In less than five months time, I’ll be taking a year away from dayjobbery and seeing how close I can get to generating a full time freelance writing career. For the next five months I’ve the luxury of preparation time, trying to figure out how to make it work and putting some things in place that will pay off down the line (maybe). Then, at the end of September, I’ll take the leap, put all of this into practice, and see if I’m right about any of it. I’ve already nattered some about novels, and self-publishing, and traditional publishers, and you can scoot through previous entries here.
What about short stories, though? Where do they fit in?
In any self-employed scenario, time is money. Your income is limited to what you can produce in the time that you have, and time is short. I’m sure Seralan Sugar would agree that I should put my energy into those areas where I can make the most money. Nobody can do everything. The things that I pick need to be whatever pays best, right?
Short stories don’t pay best. There are a very small handful of top paying gigs for short stories that might net me over a grand. For that same reason, they can pick work from the most popular writers in the world. It’s not a level playing field up there, and only the blindest of luck would see this happen for something I write. It’s not impossible, but not the norm. I’ll submit, because only a fool wouldn’t, but it’s not something I’ll base any income projections on.
Further down the scale, and an average professional rate for short genre fiction is around five cents a word. The last story I sold at this rate was ‘The Sandfather’, which is about 3600 words long and which can be found in Dark Faith: Invocations. I made in the region of $180, or £120. Let’s, just for the sake of talking, assume an ‘average’ short story to be worth this. In truth, there’s no such thing as an ‘average short story’, but walk with me through Fantasyland here.
I wrote ‘The Sandfather’ in a single day, long hand in a notebook. It took me a couple of hours to type it up and edit it. Maybe another hour to give it a final go over before I submitted it to the editor. A half hour or so to go over suggested edits that came back. Let’s call it a day and a half of actual work. That’s incredibly fast for me – pretty much as good as it gets. Three and a half thousand words of short story takes me a lot longer to produce than three and a half thousand words of novel – short story words have to work harder because there are fewer of them, and for that reason tend to take longer to find.
Assuming I could write short stories at that rate consistently (I can’t), had a day off every week, and could actually find a professional market for every single one of those stories (I couldn’t), my earning potential from writing short stories full time would be…
£360 per week. £18,720 per year. Before tax, and only if I move to Fantasyland. That’s an acceptable minimum income, but not a very realistic one, and I’d have to do nothing else and be successful every single time. It might be more possible that I could produce a short story per week for a year. £6240 a year, but again only if I’m successful selling each story at pro rate every single time. Which would never happen.
So with a business hat on (note to self – buy cool hat), when putting in the same number of hours writing novels is easier and potentially more profitable, the only sensible thing to do is… that. Stop wasting time writing short stories. Use that time to write novels and novellas. Pretty simple.
So I’m going to do that, right? Stop wasting my time on short stories?
Of course not.
If you’re stopping by each week just to read this Freelance Leap stuff, it’s probably easy to miss the key point. I summed it up right at the start, when I told you why. I’m not jumping into this because it’s going to make me a millionaire. If I just want a decent wage for my time then I already have a perfectly good dayjob. I’m jumping in because I want to tell more stories, and the only way to have time to tell more stories is to make a living at it. I’m trying to plot this all out business-style because I think that will increase the chances of making it work.
I’ll keep writing short stories, no question (in fact, no choice – couldn’t stop if I wanted to). It makes no business sense at all, but that’s what I’ll do.
And just because it’s not the most profitable thing I could spend time doing, that doesn’t mean there aren’t merits to it. For a start, money is good. It all adds up. That £120 is very welcome here, thank you very much. The whole self-publishing model I’ve talked about is based on small amounts coming in over long periods, and topping that up with an occasional story sale is no bad thing.
Short stories are also business cards, in their own way. They’re an introduction to editors and publishers you might want to work with on other things – if I hadn’t sold a short story called ‘Secrets (Never Told)’ to Shroud Publishing’s anthology Beneath The Surface then my novella Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow would never have been written and published. More importantly, each short story is a little introduction to some new readers who might end up picking up other things I write. From that point of view, the more I have in print the better, as long as it’s read. In fact I want to write more short stories, not less. My goal is to write forty during the Leap Year, and submit them.
But I only want them in print in good places. Short story ‘markets’ are a dime a dozen, but most of them will never be read by more than a handful of people. The same technologies that make it easy for me to publish a novel myself makes it equally easy for an editor to publish an anthology or magazine himself. The world is flooded with their efforts, but only a proportion are of a quality that would make readers happy. My personal rules for what constitutes a market I want to associate with aren’t changing. They are:
On principle I’ll continue to avoid, like the plague:
So there you go. Forty short stories over the Leap Year, submitted to markets that meet my personal rules for such things. That’s what I can control – how many end up in print is another matter, but I’ll do my part. At the end, in September 2014, I’ll have a better idea of how useful or not the whole thing has been.
I also want to write another 52 stories across the year, but that’s for something else. But only if you help. On Sunday I’ll be blogging about that, and the nature of Dandelion Time. Do come back, and be prepared to share widely. You and I are going to collaborate, I hope, and make cool new stuff.
Next week… well, it’s been fun chatting about broad planning and big picture stuff, but it’s time to get on with it. See you in seven.