Self-Publishing, E-Readers, and Markets That Don't Pay (Well)
I recently made the decision to self-publish my two short horror stories "Melon Heads" and "I am the Wendigo" on Amazon.com (for the Kindle) and Smashwords (for the other platforms). "Melon Heads" is a piece I haven't been able to sell anywhere else, but "I am the Wendigo" was my first fiction sale back in 2006-2007.
(A now-defunct webzine called Chimaera Serials paid $20 for it. CS didn't last long after it published the story and after a couple of years, the website vanished entirely.)
I picked "Melon Heads" to be fodder for my self-publishing experiment because it's among my best stories, but I haven't yet found a publisher willing to pay professional or semi-professional rates. "Wendigo" has a different problem--there aren't very many markets for horror reprints, at least those that pay much.
In the past, I might have been willing to submit to a market offering a low rate or even for free simply to get exposure. However, the Internet and the rise of e-readers has changed that. I could sell certain rights to these stories for a one-time payment of $5, $10, or $20, or I could put them on an e-reader. My friend Jeff Baker has posted a few stories to Amazon and Smashwords and he's made more money than if he'd sold them to many lower-paying markets.
If this is representative of any kind of trend, it bodes ill for the lowest-paying markets.
However, self-publishing short stories has its pitfalls like self-publishing a novel does. I need to create my own cover--a recent article I read attributed one reason self-published books fail is bad cover art. The problem is, good cover art costs money. I doubt I'm going to make a whole lot of money once I put them online, at least in the short run, so spending a lot on cover art defeats the whole purpose. There's also the matter of editing, which I think my stuff won't have a problem with given how many times I've had friends and members of my writing group pick over it. And then there's formatting them properly for e-readers. I've downloaded the free e-publishing software Calibre, which should help me format the stories, but I haven't actually started using it yet.
That's a ray of hope for the lower-paying fiction markets. It's a lot easier to simply write and polish a story and submit it than to self-publish, even if the monetary returns are higher. After all, one's time has value. However, even if self-publishing short fiction for the e-reader market doesn't obliterate markets offering only a token payment or exposure, it will certainly make life more difficult for them.