If you’ve read through my blog, it’s pretty clear to see that I’m a writer. Most of my posts over the past few months have been about working on my current novel Tiger Eye. I’m closer to the ending now but it’s not quite finished yet. This week I sold a flash piece, and I have 3 other short stories in other anthologies. I have folders full of different stories in need of revisions or just plain trunking. I love writing stories, but I’m never going to be rich at it.
I’ve had some questions as to how much I’ve made from writing short stories so i decided to answer them today.
So far, I’ve made less than $100 from writing short stories.* I’m not complaining, believe me I’m THRILLED to sell a story. But, when I tell people I write and have been published, there’s some misconception. People think that publishing means wealth. I hate to break it to you.
Sure there are some authors who don’t have to have a dayjob and simply write/edit/revise/answer emails/confer with agents/editors/publishers all day and have a nice house/car/vacation and not worry much about things like food/houspayment/rent/insurance/car payment/etc. But for the most part authors aren’t paid much–if they are paid at all.
You see, publishing is probably one of the most difficult and misunderstood industries when you look at it from the outside. Most people don’t understand that a single book can take a year or more to simply write–let alone edit-revise-get into the editor/agent/publisher’s hand. An author might get a 4 or 5 figure advance (if the publisher thinks the book is utterly fantastic!), but that’s for x amount of books in x amount of years. Sure, they can earn royalties, but that is only IF and AFTER the books earn the advance back.
Well it can be.
Let’s make this a little more simple. Take a short story. There are two basic ways an author can sell a short story and be paid (if they are at all and that’s a whole other kettle of fish). And while there are many variations, let’s just stick with these two for simplicity’s sake.
Straight up an author can sell a story to a market at X¢ a word (usually between 1¢ and up to 10¢[rarely more] depending on the market.) The author and editor/publisher agree on the word count and the publisher issues a check after a contract is signed and/or the piece has been published. The story is then bound to that publisher for a certain amount of time. The conditions of the contract can vary depending on the publisher but here in the US it usually includes first English rights, the right to contain the work in a “Best of” anthology and perhaps audio rights (though mostly those are bought again). There’s always variations, so check with the publisher and read and UNDERSTAND your contract.
The second way is a bit more complex. A story can be bought by promising royalties (or a flat payment plus royalties). It’s kind of the way larger publishers do novels except on a much smaller scale. The way this works is the publisher buys the story and offers a % of the profit (after publishing costs). The author will only earn $ if and after the book earns a profit. This gives the author more incentive to push the publications. Again I repeat: there’s always variations, so check with the publisher and read and UNDERSTAND your contract.
Both ways the author gets paid. (hopefully) But as you can see, short stories don’t pay that much. Even the best paying pro market only buys Science Fiction and Fantasy stories at 10¢ per word (and that is usually limited to about 5,000 words or so the rest of the story will have a lower price per word–again it depends on the market.)
Most short stories are anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000 words. Most writers can write about 1,000 words an hour but editing can take a few more.
You can do the math on that. Go ahead I’ll wait.
Now I’m not even close to being a name in publishing. I kind of feel like a hack most of the time as I write/revise/and submit my stories to markets. Sometimes I get lucky. I get a sale. Most of the time I grow my rejection pile a little more. But I know I’m getting closer to what editors want because I’m getting more personal rejections and I’ve been shortlisted a few times.
I’m not in it for the money–well mostly not. I’m in this because I can write. And payment (of any sort) means that someone else agrees. Someone likes my work enough that they reach into their own pocket and give me something. It’s a great feeling. It makes those rejections worthwhile. It’s even better when I can use that payment to celebrate with! But I don’t count on it. I still have to have a dayjob to pay the bills.
Writing isn’t a job (and I really can’t classify what I do as a job) that most people are going to do willing without pay. There’s a ton of work involved before you ever get published and you are probably going to spend more money–going to conventions, taking classes or hiring an editor–than you are going to make. At least at first.
At some point you just hope to break even.
And if you are lucky, you’ll be one of those who can quit your dayjob or at least cut back on some hours.
Maybe one of those days it’ll be me. But until then, here’s some shameless plugs of anthologies my work is in. Buy them. Enjoy them. Help support not only me, but the other authors in these works. Suggest these books to your friends.
FISH and IN SITU from Dagan Books
Space Battles #6 from Flying Pen Press
Lakeside Circus from Dagan Books (1 year subscription on sale for $20)
*I’m saying short stories here. I’ve made much more with technical writing, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.