Making Money (or not) and Writing
By Sara Codair
There are hundreds of literary journals on the Internet. Many of them are carefully curated and beautifully designed. Many of them don’t pay their writers and artists. I like some of these non-paying venues, but always feel conflicted about submitting to them. I do want to get paid and make money off of my writing.
I write because I need to. It keeps my head from exploding and helps me control my anxiety. However, I sometimes spend hours and hours writing when I should be doing other things, like cleaning my house, grading papers, helping my husband hang shingles or having real conversations with other humans. I can get away with writing 6 to 8 hours a day in the summer when I’m just tutoring a few hours a week and have no classes to teach. However, I don’t have time for such a time consuming hobby during the school year.
If I want to write all year, I need to get paid. If I’m making money, it’s a business, not a hobby. I doesn’t need to be my only source of income; if I could make the equivalent of one class’ stipend, then I could teach four classes instead of five and have an extra ten hours a week to write.
When I was sending stories to an even mix of paying and non-paying markets, I seemed to getting some kind of acceptance every week. I got acceptances Ink In Thirds, 101 Words, 101 Fiction, Foliate Oak, Sick Lit Magazine, Fantasy Crossing, and Mash Stories. My work appeared on 101 Words and Sick Lit Magazine on three separate occasions. It was awesome. People were reading my work, liking it, sharing it and commenting. I got new followers on both Twitter and WordPress. I felt like I was going somewhere, making progress, but I wasn’t making money. If things like electricity, gas and food were free, I wouldn’t care about that. However, the cost of living in the North East is high, and September, the month I return to full time work, was getting closer.
Now, not all of the acceptances were unpaid. I did win $250 for placing second in Women on Writing’s Winter 2016 Flash Fiction contest. I sold a story to the token paying Flash Fiction Press. I signed contracts for three royalty paying anthologies. Those success made me think I could get more money for my writing, so stopped sending stories to places that didn’t pay.
I also stopped getting weekly acceptances. I went more than three weeks without getting an acceptance and my attitude towards writing reminded me of the land around me: it was in a drought.
A wave of heat and humidity descended upon New England. Cyanobacteria bloomed in the lake. The rain refused to come. The grass turned brown and the town issued a water ban. A rain barrel and a few scattered thunderstorms have kept my garden alive. A few notifications from paying markets informing me that my story has been shortlisted or was being held for further consideration kept my confidence from withering in the heat.
I wondered if I should go back to non-paying markets. I did research and posted in forums, and I reflected on previous my previous research in the subject. Some people refuse to give their stories away and suspect publishing in non-paying markets hurts their chances of getting paid while others think the non-paying markets are a necessary stepping-stone. Some writers start with paying markets and work their way down as the rejections come in. Others just think of short stories as a hobby and seem okay with not getting paid. One writer reminded me not to discredit non-paying markets because they slush piles too and send plenty of rejections.
That writer had a good point. I have gotten dozens of rejections from non-paying markets. When a place that has rejected me sends an acceptance, it feels good whether I am getting paid or not.
I just wish I could eat feelings.
In the end, I decided a middle ground/attitude was needed.
Attitude Adjustment 1: Why I get more non-paid acceptances.
I don’t think non-paying markets aren’t easier to get into because they have lower standards. Its just that there are a lot more of then than there are paying markets, so some of them get a slightly smaller volume of submissions. There are less other writers I have to be better than.
Some of these non-paying markets are also very active on twitter, so maybe I’m just better at figuring out what they want. Maybe those editors and me have similar taste. Maybe they are less offended by the one or two grammatical errors I always miss.
Attitude Adjustment 2: Non-paid submissions are free advertisement
While I am starting to build a following on this website (thank you, followers and readers), many non-paying e-zines do a lot more traffic. If my work appears on them with a link to this site, then anyone who likes my work can come here and read more of it.
The anthologies I’m in pay royalties. If people like reading my work on free sites, maybe they will buy the anthologies I’m in and I’ll get paid because of it. Centum Press works on a commission like structure so if people use my discount code(1SaraCodair10), then I get 15% of the sale. The other anthology just divides half the royalties between the authors.
And as I start to publish my own books, whether they be picture books or novels, the more of an online following I have, the easier it will be to sell copies.
While unpaid credits might not make in impression on certain editors in the pro-speculative market, they will help me network with more potential readers. I may not being paid directly for my work, but in the long run, it might just pay off in its own way.
The Next Step
What I need to do now is submit to a mix of paying and non-paying markets.
I will probably still send all my short speculative pieces to places like daily science fiction and Fantastic Stories of the Imagination before I send them to non-paying markets, but I’m also not going to treat some of my favorite free e-zines as dumping grounds for the rejects of paying markets.
Scrutiny just accepted a magical realism story that had only been sent out to one other publication. The last story I published on Sick Lit Magazine was something I revised/expanded specifically for their Journey theme. I’m proud of those stories.
However, I know if I want my writing to be taken seriously, by both me and my family and friends, then I need to shore up my efforts to get into paid markets and start making some money off of my writing.
One thought on “Making Money (or not) and Writing”
I certainly understand your point here. If it makes you feel better, think that even writing that doesn’t pay you directly might pay in another way. I’ll give you an example: as an academic, most of the things I publish (in journals and /or books) are unpaid, and yet are fundamental in order to obtain tenure, progress etc. They pay me, and well, just not directly.
I also write fiction under a different byline, and generally I don’t submit to non-paying markets except when I do like the publication, generally literary journals. I have given out stories for free to, say, Typehouse Literary Journal and Gone Lawn, because I love their writing. Being paid is nothing compared to the thrill of appearing there. On another hand, I think genre (read:speculative) fiction should be compensated, because the industry standards and writers’ attitude are different here. That’s my personal views only, of course, for what they matter 🙂