Saturday, April 29, 2006

Random Notes

While cleaning my desk, I found these random notes:

God is in the flop, the devil is in the river.

She's so old her first job was at VII-XI.

He's so dumb he can't spell I.Q.

Show Me The Money

Received payment for 13 short stories today. No individual payment was significant, but the total fattened my wallet nicely.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Junkie

I am a magazine junkie. I read dozens of magazines each month, some cover-to-cover, while others I mostly skim. I was going to walk around the house and try to figure out just how many different publications I receive each month, but I gave up before I even left my office.

Some I subscribe to; some I receive free because I'm in a particular profession, association, or religion; and some I receive because I wanted to use up accumulated frequent flyer miles before all the airlines went bankrupt. I wonder what my magazine choices say about me--and I'm certain someone studies things like this--and what conclusions someone who knows nothing about me beyond the publications I read would make about my socio-economic status.

What I find most interesting is that I don't subscribe to any fiction publications. (Although some of the publications I receive publish fiction, they are all primarily non-fiction publications.) I could make the excuse that I receive enough contributor copies that I don't need to subscribe to fiction publications in order to keep a finger on the pulse of short fiction markets. But that's just an excuse. The fact is, I enjoy reading non-fiction, especially well-written non-fiction such as that published in Smithsonian, and my compulsive reading of non-fiction constantly refills my storehouse of short story ideas.

But I'd probably be drowning in magazines even if I didn't write.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cost of Living

Stephen D. Rogers directed me to a blog entry by John Scalzi at http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/004082.html. In it, Scalzi discusses what he earns as a freelance writer, what he writes in order to achieve that income level, and how skill, luck, and circumstance all play a role in his success.

Scalzi averages $100,000 a year from freelancing.

No matter what part of the country you live in, that's nothing to sneeze at. Even so, one thing writers never seem to take into account when discussing annual incomes and billing rates is their local costs of living. Gross income isn't always the most important number when determining financial success as a freelancer. More important is buying power. What does your income get you?

For example, my monthly payment--principal, interest, taxes, and insurance--on my current home in Waco, Texas (a modest three-bedroom brick home) is less than what I paid to rent a one-bedroom apartment in a Chicago suburb in the early 1990s. What I pay for automobile insurance for three vehicles and three drivers isn't much more today than I paid for one vehicle and one driver when I lived in Chicagoland. And so on.

Although I'm not earning an income comparable to Scalzi, the low cost-of-living locally means my buying power is pretty darned good.

I'd suggest that all writers considering a leap to full-time freelancing take a stronger look at their local cost-of-living and potential buying power than at some arbitrary income level. You may need much less--or much more--to maintain your lifestyle than you think.

Get It Write! in July

I'll be speaking at the Get It Write! conference in Lafayette, LA, on July 22. Information about the other speakers, as well as hotel accommodations and registration info is available at:

http://www.mwasw.org/conf_getit.html

Losing Ground

I sold another short story today, and I realized when I pulled out the file that I'm losing ground. I'm selling short stories faster than I'm writing new ones.

This happens occasionally. The planets align in some odd fashion, or all the other short story writers stop submitting for a few months, or some other fantastically and completely unpredictable event happens and suddenly my stories are selling faster than gasoline at 10-cents/gallon.

Part of me is overjoyed; the rest of me is trying to kick myself in the ass. I need to get my act in gear and finish more manuscripts. After all, you can't sell 'em if you haven't got 'em.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Stuff

I collect stuff. Not with any rhyme or reason, it just accumulates. Magazines. Books. Calls for submission. Computers. Junk mail. I try not to let it pile up, but it does. It threatens to consume me each time I enter my office. But I get busy. I have tight deadlines. I have other responsibilities. What I have is a mess.

Things have been slow since Easter. With no deadlines looming in the immediate future, I once again tackled the mess in my office. I threw away stuff. I put stuff in clear plastic drawers I bought to hold my stuff. I threw away more stuff. I booted up the computers I haven't used in a year or more and deleted old files. I may donate the computers to charity, but I'll have to reformat the hard drives first. Until then, they take up floor space in my office.

Getting rid of stuff is hard work. Harder than collecting it. Harder than letting it pile up. Maybe I should hire an assistant. Create a position for Vice President of Stuff. Charge my new V.P. with the responsibility of filtering my stuff, filing or discarding stuff the moment it arrives.

There are many things I should do. Until then, though, I guess I'll just have to stuff it.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Published...Again

My story "Pick" appears in the May/June issue of Futures MYSTERY Anthology Magazine.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Grad School

Yesterday I received my acceptance letter for graduate school. Today I signed it. I'll be working on an M.A. in American Studies, with an emphasis on American literature.

Deciding to pursue an advanced degree, and deciding which degree to pursue was difficult. I received my B.A. in Professional Writing last December at the age of 48. I'd finished two years of college when I was much younger, but it had taken six years--January 2000 to December 2005--to complete the last two years of my undergraduate degree. Unless I have the opportunity to enroll in more than one class each semester, the two-year M.A. program will take four years to complete. I'll be 52 when I finish. Except for the eight-month gap between my last undergrad class and my first graduate school class, that means I will have spent 10 straight years in school by the time I receive my M.A.

In a perfect world, I would have had my choice of university and degree, and I would be seeking a writing degree of some kind (creative writing, professional writing, etc.). The real world limits me to my present location and a single university. I spent a great deal of time scouring the graduate school programs and narrowed my choices to three programs--American Studies, English, and Journalism. Although none offered a writing degree, each program offered things that interested me. Ultimately, American Studies seemed to offer the greatest opportunity to tailor my course of study to fit my interests.

So, it'll be back to the books in August.

Contracts

I had four short stories accepted today by two different publications, including the story I wrote on Easter. All acceptances came with contracts.

I also received a contract I was expecting for an essay.

It's a good day to be a writer.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Rush

How do novelists (and other long-form writers) survive without frequent doses of "the rush"?

As a short story writer (and writer of other short-form material), I experience "the rush" on a daily basis. (Thanks to e-mail, "the rush" can now occur even more frequently than daily.)

"The rush" is that moment just before I open an envelope or an e-mail from someone at a publishing company--will it be an acceptance or a rejection, a contract or a check, galleys or pageproofs to review, a contributor copy or an assignment, or something else entirely?

The need to experience "the rush" on a regular basis--like a junkie's need for a fix--is part of what compels me to produce short work. I can't imagine what it must be like when "the rush" only happens a half dozen times a year, or less.

How do novelists sustain themselves during the long dry spells between "rushes"?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Assaulted By Good News

Good news has hit me from all sides today.

The poster I worked on yesterday was approved and went to the printer this morning.

I finalized many of the details for the newsletter I'll be editing. We'll do a test early next week, and expect to release the premier issue on Wednesday. (If you're interested in gardening in Texas, you can subscribe to Texas Gardener's Seeds by using the opt-in form at www.TexasGardener.com.)

I received payment for four short stories.

I received a contract for a short story.

And I received an e-mail telling me that a contract is on its way for an essay accepted last month.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Tools That Complicate Our Lives

Once upon a time all a writer had to do is write. Rudimentary typing skills and the ability to change a worn-out ribbon covered all the technological know-how a writer needed.

Technological advancements--from FAX machines to personal computers to the Internet--have changed how we write, how we research, and how we maintain communication with editors and clients. While technology has opened up new markets for many writers, it also acts to filter out others.

Opportunities for writers who can only write seem to be disappearing, while opportinities for writers with other skills seem to be growing. For example, I spent the better part of today creating a poster for a trade show. I wrote it. I designed it. I set the type for it. I proofread it. And I prepared the electronic file for the printer.

Thirty years ago, that poster would have been touched by half a dozen artists and craftsmen--a writer, a designer, a typesetter, a paste-up artist, a proofreader, a camerman, a stripper, and so on.

While it is still possible to be just a writer--and there may always be opportunities for highly skilled wordsmiths and literary geniuses--I suspect it won't be much longer before average writers will be unable to support themselves without having additional skills.

So what happens to the over-all quality of writing during this transition? Do our writing skills diminish because we're having to juggle multiple non-writing responsibilities on the same projects? Or does it improve as we master new technologies and learn to use them to our advantage?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Deadline Driven

Saturday evening I received an assignment from an editor with a hole to fill in a magazine about to go to press. A few minutes ago--about 24 hours after receiving the assignment--I e-mailed her a brand-new 5,000-word short story based on the one-paragraph summary she provided.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Published...Again

My stories "Sibling Rivalry" and "Stardom Big City Lights" appear in the May issue of Jive.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Another Editing Gig

For the past month I've been working with one of my clients to develop a new, weekly publication. We created a name and a catch-phrase, then I created the logo. I developed the template for the publication's look, and Wednesday I'll put together the prototype first issue--selecting and editing some material, writing other material. If everything goes as planned, the prototype will be approved and will be released as the first issue.

The actual launch date has not yet been determined, but I anticipate it will be in the near future.

Submission "Frenzy"

I finished two projects this morning and didn't feel like writing. Instead, I spent most of the day sending manuscripts to editors.

I usually know where I plan to send most manuscripts. I even know at least one and sometimes as many as four back-up markets in case the first editor returns a manuscript. Occasionally I write something and have no back-up markets for it; sometimes I exhaust the back-up markets without selling a particular ms.

A couple of times each year, I spend the better part of a day seeking markets for specific ms. I search the Internet, thumb through Writer's Market, double-check other market reports (both on-line and off), and try to match up unsold ms. with potential markets. Then I start printing fresh copies and stuffing envelopes, or reformatting electronic files and preparing e-mails.

While I made good progress today, I still have a file drawer full of ms. that need to be in editors' hands. It looks like I may need to dedicate another day for market research, and real soon.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Freelance Income

"The typical freelance journalist [...] earns an annual gross income between $40,000 and $49,999," according to infomation posted on the American Society of Journalists and Authors Web site at http://www.asja.org/pubtips/050324a.php.

How does this compare to the typical freelance fiction writer?

And, is it even possible to find a typical freelance fiction writer who does not also earn income from some other source (teaching, speaking, editing, writing non-fiction, etc.)?

Friday, April 07, 2006

When It Rains

Yesterday I posted a note about that day's lone rejection. During the 24 hours since, I've received six additional rejections and a pair of non-acceptances. (A non-acceptance is when an editor has held onto something too long and I question its status only to have my e-mail bounce back from an account that no longer exists.)

It's days like these that make good days seem even better.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Today's E-Mail

Today's e-mail brought a rejection from a new magazine. The rejection consisted of a well-reasoned, one-paragraph explanation of why the editor rejected the story, and the editor's points are worth considering.

Of course, I immediately sent the story to an anthology editor with a tight deadline.

If the story comes back two or three more times I might consider revising it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Freelancing

I've been freelancing full-time for the past three years and a couple of recent conversations (both live and on-line) have made me try to understand why I've been successful this time, but wasn't in any of my previous four attempts.

Each attempt to freelance full-time coincided with a job loss. This time I knew the job was doomed about a year before it ended.

My wife and I spent a great deal of time discussing the possibility of my freelancing. How much income would I need to generate and how quickly? How long could we last if I had no income? How much might we save (gas, clothing, lunches out, etc.) if I worked at home full-time?

During that year before the job ended, I put extra effort into my part-time freelancing, attempting to build a backlog of sales that would generate income into the future. (Given that I write for many pay-on-publication markets, the mss. I was selling were providing income as much as a year after the move to full-time.)

The moment I knew my day job was gone, I contacted all of my former clients and asked them to keep me in mind if they heard of any opportunities. Because I had worked in prepress, many of my clients worked for publishing companies and advertising agencies, and most of them already knew I was a writer.

Within a week, one of my former clients offered me a steady editing gig and within five months another former client also offered me a steady editing gig. With a solid income foundation under me, I was able to increase the amount of writing I did and my sales increased rapidly. I've since added a third local client--for whom I create advertising, marketing, and public relations materials--and I now have editors offering assignments to me.

Of course, I still submit a great many mss. that get tossed in slush piles all across the country.

If there are any lessons I learned by comparing my recent success to my previous failures:

1. Plan ahead. Be ready when the day comes.

2. Be certain that everybody knows you're a writer and that you are available for writing opportunities. (Make sure they also know of any related skills you have, such as editing or photography. I have strong desktop publishing skills and those skills have helped me land assignments that other writers can't get.)

3. Be flexible. (I'm writing things now--like television and radio commercials--that I had never even considered writing a year ago.)

4. Don't forget why you're freelancing. Devote time to writing whatever it is that brought you to the table in the first place--whether it's poetry or romance novels or literary fiction--and don't let yourself be sidetracked. (I devote a fair percentage of my time to writing short fiction, and will continue to do so.)

I've probably learned other things during the past three years, but I think those are the most important.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Modern Pulp

A significant number of well-regarded writers (and many more long-forgotten writers) began their careers during the pulp era, pounding out short stories for a penny a word, or less. Their work filled dozens of pulp-era magazines with all manner of genre fiction. While the pulp era is long past, short story writers can still generate a respectable income writing short fiction.

It isn't easy, though. It requires the ability to produce a lot of words in a short amount of time and in multiple genres. Writers unwilling to do this--especially those unwilling to venture outside the realm of a single genre--will have difficulty placing more than a handful of stories in any given year. But those of us who don't mind bouncing from one genre to another like a pinball can find receptive markets every time we turn around.

I can, without much effort, name markets that publish a combined total of more than 1,000 short stories each year. I can probably--though it would certainly take a bit more effort--name markets that publish a combined total of more than 2,000 short stories each year.

I'm selling a short story each week, so I'm only filling 50 or so of those 2,000+ slots. Surely there are other writers doing the same. If you're out there, raise your hand. We just may be the modern pulp writers.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Published, Again

My article "Surviving Disaster" is now available at The Writer magazine's Web site, http://www.writermag.com/wrt/. I interviewed three hurricane survivors -- John Biguenet, Tobias S. Buckell, and Elaine Viets -- about their experiences and how disasters impacted their writing. (Alas, you must be a subscriber to see the entire article.)

Moving Day

For more than a year I have maintained a blog on Xanga at http://www.xanga.com/michael_bracken. Unfortunately, only Xanga members can post comments there, and the handful of people who regularly read my blog have resisted joining Xanga.

Today, I'm moving. Unless I encounter unexpected problems, this is where I'll be blogging from now on.