Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Will Write No More Stories

No, I'm not quitting.


But I'm not sure how to approach short stories anymore. Not the writing of them, but the sharing of them with readers.

I took a good, long look over my records the other day. I've had seven stories published, as per contract, for which I was never paid. Granted, the total lost pay lands just over $100...

But I signed contracts, right?

Seven stories (an unlucky number?) under contract were never published. Combined, these "stolen" stories and orphans represent about 10% of my published/accepted work. Wait--10% is a pretty big chunk, right?


Several markets have closed in the past six months to a year. I know short stories are not profitable for publishers. Are they profitable for authors? Not really--not in terms of dollars and cents. Even my biggest paydays, two "professional" sales, averaged only a few dollars per hour spent honing those tales. I can schelp lumber for customers at the local Home Depot for much more and get a workout to boot. Money isn't why I write, of course.*

It sours me on shorts a little. 10%. 10%

I'm in "novel" mode now, and that's okay. Thanks to a long weekend away from home and a Phillip K. Dick novel, I now have another novel idea and I'm itching to write.

But I cut my teeth on short stories. I love them, so I won't be saying goodbye.

At least I don't think so...

What the h#ll does "cutting one's teeth" mean, anyway?

*I do it for the free pizza.


Cate Gardner said...

Don't frighten me, dude. I go away for a couple of weeks and that blog title is the first I read. Evil, just evil.

It's awful that so many contracts haven't been honoured. If I kept better records, I'd probably find a few I haven't been paid for as well. Although, I like to think short stories can pay in other ways. If someone really likes a story, they may (and possibly already have)be tempted to buy one of your books. Each new story is a possibility.

Although your being in novel mode is good news indeed (and I still need to read Borrowed Saints - I'm in 'I hate my Kindle' mode and your poor book is paying)

Martin Rose said...

It's funny that you post this; I put short stories on hiatus so I could concentrate on novels and haven't been able to switch back into short story mode since -- and I feel guilty because of it. And then I think about the very things you just stated above. And then I think about all the rejections, all the waiting, all the formatting, all the cover letters . . . such a huge time suck for so little return on an investment.

Daniel Powell said...

Hi Aaron,

Great post. I don't know what to think about that, but I'll tell you that I'm owed some dough and I'm not sure whether it's coming or not.

I've only written two (2!) short stories this year, I think partly for this reason as well. I love the form, and I feel it keeps me sharp and the stories are fun.

I won't quit.

But it's a bit of a slog completing the circuit, getting the confirmation of publication, and then getting blown off.

Maybe some of us readers/writers dropping by here need to compile our own anthology and pay each other each twenty bones (enough for a few pints, or a round of golf) and then split profits, just to get something done that is honored...


James Everington said...

Noooo...! We need more good short story writers, not less!

Or, to react more appropriately - that's cool, go wherever your talent takes you.

I wish I had the choice, but everything I do seems to want to be a short story. Ah well, you can only piss with the dick God gave you.

Tammy Salyer said...

It totally agree with the fact that short stories have almost no return on investment (in the short-term financial sense), but they are certainly such a labor of love! Besides the excellent points others have made in the comments, short stories are also really good for critique groups--both as the critiquer and critiquee. They're much easier to get through in one session, and still gives us as authors plenty to think about and use for refining our craft. Also, when you're rich and famous you can put out your own short story collection that everyone will buy!

Great blog, Aaron. Cheers!

Aaron Polson said...

Welcome back, Cate! I was just trying to grab your attention. It worked. ;)

Martin - I know shorts helped me learn "the craft"; I worry it was simply the craft of writing shorts.

Daniel - I won't (quit) either. Keep fighting the good fight--you'll certainly run into more happy readers.

James - True. Speaking of...

Tammy - Thanks for stopping by--they've been a wonderful labor of love. I may have stopped writing altogether if it hadn't been for short stories.

Danielle Birch said...

Have put myself in novel mode for the rest of the year, having sent off the short stories I'd intended to submit. That doesn't mean of course that another short story won't sneak up on me.

I fully understand where you're coming from. It sucks not to be paid for your work and although you'll gather praise and recognition for your work, it's nice to also receive that payment too, and frankly, it's a bit shitty when you don't.

Katey said...

You know, I love reading short stories. But I don't love writing them. I love writing them when they COME, but they don't really come that often. I'm kinda resigned to it, and try and grab 'em by the throat when I can to make up for it.

But I guess we gotta do what we feel, no matter what turned us on or off, right?

Anonymous said...

Short stories are a great way to exercise your writing muscles but you're right about the monetary return for the hours invested.

It's a shame that the market for short fiction is a shadow of what it once was and that stories are not profitable for publishers anymore. Nevertheless, short fiction is great for making a name for yourself despite novels being the more (potentially) profitable route.

Unknown said...

You make a really good point about the short fiction markets, as I've seen quite a few die right out from under me, like my stories carry a hex.

Maybe I too need to concentrate more on the longer works and quit pulling my hair out.

Anthony Rapino said...

Yes, yes, yes. I've had markets die right after accepting my stories, though I don't *think* I've ever been stiffed. Still, making money selling shorts is near impossible.

What PKD novel are you reading?

K.C. Shaw said...

I've had to chase a few editors and gnaw at them until they coughed up my money. It's more trouble than it's worth. I wish I could write more short stories, but I'm definitely a novelist and the short ideas are in short supply. (Ha ha ha, I slay myself.)

I'm glad you're still writing novels. I prefer to read those anyway. :)

Doug Murano said...

I believe "cutting teeth" means, literally, when a young person's (or dog's, horse's, etc.) baby teeth cut through the gums. That's one of the reasons why puppies and toddlers love to chew on things. Helps the teeth come in.

Simon Kewin said...

Yeah, I'm familiar with what you describe. What you say makes a lot of sense. I do love short stories, but novels are really where it's at.

Deborah Walker said...

Yep, it's true. Non-payment has happened to me so many time, that I daren't tot it up.

Yet . . . I can't let the short stories go.

Amanda C. Davis said...

I must be luckier; I only lost 8% of my earnings in 2009 to folding/nonpayment, 6.5% in 2010, and, well, 2011 is only 29% paid up, but I'm hopeful! Also, I am a huge statistics nerd.