Sunday, January 31, 2010

Story five

I completed and submitted my fifth short story of the year this evening. This is a 3,900-word male-P.O.V. confession that I started writing November 4, 2007. It started with a typo in another story: "one night stan" instead of "one night stand." When I spotted the typo, I thought "One Night Stan" was somebody I could write a story about.

So I did. I wrote much of the first half back when I had the idea. I worked out the plot for the second half and wrote a couple of the key scenes a month or so ago. Then today I wrote the filler scenes that tie the key scenes together, cleaned up some rough patches and typos (none that inspired new stories, though), and wrapped it all up this evening.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Show me the money!

A freelancer's financial life is much like roller-coaster riding: It has its ups and downs. Occasionally you go off the track, but, usually, you wind up back in the station where you started.

This is especially true for writers at or near my level of success (selling regularly, but mostly to pay-on-publication markets). I earn enough from freelancing to maintain a modest lifestyle, but the income is highly irregular. Budgeting is nearly impossible because I rely on many checks of varying amounts that arrive randomly throughout the year.

For example, on January 14 I had 4 cents in my checking account. The morning of January 20 the kitchen cabinets were mostly bare, I had a stack of unpaid bills almost 2 inches thick, and only a few dollars in cash. That morning I raided my savings account to pay the two most pressing bills. Only 10 days later, my kitchen cabinets are full, all my bills are paid, I've replaced the money I took from savings, and I have a healthy balance in my checking account and cash in my pocket.

Many people live paycheck-to-paycheck--some don't have a choice, others because they've made bad choices--but freelancers living check-to-check when they aren't sure when the next check will arrive and how much it might be deal with a much more difficult financial situation.

Are there ways to to turn the roller-coater ride into more of a train ride (still on a track and still with ups and downs, but at least with a destination in mind and more time to plan for the ups and downs)?

There are many, and here are a few that help me deal:

1) Find steady gigs. In my case, it's a former client that made me a part-time employee. That's two checks a month, for the same amount each time, paid like clockwork. For another freelancer it might be a regular column or a publisher that contracts for a specific number of articles or short stories each month.

2) Find semi-steady gigs. For me it's two clients. One hires me by the hour and cuts me a check every two weeks. Even though the checks arrive like clockwork, the amount varies wildly based on the number of hours I worked during that two-week period. The other pays me a flat rate each week. Even though the amount is the same each week, the checks arrive somewhat sporadically.

3) Produce a lot of a material for as many markets as possible. The more different places there are that owe you money, the more likely it is that one of them will send you a check on any given day.

4) Whenever possible, write for pay-on-acceptance publications.

On the flip side is managing outflow:

1) Pay your bills on time. This prevents late fees and damage to your credit rating.

2) Use credit cards sparingly and pay them off promptly. This prevents interest charges.

3) Build a savings account. The more money you have set aside to deal with emergencies, the less likely it is that a problem or bump in the road will turn into an emergency. (Many emergencies are the result of a failure to plan ahead.)

4) Stock up on non-perishables when you can.

5) Learn to love peanut butter.

I'm sure there are many other ways to deal with the ups and downs of a freelancer's financial life, but doing these things have helped me enjoy the ride. The next time my financial roller-coaster car crests the top and heads down I can throw my arms up and scream with joy rather than grip the steel bar holding me in my seat and quiver with fear.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Story four

I also finished my fourth story of the year, the 4,400-word story of a contract killer I mentioned a few days ago. I don't know where I'm sending this one, either, but it's finished and ready to submit.

Story Three

I finished writing my third story of the year earlier this evening. It's a 1,600-worder that straddles the line between dark crime and horror fiction. I haven't yet submitted it anywhere because I'm not up to speed on my dark crime/horror markets and will need to do a bit of market research before this one goes out.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I was just interviewed by Jeff Rutherford for The interview won't be posted for a month or so. In the meantime, why not drop by and listen to some of the other interviews.

Another story I probably won't write: "The Vampire Umpire"

He only works night games, and every time he turns into a bat he gets hit with fastballs.

Published 2x

My stories "Lucky Clover" and "Spring Fling" appear in the March issue of True Confessions.

Tracking stories

Scott D Parker is tracking his short story production this year. His goal is 12 new short stories in 2010. Will he make it? Follow his blog to find out.


I received my seventh acceptance of the year this morning, for a short romance I submitted last July.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Stories without markets

Friday morning I woke with an idea for a short story, mostly an image and brief series of events that I knew would make a strong opening scene. I roughed out that opening scene before my morning shower, went about my day, and returned to the story around six that night. I worked on it until midnight, woke at seven the next morning and continued writing until I had a 4,400-word draft around three Saturday afternoon.

The story is complete, though I have to proofread/edit it and make make a few changes before I have a final draft to count as a completed story for the year.

My dilemma is that I have no clue where to submit the story. It doesn't fit any of my usual markets--too violent, too sexual, too long, too male--and the few Web zines that it might fit don't pay. (I'm not opposed to placing work with non-paying markets; I just can't put food on the table that way.) What to do, what to do?

Some of my best stories are like this. The ideas come unbidden, they don't fit any particular market, and they take bloody all forever to place.

Still, I'm not one to look a gift muse in the mouth. In a day or two I'll pick this story up again, give it a good going over and then submit the manuscript somewhere...because it'll never sell if it sits in my filing cabinet.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I received my sixth acceptance of the year earlier today, this time for a bit of crime fiction featuring a guy who collects debts for the mob. This will be in an anthology that wasn't specifically looking for crime fiction, but was looking for stories about "muscle men."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Published & 5

My story "St. Patrick's Day Romance" is the lead story in the March True Love.

And today's mail also brought my fifth acceptance of the year in the form of a contract for another confession, an Easter-themed confession I submitted on December 27.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hack House

A totally new writing environment.

An old hotel converted into individual "writing rooms." Each room comes with a private bathroom, a mini-fridge, a desk, and a couch. Writers are encouraged to decorate or outfit their private rooms as they wish.

The cafe on the main floor is open to the public, and is ideal for those writers who need to work in a busy environment, yet need to be close to their writing room for when they want/need privacy.

The lounge, also open to the public, is open in the evenings for writers who like to mingle. And drink.

The entire facility has wi-fi, a maid service, and other amenities. Once each quarter, Hack House sponsors a two-day writing conference for wanna-be and would-be writers not yet ready to have their own room at Hack House. Once a month, Hack House sponsors readings or open mic nights. Hack House writers-in-residence are encouraged to participate or to isolate themselves as appropriate to their needs.

To the extent possible, staff consists of college students majoring in English, Journalism, Creative Writing, and other related programs.

Hack House.

Where the words are.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I received my fourth acceptance of the year a few minutes ago, this for the private eye short story I submitted yesterday.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


My short romance "Putting the Kart Before Love" was published this week at The Long and Short of It.

Story Two

I finished writing my second short story of the year a few minutes ago. This time it's a 4,200-word private eye story written in response to an open anthology call. I started work on the story on July 19 of last year, wrote it in fits-and-starts, and then had to do some heavy editing of the last draft because I had put in too many dead-end clues and had to remove them for the story to make sense.

The editor of this anthology likes to see queries, so I queried him and am waiting to learn if he wants to see the full ms.

Update: The editor asked to see the full ms.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I received my third acceptance of the year today, this for the article I submitted yesterday.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Though I'm not actively seeking non-fiction assignments, I did pick one up late last year. I just finished the 2,000-word article and submitted it to the editor. Because the article was assigned, and because it's already on the editorial calendar for the March/April issue of the magazine, an acceptance is highly probable. Still, it's never wise to count unhatched chickens...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Bookgasm reviews Out of the Gutter 6 and gives a shoutout to one of my two stories:
In longer pieces, Michael Bracken examines the dangers of sex with plastic bags in “Games[.]”

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Looking ahead at 2010

I have a single writing goal, and it's been the same each year for several years: To receive an average of one acceptance per week over the course of the year.

Some years I achieve or exceed my goal, some years I don't.

Some years I alter my approach, in part to see what impact a new approach might have on my ability to write and sell, and sometimes simply as a reaction to changes in the marketplace. For example, last year I saw the demise or scaling back of several publications where I had previously placed multiple short stories, publications I could count on for several acceptances over the course of any given year.

Last year I made three changes:

1. I targeted one high-paying publication to which I had never sold anything and wrote several stories targeted specifically for that publication. The result: 12 rejections. (One of those stories sold this year, without revision, to a much lower-paying publication.)

2. I targeted a genre in which I had only a handful of sales over the previous 30+ years. The result: Nine acceptances, two rejections, and one editor who likes my stuff so much he asked to include my name as a probable contributor in an anthology proposal he's currently pitching.

3. I wrote and submitted more to a group of publications where I'm a long-established contributor. The result: 23 acceptances, 17 rejections.

(Of course, several stories that I submitted last year under points 2 and 3 above have not yet generated responses.)

One other thing I started doing late last year and hope to continue this year is an attempt to write and sell at least one short story tied to each month of the year. As I mentioned in a previous post, I've often done well with Christmas and Valentine's Day stories, but there are many other holidays and events throughout the year that might generate story ideas and story themes.

So far I've had three January stories published (all tied to New Year's) and two February stories published (both tied to Valentine's Day). I've placed three March stories (two tied to St. Patrick's Day, the other tied to Spring Break), and I've submitted two more Spring Break stories. I've also submitted two April stories (both tied to Easter) and two May stories (one tied to Mother's Day, the other to Memorial Day). This is an interesting challenge and it's going to be fun to see if I can actually do it.

Beyond that, I plan to use my uncommitted writing time for fiction and don't anticipate actively seeking additional editing, non-fiction, advertising or public relations assignments because my current clients keep me busy with these kinds of projects.

In the end, though, while my approach may have shifted a bit, my goal remains the same as each previous year: 52 acceptances.

I have two already; only 50 to go!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Story One

I finished and submitted my first short story of the year, a 4,500-word confession tied to Mother's Day. I started writing this on January 7, finished writing it late last night, and let it sit until this morning for a final proofread/edit before submitting it.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


Editors have been taking advantage of the holiday weekend. I just received my 2nd acceptance of the year, this time for a 3,100-word story about a skateboarder who thwarts a purse snatching, by an anthology of stories about skateboarders.

2009 in review

Here's what happened in 2009:

37 acceptances

61 rejections

29 short stories published, 3 articles/essays published

I completed (to final draft) 216,310 words of short fiction. (I only tracked completed short fiction, not words written for incomplete projects, nor words written for non-fiction, advertising, or public relations projects).

That's an average story length of 2,884 words; the shortest story was 10 words, the longest was 6,600 words.

I completed and submitted an average of 1.4 short stories each week.

Income from
Advertising & Public Relations: dropped to $0 (My primary client for A&PR put me on payroll in 2008 and I did not seek freelance A&PR work in 2009)
Editing: Up 6.77%
Fiction (not novels): Up 20.49%
Non-Fiction (not books): dropped to $0 (I did not seek non-fiction assignments in 2009)
Royalties (from all books): Up 175.86%
Seminars/Teaching: Down 15.85%
Salary: Up 50% (See Advertising & PR above)
Overall gross income up 6.45%

Observations and lessons learned:

Although I am now employed part-time, I still earn the majority of my income from freelancing.

My rejection rate was much higher this year than in years past. This is, in part, because I attempted to break into new markets in 2009. (Woman's World, for example, generated 12 of my rejections. Although many of the rejections included a personal note from the editor, thus encouraging me to continuing attempting to break into this market, a rejection is still a rejection.)

Income from short fiction increased, in part because I sold to fewer low-end markets and to more mid-range markets.

Income from editing went up as a result of additional work from one of my two primary editing clients.

There's an old cliche that says, "Do what you love and the money will follow." Maybe there's some truth to that statement. My gross income was higher in 2009 than in any year since 1996, and I still love what I do.

Friday, January 01, 2010


I received my first acceptance of the year today, for an 800-word romance I submitted October 16.