Friday, January 21, 2011

For love or money

Duotrope's Digest lists dozens upon dozens of magazines and online publications. It's one of the reasons it made the list of my favorite writing websites. It's such an exclusive list, in fact, that nobody really cares. I mean...big deal, right? I don't even have a golden seal to give to those websites. Perhaps I should design one this weekend...

Anyway, my total lifetime earnings from writing amount to...well...practically nothing from a monetary standpoint. I've placed stories in publications that don't pay or offer token compensation. "This Mutant Life," offers $8 U.S. for stories or authors can choose to take a second contributors copy of the mag (which is what I usually do). "A Thousand Faces" originally operated under a royalty-sharing plan among authors. That model has since changed and writers will get $10 for their stories.

I recently learned that one of my short stories will be published by "Wily Writers of Speculative Fiction". For the first time, a story will come with a paycheck. It's not a lot--I'll still have to save up for that Writing Yacht I've always dreamed of--but at least it's something.

Everyone has to start somewhere.

I equate the business side of writing to sports (and those who know me collectively roll their eyes, smack their foreheads, and scream, "DUH!"). Single-A ball is getting published by some of the smaller presses and publications. Sure, these may not have the "pull" of some of the larger publications that pay a lot more, but you have to start somewhere. And it's not like it's easy to place a story in these publications either. The editors receive hundreds of submissions and whittle their way down to ten or twelve stories. Just because the publication is smaller doesn't mean the standard of quality suffers. Most of these places pay either nothing or a token amount.

I'm not ashamed to admit it: I miss the Richmond Roosters.

So you made it here. You're not finished. Not even close.

Next is Double-A ball. Now, you're starting to earn some recognition and place your stories in publications that pay semi-pro rates. This still isn't a significant income (unless you've placed A TON OF STORIES AND I MEAN A TON), but at least you're getting something. We're talking in the ballpark of one cent or so a word. For a 5,000 word story, it's about 50 bucks. Consider the time spent outlining, writing, rewriting, editing, and sending off your submission...and you're certainly not making much per hour!

You're rubbing elbows with future stars and washed-up pros. Embrace the former, don't turn into the latter.

So, you place a couple stories in Double-A publications, and now you've moved up to Triple-A ball. This is where the competition is getting really tough; there are fewer Triple-A publications out there, plenty of talented writers, and larger amounts of compensation on the line. Your Triple-A publications pay pro rates...that's five cents or more per word. If you can sell a 5,000 word story, you're getting $250-$500 or so. You sell a couple of those a month consistently, and things start to add up. BUT IT'S HARD.

Even if you make it here, you'll have to produce. Or it's back to the minors, baby.

The Big Leagues? Well, this isn't a perfect analogy because I've been referring mostly to short stories in this post. But to me, the Big Leagues is getting your book published. This typically includes an advance...although first-time, untested authors shouldn't expect to earn thousands upon thousands of dollars. If your name isn't Stephen King or Dan Brown or James Patterson or Patricia Cornwell or Nora Roberts or someone people have actually heard of, that "big advance" won't be that big.

Now to completely nullify everything I've written so far. I've talked about pay scales and earning money for my work. Thing is, it'd be nice to earn a little coin from this and my ultimate goal is to be able to do that. However, and I mean this with as much conviction as I can muster on this random blog, it's not all about the money. And I don't mean this in the pro athlete-in-a-contract-dispute way.

I write because I can. I write because I feel I have a gift for it. I write because there are characters and stories I want to tell and share with others. Are they all great? No! Are some of them good? Maybe! Will anything ever become of this? I don't know! But I do know that I'm passionate about this; that it's 2:42 in the morning and I've had creative writers block but still somehow managed to muster enough energy and effort to write this blog post.

And so even though I'm not raking in the dough from all my great ideas, even though one of my stories can get a rejection faster than Peyton Manning can read the defense and find the open guy, I will continue to write. I have become fully vested in this venture because I believe I can do this. A wise man once said, "If you can dream it, you can do it" (note: that's actually a quote from the coach in "Saving Silverman," so it's probably not the best place to get inspiration). In writing career terms, I'm mired in Single-A ball and hoping to get called up to Double-A. Although if the pros call, I will pick up.