We’re sitting at our keyboards by ourselves or doing things like that, but when you’re published in an anthology, you kind of feel like you’re part of a group.
The most recent experience I had was in the Rebel Author Diaries, which is published by Sacha Black. She actually used Draft2Digital’s payment splitting, and now this is not a traditional anthology. With a traditional published anthology, the publisher will pay you in advance and then you never get paid again. You get an upfront fee, which is usually professional rates for a short story, then you get the rights back sometime later in the future, and then they make all the money off of the sales.
With this anthology that Sacha does, and many indie authors are doing, is she pulled together 13 rebel stories that she had solicited and went through the slush pile, just like a traditional publisher would do, and then the contract was for a payment share, where all 13 authors plus the editor share in the royalty sales when the book sells.
One of the things I loved about this process is that I got to meet and network and connect with so many other writers that I had never had the opportunity to connect with before, and I’m still connected with them, and I’ve discovered some writers from this anthology that I want to read, as a reader myself. So, that’s benefiting them. I’m sure that there may be people who’ve never read my fiction before and so they’ve read the fiction there.
So, not only is that an income stream, but also, I have a relationship with a dozen other writers, and that was just part of this optimal experience.
The other thing we got to do is Sacha had created a Slack channel for us as we were leading up to this, and we shared so many amazing creative ideas on what our social media handles were on Twitter and Instagram and TikTok, et cetera, and then we were sharing and putting together unique, interesting videos on the theme of the anthology, and there were so many great ideas.
So, when you’re doing it collaboratively like that, you’re benefiting from the creativity of other people. They’re helping energize you and inspire you, so it’s not, oh, here’s poor Mark doing all this marketing on his own. We’re working together, we’re sharing each other’s audiences.
But for me, the entire industry is, yes, it’s digital, and yes, there’s gaming the Amazon algorithm and all those things, but at the end of the day, because I’ve been in this industry since the early nineties, it’s always about relationships. Publishing itself as a relationship between the reader and the writer, and as a book seller, I had the experience of being the person who was the lynchpin to get the right reader into the right writer’s hands, or the right writer into the right reader’s hands, I’m doing that backwards, and it’s always about relationships. It was relationships with editors that I’m submitting to because of the professionalism, it’s relationships with other authors, it’s relationships within the industry itself, because I’ve been invited to anthologies merely because I interacted with a writer, we had a discussion about something, they learned something about me, and then they invited me to submit to an anthology.
And I’ve done the same thing for anthologies I’ve edited, where I learned something about someone and said, hey, would you like to write a story for this anthology because hey, that saves me a lot of time if I can solicit stories directly rather than having to read hundreds of thousands of words through the slush pile.
And I think when we think about the relationship, you’re always thinking about, what can I do to prop you up and support you, and how can I let my readers know about your awesome thing that we worked on together? And every time we pay it forward, every time we look to serve the reader properly by giving the reader what they want, rather than just trying to sell them what we have, I think, I believe in the karmic value of the universe, I think that can go a really long way in long-term relationships of trust, not only with other writers, but with the readers themselves.
We’re creating the platform, we’re creating that environment for success, which I think is a great foundation to build your author career on.
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, I think that there are few other professions that act on the ‘rising tide raises all boats’ philosophy as authors, because you don’t hear about used car dealers who say, oh yeah, you might like my cars, but you know what, you might like Fred’s cars across the street too. No, that doesn’t happen, but it does happen among authors.
Exactly what you’re saying that idea of cross promotion of, it does you good for somebody who writes the kinds of books you read to find a reader because that reader is going to find you too down the road when you’re part of that relationship.
It’s interesting. I’ll also use the story about the Rebel Author Diaries as a plug for indie publishing, because I submitted a story to that. I didn’t get it in. I heard from Sacha about how many entries you guys got, and there were only 13 slots.
A benefit of indie publishing is you’re not waiting for an open slot, but I wanted to throw my hat in the ring and when I got the thank you anyway, it was of course disappointing, but the next day I had it up on the retail platforms as a standalone. I had to add a note saying that the anthology for which it had been written encouraged profanity, and so my readers should be aware of that before they purchased it, because it was a little bit different than some of my other stories, but it didn’t mean that I had to go moping away. I still had an opportunity to get that out into the hands of readers.
And I think there’s the, you talk very nicely about the whole paying it forward idea, that good karma comes back to you, and I think it’s also a great illustration of the fact that being an active member in the community makes you aware of those opportunities. Because I don’t know that I’ve ever, I’m not going to look for it, so this isn’t to say it’s not out there, but the exposure I’ve had to anthologies and the anthology I have been in, I have been in because of the relationships I’ve built through writers’ groups or other members of the community.
So, engaging is very important in order to optimize the opportunities for your own short fiction and also to help you optimize the opportunities for others short fiction.
And if you want to indie publish, then consider putting together an anthology of your own. Maybe the people in your writers group want to put together a themed anthology on a specific genre, or Christmas is coming up, let’s put together an anthology of Christmas stories. So, you don’t have to wait for the gatekeepers, you can do that yourself.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: No, I love that, and I love how you wrote specifically to market, to sell it to a market and to be part of that anthology, but when it turned out that it wasn’t leveraged for the anthology, because again the challenge is you have to not accept, I don’t want to use the word reject, you have to not accept great submissions, there’s lots of great submissions.
So, what you did is you did something really smart, you created an asset, tried to leverage it in one area, it didn’t work out. So, you went, okay great, I’m going to do something else, and that dynamic ability to re-leverage, to re-publish to retry, I think, is a critical aspect of what we have, not just as indie authors, but as authors in general.
We’ve created this asset, how are we going to leverage that properly?
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, and I’ll share another piece of advice that I think I first read, again, in Douglas Smith’s, Playing the Short Game. The idea that, if you are looking across the whole scope of ways you can use your short fiction, and traditional publishing is something you want to pursue, there’s no harm in starting at the top, because you don’t want to think, no, I’m just going to submit to this rinky-dink publication because this is my short story.
No, submit it to the place that you really want to get in, because the worst that can happen is that they say no, and then you work down your list to a certain point, but then at that point I say, don’t keep lowering your standards, find some other indie-focused way to get it out there.
So, I think that is a great entree to one of the important things we want to talk about, which is create once, publish everywhere.
Mark, do you want to talk a little bit about what we mean by create once, publish everywhere?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah, and I love the way you put this together, Matty, as you were designing the presentation, as you called it, C.O.P.E, create once, publish everywhere. I love that.
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, how do you cope?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah, how do you cope? This is great. So, this is just a high-level view of something I’ve done, and this is, as you say, how Mark coped with Browsers. So, Browsers was a short story that I originally wrote, and I sold the first North American English language rights in 1999 to small press Canadian magazine called Challenging Destiny. It was in print, quarterly magazine, nice little digest size thing. I still have it on my shelves at home.
I then in 2004, because I got the rights back, reprinted it in my very first self-published book collection, One Hand Screaming. Then in 2005-ish, I printed it as a standalone chapbook, and I was following Doug Smith’s advice. I was distributing that at book festivals and author events for free. I was like, hey, do you want to read this, this is a great story that you should read.
Then I sold reprint rights to an anthology called Bound for Evil, which was evil and horror stories about books. Then I reprinted it again in my own chapbook, following my own advice called Active Reader and Other Cautionary Tales for the Book World, and I put that together to create on an espresso book machine in a bookstore I was running. So, I just needed a nice, small, short asset that if I wanted to test print something, I didn’t want to print a 300-page book that would take forever.
Then I included it in an eBook edition of Active Reader in 2015, wanting to experiment with that. Then I created an audiobook version of Active Reader in 2017, when Findaway Voices first launched. I wanted to test it out and not spend so much, because there’s only about 15,000 words in this collection.
Then I re-edited it and released the chapbook in eBook and print in 2019. This is just one of the examples.
I’m just in the process now, Matty, and I hadn’t even shared this with you, is another digital chapbook, Snowman Shivers, which again, those two stories appeared in One Hand Screaming. Now, they’re a themed collection of just dark humour, snowman stories. I’ve re-edited that, put that out in all the formats as well.
But a friend of mine, Nikolai Jones, who is fully bilingual in both the spoken word and written word, has translated it to French for me, and she’s done the art for it as well. So, she’s not only the artist, and I’ve paid and commissioned some art for the cover of the French version as well as the interior for the English version, but she’s also doing the translation. So again, stories like this one collection, for example, One Hand Screaming, had stories that are being used in little pieces here and there, but also in again, and this may be following some of Douglas Smith’s advice, although he was going more trad with this, I’m going more indie, I’m going to release it in French now to potentially reach new readers out there. So, lots of great ways that we can cope as writers.
Matty Dalrymple: Yes, those are great examples, and the whole foreign language thing, again, Doug is a great resource for foreign language rights in a traditional market, but you just came up with a great way of pursuing foreign language rights on more of an indie side, so I love hearing that.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah, I knew you would enjoy the indie aspect part of that.
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, I’m all over the indie aspect.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: It’s almost like The Indy Author is part of your persona or something.
Matty Dalrymple: It is almost like that, isn’t it?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: And that’s Indy, with a y.
Matty Dalrymple: It is. Maddy with a y, Indy with a y.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: It’s all part of the brand, and that’s an important element. That’s important because even though we’re talking about short fiction, that crosses your non-fiction brand in a very solid way, but it does link back very nicely to your fiction brand, especially with your nautical references, right?
Matty Dalrymple: Yes, I do love my nautical references.
So, I think we’ve covered creating income, we’ve covered connecting with readers. Any final thoughts you want to add before we pose a question to our participants here?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I just want to say that I think you’re limited only by your own imagination, and as a creative person, as a writer, you’ve got a pretty powerful imagination.
So, experiment, check things out. We’re just throwing out some of the ideas of things that we’ve done and tried and worked. Maybe we’ve inspired you to try something unique that you came up with.
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, the question that we want to ask people is, how are you going to reach more readers with your short fiction?
And I have to say that as much time as I have spent thinking about short fiction, I’m going to leave here with the idea of more actively pursuing chapbooks to be available for in-person events, and the other thing that your comments about your new French edition made me think of is that I found an artist on Fiverr that I love, and I’m thinking it would be really fun to be able to get her to do some illustrations for some of my short stories, and offer them as special editions on my direct sales Payhip store. So, that is something that I’m going to do to reach more readers with my short fiction.
Mark, you talked a little bit, is there anything other than this new upcoming French edition that you’re thinking of taking on for short fiction?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah, I mean, similarly, I was inspired by you considering taking one side character, or a supporting character, best supporting actor kind of role, and experimenting to see what would a story, a side story, of them be? And I’m really excited to give that a shot because I have some other products where there’s an interesting character and I want to do more with them, but I don’t think it’ll work in the premise of the series, of the novels, but maybe a standalone. And maybe it’s not something that sells directly on any of the readers, maybe it’s only for the diehard fans. Then maybe it’s only available to purchase directly from me, because again, when you sell direct, you’re pocketing what, 90-95%, depending on the credit card charges, et cetera. That’s a pretty sweet deal.
Matty Dalrymple: Yeah, it is a pretty sweet deal, and this whole idea of special editions, even for electronic content, I think is something that, again, you can play with very easily with short fiction. It might be a little more intimidating or difficult with longer work. So, if you want to dip your toe in that, again, short fiction is a good way of doing that.
So, Mark, thank you so much, this has been so much fun.
We have a resource that people can go to for more information, imagine that.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Imagine that.
Well, we have Taking the Short Tack. Creating income and connecting with readers using short fiction, which again follows that nautical brand that you have for your indie author books, et cetera, and products, and that was a collaboration.
When did we first start working on that one?
Matty Dalrymple: 2019.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: It goes back a few years, yeah. Wow. So, that is available. It is available in eBook. It’s available in print, and we debated back and forth about how to do the audio, and we’ve started and stopped.
Matty Dalrymple: We keep trying to get it out in audio. Someday that will happen.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: We’ll get it out in audio. I know we will find a way.
Matty Dalrymple: Well, this has been so much fun, Mark. Thank you and thank you to the Alliance of Independent Authors for inviting us back to talk about short fiction.