Benefits of Short Story Writing for the Novelist

I always encourage aspiring authors to write short stories. There are so many learning and selling advantages to writing short stories. Here is a brief list:

You learn much faster from writing short stories

A short story is usually between 1000 to 10,000 words, depending on who the editor is and what they are looking for in length. Most anthologies and magazines list the word length as between 1000 and 5000 or sometimes, 6,000 words. Even if you write full-time, you can get to the point where you can write a short story in a week. (Even at six thousand words, that means you only need to write less than a thousand words a day (857 actually!)

These calculations don’t include editing, so I aim at 2000 words a day because editing is difficult for me and will take me two days even with a short story. I have been writing short stories for over twenty years.  I gained the experience to write about 2500 words a day. That means I can write the story in two to three days, and still have 2-3 days to edit the story before mailing it off to an editor.

Short stories allow you to work on a specific weakness in your writing. For example, say you take a class to learn how to incorporate depth into your descriptions. You can write a short story and concentrate on applying what you have learned about setting depth in your story, getting practice in while creating a story that you can mail to an editor. If the story doesn’t sell, well, it was practice.

Short stories let you explore multiple genres

Short stories let you explore genres you might have ignored. If you write a novel, you might spend 6-12 months on your writing project. Many authors, therefore, tend to try and build a name for themselves in one genre. They miss out on genres that they might like a lot because their first books was a science fiction book.

I started out writing science fiction, which I still love, but through short story writing and submissions, I discovered that I also love to write historical, mystery, and YA stories. I can do that with short stories and concentrate on just one or two genres for my novels.

You can make money while you are writing a novel.

Most writers take several months to a year to write a novel. Some even less, but the process for then selling that novel can take more months or a year or more. In the meantime, the novelist does not have any income coming in. However, if you write and sell short stories during the time you are writing that novel, then you do have some income coming in and can use that money to sustain you while waiting to either self-publish or sell your novel.

You can try out story ideas on a short story, sell it, and then use your idea for a novel.

Maybe you don’t want to be distracted by writing short stories while working on your novel. You wouldn’t be alone; however, some novelists write short stories in the same universe as their novel to help fully develop characters, explore the setting or time-period they are writing in. Then, when the short story sells, they can put in their bio that they are working on a novel that deals with the same characters and universe. In this way, your short stories do double duty: you use them to improve your novel, and you use your short stories to help gain fans for your upcoming book. (A publication in a known magazine or anthology, can draw the interest of editors too.)

You can win awards with short stories.

As your short story writing improves, you may start winning awards. Almost every genre has a short story award category. If you earn a major short story award, you will impress future editors and or build an audience for your self-published novels. I had an editor tell me once that if someone can write an award-winning short story, they know the author will be able to write a novel. In a short story, you must develop fully developed characters in a well-described setting and introduce, execute, and resolve conflict in a concise number of words. Novelists have many more pages to accomplish the same task.

Short stories are the works that keep on bringing you money.

Short stories don’t sell just once. Often they are bought for reprints. You can offer them for bundles in anthologies with other writers. They can appear in Best of series and, as mentioned before, win awards. You can bundle them into story collections. Each of these possibilities will bring in additional money. Some awards winning short stories make more money than the advances authors receive from the sale of a first novel to a traditional publisher.

If you are just starting, don’t label yourself a short story writer or novelist. Learn to do both to maximize your income, opportunities, and skills.


Want to learn more about how you can make money from your creative writing? Get Money-Making Business Models for Writers, from Tonya’s non-fiction book series, Business Books For Writers, to teach writers the business skills they need to become full-time writers.