2020 Writing Statistics and Revenue

Many authors in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres track their writing progress and provide a summary of it at the end of each year. For instance, John ScalziJoe Abercrombie, Tim Waggoner, and Naomi Kanakia provide fairly comprehensive years in review that cover what they wrote and published in 2020. In 20152016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, I published posts tracking my progress up to those points in my writing career. Similarly, this post tracks the entirety of my writing career up to and including 2020.

2020 was a much different year for me that most. Ironically, the shutdowns in California associated with the Coronavirus pandemic saved me a three-hour round trip commute five days a week or 612 hours this year since the lockdown began in California on March 20th. In other words, the virus gifted me the equivalent of 25 extra days this year to lose weight (I lost 30 pounds), spend time with family, and write more than I did last year. I don’t mean to diminish the gravity and severity of the pandemic, but it did provide me with more time to do the things I loved. During the same period, I got a new full-time job, a new part-time job as a course facilitator at Stanford’s Executive Education program, launched my first anthology as editor, and got the greenlight to produce a sequel anthology.

But before I go into all that, I feel the need to rant about how 2020 really exposed how woefully inept American leaders have become and how the American media has so utterly beclowned itself that it now can only be legitimately used as a tool for leaders to spread misinformation or for intelligence agencies to root out military targets for assassination.

My apologies in advance.


The Year of Hyperbolic Hypocrisy

From a global perspective, 2020 was the year of hyperbolic hypocrisy. It was surreal watching the media and politicians twisting themselves into pretzels attempting to justify behaviors based on their politics rather than science. Suddenly organizing mass protests became a noble endeavor imperious to criticism, but political rallies for a certain politician were irresponsible virus-spreading events (for the record, I believe both were highly irresponsible, should have been called out as such, but weren’t). At the same time, people were denied the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones at funerals.

2020 was also the year of a massive and staggering failure of leadership. I’m not going to go into any detail about how Trump’s bravado and failure to encourage masking behavior was damaging. It was. But contrary to the media narrative, there was plenty of incompetence to go around this year. Several governors initially mandated that COVID patients recover in nursing homes (the top three states in per capita coronavirus fatalities–New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts–all implemented this mind-bogglingly stupid policy). One in particular, Governor Cuomo, has been lionized by the press for his leadership during the crisis. Had the media had any critical thinking skills, they should have been called him out for making a decision that killed more New Yorkers than Osama bin Ladin. But when your little brother is a reporter at CNN, nepotism has its perks.

In the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, several US Senators monetized their special access to classified information to avoid losing money in the near-certain coming precipitous drop in the stock market. One of these vile and self-aggrandizing creatures, Senator Kelly Loeffler, is now running for Senator in Georgia, and was cleared of wrong-doing by her co-conspirators in the Senate. How did we get to this point in this country where such egregious wrongdoing gets a pass at the highest levels of government? How is this sustainable?

My state, California, was the first to shut down, presumably so we could flatten the curve and give medical professionals enough time to stock up on critical supplies and acquire more ICUs. So we all did as asked and nine months later have the worst case explosion in the country with ICU capacity at or near zero in many counties. For a country and state with the most expensive healthcare in the world, I want to humbly ask medical administrators: what the hell were you doing for nine months while we were locked down? Why didn’t you use the time you had to acquire enough ICUs? The lack of preparation and planning is all the more egregious when so many doctors and nurses have been risking their lives to save others.

Then there’s my own governor, who’s so trustworthy and honorable that he slept with his best friend’s wife. He spent the year instituting the most stringent COVID guidelines in the country, grinding small businesses into dust and harming the most economically-vulnerable segments of the population, while he himself ignored his own guidelines as he dined at a $350-a-plate minimum restaurant with California Medical Association officials–the very same experts who have been recommending these economically suicidal policies. At the same time, Steve “let them eat cake” Adler, the Mayor of Austin, had the temerity to record a video from his Mexican beach resort not to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday. San Francisco Mayor, London Breed, also attended an event at the French Landry shortly at Governor Newsom did. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, attended a nail salon when California COVID restrictions had mandated they be shut down.

Then there’s reporting on the coronavirus outbreak. In my opinion, China was entirely responsible for not only failing to stop the spread of the virus, but also in accidentally releasing it. And then after doing so, restricting the export of critical PPE. Now, I can’t prove it, of course, and I know, it has widely been “reported” that the virus likely jumped from bats to pangolins, then to humans via a Chinese wet market. But which explanation better fits Occam’s Razor, the official story or the possibility that a Level 4 bio-containment facility located at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had an accidental breach on a pathogen it was actively working on?

Okay, now that I’ve finished my rant, let’s talk about what I accomplished in 2020.


Mount Diablo Through the Trees ©2020 Sean Patrick Hazlett

Key 2020 Accomplishments

2020 marks the tenth year I’ve made a concerted effort to generate income from my writing. During the year, I accomplished the following:


2020 Accomplishments vs. Objectives

While I certainly made some progress in 2020, I came up short on many of my goals. In an effort to keep myself ruthlessly honest, I’ve coded goals I’ve accomplished in blue, goals I’ve failed to meet in 2020 because of factors beyond my control but are still on track in gray, and goals that I’ve failed to accomplish in red. I’ve also included some commentary to note how close (or how far) I was from realizing each of these goals.

  • Write 10 new short stories. Unfortunately, I only wrote 5 short stories this year, but it is up from 3 last year.
  • Make at least 5 professional rate sales. I only sold 2 stories this year at a professional rate.
  • Sell a story to one of the big three print publications: AnalogAsimov’s, and/or Fantasy and Science Fiction. I keep trying. Still no dice.
  • Appear in a “Best of” anthology. “Radix Malorum” appeared in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 5.
  • Complete my horror novel. I focused much of my time on other things this year. Maybe next year?
  • Sell my novel to a major publisher. Still no progress here.
  • Do at least one panel and/or podcast. While the Coronavirus pandemic made participating on an in-person panel impossible, I did appear on 17 podcasts and/or radio shows.
  • Do an author signing at Between Books in my hometown. I am very happy to report that I did a signing at Between Books in October with T.C. McCarthy for my Weird World War III anthology.
  • Publish my second short story collection. I haven’t done this yet, because there is still one story in the anthology that I’d like to sell somewhere else first and another story that’s been sold, but still hasn’t appeared in the publication that purchased it.
  • Selling and producing a sequel anthology for Baen. I’m very excited to announce that I’m currently producing Weird World War IV for Baen, the sequel anthology to Weird World War III.

As you can see, I’ve accomplished 4 of my goals this year, am still on track to accomplish another one of them, and have failed to hit the remaining 5. While I can do better, the very discipline of setting these goals kept me focused throughout the year. As such, I will be setting my goals for 2021 at the end of this post, but before I do that, I’d like to cover my annual writing statistics starting with my 2020 writing revenue.


Writing Revenue

 Source: ©2020 Sean Patrick Hazlett

I still continue to make an embarrassingly little amount of money from writing. In fact, my business school classmates will probably look at me crosswise when they see the numbers and wonder why I’m wasting my time.

But 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.

All that being said, 2020 was the second highest revenue year I’ve ever had. The majority of that revenue can be attributed to the second installment of the advance for my anthology, Weird World War III. However, because of the rates I paid the authors, the anthology must do much better than earn out the advance before I see a dime.

While the revenue numbers above are still low, my revenue growth rate has roughly doubled each year from 2013 to 2015 and tripled in 2016—a marked improvement. Then revenue declined–down 8% in 2017 and down 56% in 2018. In 2019, revenue shot up by 509%, primarily due to a partial advance on a short story anthology. Excluding this advance, my revenue would have been up 23% in 2019. Revenue was down 9% in 2020. Anthology revenue was flat, but short story revenue was down 47%. That said, 2021’s backlog is higher than both 2019 and 2020 revenue, so 2021 is already shaping up to be a great year.

I also find consolation in the fact that I’m literally making money by conjuring stuff out of thin air.

Source: ©2020 Sean Patrick Hazlett

My revenue stream was a bit less diversified in 2020 than it was in 2019 with only 12% of my revenue deriving from short stories vs. 20% in 2019. As always, I’m hoping that a future novel sale will help diversify these revenue sources.


Other Writing Statistics

Since December 2011, I’ve written a total of 66 short stories. By the end of 2020, I sold 48 or 73% of them, and 44 have already been published. If I count the 208,200 words I’ve sold to date, I’ve sold 75% of the 278,500 words I’ve written and sent out for submission. While a 73-75% hit rate seems pretty impressive on the surface, I’ve sent out 2,420 submissions to publishers and have accumulated 2,195 rejections to get there.


Production

I only produced five short stories in 2020, but it was an improvement over the 3 I produced in 2019 and fell far short of my goal of writing 10 new short stories in 2020. That said, I wrote the third highest number of short story words since 2011, so I wasn’t that lazy.

Source: ©2020 Sean Patrick Hazlett

As I noted above, an alternative way of looking at productivity is how many polished words I completed in a year. From that perspective, 2020 was my third most productive short story writing year on record with 33,000 completed words. And given my progress on a 29-31,000 word novella, 2021 is on track to be an even more productive year than 2020.

Source: ©2020 Sean Patrick Hazlett

Sales

As I noted above, I sold 7 short stories this year, which is up 40% from my 2019 sales. However, to put that number into perspective, prior to 2016, I’d sold a total of 16 stories in my lifetime. From 2016 to 2020, I’d made another 42 sales, including 32 originals, 1 corporate sale, and 9 reprints. More importantly, 2 of those 2020 sales were at professional rates. While that’s not very impressive, it’s important to note that I only wrote 5 new stories in 2020, 20% of which sold at a professional rate. Also, prior to 2016, I had only 1 professional sale; after 2016, I had 10. As I mentioned above, I have also sold 75% of the words of the stories I’ve ever submitted.

Source: ©2020 Sean Patrick Hazlett
Source: ©2020 Sean Patrick Hazlett

Submissions

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. 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, from 2014 to 2016, I’d consistently submitted at least one story a day to various publications. Since my acceptance rate doubled from 2015 to 2016, I sent fewer submissions in 2017 and 2018, primarily so I could spend more time writing than submitting. I continued to follow this strategy in 2019 and 2020, but I had far fewer submissions, mostly because I had written only 8 new short stories over that two-year period.

Source: ©2020 Sean Patrick Hazlett

Rejections

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 over two-thirds of the stories I’ve written thus far, I’ve collected nearly 2,200 rejections. The good news is I’ve received so many of them I’ve built up enough scar tissue that they hardly bother me anymore. In fact, they only encourage me and spur me on.

Source: ©2020 Sean Patrick Hazlett

The Funnel of Persistence

Putting it all together, I’ve made decent 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 thus far for me. As you can see, I’ve sent over 2,400 submissions to various publications to yield a total of 58 sales for 48 original short stories out of a 66-story inventory. But for most, writing isn’t a blitzkrieg, it’s a war of attrition. And it’s a war I’m determined to win.

Source: ©2020 Sean Patrick Hazlett

2021 Objectives

Looking ahead, there are a number of things I hope to accomplish in 2021, including:

  • Write 10 new short stories.
  • Make at least 5 professional rate sales.
  • Complete and sell a novella to Systema Paradoxa.
  • Sell a story to one of the big three print publications: AnalogAsimov’s, and/or Fantasy and Science Fiction.
  • Appear in a “Best of” anthology.
  • Complete my horror novel.
  • Sell my novel to a major publisher.
  • Do at least one panel and/or podcast.
  • Publish my second short story collection.
  • Complete the Weird World War IV anthology for Baen.

There’s a lot on my plate for 2021, but I’m confident that if I continue plugging away, I’ll continue to make progress.

Here’s to a very productive 2021!


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Weird World War III Reviewed in Tangent

Kevin P. Hallett at Tangent Online just posted this very thoughtful review of Weird World War III today, which coincidentally is my birthday. You can check it out here.

“A fascinating way to see how different authors of speculative fiction approach a similar theme… This was an enjoyable collection of speculative fiction presenting several interesting takes on WWIII scenarios between the US and Russia. The overall quality was high.”

Kevin P. Hallett in Tangent Online

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Weird World War III Reviewed in Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine

The November / December issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine contains a nice little review of Weird World War III. You can check it out here.

“The stories go off in all directions. Torgersen’s ‘All Quiet on the Phantom Front’ involves NATO forces who cast a magic spell that goes wrong; John Langan’s ‘Second Front’ brings World War III to the Moon; Shoemaker’s ‘The Ouroboros Arrangement’ provides a quantum physics explanation for why the Cold War didn’t turn Hot. The other stories are all equally interesting, ranging from hard SF to magical fantasy to dark horror-adjacent tales.”

Don Sakers in Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine

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Gratitude

In the picture above, I’m standing in front of my childhood home in Wilmington, Delaware on the Weird World War III launch date, October 6, 2020. It feels nostalgic to be at the place it all started. Weird World War III is my first traditionally published book as an editor or author. I’ve had short stories that have appeared in others, but this book is the first traditionally published project for which I was directly responsible and accountable. Without me, it would never have existed, but without others, it would have have gotten off the ground.

Author Tim Waggoner writes a blog post every time he has a new book coming out. I’d like to do the same, and what better time to start than now.


Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

“Never forget where you came from.”

— Fred Collier

In my early twenties, a junior officer named Fred Collier gave me some of the best guidance in life. Right before he left the Army, he told a group of officers to “never forget where [they] came from.” For me, it was not only a call to be humble, but also it reminded me that nothing I ever accomplished was truly done on my own.

The experience of producing this anthology was no different. I am thankful that Toni Weisskopf at Baen took a risk on me as a first-time editor. Without Mike Resnick‘s guidance and support, this anthology would never have been possible.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Alex Shvartsman, and David Boop were instrumental in helping me deal with the business side of the anthology, sharing their knowledge of pitches, contracts, and editorial etiquette. Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Peter J. Wacks also produced one hell of a story, as did Alex Shvartsman.

Without Nick Mamatas, I would never have been introduced to writers and friends like T.C. McCarthy and Erica Satifka. Nick was also instrumental in graciously answering all my random editorial questions. And to top it all off, he wrote an amazing story for the anthology.

I am also thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with writers I am in awe of like David Drake, John Langan, and Mike Resnick. None of them needed to participate in this anthology, but I’m damned pleased they did.

I’m also grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to not only give Baen’s audiences stories from authors they know and love like David Drake, Mike Resnick, Sarah A. Hoyt, Brad Torgersen, and Martin Shoemaker, but also amazing authors with whom they might not yet be familiar like John Langan and Erica Satifka. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to work with many of the folks who appeared with me in Writers of the Future Volume 33 like C.L. Kagmi, Stephen Lawson, and Ville Meriläinen.

It was an honor to receive stories from other up-and-coming authors like Xander and Marina Lostetter, Brian Trent, T.C. McCarthy, Eric James Stone, and Deborah A. Wolf as well as extremely talented veteran writers like Kevin Andrew Murphy.

Throughout the journey of producing this anthology, I also got to collaborate with folks I’ve known for over thirty years like Greg Schauer, who runs Between Books in Wilmington, Delaware. Greg worked with Baen to set up one of only two of my signing events in this post-COVID world. It seems like only yesterday when I discovered his store as a twelve-year-old kid playing Dungeons and Dragons.

I would be remiss to not thank Corinda Carfora at Baen for helping me with all the marketing and coordination for birthing my book into the world. I’d also like to thank John Goodwin and the folks at Author Services for helping me set up interviews to promote the anthology. I want to thank Michael Wilson and Bob Pastorella at This Is Horror and John Scalzi for using their platforms to help me promote my work (Weird World War III is tentatively scheduled to appear on The Big Idea tomorrow). I am also grateful to have worked with Tony Daniel through a seamless and organized editing process. I also couldn’t be happier with the cover Kurt Miller delivered for the anthology. It truly captured the essence of Weird World War III.


The Road to Success Runs Through Failure’s Gauntlet

“Life ain’t fair.”

— Theodore J. Hazlett, Jr.

It couldn’t have been a crazier year to launch this anthology, but it’s certainly been a weird one. Each month could’ve been a standalone geopolitical thriller: a once-in-a-century pandemic that swept through the United States, killing over two hundred thousand souls to date; one of the most contentious election cycles in US history muddied by conspiracy theories and Russian intrigue; the adverse economic impact of COVID-related business shutdowns driving the highest US unemployment rate in decades; civil unrest in major US cities resulting in the most costly riot damage in US history; Western wildfires causing billions of dollars and destroying millions of acres that turned the sky blood-red; increasing tensions between the world’s two most populous nations over the contentious Line of Actual Control in the Himalayan foothills; and now a proxy war between Armenia and Azerbaijan with Russia and Turkey lurking in the shadows.

My father gave me the best advice you could give a child to prepare for a world filled with such adversity and capriciousness: “life ain’t fair.” It was great advice because it’s not only true, but also it helps one steel oneself against the vagaries of life; to never count on good fortune. It taught me to make my own luck; to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

It was a long road to get to this point in my writing career. I’ve been writing and submitting stories since 2011, and it oftentimes feels like an endless stream of disappointment and rejection. In fact, unless you are one of the incredibly talented and lucky few, as a writer and/or editor, you should expect an astonishingly daunting number of rejections before you succeed. In my opinion, the only thing that separates a published author from an unpublished one is a published author never quits. Writers speak of this rejection so often it might be easily discounted as hyperbole. It’s not. My personal experience is empirical proof of it.

Since 2011, I’ve:

  • Written 65 original short stories
  • Written 2 novels
  • Entered the Writers of the Future Contest 17 times
  • Submitted those 65 short stories 2,381 times
  • Received 2,151 short story rejections
  • Haven’t sold a single novel yet

And yet I persisted. I didn’t quit. If I had thrown in the towel, I would have missed out on the joy of selling stories I created from nothing.

Since I finished and submitted my first short story on December 17, 2011, I’ve:

  • Sold 44 original short stories (68% of short stories written)
  • Sold 9 reprints, including 4 stories to various “Best of” anthologies
  • Been a winner in the Writers of the Future Contest
  • Edited the Weird World War III anthology

There’s still a long road ahead, but when I look back on the last 9 years, I’ve definitely made a ton of progress. And for that, I am thankful.


Support the Authors

Working with authors I admire was one of the most rewarding experiences of putting together this anthology. Reading the stories they created really brought my vision for Weird World War III to life. If, after reading their stories, you’d like to see more from them, I’ve included a list of some of their current or upcoming publications you should definitely check out.

As for me, all I ask is that you: 1) buy a copy of Weird World War III using any of the links below and 2) post a review on Amazon (the more reviews Weird World War III receives, the higher Amazon’s algorithm ranks it). Thank you. And I hope you enjoy the anthology.


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Brian Trent

Brian Trent’s work regularly appears in AnalogFantasy & Science FictionThe Year’s Best Military and Adventure SFOrson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Terraform, Daily Science Fiction, Apex, Pseudopod, Escape Pod, Galaxy’s EdgeNature, and numerous year’s-best anthologies. The author of the recently published sci-fi novel Ten Thousand Thunders and the dark fantasy series Rahotep, Trent is a winner of the 2019 Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF Readers’ Choice Award from Baen Books and Writers of the Future. He lives in New England. His website is http://www.briantrent.com.

His story, “Shadow Rook Red”, appears in the Weird World War III anthology.


Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your background?


I’m a speculative fiction writer from New England, and my work appears regularly in Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF (my story “Crash-Site” won the 2019 Readers Choice Award), Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and more. I grew up with a deep love for sci-fi, fantasy and horror, gleefully immersing myself in the classics and writing my own stories from a very young age. I’m also an obsessive reader of nonfiction. My brand of sci-fi tends to combine technology, history, and society… how they interact, and how they might interact. I consider short stories as laboratories to explore a host of subjects from a future perspective: addiction, war, evolution, threat, sacrifice… all the ingredients that go into the human drama.


If you could live in any time period, when would it be? Why?


It would likely be Alexandria, Egypt during the early Ptolemaic Dynasties. I’m enamored of Hellenism and the scientific and artistic inquiry associated with it. I’d hang out in the scented halls of the Great Library, enjoying access to that repository of knowledge and speculation; in those days, ships visiting port would be searched for books and those books would be copied, so the Library would always be expanding its contents (beyond the new works being written by local scholars). There was also active research going on, and lectures to attend, and warm weather, and a diverse city representing a crossroads of civilization. Yeah, count me in.


If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?


Two places tie for this: Italy and Japan. I’ve been to both and find them equally enchanting. Italy is an exquisite array of contrasting regions: Rome, Venice, Florence, Tuscany, Assisi and other locales have the qualities of independent city-states, complete with rich layers of history. The food and wine are reasons enough to go, along with their general celebration of appreciating the moment. Japan also has an extensive history, fascinating culture, and a rather unique duality that I like: Akihabara and Tokyo and Shinjuku seem to exist some 20 years in the future, while Nikko and Kyoto and Hakone preserve an older and rural quality: mist-wreathed village, ancient shrines, and simple elegance. I enjoy that contrast… cyberpunk with a healthy mix of shinrin-yoku. 


What kinds of stories do you write? Why?


My writing preference is sci-fi over fantasy—I like the rational structures of the genre, the extrapolation from current state and fact. My story in Weird World War III is a good example of this preference: postulating how the Cold War of the ‘80s heats up when a new technology is introduced, and how it impacts geopolitical, cultural, strategic and tactical realties. I’m also a fan of worldbuilding, and the research and imaginative exercises that go along with that. A lot (but not nearly all) of my stories take place in the same far-future universe, too—it’s nice to have a sandbox that can yield different tales. Sometimes an oblique reference or seemingly throwaway line will generate its own spin-off. I enjoy the opportunities the genre affords me.


Which of your short stories is your favorite? Why?


I have to list two for different reasons. “The Memorybox Vultures” in F&SF (September/October 2018) is set in the near-future, when people continue to post on social media after their deaths… becoming post-mortem “quasints” based on their online posts made while alive. I like it because it seems inevitable, considering today’s ability of tagging people and scheduling future posts. Our infomorphic identities are already out there, after all.

My other favorite is “An Incident on Ishtar” in Analog (March/April 2018). It’s set on a Venusian aerostat colony in the far future, and on one hand is about a dangerous conspiracy… but fundamentally it’s about how far someone is willing to go for what’s important to them.


Story’s Soundtrack

Each of the stories in this volume evoked certain themes and emotions that can sometimes be approximated with music. The below video is the editor’s best interpretation of the feelings and themes that this author’s story evoked. Please note that this is only the editor’s interpretation. The author did not know this portion of the blog post existed until the editor published it.


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