Congrats @Miramon, you should be proud.
Love catching up with this thread. Everyone’s moving on and it pleases me.
I’ve been a full-time professional editor and writer for about the last 13 years. I’ve had a pretty good career writing about tech, health care, and design for pubs like Wired, Fast Company, and others, but my passion has always been fiction. Now, I’m finally working on short stories again, and I’ve written several I’d like others to read.
But in trying to figure out how to get my fiction read by other people, I’m discovering that despite everything I know about my own field, the same math just doesn’t seem to apply. It feels just so much harder to get eyeballs on fiction than it does the stuff I’ve made my career writing, for infinitely less pay.
For example, I’m currently shopping around my most recent story, which is a weird tale. (If anyone cares to read it, it’s here. I’d love your thoughts.) I search the Submissions Grinder for open horror markets that pay 4 cents per word or more. This amount strikes me as pitifully low—for nonfiction pubs, I usually charge a minimum of a dollar a word–but in short fiction writing, it’s a high enough rate to exclude only the lowest tiers of markets.
With these criteria, there’s currently five pubs open for submissions, one of which is the Dark. I read the Dark regularly, and I think my story would be a good fit for them, so I send my story to them. Within three minutes, they’ve rejected it with a stock “We read your story” rejection letter. I don’t have a problem with the rejection, but it happens so fast, I reach back out to make sure there wasn’t some mistake, or some technical reason I was rejected within the time it takes to bounce an email.
No response, so I move on to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction. The piece is rejected, but the editor is complimentary of it nonetheless, saying that he loved the prose and the atmosphere of the story, but it didn’t feel like a good fit for F&SF in particular. So I move onto Apex, where the piece has been sitting in the slushpile for 10 days. But if the Apex rejects it, that’s pretty much it for horror markets that respond within what I’d consider a reasonable amount of time (less than a month). The further down the list you go, the longer it seems like you have to wait for an answer.
I think what I’m finding frustrating about it is all I want is people to read my work. Not really for ego purposes, or because I ever hope to make a living writing fiction, but because people giving me feedback on my work encourages me to write new stories, which I love to do, but which can easily fall by the wayside between the other demands upon the time. But while I’m spoiled for attention in my other writing life, with fiction, I feel like I can barely get people to even look at my work.
I guess what I want to know is: other writers of Qt3, how do you find audiences to read your fiction? If all you want is to find people who enjoy your work, how do you scratch that itch?
I’ve struggled with the same stuff @DrCrypt and I’ve tried various things. Right now, I am self publishing on Amazon with a pen name. It’s a hoot. I make very little, but it’s enough to pay for marketing and cover art.
In the past, I have adjusted my expectations about pay. I started out writing nonfiction essays and while I’ve sold some work, mostly I gave it away just to see it land somewhere. I’ve focused on creating the work, learning the craft, etc. I’ve joined writing groups to get readers and feedback, and to give feedback.
I have been a professional writer for almost more than 20 years. I raised my family by writing, but not creative writing. From what I can tell with creative stuff, most people don’t get published.
Dang, I have a meeting. I’ll try to post more as I think of stuff. Don’t give up! Self publish, I say.
Thanks for your thoughts, Tim!
Can you talk a bit more about this? What are you getting out of this? For example, when I consider the self-publishing equation, it’s hard for me to get excited about it unless it puts me in contact with people who read my work. Do you get emails from people who enjoy your stuff? Or is the reward just seeing it live? Also, why a pen name?
I don’t want to speak for Tim (nor do I want to imply that he writes Bigfoot erotica), but you can do moderately well on Amazon self-publishing by serving a niche that doesn’t have a lot of other options.
Like Bigfoot erotica.
Congratulations, man. That sounds right up my alley. Are you allowed to say who the publisher is?
Yeah, fees for short stories in general are absurdly low, because so few people are willing to pay for magazine subscriptions. Weird fiction specialty magazines pay less than average due to small readerships. The only way you can really make money off short fiction is to be Ted Chiang and get your story optioned for a movie, or to be a popular novelist whose short stories attract enormous attention, in which case you don’t need the short fiction income anyway.
The Dark is notorious for ludicrously fast form rejections. Don’t take umbrage. They do that to everyone.
Getting a personal from Charlie at F&SF on your first submission there is a compliment. Since he reads so very many submissions a month, if he takes the time even to add a single personalized line to a form that means you got pretty close. That’s a good sign.
As you can see from the Grinder, the higher paying and even some of the “prestige” low paying magazines have acceptance rates below 1%. A good but not yet masterful writer can bump that up to maybe 5%, but that still means you can go through an unpleasantly long stretch with nothing but rejections.
Self-pubbed short fiction is very tough to move if you’re not already a big name indie writer.
So it really is a challenge. You have to be thick-skinned and persistent and just keep grinding away (as it were) by writing a lot of stories and keep on sending them out. Note for the average SF or fantasy short story of 3-5,000 words there are around 10 “pro-scale” magazines (ha-ha, ie SFWA-qualifying rate markets, $0.06/word or higher, about to bump up to $0.08) and another 10 semipros that have decent readership. So for any given story, I think you can reasonably keep trying at least till you get 20 rejections. And after that you can always fall back to a lesser magazine if you like – I do that a lot.
And then there are random anthology calls that open up from time to time, which often don’t appear on the Grinder because they don’t last that long. For a partial list you can look at: https://angiesdesk.blogspot.com/ – some are pro-scale, and some are lower. For weird fiction in particular, Nightscape Press has them occasionally.
But basically the whole short fiction / magazine sector is profoundly depressed and has been since the Internet killed newsstands.
Not yet, still negotiating over a contract. I’ll announce it when I can!
I’m mostly getting experience writing from it, but I’m also getting a look at the business side of the equation. I get emails from fans now and again. I mostly do the work reaching out to fan base, which is a big part of the business side of things that I NEVER messed with when I was submitting to smaller journals and such.
One thing that’s maybe different between us is that I published to smaller markets than fiction, scifi, or fantasy (I’m not sure what your market is called exactly so I hope I’m not getting the names wrong). I published to nonfiction memoir type places, which seems smaller to me. I suppose poetry might be even smaller, but I’m thinking nonfiction stuff is probably not as big as fiction in general or any of the organized fiction genre markets.
For fan outreach, I do a blog (which I rarely update) and I’m learning how to manage a list, including writing to fans and soliciting their email addresses and such. It’s kind of a drag, really. :)
Scratching the feedback itch is hard. I get an occasional glowing review but it’s not enough to make up for the scorching ones, so I just try to ignore that kind of feedback for the most part. Fuck good reads with a hot poker. :)
I did a pen name mostly to take the pressure off. I started in Romance. Now I’m trying to figure out Horror or Thriller. It’s hard because I’m not particularly interested in learning the requirements of a genre. I tend to want to write the stories that I want to write. This didn’t work out too good for me in Romance, because fan expectations are hard coded and they come down hard on you for even slight deviations from the script. I know some authors enjoy back and forth with their fan base, and while the idea of doing such a thing seems enjoyable, the reality for me was not. For the most part, I don’t really engage with fans, unless it’s with the blog or mass emails.
I DO want feedback about my stories, but they have to be stories that engage me, or I’m not really interested in writing them. For example, I really don’t care if my main character cheats on his wife if the story I’m writing demands he cheat but genre aficionados often don’t see it that way and can get QUITE upset. :) In the 90s, you could make decent money doing reviews on gaming blogs, and I did just that, but all I can remember from that time is how much I came to dread writing reviews. Writing to spec is sort of like that to me. It’s just not something I can sustain or get excited about, but I still like to write fiction and I feel like I’m learning a lot, not just about business but about craft too. I am really good at memoir first person stories and I thought switching to fiction would be a lot easier than it turned out to be. There is a lot of challenge just moving to third person, not to mention all the different POV options available to fiction writers but mostly unheard of for memoir/non-fiction. I feel the stuff I’m learning now I will benefit my non-fiction when I resume (which I plan to resume at some point).
This is getting kind of long winded and stream of conscious, but I hope it helps. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer as best I can. Good luck.
The woman who wrote those books posts at another forum I visit. She’s pretty cool.
I think this is true, but I have been having a hard time finding one I like. Others (in this very thread) have done pretty well for themselves self publishing.
I know a romance writer who self-pubs on Amazon. She writes 2500 words a day and her books are about 55,000 words in length. She finishes one in 3-4 weeks. Amazon recently bought one of hers and she sold several thousand copies in a few days because they pushed it, but she was making very good money prior to that, six figures annually.
Like Tim said romance readers have certain expectations. It’s the most popular genre going and no readers are more voracious than romance readers, but the books have to meet their expectations. Most important, they need that HEA – happily ever after.
Most readers of genre novels read much more for story than for quality of prose. I wish it were otherwise but that’s my observation.
This may have changed recently (although I don’t believe it has), but traditional romance novels are literally formulaic. There are certain things that have to happen by 50 pages in, 100 pages in, etc. The milestones are the usual romance milestones: meet love interest, introduce rival, first kiss, dramatic misunderstandings, etc.
I found a woman named Alessanda Torres on YouTube when looking up outlining techniques who writes these kinds of high volume romance books on Kindle Unlimited. She has a couple books being optioned for TV films, or at least this is what she claims. It’s interesting to see how these sorts of books are written, but she also goes into (in other YouTube videos) the fine line she walks with covert art and content to keep her books off of the Adult Only category, which apparently is something of a death sentence for its commercial success. It’s interesting to see how certain rote forms of writing turn out to be successful commercially; like her chapters have just a few hundred words, very short sentences, all have twists but are quite straightforward twists, ect.
Isn’t James Patterson sort of like this too? Short chapters?
Yep, there are only a few plots and variations. One plot is called “secret baby,” which I love the name of the plot! Every now and again a particular type of character becomes popular (rockstars, billionaires, firemen) and then there is a wave of similar stories featuring this character. It’s a secret baby story with a billionaire, or some such. But it’s all too rigid for someone with a personality like mine. Some people do really well.
And don’t even get me started on the cover art stuff. It’s just as rigid. Fortunately you can find a good cover person to deal with it.
I have a friend who writes specific genre (regency) romance on occasion, but doesn’t work that hard at it, so doesn’t make that much money. She also works on the publishing end professionally.
Apparently, the real key there is to pick a profitable niche and just own that niche, because as noted, romance audiences are often voracious readers, and if there isn’t much in their preferred pocket, they’ll just consume everything in it, so you can build a consistent and reliable audience that way.
Fwiw, the single greatest resource for a new self-published writer is the Writers’ Cafe on kboards. If if you don’t participate, just lurk. And it is easy to post questions about starting out.
And by frequenting kboards, you will come to realize how big the community of would-be, wanna-be and middling self-published writers has become. Hundreds of books are launched a day, and most writers struggle to find readers. For every success story like those mentioned above, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of self-published writers who fail to develop a sustaining career.
In other words, just like traditional publishing.