Richard Wright

author of strange, dark fictions

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The Freelance Leap: Pointless Shorts

ShortsIn 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:

  • Does it pay pro-rate? If it does, then the editor or publishing company is investing up front in the quality of the book. Professional rates encourage professional authors, and the standard rises. Readers will buy them, because good writers are in them. Pretty simple really. I’d like those readers to find my work there too.
  • Is it going to be a great book? I’ve submitted stories to books offering less than pro money, because I think the book is going to be great. It’s a judgement call, and for me is based on who the editor is, the publishing company’s track record, the size of the readership, and other things (like – do I actually have an idea for a story they might want!).
  • That’s pretty much it.

On principle I’ll continue to avoid, like the plague:

  • Any ‘market’ offering a pro-rata share of royalties in lieu of actual payment. If the whole project is so poorly planned that a publisher hasn’t even budgeted to offer some sort of payment, then I don’t have much faith that the book will be worth much to readers.
  • Any market that pays in exposure… really? Do I even need to state why this is insulting? Over fifteen hundred people stopped by this blog last month – far more than most of these anthologies are going to sell. If I want exposure and no money, I’ll can sort that out myself right here. Nobody should be selling stories for ‘exposure’, even (or especially) the newest writers. No publisher should be insulting authors by making that offer. A token payment I can live with, if other factors are in place (it’s going to be a fantastic book to be involved with, or there’s a built in readership you want to say hello to, or preferably both). Suggest to me that I should give you my work for nothing because that will be good ‘exposure’ for me, and I’m likely to do something unpleasant to you. Your offer makes you an idiot or an outright fraudster, and your book will at best do nothing at all for me as a writer, and at worst tarnish me by association.

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.

This week:

  • I wrote stuff, but not nearly enough. Saturday was a good day, working on a novella for 2014 release. Sunday should have seen me finish a short story, but didn’t, and it’s all been downhill from there. A mixture of ongoing pain problems and a furiously unpredictable week of dayjobbery have been the major disruptors. Must do better this week.
  • Craven Place did not make the planned progress – it’s still with an editor, and until it’s back neither I nor the cover artist can take the final steps to finish. These things happen, and I’m not cross – mostly because if it hadn’t been for The Wobble then the editor would have had it four weeks earlier, and has already had to rapidly shuffle everything to still be able to work on it. I am a naughty client. Hopefully it will drop into my inbox ‘any day now’.
  • I started publishing direct to Kobo devices, instead of doing it through a third party. Publishing on Amazon for the Kindle is easy and good – but the Kobo people have found all sorts of ways to improve on what their bigger rival offers a self-publisher. It’s been very easy indeed. Cuckoo and Thy Fearful Symmetry are already available to buy for the Kobo. Go and do that.
  • I hiked up my ebook prices across the board. I suspect I’ll tell you why next week.

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2 Comments

  1. MaryRajotteMay 11, 2013 at 1:23 am

    I totally agree with you on the exposure-only and royalties-only markets. Bare minimum, I’d like even minimal pay and 1 contributor copy (of course, I’d prefer pro-rates for everything!). I know it’s tough out there for markets to pay pro rates (and for some to pay at all), but I spend a lot of time planning, outlining, writing, editing, re-editing, re-re-editing 🙂 I believe that work deserves compensation.

    I still haven’t dipped my toes into self-publishing yet but not because I don’t want to or don’t agree with it. I just need the learn the skills to put out a good product.

    Great blog post! Looking forward to your upcoming news!

  2. Richard WrightMay 11, 2013 at 1:38 amAuthor

    Good work does. And if a piece of writing is of sufficient quality that an editor expects people to pay for it, there seems no real justification for them not to pay for it too. I mentioned some time ago that authors who can’t afford to pay for a couple of basic services (cover art and editing, and maybe interior layout if they’re going to run paperbacks) should just save up for a bit until they can. If authors can do that, publishers should too.

    No book in the world is so urgent that it has to be released right now. If it’s good enough to publish at all, it should be good enough to invest in.

    And on that note, congratulations on your patience! First step to putting out something you can rest your reputation on.

    Also – I stopped by your website out of curiosity – I own a print of the cover of the Shroud Magazine you appeared in. Gorgeous piece. I have the mag as well, but it’s still waiting to be read – I shall remedy that. Thank you for stopping by!

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