As a writer I often get asked when I’m going to publish a novel. For many people that’s the big step forward, the symbol of legitimacy, like getting a record deal or a major gallery show. I’d love to say that I’ve been working on a novel but the truth is that I haven’t. I’ve got ideas and done some research and there’s a few chapters each of a couple of different things, but I haven’t finished a novel, no. What I’ve been doing is writing short stories.
There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s simply the route less glamorized. There are some award-winning writers who’re very well known for their short story collections (Ted Chiang, for instance). But in order to say that a bunch of short stories equals having written a novel – and, more importantly, having sold a novel – I’d have to publish, for money, a number of short stories whose word count equals an average novel.
Which in some ways is harder.
I went through my sales in the last 20 months, which is how long it’s been since my first paying sale in 2010, and here’s what I’ve got:
1. “Mitch’s Girl”, Rigor Amortis anthology, Oct 2010 (1100 words)
2. “Call Center Blues”, Daily Science Fiction, Nov 2011 (861 words)
3. “Monsters, Monsters, Everywhere,” Crossed Genres Magazine, Dec 2011 (3625 words)
4. “Dancers in the Dust”, Goldfish Grimm, Mar 2012 (1475 words)
5. “CL3ANS3”, Eldritch Chrome anthology, due out Fall 2012 (4230 words)
Total: 12,361 words
I’m only counting the stories I sold for actual cash money. There are other sales in the last year + that were not to paying markets, including a personal favorite, Annabelle Tree, which I donated to a charity anthology. I’m also not counting the two stories (equaling about 9000 words) that I have out to markets which have contacted me to say that they’re likely to buy them. I don’t know for sure, so they’re not going on the list.
Still, five paying sales in less than two years is pretty good for a new author. I got a pro-rate sale in there (which got me an SFWA membership) and another that sold for nearly $200. But look at how many individual sales that is. At this rate I’ll need to sell 30 to 40 different stories in order to make up that 80,000 word average novel length. I have to sell EIGHT TIMES what I’ve already sold. This means working with another 30 editors, submitting to at least another 30 markets (and getting accepted), waiting for contracts and edits and delays. All of that is why selling a collection’s worth of short stories can be harder than selling a novel once.
At least now I have a goal. I don’t have to feel bad that I haven’t written and sold a novel yet, because I’ve already sold an 1/8th of one. The hardest part is the beginning, right?