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, David Tallerman, John Scalzi, Nick Mamatas, and Rahul Kanakia provide fairly comprehensive years in review that cover what they published in 2018. In 2016 and 2017, 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 2018.
Key 2018 Accomplishments
From a writing perspective, 2018 was a slow year. 2018 was the eighth year I’ve made a concerted effort to generate income from my writing. These accomplishments include:
- 2 of my stories appearing in print, on the web, on ebook, or in audio for the first time, including:
- 6 of my reprints appearing in print, on the web, on ebook, or in audio, including:
- “Adramelech” (4,200 words), Heinous Concoction: Digital Horror Fiction Anthology, Digital Horror Fiction Short Stories Series One Book 4 (February 2, 2018)
- “Adramelech” (4,200 words), Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 3.
- “SWARM” (1,200 words), The Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF, Volume 4
- “Tunguska” (3,200 words), Kasma Magazine: 10 Years of SF! Volume 1.
- “The Decision” (3,800 words), Planetary: Mars.
- “Boomer Hunter” (2,700 words), Knee-Deep in Grit: Two Bloody Years of Grimdark Fiction.
- Making 2 professional-rate sales to Galaxy’s Edge Magazine and Vastarien.
- Selling a total of 9 short stories, including 6 new stories and 3 reprints.
- Selling 1 short story (“SWARM”) to Baen’s The Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF, Volume 4.
- Selling 1 short story (“The Godhead Grimoire”) to Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4.
- Receiving 2 more short story reviews for “The Godhead Grimoire” (Tangent and Featured Futures).
- Having a story (“Mukden”) appear on the Tangent Online 2017 Recommended Reading List.
- Pitching two anthologies to a publisher.
- Securing Alex Field as my agent.
- Appearing on Tor.com as one of the 150 “new” writers for readers’ consideration.
2018 Accomplishments vs. Objectives
While I certainly made some progress in 2018, 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 2018 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 7 short stories–3 stories short of the mark.
- Make at least 5 professional rate sales: I only made 2 professional sales.
- 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.
- Appear in a “Best of” anthology: A reprint of “The Godhead Grimoire” will be appearing in the Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4 and a reprint of “SWARM” appeared in Baen’s The Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF, Volume 4, so I definitely exceeded this objective.
- Sell my novel to a major publisher: I’m still working on this one, but making good progress.
- Complete my novel’s sequel: Made no progress on this.
- Outline a horror novel: Not only did I complete an outline, but I also finished a rough draft of an occult crime novel, which I am actively revising.
- Do at least one panel and/or podcast: This wasn’t for lack of trying, and my hope was that I’d be able to do one at World Con. Unfortunately, that event was a disorganized disaster so participating on a panel simply wasn’t in the cards.
- Do an author signing 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?
- Attend my first StokerCon in Providence, Rhode Island: Unfortunately, I decided not to make the trip given the high expense of lodging and travel.
- Attend my third Worldcon in San Jose, California. I’m sad to say that I wasted my money on what turned out to be an unfortunately highly and unnecessarily politicized event.
- Sell an anthology to a major publisher. I received one polite decline for one anthology, and haven’t received any responses on the other one.
- Take a screenwriting course at UCLA. I was accepted into the course, but started a new job at the same time that made it impossible to set aside time for it. So I ultimately decided not to enroll in the course.
- Publish my second short story collection. Of the twenty stories in the collection, I still have yet to sell the last two stories. I intend to publish it after I finish selling them.
As you can see, I’ve accomplished only 3 of my goals, am still on track to accomplish 1 of them, and have failed to hit the remaining 10. 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 2019 at the end of this post, but before I do that, I’d like to cover my annual writing statistics starting with my 2018 writing revenue.
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.
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.
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 has continued to decline–down 8% in 2017 and down 56% in 2018, though off a very high 2016 base. However, I already have a backlog for 2019 that publishers still owe me for stories I sold in 2018 equivalent to 44% of my 2018 sales. So I already have a robust start for 2019.
I also find consolation in the fact that I’m literally making money by conjuring stuff out of thin air.
Unfortunately, my revenue stream was far less diversified in 2018 than it was in 2017 with 99% of my revenue deriving from short stories vs. 72% in 2017. 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 58 short stories. By the end of 2018, I sold nearly two-thirds of them, and 31 have already been published. While a 65.5% hit rate seems pretty good on the surface, I’ve made an obscene number of submissions and have accumulated over 1,900 rejections to get there.
My production slowed to the lowest it’s been since 2013 with 7 stories produced in 2018 versus 10 in 2017, falling well short of my goal of writing 10 new short stories. My production fell precipitously in 2018 for three reasons. First, I wrote a rough draft of a novel. Second, I happened to join one of the fastest growing companies in history. Third, and most importantly, my wife gave birth to our fourth child, a son, in October 2018.
As I noted above, I sold 9 short stories this year, which is down 10% from my 2017 sales. However, to put that number into perspective, prior to 2016, I’d sold a total of 16 stories in my lifetime. More importantly, 2 of those 2018 sales were at professional rates, which is only slightly down from the 3 professional sales I made in 2017.
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 2018, though my output did decrease a bit from the prior year with acceptance rates nearly flat with 2016.
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 1,900 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 2,100 submissions to various publications to yield 46 sales for 38 original short stories out of a 58-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 2019, 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.
- Complete my horror novel.
- Sell my novel to a major publisher.
- Do at least one panel and/or podcast.
- Do an author signing at Between Books in my hometown.
- Publish my second short story collection.
There’s a lot on my plate for 2019, but I’m confident that if I continue plugging away, I’ll continue to make progress.
Here’s to a very productive 2019!