Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Economics of Short Fiction

It's really very simple, so long as you make a couple unwarranted assumptions. I farted around yesterday and couldn't really get anything going. So I lay down on the couch, read a few verses from the Koran, took a nap, and when I awoke, I had a story fully mapped out in my diminutive brain. Everything was really in place, clicking, ready to go. I sat down at the computer almost continuously from 2pm till 11pm, with about an hour away to eat dinner and do the dishes. So, for the sake of calculation, that works out exactly to eight hours of "work" (never mind that I've been trying for days to get the inspiration for this story - let's just assume that I could use all that "down" time to do other things [housework, grocery shopping, read the newpaper, blog, pay bills, etc.] or that the "down" time will diminish as I write more and get more practice). Now for the calculations.

IF I sell said story to a market that pays professional rates of 5 cents/word (difficult, but possible), then I'll be paid about $220. So, theoretically, writing short fiction would earn one as much as $220/day.

IF one could continue to do that EVERY DAY (basically impossible to do) and sell to professional markets EVERY story (really impossible, as the market couldn't absorb 260 more short horror stories/year), that'd be $1100/week, or about $57,000/year (about what I make at my teaching job).

IF older stories were reprinted or anthologized (unlikely but possible), and IF I could eventually republish them as collections of my own (very unlikely for many years to come), and IF I could sell some rights for comic book or film versions (could happen), then the $57k number could theoretically be supplemented a little more, maybe a lot more.

So, since several of my "ifs" after the one in which I assume I could sell it to a pro market are more or less impossible, one is left to conclude that one will have to do something other than write short fiction. The return on novels, of course, is much higher. Many writers prefer to write short stories, but they just can't afford to do so as their sole source of income.


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