Friday, October 28, 2011

Interview with Author Cora Buhlert

First, tell us a little about your writing journey. Would you consider yourself to be a "short story author" rather than a "novelist"?

Both actually - and an occasional poet, too.

I started writing short stories after a few abortive attempts at novels and plays in my teens. However, while all my pals at the university creative writing workshop were writing flash fiction pieces whittled down to the absolute minimum, my stories tended to run several pages. The professor never quite knew what to do with me, especially since I insisted on writing genre, too.

Eventually I gravitated towards novelettes and novellas, which - as you know – are next to impossible to sell. Though I still wrote short stories, too, because I had started to sell them. Then I started and finished a novel, took a break from fiction writing to finish my MA degree and started another novel afterwards. However, I found that I missed the change of pace and quicker gratification offered by short stories, so I began writing short fiction again in addition to longer works.

Nowadays, I consider myself a jack of all genres and lengths.



Tell us about your experiences selling short stories. Any successes? Failures? What has worked for you when trying to find an audience?

I started writing before the e-book revolution and initially submitted my stories to traditional magazines. Writing in English in a country where English is not the majority language (I live in Germany) used to further limit your access to the market, particularly in pre-internet times. As a matter of fact, my first two sales (sort of, since they only paid in contributor's copies) were to the English language literary magazine of my university.

Via the internet I also got access to the wider world of short fiction markets. I submitted to the big name magazines at first, Analog, Asimov's,Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, etc… with zero success. Eventually, I found my niche writing for small magazines that focused on adventure fiction in the style of the old pulps and had a bit of success.

I was very sceptical about e-publishing at first, but then I started following the blogs of Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch and decided to give it a try with one of my out of print short stories. Now I have nine short stories and novelettes available for sale under my Pegasus Pulp imprint. So far all but two are backlist stories, but I also plan to e-publish more new works as well as those formerly unsellable novellas.

Like you, I write in multiple genres which makes finding an audience more difficult. So far, my historical adventure fiction sells best and there seems to be some crossover readership between those stories. I hope that some of those readers will follow me into other genres as well.

I believe that even in the age of electronic self-publishing, it still makes sense for a short story writer to submit to traditional magazines and anthologies. Appearing in a well regarded magazine increases your visibility and – depending on the genre – also gives you a shot at being nominated for awards. Besides, magazines and anthologies usually only ask for limited rights and a certain period of exclusivity – they don't do a rights grab like many traditional book publishers these days. I don't think that indie or traditional has to be an either/or question, especially since we short story writers can have the best of both worlds.


Do you think ebooks will change the way short stories are viewed by the general public?

The internet in general has given the short story a shot in the arm. Back when I started writing, there were only a handful of pro magazines and several smaller 'zines that published short fiction at all. Nowadays, we have a huge range of short story markets and many of them are electronic. Furthermore, electronic submissions have levelled the playing field for international writers such as myself, because submitting to magazines based in Britain or the US has suddenly become a lot easier and cheaper.

As for e-books, though the conventional wisdom is that short stories don't sell in e-book form, I believe that e-books are ideal for short fiction. Because one of the big advantages of e-books is that length ceases to be a factor. There is no longer such a thing as "too long" or "too short". With e-books, a story can be exactly as long as it needs to be, whether it's a short story or a 200,000 word doorstopper. Besides, there are times when shorter works are ideal. A short story is just long enough to read during your commute to work. A novella is ideal for a two hour train ride or a short haul flight.

E-books are also ideal for novelettes and novellas, which used to be almost impossible to sell, because they were too long for most short fiction markets and too short for stand-alone novels. I already have several novelettes for sale, including one that was never previously published, and there are more coming.

Finally, e-books are perfect for reviving your dead backlist. It used to be that once a short story was published and you had been paid for it, that was the last you'd see of it. If you were lucky, you might sell reprint rights. And if you were very lucky, had a lot of short stories as well as a "name", you might even sell a short story collection to a traditional publisher.

In the age of e-publishing, however, you can bring back all of those out of print short stories that are clogging up your harddrive or gathering dust in a box of contributor's copies. You can republish those old stories either as standalones or collections, gain new readers and earn a little money, too. What's not to love?


What do you think is the biggest obstacle in introducing someone to a short story? As in, is it the length? The price? Not knowing what to expect?

There is an attitude stemming from traditional print publishing that the longer the book, the more bang for buck the reader gets. This is the attitude that eventually led to bloated epic fantasy doorstoppers. Now I believe that every story has its ideal length. Some ideas turn into flash fiction, while others grow up to be trilogies, and trying to turn one into the other usually doesn't work. But short story writers still have to fight against the attitude that a longer book is automatically a better book. There are plenty of readers who claim that they don't like short stories and won't read them. Once they give short fiction a try, they usually enjoy it. Nonetheless, many readers hold a prejudice against short stories that writers have to overcome.

The price can be a problem as well. Because in a world where writers are routinely selling full length novels for 99 cents or even giving them away for free, some readers will balk at paying 99 cents for a short story. Though at least in my experience, the price isn't that big of a factor. My personal bestseller is a 99 cent short story, but my worst seller is a 99 cent short story as well. Meanwhile, my second best seller is a novelette that sells for 2.99. One thing I have learned in four months of independent publishing is that it is next to impossible to predict what will sell and what won't.

I believe it's very important to clearly label short stories for what they are, so a potential reader won't feel ripped off. I always state in the description that the book in question a short story or novelette and also give an approximate word count. To avoid further confusion I also put "A Story" somewhere on the cover.

One problem with short stories is that the samples offered by Amazon are often very short, not more than a few paragraphs, so readers don't know what to expect. I wish that Amazon would allow publishers to determine the length of the sample themselves like Smashwords and OmniLit/AllRomance. Because that way, a potential reader would get a clearer impression of the story. Well, maybe someday.

Thanks, Cora!  Check out Cora's personal website here or take a look at some of her works in Amazon US or Amazon UK.

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