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, Joe Abercrombie, and Rahul Kanakia provide fairly comprehensive years in review that cover what they published in 2018/2019. In 2016, 2017, and 2018, 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 2019.
Key 2019 Accomplishments
From a writing perspective, 2019 was an average year and the ninth year I’ve made a concerted effort to generate income from my writing. During 2019, I accomplished the following:
- 7 of my stories appearing in print, on the web, on ebook, or in audio for the first time, including:
- “Murder and Mayhem“, Mythic Magazine, Issue #8 (Founders House Publishing LLC: January 2019)
- “Hellhold” Galaxy’s Edge, Issue #37 (Arc Manor / Phoenix Pick: March 2019
- “The Red Oleander Murders“, Abyss & Apex, Issue #71 (July 1, 2019)
- “We Who Flee the Sun“, Galaxy’s Edge, Issue #40 (Arc Manor / Phoenix Pick: September 2019)
- “The White“, Tell-Tale Press, (October 1, 2019)
- “Radix Malorum”, Vastarien, Vol. 2, Issue 3 (Grimscribe Press: Fall 2019)
- “Serpent’s Wall”, Curiosities, Issue #6 (December 2019)
- 2 of my reprints appearing in print, on the web, on ebook, or in audio, including:
- “The Godhead Grimoire” (3,800 words), Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4.
- “Mukden” (5,000 words), Tales for the Camp Fire: A Charity Anthology Benefitting Wildfire Relief
- Making 1 professional-rate sale to Galaxy’s Edge Magazine.
- Selling a total of 5 short stories, including 4 new stories and 1 reprint.
- Receiving 6 more short story reviews for “Hellhold” (Tangent and SFRevu), “We Who Flee the Sun” (Tangent and SFRevu), “Radix Malorum” (The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews), and “The Red Oleander Murders” (SFRevu).
- Completing my first anthology with Baen Books called Weird World War III, which should be coming out next fall.
- Moderating a panel on “Writing Beyond King and Colony” at Irish Worldcon with Joe Abercrombie, Brenda Clough, and Natasha Bardon.
2019 Accomplishments vs. Objectives
While I certainly made some progress in 2019, 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 2019 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 3 short stories–7 stories short of the mark.
- Make at least 5 professional rate sales: I only made 1 professional sale.
- Sell a story to one of the big three print publications: Analog, Asimov’s, and/or Fantasy and Science Fiction. Still no progress on this front, but I will keep up the good fight until I made a sale at one of these publications.
- Appear in a “Best of” anthology: No dice this year.
- Complete my horror novel: While I completed a second draft of an occult detective novel this year, I don’t think it is quite ready for prime time yet.
- Sell my novel to a major publisher: I’ve made zero progress on this in 2019.
- Do at least one panel and/or podcast: I moderated a panel on “Writing Beyond King and Colony” at Irish Worldcon with Joe Abercrombie, Brenda Clough, and Natasha Bardon.
- Do an author signing at Between Books in my hometown: Given everything going on this year, I hadn’t had a chance to go back east this year with enough time to organize a signing. I hope that Baen’s release of the Weird World War III will provide me with that opportunity.
- Publish my second short story collection: Of the twenty stories in the collection, I still have yet to sell the last story. I intend to publish this collection after I finish selling the final story.
As you can see, I’ve accomplished only 1 of my goals, am still on track to accomplish another one of them, and have failed to hit the remaining 7. 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 2020 at the end of this post, but before I do that, I’d like to cover my annual writing statistics starting with my 2019 writing revenue.
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, 2019 was actually the highest revenue year I’ve ever had. The majority of that revenue can be attributed to a portion of the advance from Baen for my upcoming 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 of earnings.
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 continued to decline–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. And I’m already starting 2020 with a robust backlog that publishers still owe me for stories and anthology work equivalent to 81% of my 2019 sales.
I also find consolation in the fact that I’m literally making money by conjuring stuff out of thin air.
My revenue stream was a bit more diversified in 2019 than it was in 2018 with only 20% of my revenue deriving from short stories vs. 99% in 2017. 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 61 short stories. By the end of 2019, I sold 42 or 69% of them, and 39 have already been published. While a 69% hit rate seems pretty impressive on the surface, I’ve sent out 2,275 submissions to publishers and have accumulated 2,055 rejections to get there.
My production slowed to the lowest it’s been since 2011 with 3 stories produced in 2019 versus 7 in 2018, falling far short of my goal of writing 10 new short stories in 2019. My production fell precipitously in 2019 for two reasons. First, I continue to work the fastest company to reach decacorn status in history, and second, I produced an anthology for Baen called Weird World War III, working with amazing authors like David Drake, John Langan, Nick Mamatas, Mike Resnick, Brad Torgersen, Martin Shoemaker, T.C. McCarthy, Sarah Hoyt, Alex Shvartsman, Eric James Stone, Deborah Wolf, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Erica Satifka, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Peter Wacks, C.L. Kagmi, Ville Meriläinen, Stephen Lawson, Dr. Xander Lostetter, and Marina Lostetter.
As I noted above, I sold 5 short stories this year, which is down 44% from my 2018 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 2019, I’d made another 41 sales, including 26 originals, 1 corporate sale, and 8 reprints. More importantly, 1 of those 2019 sales was at a professional rate. While that’s not very impressive, it’s important to note that I only wrote 3 new stories in 2019, 33% of which sold at a professional rate. Also, prior to 2016, I had only 1 professional sale; after 2015, I had 8.
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, but I had far fewer submissions, mostly because I had written only 3 new short stories.
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 2,000 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 nearly 2,300 submissions to various publications to yield a total of 51 sales for 42 original short stories out of a 61-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 2020, 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.
- Selling and producing a sequel anthology for Baen.
There’s a lot on my plate for 2020, but I’m confident that if I continue plugging away, I’ll continue to make progress.
Here’s to a very productive 2020!