I get to consider myself a professional writer because at some point I got paid for something I wrote. I don’t make a living at it. Fiction writers don’t usually make a living at their trade. Obviously, the one’s you’ve probably heard about do. The reason you’ve heard about them is that they’ve sold enough of their works that they’ve made the news.
The world is not getting better for the professional writer, either. While the evolution from print to electronic publishing has opened the markets and it’s far easier for a talented writer to find someone willing to publish their works, the pay is much lower in these expanding markets.
As an example, twenty years ago a first time novelist could get an advance of $5,000-$25,000. Today, in an electronic market the advance might be $200 to $1000 for a novel. Of course novelists will also get paid royalties. But in the flooded eBook market that’s a few dozen sales a year at ten to eighty percent of four to ten dollars a sale. In other words an eBook published novelist might make enough to go out to dinner once a year. This changes drastically if somehow you become a best seller.
I’ll admit that I do not get royalties for my short story publications. I got paid once and that was that. Yet if you want to read them, you have to buy them. (See the section to the left about Currently Available Publications.) The second story is online for free but the top one is going to cost $4 to $12 bucks depending how you get it delivered. I think it’s worth it, even if I don’t see a penny of it. Yes, I will sign any copy you send me and send it back. No, I won’t pay the postage to do so. My signature will increase the value to about nothing.
I don’t have a novel published. I have five written, but only one of those is ready for publication and I’m not willing to self-publish on kindle. I am a biased judge of my own work and rely on someone else to be willing to invest actual moolah in it to know for sure it’s worth publishing. Along the same vein, you should never buy any book, even an eBook, that is not published through a reputable publishing house. They have a minimal standard for quality. There are certainly going to be excellently written self published stories out there, but finding them among the piles of self published crap is difficult.
Over the course of my writing career, publications have bought about 10% of the stories I’ve submitted. When one market rejects a story, I often turn around and submit it to someone else. And by often I mean once or twice a year I get in a submissions kick and send out three or four stories to various publications. I aim high and refuse to sell my stories for token payments like $1 per story or even sell them for the privilege of being published. I prefer markets that have at least a print option.
I have a library of short stories I’ve written that comes to about 100 stories. Of those, 20 are pure junk, another 20 are mostly junk and yet another 20 could be rewritten to something usable. The other 40 are ready for publication if I can match them to a market. In writing terms a market is a publication that might buy a piece of work. Most of works can be stuffed into the fantasy genre, but I’ve written some in just about every genre. I also have a few novels and two or three serials that are difficult to find markets for. Mostly, I don’t bother to try with those.
I don’t actually know anyone who’s read one of my published stories outside of the editors and my wife. I don’t force-feed my writing on my friends. I have occasionally force-fed my artwork on them. But I expect my writing to elicit responses like “Wow, that was great” and my artwork to elicit, “I can tell that’s a person, maybe, um, yeah, um, it’s nice.” So there’s less pressure with the artwork. This is why my blog is a sekret (shh!): So my friends never have to hear me ask, “So, what did you think of my stance on politicians?”