Operation: Your First Motherfucking Sale
(Why an image of cash and bullets? I dunno. Maybe I like the connotation. Writing is a grimy, dirty career — internally violent, and good mostly only for a pocket of coins. It speaks to me. Shut up.)
So what the hell’s going on here, exactly?
I babble and gibber and preach a lot about writing and writing advice over in this space, and my yammering lurches drunkenly from the necessarily practical to the woefully abstract. All this chatter, geared toward writers of every experience level, is focused on writing as a career choice, as a craft — I have nothing against hobbyists, I have nothing against those who believe writing is held in the delicate and fickle hands of The Muse, I have no axe to grind against those who think that binding money to art is lower than a snake’s dick in a wheel rut.
I mean, sure, I think those latter two attitudes are bullshit, but I think a lot of things are bullshit. Doesn’t make me right. Just makes me cranky.
Me, I don’t think art and commerce need to be separate.
I think you have a way to get paid without sacrificing integrity.
I think we can continue to be ourselves and write what we want and still make a little scratch.
It’s time, writer types, to make a little scratch.
I’m Talking To You, Talented-Yet-Unsold Writer
It’s time to make your first sale.
The first sale cannot be undervalued. I’m moving, and thus packing, and as I’ve noted in other posts I continue to unearth My Writerly Past — and one of the things I happened to unearth was my first short story publication, a story called “Bourbon Street Lullaby” published in Not One Of Us magazine (#18). I got paid… man, I don’t even know how much I got paid for that. Not much. Less than fifteen bucks, I think. (Though the story also earned me a small writing grant from my college to the tune of $50 or so.) I still have the acceptance letter from editor John Benson, who was kind enough to help me workshop the story a little to get it into a shape befitting publication in his literary horror journal.
Even still, I think back to the thrill of it — someone paid me for this! — and what a revelation it was. A revelation that this thing I’d been thinking of as a potential career was no longer just a closeted dream. No, fifteen bucks is not a lot of scratch, but in college it was enough to go out and buy a not-so-terrible meal. Which further draws the correlation between “I Wrote This” and “It Has Fed Me.” Creates a direct throughline from writing to sustenance, which is a wonderful line to draw.
Now, to be clear, that means “first publication” may not be the same as “first sale.”
I’m not going to rehash old arguments about the value of your work, I’ll only say here that this post is not about that process. Giving your work away for free may help you, and I won’t tell you not to do it if that’s what gives you the giggling shits. But free won’t put food in your mouth, free won’t offer that same boost of nipple-tickling confidence you get from someone writing you a check for your work.
This is about selling something.
Your first sale.
That is the mission, if you choose to accept it.
You Begin By Writing — Maybe
Obviously, the goal of the writer is to write, but the goal of the writer who would very much like to pay her rent thank you please is to write and get paid to do so.
This requires consideration beyond merely putting words to page.
It means finding a target market.
This is not absolutely necessary, but it is perhaps the most practical way to begin: you find a market to which you wish to submit, and then you write for that market. You read the site, the blog, the journal, the zine, the mag, whatever it is, and you tailor a story to go there. Or, you at least say, “Hey, look at all these hard sci-fi markets — I will now write something that will hopefully work for that market and its publications.” In other words, identify the bullseye before you loose the arrow.
Again, it’s not absolutely necessary. Trust me, I’ve written plenty of stories without first considering the market. Though, I’ll also note that most of those stories went unpublished because once I was done, I didn’t really know where they belonged. You do what feels best.
Whither Where Markets Who Now What Face?
It helps if you know where to look for potential writing / literary markets.
Here’s a short list, but not necessarily comprehensive. If you fine feathered tmeeps in the audience have other avenues, please post ‘em in the comments? Thankee, sai.
Those are market listings.
You may or may not follow my process when running through markets — I aim high at first, floating the story in all the appropriate top dollar markets. Then when I’ve exhausted those possibilities I go to the next tier, semi-pro. I don’t ever drop to the “for the love” markets if they don’t pay — again, you can if you want, no harm, no foul, but going that way is not what I’m talking about in this “first sale” situation.
Now, Write Something That Does Not Suck
You do, after all, have to write a story.
And yes, this is about writing a short story. A lot of writers make their first sale a novel sale, or a freelance sale, or an article or a porn critique or a poem or whatever. I can’t speak to that, and I’m offering only one path to the gilded glory of “Paycheck From Wordsmithy.” And, no, writing short fiction is not the way toward a steady paycheck, or even a good paycheck. If you earn a respectable five cents a word on a 3,000 word short story, you’re up $150 bucks.
Sure, if that short story took you three hours, it’s not a bad hourly rate (yeah, I calculate approximate hourly value of my writing, if that makes me a whore, so be it) — but, if that story took you eight hours, or 12 hours, then ehhhh. The return isn’t as impressive, no. But that’s okay. We’re not talking career-changers. We’re not talking “I can quit the day job!” money.
We’re talking ego boost. Confidence-builder. A little scratch in the ol’ pockety-pocket.
What I’m Bringing To The Table
First, let this post, and terribleminds in general, be a place to talk about the process — the rejections, the waiting, the triumphs, the whisky, the self-doubt, the ecstasy, the pornography.
Second, while I’m loathe to create anything as official as a “writer’s group,” I am happy that a lot of writer-types hang around these dank halls and moldy pass-throughs. That means that herein lies a potential community waiting to be exploited embraced. So, anybody who formally commits to this process here, hey, maybe you’ll find someone willing to read your story and offer some criticism. Further, maybe you’ll be interested in doing the same for someone else.
A quick caveat: do not go posting this story of yours online anywhere. That can count against you — a lot of publications want first rights, and you go popping the story up on a blog and that means they could theoretically pooh-pooh the publication of said story. No need to poison your chances.
Third, I’ll offer up my eyeballs for a few stories. I’m busy with writing work and packing/moving right now, so I promise nothing in terms of timeliness or thorough critiques — but, I can read a handful of 3k-word short stories and offer a couple-few comments. Don’t rely on me, and certainly don’t think I’m a reliable authority on much. But I’ll help where I can.
What You Bring To The Table
You bring a commitment to, if someone reads your work, you’ll read theirs.
You bring a commitment to honesty. You read somebody’s work, they may think they want a yes man, but that doesn’t help anybody. Fair, honest, constructive critiques. Not harsh, but forthright.
You bring the words.
You bring the work.
You bring a commitment to rock this shit.
You In, Penmonkeys?
I don’t blame you if you’re not up for it — getting a short story published is a pain in the nuts. Aggravating, at points. But, if the end result is the ability to say, “Hey, look — some money in my hand and the cherry busted on my publication list,” then that’s a winner-winner-chicken-dinner, you ask me.
Plus, it justifies what you do.
Writers know that you have to do a lot of convincing of the people in your life — “Hey, this writer thing is good stuff. It’s worth me asking you to take the kids for an hour, it’s worth me not meeting you for lunch because I have to work, it’s worth me shelling out a little green to go to this writer’s conference.” You actually manifest a paycheck, however small, then it shuts up the naysayers.
And for you, it opens a door.
Inside and out.
So. Who’s up for their first sale? Gotta start somewhere, right?
(And anybody who’s already sold writing shouldn’t feel like they can’t hop in this process, too, playing Operating: My Fifth Goddamn Sale or whatever.)