The answer was along the lines of short stories not being something a writer could make a living on these days, and that an author can no longer break into novels by writing short stories. (My version is deeply simplified, I'm sure, and my response is not geared toward the person or persons who answered, but toward the inner dialogue happening in my brain.)
I disagree on at least half of that.
While it would be a lot of work to make a living off short stories, it could probably be done, but it's more likely you'd be supplementing another income with them than actually living off them. You can write more short stories in a year than you can novels, and advances on novels aren't exactly in the hundred-thousands (see below). If you can bust into pro markets, and especially if you write in multiple genres, there are a good number of magazines and anthologies out there. Publishing houses are putting out anthologies of short stories in order to draw attention to their novel publishing lines, for instance.
Duotrope and Submission Grinder make it easier to track down open markets than it used to be, so hey, you're one up on the folks that had to hunt them down on paper. The interweebs help a lot, too. As does social media (which, of course, can be found on the interweebs). If you want a specific level of pay, you track down the publications offering that level of pay. That doesn't mean you'll get accepted, but neither does querying an agent about your novel...
As far as using short stories to get exposure, if that's why you want to write them, go for it. Personally, I enjoy writing them, but I do hope that being able to put publication credits in that depressing part of the query letter where you struggle to put something that makes you worthwhile as a writer will show future agents and editors that I'm someone who can write something others want to read (and pay for), that I've been in the game enough to know how to self-promote, that I'm professional, that I can write to a deadline, and that, gosh darn it, people like me.
^And hopefully they'll never read that dreadful run-on sentence.
Yes, I do want to make money writing. I want it to be my career. But I also want my stories to be read and appreciated (hopefully). I'd write either way, because my brain says so. I sure wouldn't work this hard at it, nor would I likely edit and submit it, if I didn't want to do something with them in terms of career.
Carrie Vaughn, currently living about an hour north of me, got her start in short stories. In fact, her character Kitty got her big start in a short story that later spurned the first novel in the Kitty Norville series. (*Disclaimer: I'm basing this off my memory of an interview I did with her for Pikes Peak Writers, so don't quote me.)
If she can do it, you can do it.
But to do it, you have to write enough stories to make it worthwhile. You aren't going to get a $5000 advance on a short story. Chances are, you won't get much more than that for a novel it took you a year to write and edit, either. That's why you always have ideas coming in, and you are always working toward that next story. Or you are if you want to make a career of writing, whether it's short stories or novels (or something in between).
The more short stories you have out there, the better your chances at income.
The more novels you have out there, the better your chances at income.
Funny how that works.
Neither option is going to be easy. Neither one is going to drop success in your lap without hard work. If you're avoiding short stories because you think you can't make money writing them, maybe take a look at them and see if you enjoy writing them on the side. If your measuring stick of success tells you short stories don't equal success, only novels do, then you're on your own. I'm not going to argue with you. That's a measurement you've created on your own.
If you have no interest in short stories, don't write them. Pretty simple.
Consider the fact that if you put out as many words on short stories as you do on novel writing, you would mill out quite a few short stories. The average length is about 5000 words, give or take a couple thousand (and often depending upon genre). If you write that in a week on a novel, you could write a short story a week. That's 52 short stories per year. 5000 words x 52 = 260,000. That's $13,000 per year at $.05/word (the lowest pro pay). Then you've got reprints and collections, bringing in additional income (at lower pay, if we're discussing reprints) on previous years' short stories. Breaking it down that way, you'd make more Year Two, and more Year Three. So on.
And, no, I'm not guaranteeing you'd sell all your stories, or that you'd sell them at pro rates. Yeesh, I'm just showing you some numbers on a for instance basis. Work with me here.
Of course, 260,000 is actually two to three novels, so we're not equaling one novel to 52 short stories, either. If you sell all 52 short stories or all 2.5 novels, you're going to make more on the novels.
I went and did some quick research, and came up with several other people who had already done lots of research, so I didn't have to (instead of citing all the information I read through, here's the search term I used so you can do the same: average novel advance). The mean and average advances for genre fiction are between $5000 and $6000. So in that one year of writing a novel, the average advance folks are getting is less than $10,000 unless they're getting some solid royalties on top of their advances. Some get $1000. Some get $10,000. Chances are, first timers are on the lower end of that spectrum, while folks who have a few novels out or show higher previous sales are at the higher end.
It should also be noted that mainstream advances tend to be higher, while nonfiction advances are the highest, on average. And I'm betting if we broke that down further, we'd see that certain genres got bigger advances. For instance, based on sales, romance and mystery might get a bigger advance than science fiction and horror. Do the research and let me know (I'm not your research monkey!)
What do these numbers tell me?
If your goal is to be able to quit the day job writing short stories, your chances are slim.
Both of these take time and hard work. They take dedication. You have to reach a certain level. So if you aren't in this for the love, you may have a nasty path ahead of you. Being an author is not a get rich quick scheme.
Unless you're the exception. There's always an exception.
Realistically, do I feel I'm going to become a rich and famous author courtesy of writing short stories? No. But nobody gets to tell me or you or anyone else that it's impossible. Nobody gets to tell me what I can or cannot accomplish. And I'm not going to tell you whether you can or cannot accomplish it, either.
I also write novels, so I'm not going to be a good guinea pig for this. I'm writing short stories because I enjoy them, to hone my craft, because I have ideas that fit the length, to build up my writing resume, to pay for writing related activities, and about five billion other reasons.
I'm not here to convince you to write short stories. I find them worthwhile in many ways, but that doesn't mean you will. Some people prefer short stories, some novels, and some love both. What I AM here to tell you is to write what you enjoy, and to not let anyone convince you out of what you're writing, or to discourage you. If your sole goal or sole measure of success is to make a crap-ton of money, I urge you to sit down and do some research and financial planning, no matter what you're writing. I also urge you to attend some writer's conferences, so you can hear the realities behind author finances, sales, and advances.
And I sure hope you enjoy what you're writing at least a little. Or we won't enjoy reading it.
What are your thoughts on short stories? Do you think they're a lost art? Do you think they're worth your time? Can you make a living on short stories? Can you make a living off your first novel? Your second? What do you measure your writing success by? If you have experience with both, what is your opinion? Do you write in multiple genres? Do you find some genres sell better or for more?
May you find your Muse.
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