Log in

No account? Create an account
c is for cat

Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule

Previous Entry Share Flag Next Entry
Short Fiction and You
John Scalzi, Duke of the Internet (I think the hierarchy behaves much like a court where the monarch is perpetually away), posted an entry about what he gets paid for short fiction, and his thoughts on same.

Now, I'm not on Scalzi's level as an author--I don't make his sales or his money. But I'm fairly safely mid-career these days (average career length being five years I'm actually in the mature career category, but I look at it more as: I've progressed, I'm growing up, but I'm not living up to my potential yet, report card wise). Anyway, I find his post interesting because it's the opposite of how I think of short fiction.

See, I write a lot of short fiction. At any given time I'm committed to 3-5 pieces for a number of publications. Only once since I started writing short stories have I ever had a clean slate--that is, no requests for material, and free to write for any market I liked. This is why I haven't been published in the Big Three, or Strange Horizons, or Tor.com, or a number of other places. I never get to write anything that isn't immediately promised to someone else. It's a crazy world I live in, and Not Normal, I know, in the world where many bemoan the idea that one can't make a living on short fiction, but that's the situation.

The other part of the situation is that novel advances are few and far between. Especially given that I couldn't sell a book in 2008. I have to wait months for any major check. So short fiction is actually how I make a goodly chunk of my income--especially when you figure in the Omikuji Project, which is a short story per month as long as people keep wanting them. Short fiction, for me, pays the bills.

So it's funny--Scalzi talks about how little one gets paid for fiction per word and posted his per word rates, which are almost all higher than I've ever been paid for anything.

I've made 25 cents a word a couple of times. Once I got paid $1 a word for a textbook contribution (still fiction, a retelling of a Greek myth). But for the most part, I work for page-mine rates. 5 cents a word. I'm thrilled if I get 7 cents, ecstatic if it's 10. And occasionally, if I'm friends with the editor or it's for charity, I work for less than 5 cents a word. But for a long time, my policy has been: if it pays pro rate, I'll do it.

Because I couldn't afford not to. Still can't, really. I'm fighting to hollow out recovery time in between the 5 stories I owe various markets right now.

But look--5 cents a word, with my average short story being 5000 words or so, comes out to about $250 for a short story. Is that a ton of money? No. Is it a couple of bills paid, or a half tank of heating oil, or a third of my rent? Yes, it is. And it adds up. I write fast. It rarely takes me more than a day or two to write a short story, once I have it in my head (it's the getting of it in my head that takes time, grasping the idea, smoothing it out in my brain, coaxing it, but mainly getting the idea at all) and if the story's good enough it might make a Year's Best anthology for another $100, or maybe another $30, depending on the anthology. But all those small numbers add up, and if I write two short stories a month, which I usually do, plus Omikuji and whatever other freelancing things I'm up to at the moment...well, that's how you live from day to day.

Without short fiction, I'd have had to quit this gig a long time ago.

I can't even imagine getting 50 cents a word for anything I'd write. I've had two short fiction gigs lately that paid about 25 cents a word and I was over the moon about it. When it comes to short fiction, I almost always say yes, as long as it comes with a deadline and isn't a vague "send us a story sometime." It's a massive part of my working life--even though I never set out to be a short fiction writer and had to learn the hard way how to do it--just by doing it, over and over, until I didn't hate everything I wrote.

I do agree, absolutely, that as writers we must be paid for what we do unless we choose to forgo payment for reasons that seem right to the individual author. And as someone progresses in their career, what they can afford to write changes. It's only in the last year that I've even started to limit myself to pro rates--though I would never have accepted the fifth of a cent rate that started this whole debate. But for me, pro rate is a good, solid rate, nothing great, nothing spectacular, but solid enough to count on, and I work for it regularly. It's the bedrock of my ability to write full-time. Not as exciting as a novel sale, but without it, I'd be in freefall.

  • 1
Holy crap because it's low or holy crap because it's high?

"or a third of my rent"

If your rent is less than $800 a month for a FREAKIN' HOUSE, yes, that's incredibly cheap. Here it would be twice that, in a shitty part of town. Crappy one bedroom <600 sq. ft. apartments go for that much in the bay area.

EDIT: now in the right place

It's all relative. Maine is cheeeep. I think it's the poorest state in the nation, but I could be wrong. I live in CT at the moment and will be moving to western MA in the early spring. I pay $800/month now for a teeny place in farm country and I expect that I'll be paying closer to $1000/month for something the same size (~600 square feet) in western MA. Renting a whole house it totally out of the question.

We pay $1200 a month for our house, but we have roommates, so our rent comes out to about $800.

Maine is by far not the poorest state in the union--it goes Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, and then the rest. Maine has it tough, but it's not the bottom of the barrel.

Oh! I knew Maine was poor, but didn't realize it wasn't the poorest. $1200/month is about right in some neighbourhoods in western MA. They're not great, but they're houses.

Ah, roommates! We loves them, yes we do. :)

  • 1