Ask PubCrawl: Short Stories, Novellas, and Write for Hire

Last time on Ask PubCrawl, I answered questions about how to land internships in publishing. This month, we got a few questions about writing in different forms (short story, script, novella, etc.). As always, you can listen to our podcast episodesemail us, or send us an ask through Tumblr if you have any publishing/writing related questions, and we may answer them in the future!

From Triona:

Hi, I’ve been following Pub Crawl for years and I’ve so much respect for all the contributors, existing and alumni. I’ve read a lot of your books. As an aspiring writer coming back after a baby break, there is one question I don’t believe has been answered here and I’d love to know your thoughts, if you have time? Should an aspiring novel writer start with short stories or novels? Everything I’ve written tends to be a novella or a novel but I’m wondering if it would benefit my writing to master the short. I know there are pros and cons to both… How did the Pub Crawl contributors start their journeys? I’d love to know.

The vast majority of us PubCrawl contributors got our start writing novels, although contributor E.C. Myers has several short story credits to his name. (He’s the most accomplished of us all!) And while a good many of us have written and sold short stories, I would venture to say quite of few of us would say that mastering the short doesn’t have any real bearing on writing and selling novels. Real talk: as a former acquisitions editor, I would say that if you are looking to publish novels, whether or not you can write a short story doesn’t matter one whit.

Okay, let me explain. Writing a short story and writing a novel are two very different skills, and in fact, what makes a good short story doesn’t often translate into a good novel, and vice versa. It’s like running; some of us are marathoners, some of us are sprinters. Both are types of running, but the forms are different, the techniques are different, they use different muscles, etc. I say this as an editor who has sought short story writers with the hopes that they had a full length novel in them and as a novelist who has attempted to write short. Not all of us can deliver both.

From a publishing credits standpoint, it doesn’t hurt if you have a few short stories published in reputable zines and magazines, but ultimately, the novel must stand on its own. If I see a submission by a writer with a few short story credits to their name, all it tells me is that they can write a good short story; it doesn’t tell me if that writer can deliver a good novel.

BUT. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t try your hand at writing short stories. If I were to bring back the running analogy, trying your hand at all sorts of different types of writing is a bit like cross-training. You should intersperse long runs (marathons) with speed intervals (sprinting) as well as incorporating other forms of exercise like weights or yoga to make sure that, not only are your main muscle groups strong, but the supporting and stabilizing muscles around them are strong too. This helps prevent injury.

I think the vast majority of us writers want to at least try our hand at different forms. I wrote and drew a lot of graphic novels and comics growing up, as well as poetry, short stories, and even the odd screenplay or two. But if your preferred form is the novel, then mastering the short would be like running a marathon, having only ever trained by sprinting. But exercise and flex your writing muscles! It certainly can’t hurt.

From Michelle:

Hi! I just read your post about tv tie-in novels. I am currently a freelance writer who has studied both screenwriting and novel-writing. I grew up reading tv tie-ins, wanting to explore more and more of my various fandoms. I know you wrote that post many years ago, but I was wondering if you had any new information, seeing as the industry is constantly changing and re-wiring. To get my writing out there, I have started posting on Wattpad. Currently I am uploading chapters of an episode novelisation of Merlin (the BBC show), and hope to have an original Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman novel up in a few months. Obviously I wouldn’t be trying to sell these works, but I want to show that I can do both. Writing them has been so much fun, and I would love to do it for a living. I would appreciate any help you can give me.

There are several different questions buried in your email that I would like to address. First, how to get your name out there.

Places like Wattpad or Fiction Press are certainly great places to find a following. PubCrawl alumna Sarah J. Maas got her start at Fiction Press for what would later become her bestselling Throne of Glass series. However, I will say that unless your Wattpad or Fiction Press story has hundreds of thousands of followers and/or millions of reads, it’s hard to get the attention of an editor or agent. I know that Wattpad has its own algorithm that it uses to promote their own “hot reads,” and sometimes editors there will bring stories to an agent or publishing house’s attention. I believe that’s how Taran Matharu’s bestselling The Summoner series got its start.

Second, how to break into the tie-in novel/IP/work-for-hire part of publishing

To be honest, the industry hasn’t changed all that much since Jordan wrote her post. Breaking into that part of the industry is still hard, although you don’t necessarily need to have an agent to get into it. Licensed publishers will often hold open auditions to find writers for their intellectual property, but many also turn to their agent friends to find potential talent. For example, PubCrawl alumna Alexandra Bracken recently published a Star Wars novelization, but that opportunity came to her via her editor, who works at Disney-Hyperion (and Disney, as we know, now owns Star Wars).

So then how do you find these opportunities? Packaging houses are a great place to start for the unagented writer. What are packaging houses? They’re idea mills; they come up with the premise, plot, and outline of a book, find a writer to write it, and then sell the entire “package” to a publisher. A lot of commercial properties you know and love are packaged: Sweet Valley HighPretty Little Liars, The 100, The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, etc. The biggest packaging house in the business is Alloy Entertainment, which often holds periods of open submission. Other places include Paper Lantern Lit (for whom PubCrawl alumnus Adam Silvera used to work) and Cake Literary. Check out their submissions and see if either is a good fit for you!

Yet another place to get into paid “fandom” writing is Kindle Worlds. Unlike with other book packagers, you would be self-publishing through Kindle Worlds. However, there are licensed “universes” in which you can write stories and sell them on the Amazon marketplaces. “Universes” include The 100, Veronica Mars, Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, G.I. Joe, and…the world of Kurt Vonnegut. If your story gets successful in this environment, then this may open doors for other opportunities.

It’s hard out there, I know. But most of us got to where we are by trying and failing, trying and failing a little better each time. Keep writing, first and foremost for the love of it, and hopefully all else will follow.

Hope that answered your questions! As always, please sound off in the comments!

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