Many authors in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres track their writing progress and provide a summary of this progress at the end of each year. For instance, Rahul Kanakia presents an excellent summary of his submissions data, Nick Mamatas provides some great commentary on his 2015 sales, and Jim C. Hines provides a data rich post on the income he generates from writing as well as a summary of his writing statistics.
This post aims to apply elements from all three of these authors to summarize the progress I’ve made with my writing in 2015. What I think makes this post a bit different is that I am not remotely as established as the three authors above. This post will show, for instance, how embarrassingly little revenue I’ve generated from writing thus far. But I hope it will also provide a perspective of what it’s like for an author that is at a much earlier stage of his career.
Key 2015 Accomplishments
I had a number of firsts in 2015, the sixth year that I’ve made a concerted effort to generate income from my writing. These accomplishment include:
- Selling a total of 6 short stories (I also nearly sold a reprint, which likely fell through since the editors won’t return my emails).
- 5 of my stories appearing in print in 2015 including “Entropic Order“, “Chandler’s Hollow“, “Boomer Hunter“, “Hill of Souls“, and “Skin“.
- Making my first 2 professional rate sales to Grimdark Magazine and Sci Phi Journal.
- Completing 8 short stories.
- Receiving my first two short story reviews in Tangent Online and Black Gate.
- Publishing my first personal anthology, Alien Abattoir: And Other Stories.
- Earning slots on two prominent editors’ invite-only lists for future publications and anthologies.
- Receiving 3 more Honorable Mentions in the Writers of the Future Contest.
- Attending my first Worldcon in Spokane, Washington.
Frankly, I still make an embarrassingly little amount of money from writing. In fact, my former business school classmates will probably look at me crosswise when they see the numbers and wonder why I’m wasting my time.
My view is that you have to start somewhere. And in writing, the barriers to entry are very low. Let’s face it: all you need is a keyboard, a rudimentary understanding of English, and an imagination, and you can submit to most magazines. To stand out among thousands of submissions you have to write something that blows away the competition. Over time, as one establishes oneself, it seems to get a little easier. It just takes a long time getting there.
While the revenue numbers above are embarrassingly low, I find some consolation that my revenue growth has roughly doubled each year for the past two years, and I am literally making money by creating something out of thin air. Not only that, but I also diversified my revenue stream this year from two sources (advertising and short story sales) to three by releasing my personal anthology.
Other Writing Statistics
Since December 2011, I’ve written a total of 32 short stories. By the end of 2015, I sold exactly half of them, and 13 have already been published. While a 50% hit rate seems pretty good on the surface, I’ve made an obscene number of submissions and have accumulated nearly 1,000 rejections to get there.
My production slowed a bit in 2015 with only 8 stories produced versus 9 in 2015, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The good news is that I have a good headstart on 2016 as I did a ton of work on a huge backlog of various story ideas. I just didn’t have time to polish any of them before the year ended.
As I noted above, I sold 6 short stories this year, which is double what I sold in 2014 and is tied for my best sales year in 2013. The difference this year is that two of those sales were at professional rates. With 4 of my stories already shortlisted at various publications and anthologies, I’m hopeful that 2016 will be an even better year.
You can’t win if you don’t play, and the more you play, the more you win. For a relatively unknown author, the writing game is one that rewards persistence. In my opinion, there’s also a huge element of luck. Sometimes you have to hit the right editor at the right time with the right story. You can’t do that if you aren’t constantly taking shots on goal. As such, over the last two years, I’ve consistently made at least one submission a day to various publications. So far the strategy has paid off.
The writing business isn’t for the faint of heart, and rejection seems to be the only constant. The flip side of making a huge volume of submissions is that you receive a massive number of rejections. While I’ve sold half the stories I’ve written thus far, I’m rapidly closing in on my 1,000th rejection. The good news is that I’ve received so many of them I’ve built up enough scar tissue that they hardly bother me anymore. It’s just part of the game.
The Funnel of Persistence
Putting it all together, I’ve made a fair bit of progress since my first short story submission in December 2011. While I’m nowhere near quitting my day job, I’ve made enough progress that I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Below is how the numbers have shaken out for me. As you can see, I’ve submitted over 1,000 times to various publications to yield 16 sales. But for most, writing isn’t a blitzkrieg, it’s a war of attrition. And it’s a war I’m determined to win.
Looking ahead, there are a number of things I hope to accomplish in 2016, including:
- Write more than 10 new short stories.
- Make at least 5 professional rate sales.
- Sell my novel to a major publisher.
- Complete my novel’s sequel.
- Publish at least 100 posts on my blog (I’ve already completed 82 thus far that I’ve scheduled from February to May 2016).
- Do at least one panel and/or podcast.
- Complete my second personal anthology.
- Edit an anthology.
- Attend my second Worldcon to continue building my professional network.
There’s a lot on my plate for 2016, but I’m confident that if I continue plugging away, I’ll make further progress.
Here’s to a very productive 2016!