A Shareware Short Story: “How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story”

(Artwork: Bob Eggleton)

Around the time I was editing Subterranean Magazine’s cliche issue in 2006, I wrote my own short story based on a science fiction cliche (“Aliens! And humans! Having sex!!”). The story, “How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story,” was not printed in the magazine itself, but was printed in a chapbook for the 80 or so folks who bought the hardcover limited edition of the magazine. So you could say this story has had an extremely limited circulation — indeed, it’s easily the least seen published story of mine. Which I think is too bad, because it’s a pretty funny story (which, yes, features alien sex). I’d like to see it have a bigger audience

And so: Starting right this very second, a (zipped) pdf version of “How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story” is available for you to read and enjoy. I’m offering it as shareware — that is, it’s free to read, but if you like it, you’re encouraged to send a little money my way. How much? Up to you (but, you know. Not too much. It’s a short story, not a novel). You can send money through PayPal or through Amazon. Links to both of those are coming in a minute.

What happens to the money? Half of the money you send (after PayPal/Amazon fees are subtracted) will be donated to The Lupus Foundation of America, a favorite charity of Subterranean Press publisher Bill Schafer (who has graciously given me permission to use Subterranean’s beautifully designed and typseset version of the story). The other half goes to me, because it’s nice to get paid.

Why am I doing this? Well, because I’ve done it before: my novel Agent to the Stars was originally offered as a “shareware novel,” and did okay, financially speaking. This isn’t a novel, it’s a short story, and I’m curious to see what the market is for shareware shorts (or, at least, my shareware shorts). Basically, I think it’s an interesting experiment. Also, I think it’s a fun, fast story, one that folks will enjoy reading — i.e., if any science fiction story could make a go at converting readers into buyers, it’s this one. And finally, today I just paid a plumber lots of money to fix the pipes coming into my bathtub, and for a new faucet. I could use the cash.

If you read it and enjoy it, then you can pay me either through PayPal (send the money to “detrius@scalzi.com” — Please put “STORY PAYMENT” in there somewhere so I can track it), or through Amazon’s Honor System payment thingy. Note: if you use Amazon, you have to pay at least $1; in the case of PayPal, there’s no minimum, but PayPal takes 30 cents + 2.9% for each transaction, so paying more than 30 cents would be, you know, nice.

Feel free to link people to this entry or to the zip file directly (links encouraged!) or to even host the zip file on your own site (although I really prefer a link, because I want to track the number of downloads). If you decide to host this on your own site, host it as the zip file because I include a note on how readers can pay for the story if they like it. Thanks. Also, since I know people will be curious about how this plays out, I’ll be sure to give status reports from time to time — downloads, sums raked in, and so on.

Enjoy the story!

60 Comments on “A Shareware Short Story: “How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story””

  1. $ on its way to you, story as yet unread. Thanks very much to Bill for his generosity.

    (My brother-in-law died last year from complications of Lupus. I’m commenting anonymously as my wife is an intensely private person and would be embarrassed by my signing as usual here.)

  2. It’s a fun story. I’ll send you some $$ soon.

    Since it’s a PDF, can you change the typos?

  3. I figure people can follow a link well enough.


    The pdf is a pre-final version; there might be a typo here and there (the actual printed copy has them rooted out).

  4. I haven’t read it yet but I can’t resist supporting distribution trials like this. I hope to see more like this from you in the future!

  5. Nice. I just donated on Amazon, not being a PayPal user (it makes it easier to tell which PayPal emails are spams…).

    My wife has Lupus, and I liked the story about as much as several books I’ve bought the last year, so I approve overall.

  6. Paul Kehrer:

    Well, you know. This is partly what this experiment’s about — to see if this will work.

  7. By the way, is it just me, or is there some correlation between this post and the one previous?

    Also: being an experiment–is there a hypothesis, or do you fear telling us would skew the results?

  8. Will Entrekin:

    No conscious correlation — I just happened to speak to Bill Schafer about it today and remembered I wanted to do it.

    The experiment is not really rigorous; I’m just interested to see what happens.

  9. I liked to send money but I don’t know what I should give…. What seems to be the average?? I’d never think of sending $0.30 but $20.00 seems a tad high??

    As you can see I’m not that good at decsions you tell me how much and I’ll take your word for it…… HELP ME!!

  10. Penny:

    It’s too early to say what the average is. Just give what you want to give. Remember it’s a short story, though. Think about what you’d pay for a music single (as opposed to an album).

  11. If you had saved this for a week, you could have claimed it as your contribution to International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day.

  12. Am I the only one here who was amused/disturbed by the thought of John’s “Shareware Shorts”? It just doesn’t seem hygienic to me…

    OK, now I’ll begin reading the story… Thanks!

  13. Wow, that was awesome; it was in fact so awesome, that I started reading it a hair before I was supposed to hop the bus and go to work, and then I realized that I had missed several buses already by the time I finished it, even if I am a fast reader. Laughing so hard that tears come to eyes makes it harder to read, y’see.

  14. HAHAHA…great story, John! Agent is the only novel I’ve ever read on a computer; I feel like I’ve come full circle, reading another alien story by you, on my computer.

    Chaching–off to PayPal I go, to donate….

  15. Just wanted to say that I think this is a perfect model to distribute short stories. I have purchased a number of short story compilations over the years and always some of the stories are awesome and some well not so awesome. It is great to be given the choice to contribute or to say Nah. I see a very similar method at work in the music field (Big Head Todd & Roger Clyne). Let’s hope this model has the desired effect for all the artists who employ it so that it becomes more prevalent.

  16. Having recently fallen in love with your prose, I only discovered the existence of this short story while visiting the SP website to buy the latest issue of their magazine (on your recommendation).

    I took a deep breath and ordered a copy of issue 4 in hardback (with the chapbook), which, with postage to my home in the UK, cost a fair amount. I have no qualms about my order, though I might have made do with the paperback had I known what you were going to (so generously) offer; but I am left in a bit of a moral quandary: do I also download the pdf file?

    I will certainly wait for the real thing before my first reading (I find perusing text online or reading print-out far less enjoyable than holding a real book in my hand), so why should I? Simply to print out so I can share it with perceptive friends and preserve the original from fingermarks and coffee stains, I suppose, though that assumes a pejorative (though sometimes accurate!) attitude towards said friends.

    All in all, I think I will download it, and make a small contribution to what is, after all, a worthwhile endeavour. I believe access to text online is inevitable and, indeed, hope to publish a few things in that fashion sometime in the future.

  17. Just wondering, Mr Scalzi. Does the Amazon link work through credit, or is it a ‘We’ll pay you X amount for X visitors’ thing? I don’t have a PayPal account, so…

  18. Well done, sir! My contribution is on the way (and I’m glad to see you helping out a charitable cause at the same time). I’m with Trey @ #18; I think this is a great idea and I’d love to see it stick.

  19. Great idea John. I will download and contribute when I get a chance.

    Also, I know this is woefully off topic, but any idea when The Last Colony will make it to audio? I do the 60 hour work week in a cubicle farm. Ok… It’s worse than that. I actually run the cubicle farm. Anyway, my best opportunity to “read” is during the commute. I bought Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades from Audible and devoured them while braving the insanity that is Atlanta traffic. I am primed for The Last Colony but alas…
    Any info much appreciated.

  20. John,
    Do you read very many eBooks youself? Lately I have been reading the majority of my books on my PDA. It is nice to be able to have 15 books in my pocket to choose from when I have a spare moment to read.

    I haven’t read any of your books yet, I found your website from a link on Neil Gaiman’s blog. So I will have to give your short story a try.

  21. Fun!

    John #5:
    I hope the printed copy corrected the spelling of “orderves” on p 23.

    I prefer to call them horse doovers.

  22. A story nobody else could have ever written. Thanks.

    I never expected to see the sentence, “Wow, lesbian xenophilia!” anywhere. But I guess it if is going occur, in a Scalzi work would be the appropriate place. That or The Simpsons.

    Money coming via Amazon.

  23. Nitpick: Why do the files get created in subdir called “New Folder”? (I’d prefer “John Scalzi” ;)

  24. That was lovely, thanks!

    I really appreciate that you set it up to let people donate either before or after they’ve read the story. Places where you have to decide how much you want to pay upfront usually make me change my mind about wanting to download, but being able to read it first, then think to myself “That was awesome, I want him to do this again!”, makes me happy.

  25. Hi John,

    Ok, I really liked ‘Alien Sex Story’ – not one, not two, but three laugh-out-loud moments (and I’m still snickering over all the connotations of “Lie Back and think of England”)! Well done, sir. Although lately I’ve been reading your blog regularly, I’ve only read ‘Old Man’s War’ (and thoroughly enjoyed it, btw), and I really must get around to reading everything else you’ve written. However, I do fall into the same category as Penny @11. I like to support good causes but I never know what to give in these “give-what-you-want” instances (and what in hell does a single cost these days anyway?), so I’ve worked it out this way:

    Yesterday I had occasion to buy a few Mike Resnick short stories at Fictionwise and one that’s of similar size as your story cost me $.99. Now since half is going to charity, doubling that and adding in the Paypal fees makes it $2.64. So that would be fair, right? So if I doubled that again, that would be generous, right? *Sigh*, I hope so, ‘cause that’s what I’ve sent you.

    I really hope you publish the final $ stats (highest, lowest and average) as a public service for people like Penny and I.

    All the best,


  26. Just a quick note of thanks to everyone who’s ponying up for John’s story. Some of you may know that my wife suffers rather terribly from lupus, so I’m especially grateful for your generosity.

    All best,


  27. I’d certainly be willing to chip in for future stories released in this way. Paid more than I would have otherwise because of the charitable cause involved.

    My mother-in-law is a sufferer, as was her her sister. It’s a very under-reported condition. In my experience, most people haven’t a clue what it’s about, if they’ve even heard the name.

  28. Thanks for the snark, but the Paypal donate button is not merely a link. It actually prefills YOUR info and cuts down on the steps that we, the PEOPLE BUYING YOUR STORY, have to take to actually buy it.

    Oh, and technically it should be called “Donationware” :-)

  29. Phunkysai:

    It wasn’t snark. Also, I don’t know. If you can’t be motivated to fill out a couple of lines of information, don’t pay for the story.

  30. Payment sent via Paypal. Entertaining story, I quite enjoy the way you work humor into your writing.

    BTW, I recently finished OMW and thought it was great. I handed it off to a friend who has been in the military for 20+ years. He quite enjoyed it and is now devouring Ghost Brigade. This morning he asked what else there is in the OMW line so I expect he’ll be picking up the rest shortly.

    2 more fans for you, Mr. Scalzi.

  31. Paul S-
    I recognize you are in the UK, but in American copyright law, you would basically have every right to possess a PDF file of a book you have purchased. Copyright is not for the physical object per se, but for the work in the sense of the license.

    So, again under American law, there is no way for any author of a book nor any publisher of any music on an unencrypted media to not allow you to have a file of the work you have already purchased.

    Of course, being a legal subject, there are a lot of conditions – for example, your edition and the shareware version are not identical (even if in the eyes of he publisher they essentially are). There is also the ‘cost’ of downloading the file itself, if you wish to be very detailed in your cost accounting.

    Fascinating that someone who has already bought the work feels the need to pay for another format, which is not really (no arguments about its nature) a physical object.

  32. Mr. Scalzi, I’m sorry that I’m too cheap to print out 36 pages of clean paper (not to mention WinZip asking me for purchase?).

    Your alien sex story sounds fascinating, but I’d like to buy “Old Man’s War” and “The Ghost Brigades” first — I assume both are available thru Amazon.com?

    I will not buy by PayPal, nor by ebay, not even via not_scott.bot; not by lawyers, or bots, or brokers;
    not by Barack or Hillary or McCain.

    Mr. Scalzi, if I could walk up to your front door and give you Eight ($8) US dollars for one copy of your short story, I would. But I can’t. I would have to print it on my little PC, instead.

    Tell me how I can buy your work, outside of http://www.amazon.com. You know — this NEW work, this alien sex story.

  33. As a comment for any future stories you release this way:

    The beautifully typeset PDF file intended for printing doesn’t convert so well to handheld devices. Or at least there’s lots of characters that don’t map properly to my Palm PDA anyway.

    Character combinations like “fi”, “fl” and even “Th” are converted to single combined characters – I believe they’re called ligatures in typographic speak.

    That made for a little guesswork while I was reading!

  34. Story downloaded, enjoyed, payed and linked to. It’s nice to live in the future ;-)

    BTW, I read it on my 6-inch handheld ebook reader, no problem. PDF is not for smaller PDAs, but devices as Cybook, Sony PRS, iLiad or Eee PC are fine. Now, Kindle and iPhone owners may yearn for the PRC (Mobipocket) format:

  35. Loved the story and made a link to it. My friends will enjoy the wonderful world of alien dating!

    I wonder btw what the results would be for a poll about which alien species in your story people would choose to date.
    The knife darting one sounds fun.


  36. This is such a great idea – thanks! I bought the story and linked you to my (poorly trafficked) blog.

  37. Wonderful idea! Haven’t read the story yet, but have sent a payment via Amazon.

  38. Hey, I want to send you some $ but I don’t use credit cards which x’s out paypal AND Amazon. Can’t I just send you a money order or check or something? Thanks, Andrea

  39. That’s awesome… I have lupus (and a host of other crap) but that is totally cool!

    be well,

  40. SO John, what happened to the updates on # of downlodas, donation totals, etc…

  41. I was hoping to read the story, but couldn’t find it. Has it been removed?


  42. Hello Mr. Scalzi,

    I was a fan of both you and the Subterranean Press before I read that proceeds from this short story go towards Lupus research. Now, I’m extremely respectful as well. I have not yet been formally diagnosed with Lupus, its a hard condition to pin down, and thankfully my case isn’t yet severe enough to be conclusive. Instead, I’m encouraged to live as healthy and happy a life as I can. Not to sound corny, but your writing is a welcome part of that life. Thanks!

    Laurel (from Canada)

  43. thank you for the story and the note about donations to the lupus foundation included in the zip file. it means a lot. :)

  44. It’s good that you are giving Lupus more exposure in this unique way. I’m going to bring it to the attention of some of my wealthier friends. Good Post

  45. I cant find it the sharnd I fiywhere? Where can Ifine the shareware or zip file? Or is it already unavailable? Thanks.

  46. As a comment for any future stories you release this way:

    The beautifully typeset PDF file intended for printing doesn’t convert so well to handheld devices. Or at least there’s lots of characters that don’t map properly to my Palm PDA anyway.

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