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 Scalzi, Rahul Kanakia, Alex Shvartsman, Ron Collins, Gray Rinehart, Michael R. Fletcher, Jim C. Hines, and C. Stuart Hardwick provide fairly comprehensive years in review that cover what they published in 2017. 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 2017.
Key 2017 Accomplishments
From a writing perspective, 2017 was my best year ever. I had a number of firsts in 2017, the seventh year that I’ve made a concerted effort to generate income from my writing. These accomplishment include:
- 10 of my stories appearing in print, on the web, on ebook, or in audio including:
- “We Hit Back” (7,900 words), Abyss & Apex, Issue #61 (January 1, 2017)
- “Mukden” (5,000 words), Weirdbook, Issue #34 (February 9, 2017)
- “Adramelech” (4,200 words), Writers of the Future, Volume #33 (April 4, 2017)
- “Evolution’s Echo” (4,000 words), Dark Moon Digest, Issue #27 (April 17, 2017)
- “Titan’s Twins” (5,100 words), Speculate! (April 21, 2017)
- “The Sultan’s Cellar” (2,900 words), Galaxy’s Edge Issue #28 (Arc Manor / Phoenix Pick: September 2017)
- “Portal in Pasadena” (4,000 words), Disturbed Digest #18 (September 2017)
- “Roses in Winter” (2,000 words), Kasma SF Magazine, (November 2, 2017)
- “SWARM” (1,200 words), Terraform, (December 8, 2017)
- “The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to the Mojave Desert” (18,200 words), The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist Guide, Series #1, Episode #4 (December 2017)
- Making 3 professional-rate sales to Galaxy’s Edge Magazine (2 stories) and Terraform (1 story).
- Selling a total of 10 short stories, including 7 new stories and 3 reprints.
- Selling 2 short stories (“Adramelech” and “Tunguska”) to my first “Best of” anthologies (Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 3 and Best SF in Kasma Magazine, respectively).
- Selling another treatment on spec to a corporate client.
- Becoming an award-winning, national bestselling author through the Writers of the Future Contest:
- Winning second place in the first quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest.
- #6 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list in trade paperback.
- #6 on Publisher’s Weekly bestseller list in trade paper.
- #1 in fantasy, #7 in trade paperback, and #14 in fiction on Bookscan.
- #2 in fantasy / sci-fi and #46 in books on the USA Today bestseller list.
- #191 book on Amazon out of ~8,000,000.
- #1 new release in Science Fiction Short Stories on Amazon.
#1 fantasy anthology on Amazon.
#1 science fiction anthology on Amazon.
- #1 horror anthology on Amazon.
- #1 in science fiction short stories on Amazon.
- #21 on the Barnes and Noble Science Fiction & Fantasy bestseller list.
- Receiving 7 more short story reviews for “We Hit Back” (SFRevue), “Mukden” (Tangent and The British Fantasy Society), “Evolution’s Echo” (Grim Reader Reviews), “The Sultan’s Cellar” (Tangent and SFRevue), and “Adramelech” (Tangent).
- Having a story (“Mukden”) appear on the Tangent Online 2017 Recommended Reading List.
- Completing my second personal collection, Necromancer and Other Stories, which I expect to publish in 2018 once the rights of all the stories revert to me.
- Creating my first audio book, Alien Abattoir: And Other Stories with Nigel Gothard.
- Conducting 2 radio interviews (WOCA The Source Radio and Lets Just Talk).
- Pitching my first anthology to a publisher.
- Joining the Horror Writers Association.
- Joining the Codex Writers’ Group.
- Publishing 19 posts on this blog.
2017 Accomplishments vs. Objectives
While I certainly made a great deal of progress in 2017, 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 2017 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: I wrote exactly 10 short stories. Check.
- Make at least 5 professional rate sales: I only made 3 professional sales. Again, I was close, but did’t hit my bogey.
- Sell a story to one of the big three print publications: Analog, Asimov’s, and/or Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’m getting closer to selling at my favorite of these three markets, but I’m not there yet. That said, I did published my first story on Terraform, Vice.com’s science fiction arm, which is a huge milestone.
- Appear in a “Best of” anthology: A reprint of “Adramelech” will be appearing in the Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 3 and a reprint of “Tunguska” will be appearing in Best SF in Kasma Magazine in 2018, so I consider this objective met.
- Sell my novel to a major publisher: I’m still working on this one, but making good progress.
- Complete my novel’s sequel: Made a little progress, but not enough to satisfy this requirement.
- Outline a horror novel: Ugh. I didn’t even attempt to start an outline.
- Do at least one panel and/or podcast: I tried, but ultimately didn’t achieve this 2017 goal.
- Do an author signing related to the Writers of the Future: Volume 33 launch at Between Books in my hometown: I hadn’t had a chance to do this as I couldn’t make it back east this year. Maybe next year?
As you can see, I’ve accomplished only 2 of my goals, am still on track to accomplish 1 of them, and have failed to hit the remaining 6. Yikes! 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 2018 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 2017.
Frankly, I still 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.
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, my revenue growth rate has roughly doubled each year from 2013 to 2015 and tripled in 2016—a marked improvement. However, revenue did decline by 8% in 2017, though no doubt off a very high 2016 base. Moreover, I already have a backlog for 2018 that publishers still owe me for stories I sold in 2017 equivalent to 24% of my 2017 sales. So I already have a robust start for 2018.
I also find consolation in the fact that I’m literally making money by conjuring stuff out of thin air.
However, the good news is that my revenue stream was more diversified in 2017 than it was in 2016 with 72% of my revenue deriving from short stories vs. 78% in 2016. Going forward, I’m hoping that a novel sale will help further diversify these revenue sources.
Other Writing Statistics
Since December 2011, I’ve written a total of 51 short stories. By the end of 2017, I sold nearly two-thirds of them, and 31 have already been published. While a 62.7% hit rate seems pretty good on the surface, I’ve made an obscene number of submissions and have accumulated over 1,600 rejections to get there.
My production picked up a little in 2017 with 10 stories produced versus 9 in 2016, and I reached my goal of writing 10 new short stories. I also have a decent headstart on 2018 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 10 short stories this year, which is down 9% from my 2016 sales. However, to put that number into perspective, prior to 2016, I’d sold a total of 16 stories in my lifetime. More importantly, 3 of those 2017 sales were at professional rates, which is flat with the 3 professional sales I made in 2016 (a fourth sale vaporized after the publication that had accepted my story had folded).
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, primarily so I could spend more time writing than submitting. This strategy paid off in 2017 with my producing 10 short stories vs. 9 in 2017, while improving my acceptance rate by nearly 20%.
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 nearly two-thirds of the stories I’ve written thus far, I’ve collected over 1,600 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.
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 1,800 submissions to various publications to yield 37 sales for 32 original short stories out of a 51-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.
Looking ahead, there are a number of things I hope to accomplish in 2018, 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 at Between Books in my hometown.
- Attend my first StokerCon in Providence, Rhode Island.
- Attend my third Worldcon in San Jose, California.
- Sell an anthology to a major publisher.
- Take a screenwriting course at UCLA.
- Publish my second short story collection.
There’s a lot on my plate for 2018, but I’m confident that if I continue plugging away, I’ll continue to make progress.
Here’s to a very productive 2018!