Apparently I became a freelance writer this year. In one way, I’ve been one for years, but in another, more important way, this is the first year I’ve made anything even close to a living from writing or regularly sought writing-related work. I don’t know precisely what I’m doing with this recap of 2011–mostly I’m recording what happened for myself, both for future reference and to help set goals for 2012–and it seems like a list of accomplishments could very quickly turn self-congratulatory. In that case, bear in mind my accomplishments for 2011 also included several dozen rejection letters, more than one unflattering review, and most importantly of all, remaining desperately poor. It was not an unbridled success. In fact, many bridles were involved. I’ve got so many bridles here I should probably pack in the whole writing thing and open a bridle shop instead.

That said, in 2011, I:

* Wrote 220,000 new words of fiction

* Finished 10 short stories

* Finished 2 novellas

* Finished 1 novel

* Began another novel, first draft approximately 1/3 – 1/4 complete

Funnily enough, this met almost exactly half of my extremely ambitious goals I set out near the start of 2011. Those were honestly so lofty (20 short stories, 4 novellas, 2 novels, 400,000 words total) that reaching just over half of that still feels pretty damn good. Also, I:

* Sold 5 short stories (not all written this year) to AE, Fantastique Unfettered, Sorcerous Signals, Fusion Fragment, and wrapped up the year with a second sale to AE.

I’m really happy to appear in all these magazines, but that first sale to AE was particularly exciting. They’re a new pro-paying market, meaning I’ll be able to join the SFWA as soon as AE‘s been around long enough to qualify. They were (will be, technically) my first pro sale, which is one of those things that simultaneously means nothing and a whole hell of a lot: nothing in that nobody’s beating down my door yet, and if I stopped working now, no one on Earth would notice; but a whole hell of a lot in that it’s a big milestone, the sort of thing that lets me know I’m heading in the right direction. The money was nice, too.

The second sale to AE confirmed I’ve found an editor who likes what I’m up to. That’s always a tremendous boost, both for that “yay someone likes me” factor and because it means that, with the right kind of story, I’ve got a much better chance to find it a home. I had that previously with Reflection’s Edge and M-Brane SF, but with RE closed and M-Brane on hiatus, Fantastique Unfettered is probably the only place I had left where my name would mean anything to the editor. That guarantees nothing–you still have to write a good story–but if they’ve liked your work in the past, they’re (probably) much more likely to like it in the future, too.

On the other end of publishing, I jumped into the epub/self-publishing/indie author world in 2011, finishing the year with 2 novels, 2 novellas, and 3 story collections up for sale at just about everywhere ebooks are sold. I wouldn’t call it a smashing success–I’ve sold maybe 400-500 books and given away some 1000 copies of the novellas–but it’s resulted in a few hundred bucks I wouldn’t have had otherwise and mostly favorable reviews.

I could write several thousand words on this whole experience, but I need to drive the breadwinner to work in a few minutes, so instead I’ll say it’s been somewhat frustrating but mostly fun, that I’ve learned a ton, that I plan to keep doing it, and that I don’t really know where to go from here. I plan to keep submitting to traditional agents/editors; that world is far, far from dead. But I’m hoping my other work snowballs enough so that, by this time next year, my income from it is a good chunk of the monthly totals rather than a fraction.

Oh, and I will say this about self-publishing: royalties are so, so awesome. It is nothing short of stupendous to be paid month after month for work I finished long ago. It’s intoxicating. I’m drunk on getting paid for stuff I already did! Even in my case, where it’s only $10 here and $15 there, it adds up. (Side note: for most people, one of the keys to success is getting your work placed with as many distributors as possible.) Obviously, this is not exclusive to the indie world. I hear traditional authors have heard of these “royalties” as well.

But this is the first time in my life I’ve gotten them, and it’s great. The economics of making a living writing fiction suddenly makes so much more sense. It isn’t really possible to make support-yourself cash writing short stories. For new authors and midlisters, novel advances are typically between $5000 and $30,000, which after taxes, the agent’s percentage, etc. is somewhere between half a year of grocery money and the upper fringe of the poverty line. Hello, caviar!

But if you can pull in $100-500 for a short story a few times a year, and pull in a modest advance every year or three, and supplement this with regular nonfiction gigs or the odd spec piece, and you can depend on a small but steady trickle of royalties on stuff you haven’t touched in months or years–put all that together, and you might just not die in the gutter. Even on the lower end, you can be a spouse/living-in-sinmate who isn’t a total piece of shit in the bringing home the bread department.

From where I’m sitting, that’s a heartening thought. Because as productive as 2011 was for me–as of sometime last year, I could think of myself as a “working professional” without feeling like (much of) a fake–there’s still a lot of road ahead.

And I suspect some of that road will be paved with nonfiction, and with metaphors like that, it’s a shock I could barely afford a trip to the dentist. But more on that–nonfiction, not dental work–in a later post.

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