One of the great challenges of writing is there are so many ways to get your writing out to the world and so few ways to get paid for it. I can, at no cost to myself except for surrendering my data, write a blog, post on facebook, tweet, insta, tumbl, or god knows what. Unlike in the past, if I want a print and bound book, there are companies that will do micro runs of your self-edited and self-formated book at a cost about twice what you would pay for a paperback on the shelf. Raw vanity publishing has never been easier.
At the same time, finding an audience in the sea of voices and getting paid has never been harder. The market place is flooded with well-educated people with MFAs, each scratching away at the great American novel or the next amazing short story. Pay is shrinking. Poetry markets not only don’t pay, some charge a fee to read your submission (the notable exception being the speculative poetry markets, which not only pay but will pay for reprints). Short fiction markets increasingly don’t pay professional rates and the pro-rate per word a person is not enough to live on. An alarming number of small and midsized publishers have gone out of business. Leaving midlevel novelists at the mercy of large publishing houses who are chasing the next blockbuster and guaranteed sales (in part because of the squeeze Amazon has put on pricing).
It isn’t all bad news, Amazon is part of what has made it easier than ever to get your work out there. Self-publishing (paying for an editor, cover designer, and marketing from your own pocket) has never been easier. Some writers have managed to find an audience, especially in ebooks. There are authors who make comfortable middle-class income self-publishing, especially in genre’s that traditional publishing has been reluctant to embrace.
The readers are out there. Millennials, who were raised on Harry Potter, read more than any other demographic. They read the same amount of literary work as Baby Boomers. And “whale” readers, readers who blow through book after book faster than any one writer could keep up, have expanded from Romance and Mystery into devouring almost anything they can get their hands on, facilitated in part by ebooks.
Podcasts, too, have exploded for short stories and serialized fiction.
Recently I opened my email expecting to find my usual rejections for pro-paying markets. As I said, there is a sea of voices and so few paying markets, pro-rate or demi-pro. What I found was an acceptance at pro-rate for a story very near and dear to my heart. I screamed. I screamed some more. I screamed so much I scared the cats. I called my friend, Marie Vibbert (an amazing science fiction writer) and screamed some more at her.
Could I be a writer if I was dependent on the pay? Heck no. The majority of writers have full-time “day” jobs, trust funds, or very supportive families. I’m lucky to have the latter. You might wonder why I write if earning a living is so hard. The answer is that scream. Knowing you are good enough to pass one of the gatekeepers to a larger audience. And that existential joy of knowing, if just this once, your work was more interesting than the thousands of other stories that flooded the editor’s and slush reader’s inboxes that month. I write because I love losing myself in the words, in the story. I publish for the squees.