The Fiction Writing Life

I’m sure I made a post about this before for Writing Wednesday, but I think it bears repeating for a Monday Megalomania because I feel that people not acquainted with writing for a living, or at least writing for publication, don’t understand how it works.

Most people that have a job leave their house, go to a place of work, make so much money an hour, come home and get a paycheck, either weekly or bi-weekly. Obviously, some people don’t have to leave their house. Some people are on salary. But whatever the variations, the basics remain the same. These are considered legitimate jobs.

I, on the other hand, am trying to cobble together some kind of day job out of selling Rejected, selling my jewelry, working jobs with DaLette, and anything else I can do in order to make money to pay the bills and have time to write for publication, in which I would also get money to pay the bills. None of these things are considered legitimate.

Why? Because it’s not a “traditional” job. I don’t get a regular paycheck. I don’t leave the house to do it. And a lot of people underestimate the amount of work that goes into the stories I write, thinking that I’m lazy and I’m not working hard enough to earn what money I do make from writing (or any of the other gigs I work to make money, but we’re going to stick to writing for now).

Allow me to illustrate the work that goes into a short story.

I get an idea. I decide to write this idea. So I write a first draft. Then I set it aside. Depending on the impending deadlines and how I feel about the story, I might set it aside for a couple of days or I might set it aside for a couple of months. It just depends.

Then I revise the story. And then I revise it again. And if I’m lucky, I can stop there and polish it up and call it done. But it’s not uncommon for a story to go through four or five revisions before I’m satisfied with it.

So, the story is as ready as it’s going to be at this point in time. I’ve got my prose all tight, the descriptions all lush, and the grammar so polished it shines. Now I have to submit it. If I don’t have a something in mind when I write it in the first place, the story might possibly sit there for a while before I can find a suitable publication for it. If I can find a suitable publication for it. That’s a risk I run, too. It’s entirely possibly that I write something that can’t be published (or at least, published for money; I aim to get paid for my work for the most part).

But, let’s say I have something in mind and so I send my story off. And then I wait. And wait. And wait. Depending on the deadlines, the reading periods, and many other factors, I can wait for months to hear back about a story. Most of the time, the waiting ends in rejection. And then I start all over.

But, let’s say my story gets accepted. Hooray! I’m getting paid! Except I’m not getting paid until the story gets published. And I’m getting paid the semi-pro rate (I won’t go lower) of 1 cent a word. Considering most short stories typically run anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 words, sometimes as many as 8,000, I’m not exactly raking in the big bucks. Or the immediate bucks. Depending on what the contract says, I can be waiting for a considerable period of time.

For example, my last story to get published, “Land of the Voting Dead” in Zombidays: Festivities of the Flesheaters, was accepted in April of 2010. I received my check, 53 bucks, November 5th of this year. I wrote and revised the story in December of 2009. I then added a scene to it in February of 2010 in order to meet the required word count. I revised it again. I polished it again. And then I submitted it. I easily had a week’s worth of work in that story.

And that was one of the easier ones!

At this point, if I ever get “At 3:36” published, I know the paycheck won’t match the work I’ve put into it. It wouldn’t be a far cry to say that I’ve probably have a month invested in that story spread out over a couple of years and I’m not finished with it yet. That’s a lot of work for one story.

But I only get paid on delivery and only for the final number of words on the page. I don’t get paid for all of the words I put down and then took out. Or put back in. Or changed. I don’t get paid for the rewrites or the research. Just the finished product.

Now, I’m only speaking for short story writing. That’s the only writing I’ve got experience making money from. And it really bugs me when people imply that because I’m not making a whole lot of money doing it, because I’m not getting a regular paycheck, that I’m not working.

I beg to differ.

I work seven days a week for very little.

Why?

Because it’s my job. And I love it. And one day it will pay better.

But it will never be a typical job.

People need to learn to respect that.

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