Saturday, September 18, 2010

The recession hits home

A couple of years ago, when a few of my primary fiction markets dried up and a few others started dragging payments, I altered my household budget. I eliminated fiction income from the budget and adjusted my projected expenses based on the presumption that my only income would be provided by my three biggest clients.

It's a good thing I did. Even though I brought in more money last year than in any year since 1996, my year-to-date income in 2010 falls short of 2009. I continue to sell fiction at a steady pace, but the long-term markets I'm writing for continue to drag payments and the new markets I've found don't pay as well as the markets I lost.

Through careful budgeting and a little luck my year-to-date income after expenses is slightly better than last year, but I don't like the financial direction my fiction writing has taken. It's no longer a question of budgeting cash flow as much as it is budgeting time and effort.

Do I step back, adjust the type of fiction I write, and take a hard run at some of the remaining top markets? The risk, as I learned early last year when I took a hard run at Woman's World, is that I may wind up with a lot of unsold and possibly unsellable short stories.

Do I attempt to increase my productivity, writing more for lower paying markets in an attempt to compensate for lost income? The risk is that I wind up Walmarting myself, making a little money from each of many sales rather than making significant money from each of only a few sales.

Or do I continue to write for the better paying markets that still publish my work, even though they now drag payments several months? The risk is that the publications don't survive the recession and disappear owing me significant amounts of money.

The life of the average freelancer is not easy. The life of the average freelance fiction writer is harder still.

And the recession just complicates everything...


Kevin R. Tipple said...

I don't know, Michael. It is a hard decision all around.

Recent health news has brought the issue home to me as I attempt to get back into freelancing at some level. Most of the publications I was aware of either have gone under or radically changed how they do things. The end result is those personal connections I had as recently as eighteen months ago are now dust in the wind.

sandra seamans said...

I was wondering how you see the new ebook publishing working out for short story writers. It all sounds good with 15% to 70% royalties, but what bothers me is that it's on the net not the gross profit. Creative bookkeeping could ultimately keep writers from making a dime on their work. Or am I just being overly pessimistic?

Michael Bracken said...

"Creative bookkeeping" has been a problem for writers ever since the first publisher realized he was working with artists happy to be published and not businesspeople eyeing the bottom line of their creative enterprises' profit-and-loss statements.

But I think there are other issues to worry about first, Sandra.

For example:

Does the epublisher offer an advance against royalties, offering a royalties-only deal, or offering a flat one-time payment?

Is the short story being released as a stand-alone or as part of an anthology?

How will the story be distributed?

And how many copies is the story really likely to sell?

I've been involved in various epublishing financial arrangements, and I most like the ones offering an advance against royalties. Whether true or not, I feel any publisher willing to part with cash up front is more likely to make a serious effort to generate sales so that they can recoup their investment. And if they do that I'll see even more money from them down the line.

At the same time, I have a couple of long-standing epublishing arrangements (for novels, not short stories) that offered royalties-only arrangements that continue to provide income years after the original release.

I'm not sure I'm really responding to your question, Sandra, but the upshot is that short story writers have to be open to alternate venues. We can't survive just writing for print magazines so we must continue to find alternate revenue streams for our short fiction.

sandra seamans said...

Thanks, Michael, that helps a lot. You've given me questions I hadn't considered but will now. With new e publishers popping up everyday, it feels like a free for all at times.