There are many reasons why a story might not sell having nothing to do with whether or not its a bad story (although, let's be honest, many are). You might have sent him the second best "retro-DNA-zombie story" he got that month. But, well, it's the best one that gets the nod. Or you may simply be the seventh best story that month and he's only got six slots. Or maybe you have an 8,000 word story and the editor needs to fill a 6,000 word slot (or the other way, has to fill a 10,000 word slot and finding a good 2000 word story is hard). Or (this one is a real "sucks to be you") your story may actually be slightly better in some way than story by Big Name Author, but Big Name Author's name on the cover will sell more magazines or books and, well, business reasons also have to factor in the choices editors make.
Nowadays, however, there are alternatives. With the rise of self-publishing, particularly electronic publishing, these stories that did not find a home in professional publications don't have to languish in the trunk hoping for some future market to give them a home. Authors can put them out themselves.
That means a lot of good stories that otherwise would never see the light of day can find readers. Of course that also means that a lot of really, really bad stories will also be out there for people to wade through to find the good ones.
So, I had a story. It had made the rounds of the professional paying markets. It garnered some nice comments on the way but all amounted to "thanks but no thanks; does not suit our needs at this time".
At that point I had to think: was the story just that bad or was this a reasonably good story that folk might enjoy enough to pay for the privilege. Well, I had had those nice comments along the way. Editors don't waste them. If they say "this was a good story but..." they mean just that. Form rejections may be politely worded, but beyond that editors do not sugar-coat their responses. If your story was utter dreck they'd just drop in the form response and move on.
So, I had that. I also had the responses of my beta-readers before sending it out in the first place. Some of those beta readers were published authors themselves and they were specifically looking for problems. That's what a "beta reader" is for. If a beta reader just says "I liked it" or something similar, don't use them as a beta reader. So while my beta readers found problems, they were things I could, and did, address in revision.
So after thinking it over, I decided that I still believed in the story. I still thought I had a pretty decent story there that just didn't fit the current market's "needs".
The story was titled "Live to Tell." It was a story, set in the relatively far future, of a soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress who is thrust into a situation tailor made to trigger his worst nightmares. Military SF, particularly in the shorter lengths (this one was about 8500 words), can be a hard sell and that was certainly one stroke against it in the professional market. And most anthologies on Military SF that I had seen were fairly tightly themed. The likelihood of my coming across one for which this story would be a good fit seemed remote.
So, I decided to go Indy with it and publish it myself as a short ebook.
I looked at my options and decided to go first with Smashwords since that allowed me to do the work once and it would go out to many vendors. At a friend's suggestions I also did Kindle Direct Publishing myself.
First step was to download Smashwords' style guide read it, then have it open for reference while preparing the manuscript.
I won't go into the specific formatting. I followed the style guide slavishly.
In addition to formatting the text, I also wrote some short front matter (copyright notice, table of contents, license information) an "about the author" section, and a list of other works with a link to my "My Titles for Sale" page on this blog.
In parallel with the above work, I had to decide on a cover. There is a site, Dreamstime, that has a great many royalty free pictures for sale. I searched there and found one that appealed to me, seemed to suit the story, and was not too expensive. (This is a short. I don't want to spend more on cover art than I make back in royalties.)
So, cover art selected I cropped and scaled to size (target size 1600X2400 pixels) layered on the title and author name choosing big, bold fonts that would be easy to read, and saved the image as a jpg.
This was the result:
With the text and cover now prepared, I was ready to upload. And in uploading, I discovered that there was still a bit more to do. Smashwords wanted two descriptions: a very short one, and a somewhat longer one.
So the very brief one:
"Staff Sergeant Mike Yamada must overcome his worst nightmares as he faces recapture by the alien Eres forces."
And the somewhat longer one:
"When the star traveling Hospital Ship Mercy is captured by an Eres task force, Staff Sergeant Mike Yamada must overcome Post Traumatic Stress and face his worst nightmares returned. Alone among the complement of the Mercy, he has been an Eres prisoner before and only he knows the true horror that awaits if they do not somehow escape."
And that completed the Smashwords upload. Their auto check program, called "autovetter" found no problems and the story soon went "live" on Smashwords (as of this writing I am still waiting for it to go live on other venders). With that done, I turned to Kindle Direct Publishing. A few edits to remove references to "smashwords edition" from the text and I was able to use the same file and cover I had created for Smashwords. The Kindle edition went live within a few hours of uploading and was already making sales before the day was out.
You can find them here:
Smashwords: Live to Tell.
And that's the story of how I became a self-published author.