Erotica author, aka Elspeth Potter, on Writing from the Inside

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Short Fiction FAQ - Part Two

Question: Is there a market for erotic flash fiction? Will agents and editors think I can't write novels if most of my sales are short fiction?

There is not a huge paying market for flash fiction, but there are some markets. I would browse this page regularly.

For publications that don't specifically mention accepting flash fiction or short-shorts, it rarely hurts to ask. The editor might need something tiny to fill in a gap. I've recently sold a couple of flash fiction reprints for that purpose.

I don't think there's any danger of being thought incapable of writing a novel unless you never write one. In my opinion, it's always a plus to have some publication experience.

Question: What are the word count limits of various types of short fiction?

In general, the story should be as long as it needs to be, but I realize that isn't much help! I always check the specific guidelines of the publication first, as definitions vary. If a story seems really well suited to a particular market, and is close to the right length but a little too short or too long, I might submit anyway, or I might trim or expand it just a little.

Here are some rough length guidelines:

Flash fiction: usually means less than 1,000 words. Sometimes a market will specify a word count. I've done "flash fiction" that was only 100 words long.

Short story: from about 1,500 words up to about 7,500 words. Depends on the market, however. Often, longer stories are harder to place because they take up more room in an anthology. Many markets don't want anything longer than 5,000 words.

Novelette: 7,500-20,000 words in some markets; The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) defines it as 7,500-17,500 words.

Novella: 20-50,000 words by some definitions. SFWA defines it as 17,500-40,000 words, and anything over 40K as a novel. "National Novel Writing Month" says 50K is a novel. In reality, an adult novel shorter than 60K is very rare. Young adult usually runs 40-60K. I've noticed that a lot of electronic markets seem to prefer novella length to novel-length.

Related post: Short Fiction FAQ: Part One.


  1. Interesting post. I usually target a specific publisher and go with their word count. I've never managed to write anything shorter than 1,000 words, and most of those I've thought of as teasers.

  2. I usually target a specific publisher and go with their word count.

    That makes better sense, actually.