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, both Nick Mamatas and Martin Shoemaker provide fairly comprehensive years in review that cover what they published in 2016. In past years, Rahul Kanakia presented an excellent summary of his submissions data but stopped this year because of the hassle involved. Jim C. Hines offers a data rich post on the income he generates from writing as well as a summary of his writing statistics. Last year, I published a post tracking my writing progress since I first made a serious attempt to become a published author. This post tracks the entirety of my writing career up to and including 2016.
Key 2016 Accomplishments
From a writing perspective, 2016 was my best year ever. I had a number of firsts in 2016, the seventh year that I’ve made a concerted effort to generate income from my writing. These accomplishment include:
- Winning second place in the Writers of the Future Contest.
- Selling a total of 13 short stories, including 12 new stories and one reprint.
- Selling my first short story on spec to a corporate client.
- 7 of my stories appearing in print or audio in 2016 including:
- “Tunguska” (3,200 words), Kasma SF Magazine, (January 15, 2016)
- “Close Encounter in Coyote Canyon” (4,000 words), Kasma SF Magazine, (June 15, 2016)
- “The Decision” (3,800 words), Sci Phi Journal, (July 7, 2016)
- “Chasing A.M.I.E.” (4,100 words), The Overcast, Episode 36, (August 3, 2016)
- “Quantum Shadows” (3,400 words), Stupefying Stories Showcase, (October 3, 2016)
- “Pinned” (2,100 words), Kasma SF Magazine, (December 3, 2016)
- “Twinwalkers” (1,500 words), Unnerving Magazine, Issue #1 (December 2016)
- Making 4 professional rate sales to Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, Writers of the Future: Volume 33, Let Us In: Volume 2, and a corporate client.
- My first story appeared in a podcast: “Chasing A.M.I.E.“, The Overcast, Episode 36, (August 3, 2016)
- Completing 9 short stories.
- Receiving another short story review in Tangent Online.
- Completing my second personal anthology, Necromancer and Other Stories, which I expect to publish in 2018 once the rights of all the stories in the anthology revert to me.
- Attending my second Worldcon in Kansas, Missouri.
- Participating in my first 3 Worldcon panels (Grimdark and Perilous Adventure, Business Planning for Writers, and I Love Boardgames!).
- Conducting 1 radio interview.
- Publishing 91 posts on this blog.
2016 Accomplishments vs. Objectives
While I certainly made a great deal of progress in 2016, I came up short on many of my goals. In an effort to keep myself ruthlessly honest, I’ve coded goals I accomplished in blue, goals I failed to meet in 2016 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 away) I was from realizing each of these goals.
- Write more than 10 new short stories: I only wrote 9 short stories—pretty close, but no cigar.
- Make at least 5 professional rate sales: I only made 4 professional sales. Again, I was pretty close, but did’t hit my bogey.
- Sell my novel to a major publisher: I’m coding this goal gray because while I haven’t yet sold my novel, it has been under consideration at a major publisher for 490 days, so there’s still hope.
- Complete my novel’s sequel: while I’ve made progress on this item, I’m not even close to completing it.
- Publish at least 100 posts on my blog: I only published 91 posts. Again, I was close, but didn’t hit my target.
- Do at least one panel and/or podcast: I did 3 panels at Worldcon and 1 podcast at The Overcast.
- Complete my second personal anthology: Done. See above.
- Edit an anthology: This is still a good idea, but for now it goes into the nice-to-have-but-not-critical bins.
- Attend my second Worldcon to continue building my professional network: Done.
As you can see, I’ve accomplished 4 of my goals, am still on track to accomplish 1 of them, and have failed to hit the remaining 4. While I can do better, the very discipline of setting these goals kept me focused throughout the year. As such, I plan on setting my goals for 2017 at the end of this post, but before I do that, I’d like to cover my annual writing statistics starting with the revenue I derived from writing in 2016.
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 still low, I find some consolation that my revenue growth rate has roughly doubled each year from 2013 to 2015 and tripled in 2016—a marked improvement. Plus, I’m literally making money by conjuring stuff out of thin air.
However, one area of concern is that my revenue stream was less diversified in 2016 than it was in 2015. It was also more concentrated, with 96% of my revenue deriving from short stories. A big part of the lack of diversification is that WordPress didn’t pay out my advertising revenue in 2016 since WordPress only sends a blog a check once this revenue reaches $100. That said, my ad revenue is declining, primarily because I’ve deliberately written far fewer politically-charged (if any) articles in 2016 so as not to alienate current and future readers of my fiction. The downside in publishing less political content is that my blog has recorded fewer page views which, in turn, has resulted in less ad revenue. Going forward, I’m hoping that a novel sale will help diversify these revenue sources.
Other Writing Statistics
Since December 2011, I’ve written a total of 41 short stories. By the end of 2016, I sold over two-thirds of them, and 18 have already been published (the story written on spec to a corporate client never will be). While a 68.3% hit rate seems pretty good on the surface, I’ve made an obscene number of submissions and have accumulated over 1,300 rejections to get there.
My production picked up a little in 2016 with 9 stories produced versus 8 in 2015, but I failed to reach my goal of writing more than 10 new short stories. That said, I have a decent headstart on 2017 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 13 short stories this year, which is more than double what I sold in 2015 and is my best sales year ever. To put that into perspective, prior to 2016, I’d sold a total of 16 stories in my lifetime. More importantly, 4 of those 2016 sales were at professional rates. In fact, I sold so many stories in 2016, that my inventory of 13 stories is the lowest it’s been since the third quarter of 2014. With 3 of my stories already shortlisted at various publications and anthologies, I’m hopeful that 2017 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 three years, I’ve consistently submitted at least one story a day to various publications. So far the strategy has continued to pay off.
Since my acceptance rate doubled from 2015 to 2016, I plan to send fewer submissions in 2017, primarily so I can spend more time writing than submitting.
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 over 1,300 rejections. 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 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 1,500 submissions to various publications to yield 29 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 2017, including:
- Write 10 new short stories.
- Make at least 5 professional rate sales.
- Sell a story to one of the big three print publications: Analog, Asimov’s, and/or Fantasy and Science Fiction.
- Appear in a “Best of” anthology.
- Sell my novel to a major publisher.
- Complete my novel’s sequel.
- Outline a horror novel.
- Do at least one panel and/or podcast.
- Do an author signing related to the Writers of the Future: Volume 33 launch at Between Books in my hometown.
There’s a lot on my plate for 2017, but I’m confident that if I continue plugging away, I’ll continue to make progress.
Here’s to a very productive 2017!