Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Short Story Decisions

Like most writers, I started out by creating short stories. I actually started writing them when I was eight years old and continued to pen them for all the rest of my life to this day. It's a rare week that I don't at least have an idea for a short story (both good ideas and crappy ones) and feel compelled to jot down those ideas and scribble out a plot.

Sometimes my stories make me feel good enough about them that I'll send them out to seek publication. And sometimes those manuscripts will knock on an editor's door and find acceptance and then even see the light of print.

There are all sorts of places where a writer can sell a story. Professional magazines. Semi-professional publications. Websites. Anthologies. I tend to prefer anthology sales because I've been paid the most money there. And, at heart, I'm a capitalist and I like to make money from the sweat of my brow.

However, there have been a  few times when I have let flattery and ego get the best of me and had sold stories to markets that I later wished I had not. And these have all been to anthologies. Sell to a magazine and the publication is there one day and then gone in a month or two. You get paid, you see it in print, you have a copy for your shelf. The same is true with an anthology. However, anthologies stay around a very long time. They stay in print for years sometimes and will continue to generate buzz of one type or another. This is good if you have some kind of royalty deal tied up in your contract. But if not...

There have been two distinct occasions in my career when I have sold short stories and then never seen another dime from the fiction even though the anthology stayed in print and continued to sell. In one case I was fairly offered a fee with no royalties and for some reason (it must have been ego) I took the editor up on the deal and delivered an excellent story that generated much good will for me, but which never earned me another dime. This despite the fact that the anthology remains in print and sells steadily. I actually hate seeing it sell because I know that I'll never receive another dime for it. My bad.

The other case where I sold a story that has gotten me a fair amount of praise is one in which the anthology stays in print and must be a steady seller for the publisher. However, I have never received a single penny in royalties. The editor (who is still alive by all counts) went to ground and never has coughed up a penny to me of the royalties that I am told he receives from the publisher. The publisher apparently has no obligation to me and has never returned any request for information as to sales or the whereabouts of the editor. Alas.

The conclusion for me has been to be careful when selling a story to any market. On the one hand I know never to sell a story again for a flat fee. I'll never do that again (unless it's for a truly giant wad of cash). And the other is to try my best to steer clear of dodgy editors. That one is just mainly going to be luck of the draw, but I will do my utmost to do my homework where that is concerned.

"Beware ye Editor."

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