Payment Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Put your Story Teller's Bowl out. Who knows what might fall in it?

Put your Storyteller’s Bowl out. Who knows what might fall in it?

So, you want to sell your writing?  No?  You don’t?  Wait… why not?

Oh, art, you say, and you don’t wish to sell out.  I see.  But see, where I come from compliments are easy – and cheap – but when people dig into their pocket and take the approximate price of a chicken or a six-pack of decent beer and lay it out for my novel, THEN I know I’m appreciated.


Writing – or any form of storytelling, really – is a two-way communication.  At least it is if it’s working right.  It might seem to you that you’re just standing on the corner, rattling off the story to an unresponsive audience, but if you’re doing it right, it’s just not that way.  (And realizing this was the difference between being an amateur and starting to sell my stories at pro level.)  That beautiful metaphor you just crafted with your amazing word skills goes for nothing if it doesn’t evoke a mood or a feeling in your reader.

It might seem to you that the ultimate product of the storyteller’s craft is the words that appear on the page of that are spoken out into the crowd.  This is not true.  The words are just the tools you use to bring your art about.  Calling them the product of your art would be like calling pastel sticks the product of the artist’s craft.  The result of the artist’s efforts with the pastel is a completed portrait or scene.  And the result of your craft with words is the emotions the reader/listener feels.  If you’re doing it right, you’ll evoke just the right emotions and take your reader on a ride through comedy or tragedy to catharsis and either an escape from the everyday or – ideally, though few of us attain it – a return to the everyday equipped with tools to face real life emotions in a new way.

When a traditional storyteller is doing this, it is not unusual to have a begging bowl at his or her feet.  The storyteller can tell how well the emotions are being invoked in the public by how fast that rain of coins hits the begging bowl.

He might be desperate, but chances are it's not for one of the books under your bed.

He might be desperate, but chances are it’s not for one of the books under your bed.

It’s roughly the same for the writer.  “Roughly” because other things come into the equation.  All things being equal, two storytellers of the same skill will be vastly differently paid if one of them is a master self-promoter and the other a wallflower.  And if you’re going traditional, then even more factors come in, including whom you sell to, what the status of the house or editor is, and how simpatico they find you and your beliefs — and therefore how much they are willing to lay out to promote you, with the bottom being a little two inch add in a trade magazine and the top being billboards on Times Square.

The one thing I can guarantee is that if you keep shoving the novels and stories you write under the bed or into the closet it’s unlikely you will sell at all.  Contrary to popular belief, there are very few psychic editors who will call you out of the blue and say, “I know you are a very good writer, so I want to buy your never submitted story for a million dollars.”  The readers who scour under every bed in the country for reading material and pay for what they find are even rarer.  (No, that stranger at the door who says he wants to get into your bedroom is not an avid reader in search of reading material.  Sorry.)

So, give it a try.  Submit your work.  Or at least put it up for sale in one of the resellers.

In those dark nights, when you lie in bed going “I’m not a real writer,” knowing you’re making some money – one of my friends is making $12 a month, roughly, from a single short story – is as good a way to reassure you as any I know.

There are things I won't do for you.  This is not one of them.  Submitting novels to traditional publishers other than Baen is.

There are things I won’t do for you. This is not one of them. Submitting novels to traditional publishers.

So, let’s assume you want to sell your writing (I will try in passing to make some comments about selling your art as well, but as this is not my métier, I’ll try to bring in someone who knows better.)

How do you go about it?

As far as I know there are two main channels: traditional and indie.

Traditional covers the spectrum of all “professionally published” books and magazines, from the big five in New York City, to – in my field – places like Analog and Asimov’s.

I will show you how to go about submitting to those, but I will not – sorry, guys, not for love and not for money – submit a novel to the big five.  I work right now with the only house I can tolerate, Baen Books.  Baen Books is distributed by Simon &  Schuster, but is a more or less independent house and frankly is like family.  I will write for them as long as they will take me.  But since they know me at this point, my submission process with them includes either writing the novel and flinging it their way (as I did with A Few Good Men) or calling my publisher and saying “the next novel is about—”

This is not how a newbie would submit.  I will not go through the process, but I’ll outline for you how to submit to both Baen and the Big Five.  I’ll also tell you why I won’t do it, but that’s my personal opinion and your decision might vary, because I simply am not where you are.  There is also a difference on whether you’re publishing fiction or non-fiction.  I will try to do some mini-interviews with people doing things I know little about.  Whether those interviews will be part of this series or added to it depends not just on my schedule but on the schedule of the other people involved.  I’ve been meaning to bring you interviews from people going indie and traditional anyway, so you could make sane decisions about how to approach the writing thing or — if you’re “just” readers — on how to view the state of publishing.

Never worry your pretty head about it. Just sit back and relax.  I have it all under control.  Really.

Never worry your pretty head about it. Just sit back and relax. I have it all under control. Really.

Still, the magazines hit a different public, and I’ve been meaning to resume submitting anyway.  I might as well do it to show you the way, since those of you who are new (or even away from the process for a long time) aren’t likely to get invitations to closed anthologies.  (And if you do, it might be a good idea to run fast in the other direction.  Two things to remember: money flows to the author, preferably up front.  And never give away your copyright.  Never, ever, ever.)

Then there is indie.  This is a broad spectrum that covers small press, micro press and self-publishing of one form or another.  As part of this, I hope to explore some of the new alternatives coming up, such as Liberty Island.  I will also cover how to get your work to look professional if you’re going it on your own, how to establish accounts in the various sales venues, the pros and cons of sales venues and other mysteries of the initiated.

This will of necessity include a brief post on covers, probably using someone else’s covers, since I’m still learning and it’s a tough learning curve.  (Oh, all right.  I’ll put some of mine up too, so you can laugh a little.)

All this will be done against the background of trying to get a couple of contracted novels finished and putting up my backlist, which should provide enough illustration of “what Sarah is doing wrong” for anyone’s taste.

By the end of the thirteen weeks, you might not be an expert in this stuff, but you should at least know where to look to start sending your writing out/putting your writing up and not look like a total amateur.


Fasten your seat belts.  To get all this done in 13 weeks, it will be a wild ride.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.1- © Linn Currie    2- Marcos Calvo Mesa  © 3-©JSlavy   4- © Nikita Starichenko


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