Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Long Haul -- by Larry D. Sweazy

Last week we covered writing for free—submitting to short story web sites that do not pay but provide exposure and the opportunity to build a following. While I’m still not sure of the value to writer for doing so, there are more alternatives on Internet.

As usual, the business model is much different from traditional print markets.

In the last few years programs like Amazon Shorts, Echelon Press, Fictionwise, and others have entered the Internet publishing scene. You can purchase a short story for a small sum of money, usually .49 cents or a dollar, and download it to your computer, print it off, etc.

From the writers standpoint, I think we need to examine what these programs have to offer.

First the money.

While the details of the above mentioned programs are different, they all share in one thing: They pay royalties from the first sale, some at 40%, some at 50%, but no up front payment.

At first glance this is not such a great thing for a writer.

In comparison, print markets pay a sum up front, but they rarely pay royalties. You’re not going to get paid 6 cents a word for a 5,000 word short story in the download markets—there will be no $300.00 check in the mail. If one story is downloaded, you’re likely to make between .25 cents and .50 cents, and most companies have a minimum, say $10.00, that you have to make before they cut you a check. To get a check for $10.00, you might have to sell fifty stories.

The print markets have a built in readership, and most of the download markets don’t (at least not to the degree as print markets do, like Ellery Queen)—the writer must promote him or herself with a little help from the Internet publisher. To make that $300.00, the writer is going have to accumulate well over a thousand downloads. That’s daunting for an unknown writer.

But…and here’s the BIG BUT, the print short story usually has one shot at finding a readership. A print story will run in one issue, and then poof, for most part, that story is history unless it gets picked up by an anthology or is resold. That’s rare.

The advantage, as I see it, to the download market is that the short story is always available, it won’t ever be out of print.

A little disclosure. I have four short stories on Amazon Shorts. That said, I had the opportunity to met Dan Slater this summer. Dan is the Director at Amazon Shorts. On top of being a really nice guy and wildly exuberant about publishing in general, Dan is passionate about the download market and the possibilities that await on the horizon. While discussing the “money side” of things, Dan said to me, “Look at it like this, while we don’t pay up front like traditional markets, what we do offer is an annuity.”

OK, I’m just as guilty as anybody when it comes to immediate gratification—I like the idea (and reality) of that $300.00 check for a short story sale. But I thought about what Dan said for a while, and it made sense. An annuity…something that pays over time indefinitely. That doesn’t sound too bad. It kind of sounds like a long bet, or another, albeit small, retirement account.

Nobody knows what the future holds. Again, the download stories are always available. Anything can happen…

So what happens when a new writer breaks out with a best seller and has short stories available at one of the download sites? Will that success generate short story sales? My guess is it will, or might—even if that story has been “posted” for a matter of years.

Or what happens when a writer has a signing or goes to a conference two years down the road and promotes their work--their electronic short stories? Will there be sales generated from that? The answer is yes. I’ve seen it happen with my stories.

Maybe a writer manages to sell 100 downloads a year for ten years, does that equal the dollar amount of a traditional market would pay? And does the publishing credit carry the same weight? What is the end result? Nobody knows. Yet.

I think the download sites are here to stay. They offer an opportunity. But it is a long haul opportunity, a part of the writer’s strategy to survive, grow, experiment, and generate money. How much? A lot of that is up to the writer…

As far as opportunities on the Internet go, I think these sites offer something in return, and should, at the very least, be considered as a possible, but not the only, outlet for a short story writer to explore. I still think a writer should try and break the traditional print markets first.

One more thing before I go. This year my short story, “See Also Murder”, was nominated for a Derringer award. It is available on Amazon Shorts. And my fellow western writer, Dusty Richards, won a Spur for his Amazon Short, “Comanche Moon”. I think these awards and nominations are the beginning of a wider acceptance of the download programs in the broader publishing world. That in itself should say something.

Next week I plan on wrapping up this discussion. We’ll look at print markets, and I’ll share some of my experiences as a short story writer…

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