Is it possible to actually get paid to write short stories? Or are you doomed to either 1) write novels if you want to make money from your fiction or 2) write short stories for the love of it and give up on the hopes of ever making any money?
Well, the answers is … you can make money from your short stories!
It’s not easy, but it may not be as impossible as you think, either. You just need some tenacity and creativity, which, thankfully, us writers tend to have plenty of.
To whet your creative (and money-making) hunger, then, here are seven way to get paid to write short stories.
1) Submit to Magazines
The traditional way to make money with your short stories is still one of the very best — submit them to magazines and get paid when they’re published.
If you go this route, you have to set your expectations because it’s a game fraught with disappointment. You’ll see more rejections than acceptances, but you just have to keep plugging away at it. If a story gets rejected by one market or magazine, then send it to the next.
And you should always start at the top of the food chain for your genre, meaning the top-paying market you think might be a fit. After all, what have you got to lose by trying, other than a little time.
These days, though, “magazine” is a misnomer because many, or most, of the paying markets for short stories are online — websites or at least online magazines.
And, obviously, when you’re trying to make money from your short stories, you need to pick markets that pay you actual money and not just with a byline or with author copies. When choosing where to start, I’d always go with the highest-paying market you can find and work your way down from there.
After all, you’re selling first publication rights to your intellectual property, and you need to be compensated as handsomely as you possible can.
Dean Wesley Smith has a great write-up on the complete process here.
As far as finding markets goes, there are several good lists, but you can find most of the best available markets — including “pro” markets that pay six cents per word and more — at Ralan.com and at the Submission Grinder.
2) Writing Contests
This is similar to submitting to magazines but involves competing against other authors for money prizes, and the right to have your story published as part of a themed collection or on a specific website.
Unlike submitting to magazines, writing for contests will usually mean zeroing in on a very specific theme as defined by the folks running the competition. That may sound restrictive, but it can really help you focus in on what you need to get done.
And, while you may think contests are too competitive for you to stand a chance at winning, the truth is, every magazine submission is a competitive endeavor, too. You have to beat out every other author who might snag a magazine slot, for instance, and you may not even get a look at all. With a contest, your story is likely to at least get a once-over from the adjudicators.
One note here — I would generally avoid contests that charge an entrance fee unless it’s very minimal (a few dollars), with a three or four figure payoff for the winner(s). Most of the time, though, you should not have to pay to get your story in the mix.
As with magazines, there are several places you can find lists of short story contests.
Reedsy maintains a fairly healthy list here, and The Write Life keeps theirs here.
Other contests are just a Google search away.
3) Self-Published Books
No matter where you first publish your short stories, pretty much all of them should eventually end up in your self-published backlist of titles.
Here is why …
Eventually, you will burn through your first-publish rights for any given story, and then you might work through markets that accept and pay for reprints. By that time, the full rights to your story will have reverted to you, and you’re free to do with it what you will.
As soon as that happens, and with rare exceptions, you should publish your story as an e-book on major platforms like Kindle, Kobo, Apple, and other.
We’ll save the “wide vs. exclusive” discussion for another day, but the point for now is to get your story published so that readers can buy it and put more money in your pocket.
You can also combine multiples of your short stories into larger collections, which means more money per book and per story.
Once you have been paid for your first-publish rights and own full control of your story again, you have the latitude to put it up on your blog. If you have monetized that site with advertising and can drive traffic to your story, then you can earn money through the ad impressions your visitors see.
Again, blogging and display ads are a conversation for another time, but just know that it’s possible.
You can collaborate with other authors to pull together an anthology of short stories, with each of you contributing one or more tales to the whole. Then, you might self-publish the tome as a group and then split the profits.
This option is not quite as clean as others on this list, but it’s doable if you trust your collaborators and have solid written agreements. You might want to consult a lawyer for setting up this sort of deal (or any of these, really — never hurts to doublecheck things).
6) Pay-Per-View Websites
A handful (or more!) of popular sites have popped up over the last several years that allow writers of all ilk to publish their works and then put them behind a paywall if desired.
These sites then charge readers a monthly fee (generally, though there are other pay models) for access to “premium” content.
Sites in this category include Medium, PenPee, Wattpad, and others.
You can choose what you write on these platforms, including short fiction, though some of them definitely cater more toward one type of reader than another. On Medium, for example, most readers are usually looking for advice, how-tos, or editorials as opposed to flat-out fiction, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put your short stories out there and see what happens.
With Patreon, you can post your short stories and then make them available to only “patrons” at certain levels, meaning they’re paying you a certain dollar amount per month (or over some other time period).
You can accomplish the same sort of setup with paid newsletter through platforms like Substack and Ghost.