I’ve been getting paid as a writer my whole career, but in an entirely different sector. I was a freelance business writer for better than twenty years – speeches, articles, newsletters, books, ads, brochures, web copy after Al Gore went and invented the internet. If your company wanted to shell out dough for copy, I was your guy. And like most pen jockeys in that little jungle, I ended up specializing – I worked mostly with accounting and law firms. And I didn’t give away nothing – not to nobody, not ever. Hell, best payday I ever had on a per-word basis was for a tagline. Five words, better than two grand. Of course, that was after a handful of meetings, a couple focus groups and a put-your-tie-on dog-and-pony show to sell it to the bigwigs.
Know what used to piss me off? No barrier to entry. Any twit with a pen could hang out a shingle and say they were a freelancer. And they did, every damn week, it seems. Sometimes, they’d call me up – some friend of theirs would give them my number and they ring looking for advice. They’d ask for contacts. And I would tell every one of them the same thing – my goal, from the moment they went to Kinko’s and ginned up their first business card, was to shut them down, especially if they wandered into my professional services patch. These were my clients, this was my market, their checks put shoes on my youngins feet. Try to take those away and I’m gonna gut you like a fish.
So pay the writer? Hell yes, I get it.
Then I did this fiction thing. I’ve been reading crime fiction my whole life, always loved it, always thought maybe I could do that if I set my mind to it. So a few years back, I did. Wrote me a novel, sent it off to the agents of the world. That was a humbling experience, because out of the ninety some queries I sent out, only twenty something even asked for pages. Of those, only thirteen actually asked for the whole book, and out of those, only three even wanted to talk to me. Fortunately, one of those was Stacia Decker.
And that’s when my fiction writing business education began. I’d never heard of Bouchercon or Noircon or any of these cons. I wasn’t following anybody’s blog, or reading Thuglit or Plots with Guns or flash fiction. Hell, I read novels. Plenty of those out there. More than enough to eat up my available reading hours. And as I understand things, the novels are where the money is – the only place the money is. There are what? Two paying mystery magazines? And compared to what I could make doing a quick commercial freelance gig, they pay squat.
So, if I want to get paid in anything like a substantive manner, then Stacia’s got to get a publisher to bite on the novel. And then the novel has to sell. And the way things work nowadays, I gotta sell it. So the blogging? The tweeting? The Facebooking? The flash fiction? All of that is networking. All of that is plowing the field in the off chance I ever have an actual published novel to plant.
Ironically, that involves writing. But what does a flash fiction piece take? A couple hours, once you’ve got the idea? That’s a marketing cost. This blog post? A marketing cost. Investment, actually would be a better word. Even Chuck “Pay the Writer” Wendig spends whatever time it takes to knock out his daily blog posts, and those are free.
The industry is changing, and I’m just beginning to understand how it works now, so I won’t embarrass myself by trying to pontificate on where it’s going. But what I get so far is this. The bloggers, the reviewers, the zines (online or hardcopy) – they are the force multipliers. They are the outlets I will be counting on if I ever have a novel to sell because they provide the initial word of mouth that helps to sell it.
Write a novel for free? No fucking way. But, so far as fiction writing work goes, everything else I do is in service to my novels. If someone figures out a way to get paid for that, then cool. But it’s gotta be done.