Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


A Good Reason to Write Short Stories

June 13th, 2011

I’m a novelist by nature. I’ve only ever written a handful of short stories–and most of those are on the long end of a short story–plus a few novelettes and novellas.

Word count is the deciding factor on which category a piece of fiction falls into. According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:
Short story: under 7,500 words
Novelette: 7,500 to 17,500 words
Novella: 17,500 to 40,000 words
Novel: over 40,000 words

I’ve just published in ebook form a 7,000 word short. In the Tide was an Analog cover story back in the day, which was quite a coup for me at that stage of my career.

Here’s a tip for new writers: In the Tide was actually a “study” in much the same way that a painter will do sketches before tackling the big oil painting. I used this story to develop a feeling for the nanotech-drenched story world that later led to The Nanotech Succession books. I also used it to develop the type of evolved-human character that ultimately led to Nikko in The Bohr Maker. It’s a scheme I heartily recommend! Get paid developing the ideas for your novels. Where’s the downside of that?

In the Tide is a 99¢ short story. Here are the links:

Amazon USA
Amazon UK (£0.69)
Barnes & Noble

UPDATE: “In The Tide” is now available for free on my website, MythicIsland.com. Look for the box labeled “FREE FICTION”

Posted on: Monday, June 13th, 2011 at 3:55 pm
Categories: My E-books, Short Stories (Ebooks), Writing.
Tags: , , ,

28 Responses to “A Good Reason to Write Short Stories”

  1. HYATT™ Says:

    Like I mentioned in my tweet a couple days ago, what’s been sorely lacking in SFF is the old DAW Original 95¢-$1.25 novellas under 160 pages or so & barely scratching 30k-35k words in length.
    Andre Norton wrote the very first one, “Spell of the Witch World”, in 1972 if I’m not mistaken.
    (Jack Gaughan cover of an armored man fighting a red dragon.)
    Sadly, that DAW is one of the few early DAW Originals I do not own a 1st edition paperback of, though I’ve searched for one for many years.

    Those cover art masterpieces by Frazetta, Vallejo, Whelen, Gaughan, Kirby, Freas, et al. probably did more to draw readers to the genre than the combined works of all SFF authors before the DAW series began.
    Once the cover art drew us in, the words hooked us for life, and never a thought about “lo-brow” reading ever darkened the mind again.

    A recent visit to an area ENT surgeon prompted a comment on a copy of MZB’s “The Survivors” in my hand:
    “I have low standards in literature too”.
    My response?
    “There’s nothing low standards about Marion Zimmer Bradley’s writing” – to which she agreed.
    She is also a huge fan of SFF, but the perceptions of the pulps still linger even in the minds of those with a proper education.
    (To be fair to the good doctor, “The Survivors” wasn’t exactly “hi-brow” reading either. LOL)

    The tight pacing and linear story telling of those early DAW books has largely disappeared in the age of 480 page tomes weighing more than a small laptop these days.
    I swear authors are still being paid by the word, and padding the crap out of their paychecks, much to the disadvantage of the genre.
    Oh I realize nobody is going to pay $7.99 for a short little novella anymore, but e-readers should still provide a constant market for such shorter works.

    Aside from the fact it’s rather uncomfortable carting around a tablet PC or Kindle from the crapper to the bedroom to the love seat – the novella was a story a reader could afford to invest the time for what I call a “one-shotter”, a book you could read from start to finish in an evening and still get enough sleep to be fresh for work the next day.
    (400+ pages of David Drake, at 300 words per page, is still manageable in under 8 hours for me but after a long day of construction work, 8 hours is a LOT of time to put into a “one-shotter” – if tomorrow is hump-day.)

    Do write novellas Linda – LOTS of them. Some of us will sing your praises through the halls forevermore.

  2. Linda Says:

    I think I need to blog on the subject of story length, but given how often I hear people say “I don’t have time to read” I would think a market for shorter works–while still long enough to give a satisfying immersion experience–would be popular. This is another reason I’m hoping The Dread Hammer will find it’s market. And from a production point of view, It’s so much more simpler handling a 65,000-word book, than a 130,000-word book.

    And wow, somebody actually said “low standards in literature,” just like that? I hope it was a joking tone!

  3. Phil Friel Says:

    Linda, do you have links to non-DRMed epubs of all of your fiction, including the above story? If so, I’d prefer to buy your ebooks through that route rather than via Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

    Despite having a Kindle (which I love), I intensely dislike Amazon’s proprietary lock-in azw format, and prefer to have a non-DRM epub of all books, which I can edit the metadata of in Calibre. Have you ever looked at some of the garbage in those azw file names and metadata? Totally disgraceful. And you can’t clean those files up in Calibre because they’re DRMed and won’t even open. Unless a book simply CANNOT be found in un-DRMed form elsewhere, I will always avoid buying it through Amazon.

    I already have most of your books in paperback (five or six of them, I can’t recall exactly), including all the Nanotech Succession books. I’d also really like to have them in ebook format, but ONLY if they aren’t lumbered with Amazon’s DRM garbage.

    The direct downloads from author websites is also better financially for the author, and I’m much happier knowing that all of my money is going straight to the author, rather than Amazon and other middle-men taking a chunk of it.

    There are many SF authors who provide multiformat ebook downloads from their own websites, AS WELL AS linking to downloads from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Fictionwise and elsewhere. Jeff Carver is one who comes to mind, although Peter Watts, Cory Doctorow and many others also provide direct downloads from their websites.

    Jeff Carver has often made “special offers” where he allows free downloads of certain books in multiformat. So I have all of his books in dead tree format, and many of them in (free) ebook format. But I’m STILL going to buy every single one of his books in ebook format, even the ones I already have, because I believe very strongly in supporting writers that I enjoy reading. They have to make a living, and won’t write any more nice books if they don’t. Besides, nobody is twisting my arm up my back to read their stuff.

    I have to admit that I’m a control freak, and a bit OCD about organizing my e-library, which I do as follows, with everything alphabetically A-Z by author name. Here’s taking your Nanotech Succession series as a hypothetical example:

    Nagata, Linda – Deception Well
    Nagata, Linda – Tech Heaven
    Nagata, Linda – The Bohr Maker
    Nagata, Linda – Vast

    I have a single folder on my desktop with thousands of ebooks in epub format, all organized neatly in alphabetical order like this. I also have many, many other ebooks in a separate folder, in text or rich text format, which I spend considerable time importing, formatting and saving as epub documents in Sigil. This will pay dividends when I buy a nice Android 3 Tablet PC and load these books on it along with a nice ereader program.

    I absolutely LOVE Sigil and Calibre. They’re part of a vital toolbox that I use when I’m downloading countless ebooks from the likes of Gutenberg and elsewhere, which need to be converted to epub and have their metadata cleaned up and organized. The number of ebooks I’ve downloaded with names like “093751987.epub” and hardly any metadata is depressing. Calibre is vital to keeping these ebooks organized. And as a small press writer, I also do the same with my own stories, articles, and other important documents, when I want to turn them into ebooks with Sigil/Calibre. Calibre and Sigil rock!

    I have a ritual that works nicely for me when I download epubs. I clean up all the file names and metadata in Calibre and then convert to clean mobi files, which is, after all, exactly the same as azw, only without the DRM crap. Only then am I happy to transfer the ebook via USB to my Kindle. I’m a huge fan of open standards and formats, and fanatically opposed to closed, proprietary formats, and DRM in particular.

    Open formats are vital to creativity. DRM and closed formats stifle it, lock people out, and benefit only large corporations like Amazon who make bucketloads of cash out of creative artists such as writers.

  4. Linda Says:

    Hi Phil–right now the books are only at the two book vendors, however they are DRM free at both places. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble offers the option to DRM or not, and like most writers I know who are publishing their backlist, I’ve chosen not to DRM because I know how much it offends readers who take their ebook collection seriously. On the books product page, under “Product Details,” a DRM-free book will say “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited”

    That said, my books will be available at BookViewCafe.com beginning in early July. I’ll be blogging more on this later, but the short of it is that BVC is a writer’s cooperative set up to sell ebooks, with 95% of the purchase price going to the author. Everything is DRM free, so it’ll make a great alternative to the big vendors.

    I used to have a cute automailer that would send a PDF of my YA novel upon purchase, but it was getting old, and I took it down when I started with “real” ebooks. I’m thought about setting something up, but honestly, working with BVC will likely be a lot simpler for me in the long run.

    I’ve used Calibre to convert rtf files to epub–though I’ve been increasingly unhappy with the result, and I wound up hand-coding my last novel. I also use it to convert the epub file to mobi.

    Sigil I use to edit and refine the epub files, and for the most part that works well. It has a few annoying quirks, but it’s hard to complain about free software!

    Thanks for all the input, and thanks also for coming back to my work in ebook form. I truly appreciate it.

  5. Phil Friel Says:

    Linda, rtf contains hidden code that sometimes causes problems during conversion. When importing your own work for conversion to other formats, the best results achieved from both Calibre and Sigil is when you import html or raw text files. The best conversions I’ve ever seen in Calibre are from html files. ALL of these ereader creation/conversion programs work best with xhtml and css, as this is their native language.

    My routine with my own work is to import the raw text files into Sigil, chop the chapters up into individual pages, which you see as a list of xhtml files in the left-hand pane. Once that’s done, I create my own style sheet and style each individual page to my heart’s content. Once finished, I create my epub file, which l then use as the basis for conversion to mobi, lrf and other formats in Calibre. When I’ve done it like this, I find very few problems with either program.

    If you hand code your novels, just do each chapter as a simple html file with nothing but header, paragraph, and the occasional bold or italic tags. Import those individual chapters into Sigil and create a single document, and set up a single style sheet to style everything. It’s pretty much fool-proof, and creates nice, clean epubs that are great for converting to any other format in Calibre.

    Alternatively import your novel into Calibre as a single html file (plus internal stylesheet in between the tags of your file), and you should get a really clean conversion to any other format.

    I went ahead and downloaded “In the Tide” from Amazon. I’ll let you know what I think of it when I’ve had a chance to read it. I’m a huge fan of shorter fiction, particularly novellas and novelettes. I’m a long term reader of Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF and Interzone, and at least 70% of my enormous SF book collection is made up of collections and anthologies of short fiction.

    I find short fiction much easier to read in one sitting than modern novels, which tend to be a bit too long. I used to do that with older SF novels of 250-300 pages, but once they go beyond 400-500 pages, reading them in one go is pretty much not on.

    As for your novels, I think I’ll wait for their appearance on BookViewCafe.com. That one sounds like it’s going to be VERY interesting.

  6. Linda Says:

    This is really interesting, thanks. Now I’m wondering if it would help to use UltraEdit as a step in the conversion process. Word is still good for placing tags because it lets me search out the styles and tag them appropriately, but UltraEdit would let me do clean text/html files.

    I’m not a fast reader, so reading a novel in one sitting, even a short one, has never been an option. I’ve never been much of a short story fan though. I like getting thoroughly immersed in a world and spending time with the characters. I do like short novels, and I really like writing them.

    Let me know how you find In the Tide.

  7. Phil Friel Says:

    Good Lord, never use Word for stuff like this. The amount of invisible garbage that program saves with files is scary. I gave up on Word years ago.

    UltraEdit is very highly regarded, although any decent text editor would do. If you’re comfortable with coding (x)html and css, write your novel as one big html file with the css inside the tags, then load it into Calibre and convert to epub, mobi or something else. As a matter of fact, give it a try first with any random html file, even a short one, and see how it turns out.

    Make sure the stylesheet is there too, or your ebook won’t have any styles/formatting. I haven’t tried it with an external stylesheet, although I hear it works fine, but I know it works with an internal stylesheet embedded in between the tags of your file. Make sure all your chapter headings are , which will give each chapter a start on a new page. H1’s in raw form are huge, but you can style them with css to be whatever size, format, colour, etc you want them to be.

  8. Phil Friel Says:

    It seems these posts don’t like anything inside angled brackets and doesn’t post them. Did it with at least three sentences, which should be (sans said angled brackets):

    “If you’re comfortable with coding (x)html and css, write your novel as one big html file with the css inside the HEAD tags”

    “I know it works with an internal stylesheet embedded in between the HEAD tags of your file.”

    and finally,

    “Make sure all your chapter headings are H1’s, which will give each chapter a start on a new page.”

  9. Linda Says:

    Write my novel as html? Nooo! That’s not going to happen. Surprisingly enough, Word is quite good at searching out styles and replacing them with styled html tags. I used it that way for my last novel, and had one of the cleanest conversions ever.

    Once I have the text in Sigil, I use an external style sheet to do all the fine tuning.

  10. Phil Friel Says:

    What’s wrong with doing your novel as an html file? It’s only text with tags! Only kidding… 🙂

    Yeah, Sigil is the way I do it, also with external stylesheet. It’s the easiest way to go. As for Word, I’m very wary of the html it produces. I don’t know about the more modern versions of Word, but Word 97 and Word 2000 produced terrible html.

    You probably wouldn’t remember me, but we were both members of the classic Compuserve SFLIT Forum back in the glory days of CIS (I was there from 1995-2002). That’s how I became a fan of your Nanotech Succession books (I think I recall you plugging Vast around 1998/99). Up until that point, the vast majority of female SF authors that I’d read (LeGuin, Rusch and a few others) were writing softer SF, which is good, but I’ve always preferred harder SF and space opera.

    Then along comes this lady who was taking on the guys (and in most cases beating them) with the hard SF and space opera. I couldn’t resist that now, could I? 🙂

  11. Linda Says:

    Whoa, I never said I used Word to generate HTML. That would be awful! Just used the search & replace function to get the tags where I need them. 🙂

    Compuserve seems like another lifetime. It’s funny, because it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was working on the books.

  12. Phil Friel Says:

    Ah, got it. Word and html just do not go together. 🙂

    Compuserve does seem to be in another lifetime, doesn’t it? It’s where I first started off online, my very first posting coming at 4.55am on Christmas morning, 1995, courtesy of my Christmas present, a spanking new, “cutting edge” 28.8k US Robotics Sportster modem.

    I have very fond memories of the various fora I hung out in on CIS, particularly my main haunts, SFLIT, SFMEDIA, SPACEFLIGHT, SPACEEX and COMICS & ANIMATION. SFLIT was an incredible community, and I really think we all lost something special when AOL bought CIS and later sent it down the tubes. As much as I love the www as it is now, we’ve all gone off to do our own thing and lost most of the closeness and sense of community that we had on CIS.

  13. Linda Says:

    I’m thoroughly impressed with your memory, Phil! For me, “The past fades” is a sadly accurate description.

  14. Phil Friel Says:

    I have a weird memory Linda. Long-term memory is remarkable, almost photographic, at least on those things which I have an interest in. But my short-term memory is terrible – sometimes I can barely remember what I did or said an hour ago. Very strange. 🙂

    And speaking of Compuserve, I got a real shock earlier this evening. If you remember a guy called Dupa T. Parrot (real name George Brickner), one of the leading lights on the old SFLIT Forum – I only found out tonight that he passed away last November. I saw his birthday notification on Facebook, went to his Facebook page to post a birthday greeting, only to find that he died from heart disease on 5th Nov 2010. He was only in his late-50’s. I was stunned.

    That’s the second old CIS friend to pass away recently. Getting old is no fun. You lose so many friends along the way. 🙁

  15. Phil Friel Says:

    I reckon you were so busy writing those lovely Nanotech Succession books back in the mid-to-late 90’s that you had no time to really partake of the fun ‘n’ games in SFLIT. You missed out, Big Time. 🙂

    I, on the other hand, as a hardcore (more like obsessive) reader, was in the thick of everything. Reading books, discussing them on SFLIT, and even writing the occasional review. It takes you months to write a novel, whereas I can read the same book in a few hours. So unfair, I know. 🙂

    Don’t forget to keep us appraised of the availability of your books on BookViewCafe.com. Maybe you might even get around to giving us an omnibus version of the four Nanotech Succession books? 🙂

  16. Phil Friel Says:

    By the way, I was going to point you to a post on the blog of one of today’s best SF authors, Alastair Reynolds, saying very nice (and deserved) things about VAST – at http://approachingpavonis.blogspot.com/2011/06/vast.html – but I see you’ve already got in there with the last few comments. 🙂

    Hopefully the glowing praise from Alastair will give you a bit more of the exposure you so richly deserve. We NEED authors like you writing more intelligent hard SF, at a time when endless, by-the-numbers fantasy series seem to pedominate.

  17. Phil Friel Says:

    Pedominate = predominate (fingers outstripping mind – it’s too late at night for this much brain activity). And the formatting on the line preceding the link is pretty s t r e t c h e d out, isn’t it? 🙂

  18. Linda Says:

    An omnibus of The Nanotech Succession is contemplated, and should happen at some point. I have all these great ideas for stuff I need to do, but making them happen is a slow process.

    I’ve been reading some really enjoyable fantasies in the last few years. I’ve had fun writing my own. I still love the SF novels, but is there a viable market? I know there is for other writers–but my own experience leaves me with much doubt.

  19. Phil Friel Says:

    I’d really like to see that Nanotech Succession omnibus at some point, and sooner rather than later. Ebooks and paperbacks are nice, but nothing beats holding a juicy big omnibus in your hands. 🙂

    As for you switching to writing fantasy, you gotta do what you gotta do. And if you do “break in” to the big league of writers by writing fantasy, you might have more freedom to try writing SF again. I certainly hope so, because I’m not really a fan of fantasy. I’m strictly an SF kinda guy. 🙁

    There is definitely a market for your kind of SF out there. Readers like myself just soak it up. Alastair Reynolds, Iain M. Banks, Stephen Baxter, Peter Hamilton and others are making a pretty good living writing it. Maybe you should try different approaches to marketing your books, maybe network with other SF writers. Get your name out there. Your writing is great, but you just need to let a lot more people know about it.

    This recent bit of publicity on Alastair Reynolds’ blog should give you a lot of encouragement. If some of the current big stars of SF are fans of your work, and are willing to publicize you on their blogs, there’s hope yet that you’ll pick up a big enough readership to make writing hard SF worth your while.

  20. Phil Friel Says:

    Linda, I was on Book View Café a while ago – nice to see your books up there at last, but where is Tech Heaven? It seems to have been left out altogether.

    I’ll see if my credit card is healthy, and go for a clean sweep. But get Tech Heaven up there as well. I’d prefer to get them all from Book View Café and let you get 95% rather than get them from Amazon.

  21. Linda Says:

    Various complications prevented Tech-Heaven from going up right away, but it’s on the “to-do” list. I’ll try to get it up there soon. Thanks for asking!

  22. Phil Friel Says:

    That’s good news. I thought my poor old memory was going to pot there. Either that, or I was trapped in an alternate universe where Tech Heaven had never been written. 🙂

  23. Phil Friel Says:

    Where could I find a complete list of all your short fiction, and where it was published? I’ve only spotted a couple of short stories online, and one novella (“Goddesses”).

    Just by chance, when I was digging through boxes in storage the other day, I discovered a few of your books that I’d stashed away – the Bantam/Spectra hardcover of THE BOHR MAKER, the Bantam/Spectra paperback of DECEPTION WELL, and two copies of the UK Gollancz SF paperback of VAST (I must’ve liked that one, as I bought it twice).

    I could’ve sworn I also had TECH HEAVEN – maybe I do, stashed away in another box, maybe I don’t. I know for a fact that I have the paperback of LIMIT OF VISION, and I haven’t found that either. I can’t recall if I ever had MEMORY.

    Maybe it’s time to pony up for the newly released editions of the books… 🙂

  24. Linda Says:

    Check here for the list of everything I’ve published. The short stories aren’t separate, but the list isn’t that long (unfortunately) and they’re pretty easy to pick out.

    Bantam/Spectra never did hardcovers of my books, so those are probably the Science Fiction Book Club editions. It’s amazing how things disappear and reappear, isn’t it? My daughter had some art books that vanished for years, only to be rediscovered long after we’d given up on ever seeing them again.

    As for the new editions, well they are beautiful. 🙂

  25. Phil Friel Says:

    My hardcover of The Bohr Maker doesn’t mention the Science Fiction Book Club at all. It’s “A Bantam Spectra Book / April 1995”, printed in the US, and the ISBN is 0-553-56925-2. Cover art copyright 1995 by Bruce Jensen. Maybe Bantam Spectra were sneaking out hardcover editions when you weren’t looking. 🙂

    Going back to our conversation about ebooks, I’ve been reading quite a few articles on how they’ll affect writers, and the general consensus is that ebooks are a VERY GOOD THING for authors like yourself who haven’t quite hit the “big time”, or with a backlist of work that they want to get into circulation again, and also older midlist authors who have been out of print for some time. I’ve downloaded so many ebook collections of classic golden age SF from Amazon that I think my eyes are going to melt. 🙂

    Here are a couple of links to articles that you might find interesting (sorry, I can’t see any way to make the links live):

    http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2011/10/17/will-authors-get-trampled-by-the-march-of-ebooks/

    http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/july-aap-figures-show-continuing-e-book-explosion/

    Also, going back to what I said about “putting yourself out there” and networking with other SF authors, the new Google+ social network has a very high percentage of geek and creative types, and there are quite a few SF writers and fans on there. I’ve just joined a “circle” of about 150 SF authors and fans, and this would be a great way not only for you to plug your work and link to your own website/blog, but to network with a decent sized group of SF writers.

    I’ve “circled” (the equivalent of Facebook’s “friending”, but much more powerful and flexible) some big name SF authors on Google+. Norman Spinrad, Mike Resnick and John Scalzi come to mind, and there are quite a few others. But there are also many more writers like yourself who are either new or have been around for a while but haven’t had the breaks to hit the big time.

    You could do a lot worse than join up Google+ and get into that “circle” of SF writers.

  26. Phil Friel Says:

    I see the links are live all by themselves. Didn’t realize that it would be automatic, even without adding the html mark-up. 🙂

  27. Linda Says:

    LOL. No worries! I’ve been on G+ almost since the beginning. Search my name; I should come up. I’m pretty plugged in to the ebook/indie world too. Exploring lots of different avenues. It’s mostly a question of where to devote time.

  28. Phil Friel Says:

    I should’ve known you’d already be on G+! 🙂 Totally understand the “where to devote time” thing. That’s been a major problem for me all my adult life. It sometimes feels that there still wouldn’t be enough time even if each day was 48 hours long.