Project Contact, chapter 6

Howard knew there was no time to lose. The assailants outside weren’t going to let them a few moments to mourn, breath, or pull themselves together, but he found himself unable to muster the energy to rally the people around him, or even himself, out of their glum stupor. He tried to latch on a plan, a course of action to spur everybody, but his thoughts were constantly interrupted and diverted by the faces and names of the men and women down below.

Some of the scientists were starting to stir, or were trying to call those in the lab, to no avail; others were curled against the walls, looking nowhere in particular. Svoboda was talking to someone on the phone, in Dutch, and two junior scientists were sitting down a desolate and silent Wickerman. The cops, although still shocked by their friend’s treason, looked level-headed enough, so Howard focused on them.

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Myth: the pulps paid badly (and by badly I mean better than anybody today)

My previous post on the economics of writing short stories has generally been received in a way I was not expecting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always overjoyed when someone reads my posts and comes to the conclusion that what needs to be done is to write MORE! That’s the spirit! But that’s not really what I thought was the most notable conclusion.

Perhaps I was being too timid and afraid of spelling it out, but there’s no need to hide it anymore: don’t try to make a living writing short stories, it’s impossible. The numbers simply don’t add up.

Of the examples I wrote, the only one who managed to get somewhat close to reasonable money was the guy who wrote more than a million words per year, never got distracted, barely ever rewrote or edited anything, and got more than half of his stories into magazine that paid, on average, 4 cents per word. Ah, yeah, and he had to publish between 72 and 110 or so short stories per year, and that just to get the equivalent of minimum wage in some Western countries.

Now, if you read that and you get all hyped up to write, by all means, do it, but don’t expect to make any serious money. Write because you love it or because it gives you a few extra hundred bucks from time to time, but that’s it. You are not going to make a living out of it, in fact, I’m not even sure there are enough pro-rate magazines out there to actually publish all the crap you’ll have to write just to be able to survive.

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From Somali dung catcher to King of the Hobos, how poor will you be as a writer?

My recent (a few hours ago, in fact) entry into an online group where the business side of writing is discussed has put me into an accounting mood. So I have been playing and running some numbers to come up with my (or yours) expected return as a short story writer. That’s the key concept here since novelists or self-published authors will have to come up with their own numeromantic equations to see how much they need to sell to not be ashamed of saying that they are writers.

It’s really not a complicated thing to calculate since the short story market is relatively open and static about key economic data. If you know their payment and rejection rates, you can improvise the rest.

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Psychology of writing: word accessibility

You can pick out a skilled painter or draftsman because they keep their eyes on the canvas or paper without having to constantly check every line they draw by comparing it to the model or original image, or having to look up, again and again, pictures of what they have to draw on google images. They trust their instincts and skill, and their lines are precise, and they have developed the necessary muscle memory that allows them to be skillful artists.

All the arts have that, a combination of skill, knowledge, and automatism that baffles the uninitiated. It’s mostly years of experience and practice. Well, I said all the arts, except writing apparently. There doesn’t seem to be a writing equivalent for that process of learning the fundamentals that other arts have, like painting has color, tone, and values, while draftsmanship is mostly line, shadow, and perspective.

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