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.

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

November 7 story: The Dreadful Writer, Part II

The second half of the interview with the fictitious writer James L. Cunningham. Part I is here.


Weber (editor): Does that come from your years in the army? You fought in Sudan, correct?

Cunningham (writer): Yes, against the Mahdists. Although ‘fought’ is not the best word for what happened there. Keep in mind that, when I was young, I read stories and tales of our Empire’s wars in the Far East. The ones from the Indian Rebellion of 57 were my favourites. Soldiers still fought duels back then. Not many, true, but it was not unheard of for men of both sides to single each other out for combat. But when I fought in Sudan… that was not the era of the duelist anymore, but the era of the Maxim gun. The closest I ever got to an enemy was perhaps thirty meters, a very angry Dervishe who became the inspiration for my first published story and, I guess, the original seed for many other.

Continue reading “November 7 story: The Dreadful Writer, Part II”

“But you ‘get’ a pulp story,” an interview with Hugh B. Cave.

Because the word “pulp” references the material on which those stories were published (compared to the “slicks,” for example) and not any specific genre or style (beyond the fact that all the stories attempted to be exciting -not a minor trait-) it is sometimes difficult to write about them without misrepresenting the whole phenomenon of the pulps, which was huge and encompassed at least three generations of authors. There is also the problem that most of the writers died many decades before our current literary and cultural controversies (or died too young,) or left the field once they could start writing in more prestigious circles.

Continue reading ““But you ‘get’ a pulp story,” an interview with Hugh B. Cave.”