What’s It Cost?


So my well died sometime in the night.

At least, I assume that’s what happened. We woke up this morning to discover that there was no water pressure. (Nope, the pipes aren’t frozen – it wasn’t that cold last night.) The guy is coming over later today to take a look. He had recommended that we fix something else a while back, and warned that if we didn’t fix the other thing, we’d likely see our well pump die sooner than expected. (It is 25 years old, so it was probably time for it to go anyway, but I digress…) Trouble was that in addition to fixing the thing, there are so many, many other things that demand my money. I need to replace the roof, and my front windows are in dreadful shape. My kitchen floor could use replacing, and the carpet in the great room is way beyond its last hurrahs. The main bath needs a new coat of paint and a new light fixture, and the back deck is holding together by the grace of God alone.

What does this all have to do with writing, some of you are asking? Well, there’s a joke that get batted around con panels like a beach ball at a rock concert, and that’s the joke that all the writers in the room are rich as Croesus. I guarantee, at least once at every con I’ve ever attended, the joke is made and the whole panel snickers. Because the vast majority of us are unable to make a living at this art we love.

It’s not for lack of trying, or hard work. In the last two weeks, I’ve written two outlines, started work on a contracted story, done research (out of real books, so no internet trap for me!), prepared and submitted a grant application, attended a con at which I spent my own money to push The Weird Wild West and Cinched in front of potential readers (have you bought your copies?) and completed another chapter of a novel that’s not under any contract. This is far more actual work than I do at the paycheck job I do five days a week. But the payment for all this work is still somewhere off in the distance (assuming it even arrives at all – remember that novel that’s not under contract? If it never sells…) I don’t know what else to do, though. Writing feeds my soul, and makes me feel accomplished. People seem to like to read the words in the order I put them, so there’s that, too. But until I write that one true magical thing, that one story that makes the world catch fire, the effort doesn’t seem to much matter, and that day-to-day paycheck job will continue to be necessary. The only way to increase my take-home is for me to write for any market that will send me a few bucks and hunt for opportunities that might be a good fit for me.

It’s not the fault of the paying short fiction markets. Some of them are offering decent money, so of course those are the ones who are being inundated with stories. The publishing houses will offer a reasonable advance, although not to very many people.  I have a lot of stories out in anthologies, but they just don’t sell well enough to make me more than a lunch out once every quarter, no matter how hard I push them in front of people. There’s no one specific problem, really. Online piracy, the fairly recent belief that no ebook should cost more than .99, the move by millennials away from paper books, a spate of new vanity presses masquerading as publishers and the market flooded with books by self-pubbed writers… there are a ton of reasons why writers can’t live on their art alone. It’s a real shame that art is no longer a viable profession, not the way it once was.

I suppose you were hoping you’d get to this point and find that I had a bright spark of wisdom to offer, but honestly, I’m as lost as everyone else. The last payment I received for my writing was a $25 check for a reprinted story that’s coming out in an anthology soon. Trust me, I was thrilled to see it arrive.  These days, we have to take what we can get, until that fabulous day when something we create hits the market’s nerve just right.

In the meantime, I’ll sit here at my desk, writing more pages, wondering what’s going to go wrong next on my house and waiting on the guy to come tell me how much my well is going to cost. One novel’s worth? Six short stories? Who can guess?


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