View Full Version : request for market advice

08-20-2011, 11:45 PM
I'm 20 years old, and wish I could write fantasy full time. As my hobby, I've managed to write two novels and gain invaluable wide-ranged research. In my opinion, these novels were only "tuneups" for what I believe now to be the outline of my self-proclaimed masterpiece. (I know I'm humble, but I am not afraid to be ridiculed for my hubris)

Recently, I arrived at the idea of writing short stories to establish credentials as a writer. So with no publishing history, and assuming my writing short stories would become successful:

I only have a two-year gap before I hopefully go for a masters/phd program. Does working on short stories give me enough of a boost to risk the time I could be writing my novel?

Thank you

08-21-2011, 12:18 AM
Short stories and novels are different, if related, art forms. Many novelists don't write stories (or at least haven't had any published).

If you have a burning desire to write short stories, you should do so. All writing is good practice, and if you manage to sell to legit markets, you can include the writing credits in your novel queries.

If you don't have a burning desire to write short stories, it would be a waste of time better spent on your novels.

There's no right or wrong here, only what's right for you at this particular point in time.

08-21-2011, 12:34 AM
Writing shorts to get "established" before writing a novel sounds like the sort or advice you get in a creative writing program. It's useless.

If you want to write shorts, then have at it, but don't expect it to boost your later writing career. Depending on your intended novel audience, they may have never voluntarily read a short story in their lives and won't care if you've written any until after they're fans of your novel and go looking for "extra" writing you've done.

Incidentally, if those two novels are at all salvageable, then I'd start there. Querying as a 20-yr-old is still young enough to draw attention based on your age. It won't get you an agent if the writing is sub-par, but it can help you if your writing rocks.

08-21-2011, 12:43 AM
I say go for it,

Nothing ventured nothing gained.

With the shorts don't be afraid to dabble. I remember finding a Roald Dahl short story collection that blew my mind. At the time I only knew him for his kiddie lit. Do the shorts and the magnum opus.

08-21-2011, 12:55 AM
Two years is hardly any time at all. You'll probably be writing and refining your fantasy work while you're working on your masters program, if you have the energy. Do what feels right. If short stories rock your world and provide an outlet for creativity, then go for it. Likewise with the novel.

I'm not much of a short story writer, but I've kept all my old stories from years ago when I was still trying the short-fiction credentials route. Oddly enough, some positive responses about a fantasy novel boosted my confidence enough to rework some of those old shorts. Two of them are now under consideration for publication.

Cyia is right, in that you probably won't get 'established' from shorts. But you can refine your craft and your confidence, and that's worth the effort.

08-21-2011, 01:02 AM
Writing shorts to get "established" before writing a novel sounds like the sort or advice you get in a creative writing program. It's useless.

*It's useless for genre fiction writers. For literary writers, it's actually fairly standard.

08-21-2011, 01:42 AM
Thank you all for your help. I appreciated all posts, but am still confused.

How can getting work published not help your queries in the future? The thought, respectfully and from my humble lack of experience, seems counter-intuitive...

08-21-2011, 02:13 AM
Because it's different markets. It's not that it won't help, at ALL, but that your time might be better spent writing your novel.

The short stories may, possibly, hopefully, give you a bit more credibility or attract some attention. But, in general: If your novel's good enough, you don't need the short story credits; if it's not good enough, they won't help.

Corinne Duyvis
08-21-2011, 02:18 AM
If you get published in well-known markets, it might help an agent sit up and pay a little more attention, since it shows you can write and are serious about it, but a) getting published in those markets is very, very difficult, and b) most genre agents will never dismiss a query/author for not having publishing credits. If your book's good, they'll be interested no matter what.

So I second the above advice. If you want to write short stories, then absolutely do so. I learned a lot from them--plus they're great fun to write, and good ways to experiment. If you're doing it solely for credits, though, you'll probably benefit more from focusing on the things you *are* excited about, like novels.

08-21-2011, 04:58 AM
As Leah said, if you're planning a focus on novel-length literary fiction getting shorts published could help you, though the kind of helpful reputation you'd need couldn't likely be built in as few as two years.

A reputation for quality shorts isn't going to be much help in the genre world, however. What short stories don't show is whether you can structure a novel, weave in multiple plot lines, gradually unfold character arcs, or maintain pace and interest for 70K+ words. All a short story shows (relevant to novels) is whether you can write, and frankly, your query and the first-chapter excerpt you'd include with your query would demonstrate that.

Unless you love short fiction, I'd recommend focusing on honing novel craft.

08-21-2011, 05:21 AM
Keep in mind that getting published in the top genre or literary markets is probably at least as hard as getting a novel published. There are very few slots. Some of those slots each month must be filled with stories by established writers and so there are very few openings for new writers.

On the other hand, it does make a difference. It won't get an agent or a publisher to take your book if it isn't any good, but it does get their attention if you are published, in, say, Asimov's several times and in Year's Best anthologies.

Becca C.
08-21-2011, 06:17 AM
Gone are the days when a writer HAD to have publishing credentials to get an agent to even glance at your work. You no longer need to have a few pieces published before agents will look at you. If you don't really, really want to write the short stories, don't. Concentrate instead on writing an amazing novel that will make agents and editors drool.

08-21-2011, 06:25 AM
I'm so happy with all of the responses! Now I can dig into my novel without any regrets. Thank you all for your collective input.

08-21-2011, 07:23 AM
Go for it. We can say we knew you 'back when.' And good luck with the masters -- that's at least as much effort as a novel. If anything, that process will train your dedication and concentration.

08-21-2011, 08:25 AM
It's true that both genre and literary writers often start by selling short stories, but it's because these writers love reading and writing short stories, not because it helps sell a novel. Writing stories will not help you write and sell novels, whether you're a genre writer, or a literary writer, unless you can sell these stories to top magazines. Generally speaking, it's safe to tell any new writer this will not happen.

The only sane reason to ever write a short story, no matter what kind of writer you are, is because you love reading and writing short stories.

Now, whether you consider your first two novels tuneups doesn't matter. Whether you consider your next novel a masterpiece is meaningless. No writer ever gets to decide quality, be it good or bad. Only the reading public gets to decide quality, and editors judge what they buy based purely on what they think the reading public wants, not on what the writer thinks is good or bad.

It's often the writing the writer thinks is poor that sells, and the writing he thinks is great that fails to sell.

But back to short stories. It's heck of a lot harder to sell a short story to a credit worthy magazine than it is to sell a novel to a good publisher, and this is true for two reasons. 1. The competition is much, much, much higher with short stories. 2. Not only is the competition tougher, but your main competition is bestselling short story writers.

You do not have to knock Stephen King out of contention in order to sell a horror novel. You just have to write a horror novel a publisher believes will turn a profit. King's novel and your novel go into different slots. They don't compete with each other. The publisher can buy King's novel, and he can buy your novel.

But you do have to knock best selling writers out of contention to sell a horror story to a good magazine. Magazine slots for stories are always limited, your story is sitting there in the slush, and the editor has just two choices. . .does he fill the slot with your story, or with Stephen King's story? In this case, the publisher can buy King's short story, or he can buy your short story, but he can't buy both because he has only one slot.

When a magazine is credit worthy, every good, famous short story writer out there who writes the kind of story that magazine wants will be submitting stories, and, as I said, slots are limited. You can't be just as good as Stephen King to sell a short story, you have to be better. You aren't competing simply story to story, but his name and fame against your own lack of name and fame.

Nor is it easier to write a publishable short story. Good short stories are not easier to write than novels, they're tougher to write. Shorter means faster, it does not ever mean easier. You may have to write a hundred short stories before writing one that's really any good. Or two hundred, or three hundred. Most who try never, ever manage to sell a short story to a credit worthy magazine, or to any paying magazine, even when they do write hundreds of stories.

Why do you think short stories sold to good magazines make good credits? If selling one were easy, it wouldn't be considered noteworthy. Short story sales to good magazines are considered good credits solely because such sales are incredibly difficult to make. A editor thinks, "Wow, this guy managed to sell a short story to X magazine? Man, not many can say that! Now, I wonder if he can write a good novel?"

The answer is not always yes, he can write a good novel. A writer can spend many years learning to write a publishable short story, only to find he can't write a publishable novel. Many even find that the forms are so different that learning to write publishable stories means they have even more trouble writing a publishable novel.

Two years is a long, long time, if you're good, and if you're prolific. No amount of time matters if you aren't any good, or if you putter around, taking forever to actually finish and submit your writing.

If you want to use these two years well, write your ass off on novels. Unless what you really want to be is a short story writer. Then, and only then, should you spend time writing short stories.

08-21-2011, 09:07 AM
How can getting work published not help your queries in the future? The thought, respectfully and from my humble lack of experience, seems counter-intuitive...

It certainly can help. That's not the point. The point is that it's extremely hard to get stories published in legit markets, so you could spend a ton of time with nothing published to show for it. You can't assume that just because you write short stories you'll get get them published.

That's why we say that you should write short stories if that's what you want to do, not simply as a means to accumulate writing credits for your novel queries. If what you really want to do is write novels, then spend your time on that.

Old Hack
08-21-2011, 11:24 AM
I don't think that Ask The Agent is the best place for this thread, but I'm not entirely sure where it should go. I'm going to port it to the Round Table, but if the mods there think it would fit better elsewhere it might get moved again.

Please wear your seatbelts while the thread is in motion...