Various Strategies for Self-Publishing Success

Children stop shouting at one another in the playground, the cars stop hurrying around the streets, the waves pause in the sea and the wind settles in the trees, for I have some news… I have a short story published. You can actually download it. So, I suppose I’m now a published author.

Wow, it’s that easy. Last week I wasn’t and this week I am. A fellow author who lives nearby (Vanessa Wester) pulled together a bunch of new writers with an anthology of short stories in mind. It was to have a Halloween theme and we all spent a couple of days with our stories, writing and tweaking. A week later, it’s published and available for download. There is a paperback being arranged as well. (You can read my story here, but download the book for some other great stories) Easy. So easy, in fact, that it makes you wonder what other ways there are to get your work out there quickly. Here’s the ones I know about…

Short Stories

The quickest of them all to write, but size matters. It depends how short your short is. Most are between 2,000 and 5,000 words. There is definitely an art to a good short story and the the real pros know how to get it up and back down immediately. No wasted words or sentences, and a paragraph can take you the same distance as fifty pages of a novel.

I’ve heard of authors (David Gaughran for one) who publish individual short stories for £1, and then package up five for £2.99. He reckons that 4,000 words is the optimal length. Most self-published full-length novels sell for £2.99 (or even less) so let’s do the math.

Full-length novel – 90,000 words

Anthology of short stories – (5 x 4,000) 20,000 words

Less than a quarter of the wordage, therefore less than quarter of the time to write. Less than quarter of the time to invest in the book before you can move on and get something else out there. Short stories all of a sudden don’t sound to throw away, do they?


A novella is a short novel. They used to be a lot more common but recently they disappeared. (Examples of novellas; A Christmas Carol, Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, A Clockwork Orange, Shawshank Redemption, The Subterraneans, The Old Man and the Sea) However now with the eBook in ascendancy readers are enjoying the experience of reading quicker stories. This format also lends itself to the quicker expansion of a series. (Hugh Howey’s Wool Series is now to be made into a film by Ridley Scott – the first ever self-published author to hit the Hollywood big-time)

Again, Novellas are 20-40,000 words long. Half the size of a novel, so half the investment by the writer. You can still charge £2.99 for them though. The other benefit of a novella is that you can test out the market to see if people want to read your idea.

Full-Length Novels

70-90,000 words. Big chunky, twisting stories that pull in the reader and can afford enough time for proper character development so that the reader feels like he knows the main characters by the end of it. It’s a fantastic pleasure in life to read a great novel and they will always be written and read.

But they do take a hell of a long time to write. One draft, two drafts, three drafts, before you know it you could have written about 300,000 words, and then what if no one likes it. It’s the classic long game.

Different Strategies

eBooks and self-publishing, the indie writing environment, lends itself to all of these formats of writing and reading. I’ve talked about the eReader vs the book in the past and because readers will now read in different places in different ways, perhaps writers can provide different types of story to fit these habits. The shorter formats lend themselves to people reading on the way to work where the same amount of emotional investment is not required.

So, I want to know your opinion. Should writers:

  1. provide a mix of these formats
  2. concentrate on shorter lengths at the beginning  and then expand later
  3. Go for broke with the novels at first and ignore the short lengths
  4. Test out themes and characters with novellas before investing too much time in writing something that no one wants to read in a novel

One response to “Various Strategies for Self-Publishing Success

  1. Pingback: How To Make A Living, Writing Fiction | Michael J Holley – Writer

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