Sunday, August 5, 2007

Writing for Free -- by Larry D. Sweazy

Over the last 4 weeks I’ve been talking about short stories on the Internet. I have purposefully ignored the opportunities in print because I’m interested in this “new Internet world” that writers now have the opportunity to publish in.

Sadly, most of the short story web sites on the Internet do not present writers the opportunity to get paid in cold, hard cash. And even if they do, it is not enough to sustain a livelihood.

I stumbled across some information recently that makes an interesting point. Robert Heinlein started publishing short stories in the 1930s. He was paid $70.00 for his first short story sale. Even by the Internet standards of today that’s not bad. A lot of writers would jump at the chance to make seventy bucks by publishing a short story on the Internet. But wait, figure in inflation, do a calculation of the CPI (consumer price index), and that $70.00 translates into over a $1000.00 in today’s money. A grand. For a short story. That’s almost unheard of when publishing on the Internet.

The question is this: Would Heinlein have continued writing if he wasn’t going to get paid for it? He had to put food on the table, just like the rest of us. And like the rest of us, he only had so much time and energy. He wanted to be a writer, there wasn’t time for hobbies.

The world would be a sad place without Stranger in a Stranger Land on the library shelves.

I can’t answer the question I just asked, because Heinlein didn’t have to make that choice. But we do.

We can give ourselves away for free.

We can hope we gain a following. That someone will notice our talent. But really, how often is that likely to happen? Not to say that it hasn’t, because it has happened, and it will happen again. But it’s rare that someone makes a “name” for themselves by giving away their work.

You can look at the free web sites like the old small press days before the Internet. It can be a great training ground. You can learn how to deal with rejection, how to work with an editor. You can build up a list of credits. Which leads to even more questions.

An agent rarely represents short stories, and if you’ve written a novel, do the Internet credits really help?

I think the credits are looked at suspiciously. Most traditional editors assume that there isn't any kind of editorial process on the free web sites. They’re right about some, wrong about others. What’s gong to help get that novel published is good writing and professionalism.

So can the free web sites help? Depends on your goal. I tell most people who starting out not to worry so much about being published—instead, they should worry about becoming better writers. Accomplish that, and the publishing part will take care of itself if you’re persistent and professional.

If publishing on a free short story web site will make you a better writer…then it is part of YOUR process. Part of the new process that I have yet to fully grasp. Free web sites serve a purpose. There are some that are pretty damn good. And I’m sure the editors would like to pay their writers, but they don’t have the funds. Until that changes, I think it is questionable what a free web site does for one’s career.

That’s just my opinion. I’m not judging. I’m just asking questions. Seeking answers like everyone else. I don’t claim to know the answers about the Internet and how it will affect a single person’s career. Or dream. They’re all different. One size doesn’t fit all.

Me? I’d like to be paid for my work. I’m a storyteller. I’ve written most all of my life. Worked hard at becoming a professional writer. Put in a lot of time. Just like a plumber dedicates himself/herself to being a plumber so they can make living, I’d like to make a living as a writer.

A lot of people will tell you that its not possible to make a living as a writer these days. Maybe they’re right. But when someone tells me I can’t, I just try harder. I think anything is possible. There are writers making a living by practicing their craft. Why can’t I? Why can’t you?

If you’re going to give your work away for free, then try the top markets first. Work your way down. Publishing is one of the few places where there is equal ground at the top and at the bottom. Receiving a rejection slip from Ellery Queen takes the same amount of effort as a rejection slip from a free web site.

You never know. You just never know. Someone may actually be willing to pay you for your writing.

Shouldn’t you expect that in the first place?

Next week I’ll talk about programs like Amazon Shorts that pay over the long haul instead of up front.


Anonymous said...

Echelon Press loves short stories. We do publish them in eBook and we do pay 50% royalties.

Larry D. Sweazy said...

I plan on covering Echelon Press next week along with Amazon Shorts and a few others...glad you've been
following the posts.