Can one still make money from short fiction, and what is the best way? I know in days gone past it has been possible to sell short fiction to magazines or papers, who would pay per word, or some such, but is this still possible and is it the best way?

What I really mean by best is, surprise, most money, though any comments anyone might have on alternative benefits to consider are welcome. It's not that I'm particularly rapacious or anything, and I'm not trying to make a living from it, but money is useful stuff, and it seems irresponsible to not make the most of any asset, not to mention I do have a mortgage as well as the usual collection of other obligatory bills to pay!

I'm aware that selling ones work via Amazon/Kindle is possible, and provides a presumably easy route, though I must admit I still don't understand exactly how this works yet, especially when some fiction seems to be free, and I have not the faintest idea if it's a rip off for the author.

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    I don't purport to have the answers, but I feel marketing is mostly for agents and publishers. Not that I do zero, but my job is to write. It takes no less than 10,000 books a year sold to quit your day job. 10,000. You're not going to do that signing books at your local bookstore (you might do that anyway, but that's not the point). When your books are good enough to make the shelf at Barnes & Noble, then you're pretty much there. An agent will know. Until that point, you're not.
    – Stu W
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 17:36

2 Answers 2


Almost certainly no.

But the positive thing is: the answer was always “almost certainly no.”

Most fiction writers in any era did not make any money. Even the greats often worked day jobs and still died young and penniless. And even when a short story or novel sold millions, the writer often got very little. Certainly not enough to get above minimum wage when considering the thousands of hours of unpaid writing that came before.

Today the cost of production is much lower than in the past, but the cost of living is much higher. So it is the same as ever.

So as always, if you are not driven enough to write fiction while working a day job, then give it up.

Could be a writing day job like advertising or technical writing. But that has its drawbacks because you can be written out by the time you sit down to write fiction. A job that is the opposite of writing can be a blessing. Especially if it feeds your writing with good social interactions and/or people watching. So don’t be too down if you have that or have to do that.

If you self-publish, you have to self-promote. It is very hard, and takes time. Be prepared to publish 3 books at least that hardly anybody reads before getting any traction at all. Be prepared to work at it for years. But it can be rewarding creatively because you can write and publish and write more and publish and write more and build up a library that gets better and better and more and more attractive to readers. And you can control the final product and make something right from your heart.

The best marketing is just to improve your product. Work really hard to make something really great. But you still have to promote it and it still takes time for it to spread. You have to become good at social media and make your own website with something like Squarespace and learn how to make and publish eBooks with something like Scrivener and also how to interact with Amazon Kindle Direct and Apple iBooks.

If you don’t self-publish, then you still have to promote yourself to publishers, which today means social media and Squarespace again because the majority of published books start out as blogs.

All this is said not to discourage you from writing. The really discouraging thing is to have illusions that get shattered with each step you take. Have high expectations for the quality of your writing and the work you put into it and the work you put into promoting it and low expectations for fame and fortune and you can avoid disappointment and focus on what matters and enjoy a productive writing career.

And you still might sell the rights to one of your stories to a movie producer for $50,000 at some point. I’m not all bad news! 😃


If you are looking for specific markets for journals (print and/or digital), check Duotrope at duotrope.com. It's about $5 per month but you can search on criteria such as whether or not the market pays. They also include statistics based on user feedback to indicate the average time it takes to get a response. It is my favorite means for figuring out where I want to submit my work. I write mostly poetry, but many journals include both fiction and poetry, so I know the same info is available for short fiction markets.

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