Shorts and Singles
I’ve been asked if I have any thoughts about the newly announced “Kindle Singles” thing from Amazon. The idea would be to publish shorter works via Amazon — 10k to 30k words is the range I hear batted about — and price them commensurately. The question then becomes whether there is a sufficient market for such things, and whether it will Save Short Fiction, etc. So here are some thoughts on that.
1. I think it’s reasonable that short fiction (or other short work) will sell electronically, and I have some real-world experience for that, because short fiction of mine has sold reasonably well. The God Engines is selling solidly as an electronic release, both on Amazon and elsewhere, as is “After the Coup,” the short story I wrote for Tor.com. And of course Clash of the Geeks, which is a short anthology of very short works, performed admirably just off this site alone. I acknowledge I may be an outlier due to my personal level of microfame in science fiction/writing circles. Even so, I suspect that there’s no real bar to selling shorts, as long as they’re reasonably priced for their length, and the writer in question has an established base of readers to flog.
Philosophically, I would love it if a work could be its most effective length and not a length required by publication necessities, and to the extent that electronic publication can help that, bring it on.
2. That said, there’s no guarantee that Amazon is going to be the one to effectively exploit this particular market. Amazon’s gone to this well before; some of you may remember the “Amazon Shorts” program which launched from the retailer more than five years ago. If you don’t remember it, that might also tell you something. It ended up not working particularly well.
2010 is not 2005, in no small part because rather more people now have eBook readers and are otherwise more used to reading electronically. But in many ways the issue isn’t consumer trends in reading, the issue is whether Amazon (or whomever) is committed to making its short works market viable. Part of that will be editorial selection and part of that will be marketing. If the “Kindle Singles” program ends up being yet another avenue flooded with marginally-edited, really-shouldn’t-be-published material, and people have to work to find things worth reading, then it’ll pretty much die on the vine.
Authors can be as much of a problem here as Amazon, incidentally — I suspect the “Kindle Singles” program will be an excuse for some of us to trek to the trunk and pull out the stuff we couldn’t sell elsewhere, so why not throw it up against the wall here and see if it finally sticks. But, you know. Trunk stories are very often trunk stories for a reason.
3. As with everything, the devil will be in the details — I’ll be wanting to see how Amazon plans to administer rights and divvy up payment and so on. I would expect that Amazon would also be wanting some sort of exclusive window on the material (i.e., on Kindle only) and that would have to be factored in as well.
Absent of any information at all from Amazon about the details, I’d say the first question I would have as a writer is what does this program offer that I can’t do for myself or can’t be done with one of the publishers I already have a relationship with. If I write a novella, for example, would it be better for me to release it as an Amazon Kindle, or to see if Subterranean Press wants it, because it would release it first as a lovely printed book and then electronically in all the major formats and outlets? If I write a novelette, might I not be better trying Tor.com first, with its established presence and marketing apparatus and its non-insulting per-word payment, which I am paid up front?
Alternately, I might choose to keep my options open and publish it myself, and use Amazon as an agent rather than as a publisher (just like the big boys!). It’s probably more work for me, but then it would also probably be more direct income to me as well. I’m not unknown; I could probably do just fine. Now, again, my situation is different than the situation of some other writers, although I know other writers of my acquaintance who are in a similar place. But every writer should be asking him or herself the question above. Just because Amazon (or whomever) offers a program doesn’t mean it’s a smart fit for what you do, or that it’s better then how you could do elsewise.
In sum: I think shorter works could sell electronically; I’m not 100% convinced Amazon knows how to do it based on past experience; I’m waiting to see the contracts for the details; I think it’s smart to know all your options. And there we are.