*HOW TO MAKE FIVE-GRAND IN YOUR SPARE TIME FROM WRITING*
An Essay by Lawrence Dagstine
This conversation always seems to come up whenever my name is made in passing in certain industry circles, regarding that “Prolific Hack” Lawrence R. Dagstine. This time it came via Facebook a few days ago by a person we’ll call Chubbs. Congratulations, Chubbs, you are now a character in my upcoming, racially provocative, cyberpunk novella, MAURICE AND THE URBANITES. All with good intentions, Chubbs; I won’t kill your character off. If there’s one thing I’m known for, it’s helping other writers find markets for their work. However, I think it is important that all housewives or househusbands, part-time tutors, teachers or students looking for extra cash, has-beens, wannabes, bohemians, panderers, starving artists, prose-driven lushes, pain-killer popping poet laureates, and yes, even young technical writers who need reminding pay heed. Or if you’re smart, can program yourself to type methodically, but find yourself currently unemployed. So let’s start this off right…
Hi, my name is Lawrence. I’m a hack writer who made roughly $5000.00 in 2009 from the written word. Cash. Mojo. Bling. And I’m going to show you too how to make this kind of money over a 365-day period; have checks and payments coming in regularly in this tough economy; samples on how to get writing gigs and become a fiction writing machine in your spare time, and the difference between quantity and quality (in my opinion). As a trench-writer since the late 90’s, with close to 400 magazine and webzine credits, and in this current market, this is how I perceive Quantity and Quality.
QUANTITY = The Possibility of Fast Money and Brief Popularity.
QUALITY = The Possibility of Immortality and Elegance of Prose.
Author’s Note: With the above, your mileage may vary. But both can exhibit a certain level of professionalism. I’ll also get to the novelist a bit more later on. Everything I put down here in the meantime is from firsthand experience, acceptances, years of observation, and generally whatever else worked for me concerning the written word.
I think everybody pretty much knows by now that I submit to a LOT of half-cent to three-cent per word paying markets. I often have a minimum of 20 to 40 different short stories and novelettes floating out there at any given time, and so should you; with reprints, once rights have reverted back to me, sometimes as many as 60 fiction markets. There’s one short that I’ve sold over seven, eight times already. These are often called “Trunk Stories”, stories which have already been published and are just sitting on your laptop, can be dusted off, and sold again after many years. And I’m not including small non-fiction gigs, which rely mainly on published clips, actual “print” periodicals, or through connections/recommendations one might have through freelancing or journalism. That’s a whole other ballgame. If you want to make some kind of extra cash with short stories, you need to write plenty of them! Like one or two per week, then build up a hefty folder over time. This is a must! It won’t be an overnight thing. Oh yeah, and expect to get a boatload of rejections. But I think every writer and his or her grandmother is aware that it comes with the territory.
At the same time, I truly believe that while the written word is the written word – by that, I mean whatever you manufacture from your keyboard – within short story writing and novel writing there exists two very different breeds of writer. Two very different thought process patterns between both of them. Even though, over time, it is essentially the hardworking novelist who will round up the most funds. One is taught to submit to nothing but the highest paying markets, because there is this invisible rule, and everybody should adhere to it. Because we should better ourselves. Start at the top, work your way down. Maybe go to Clarions or Borderlands or a similar writing workshop, and attend seminars where you can sit down with actual New York Times Bestselling Authors. Excellent philosophy. I’m for it one hundred percent! I’ve been told to submit to nothing but five-cent per word markets, otherwise throw your story away. I’ve had writers tell me five cents is an insult and submit to only seven-to-ten-cent per word paying markets. And there was the one old-schooler who said submit to only ten-cent markets (yeah, and out of the thousands upon thousands of genre writers, statistically we all know there’s a ton of those out there). I wouldn’t dare say keep that piece sitting in a drawer, especially if you believe in it. Submit it! Still, at the same time we can’t forget that some levels of writers do it for the sake of paying other bills, no matter how big or small that earning from writing may be: it might help you fill up your gas tank, it might help you afford air conditioning this summer, or even pay your mortgage or credit card. For some the opportunity is out there (on both levels); for some, not in a million years because they might not know what to do or how to go about freelancing or how to utilize reprints or how to get into the “Writing Habit”. Personally, I could give a damn about immortality. I live in the Here and Now, therefore I must eat, think, and survive in the Here and Now. That’s my philosophy.
Basically, have a secondary income coming in on a fairly repetitive basis. Checks and Paypal payments flying in every week to two weeks. The same way prolific novelists receive royalties by the quarter. Two very different breeds of writer, in my opinion.
On one particular day in September 2009, I opened up my email to find seven paying acceptances in ONE DAY – nothing big, nothing exorbitant – and I’m not a full-time writer. That’s my current record, by the way. In December 2009 I had another four paying acceptances in ONE DAY. That’s eleven paying short story acceptances right there. In only two days out of 365. Now, out of those eleven acceptances, who am I to say no to $25.00 checks, $50.00 checks, $75.00 checks, or even a $100.00 check, which might turn out to be a 2-cent per word story which just happens to equal a Benjamin Franklin? Especially if they’re rolling in constantly! Unless you’re already established, you never say no to Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin is your friend; Grant ain’t so bad either. A 2,000-word short story to a professional market equals the SAME hundred dollars. Not to mention I can probably name three or four other prolific short story writers who have me beat with the numbers above. And while Benjamin and Grant are your best friends, they can do more than just get your name and work out there. In this current market and economy it can pay for things.
Here’s another example from December 2009. The publication in the link below, which has been around eleven years, I often get acceptances from. I’ve even helped improve their exposure and circulation a bit. They pay me 1-cent per word for material. The two accepted stories in this particular entry, to be released this year, are 6,000 words in length each. That equals $120.00. Over a period of twelve months, it adds up.
This recent story acceptance below is fairly long. It took me one day to write this story. The creative juices were flowing. The check from it will pay for one gas bill. Still, if you want to pay more than one bill, you need to have at least 40 different short stories floating out there for you. When rejections come in, send the stories right back out.
Once again, that $5000.00 was from part-time writing, not full-time. This came from short fiction, short non-fiction, selling Dagstine mags and wares in Coney Island, small leads and gigs on places like Craigs List to resume writing (www.craigslist.com). Let’s throw in a little off the books proofreading for people advertising simple jobs from foreign-speaking countries (e.g., gigs I had for Denmark and The Philippines). You can charge these people a fee in the low hundreds just to edit their manuscripts or fill their technical and business writing needs. Always charge less than what the Writer’s Market suggests for these jobs; work with your clients, they’ll use you again or recommend you to others. That’s how resume writing fell into my lap. It doesn’t matter where you come from: if you understand English, have Internet access, and enjoy typing, anybody can do this… ANYBODY CAN DO THIS! So what if it isn’t entirely fiction? Now I’m building up an entirely different kind of portfolio in the process, something I would never have done or thought of, say, five years ago. I’ve written under such names as Lawrence Davis, Lawrence Roberts, Lawrence Hewitt, and in the science fiction arena, Lawrence Dagstine. The list goes on. I even wrote a porn story once under the name Nabudi Sun (this was for kicks). Plus, the freedom of this also gives me the time to write more genre fiction, which I enjoy and grew up on.
SAMPLE FOREIGN / FREELANCE LINK: http://manila.craigslist.com.ph/wri/
You ever see that show, DEAL OR NO DEAL? Hosted by Howie Mandel? He comes out on stage rocking his baldy, a woman with a silver briefcase hollering and screaming at his side. The audience is cheering on. The woman is given the option to pick briefcases and go for a six-figure win. Let’s pretend that the contestant is a writer, and that this game show scenario applies to writing. Very rarely do people get that six-figures; shit, some times they don’t even score five. Howie Mandel will call upstairs and one of the producers or whatever will make an offer. It might be $6,000, $8,000, or $10,000… Do yourself a favor, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN! Don’t wait around for a half-million dollars. Because, in traditional publishing, six-figures ain’t happening. $10,000, sure, why not. I can figure that. Pay your bills and have fun with your peers.
You know, when you think about it, $5000.00 equals an advance on some novels, which might take you a year to write and then an additional 18 months to be released. There’s no guarantee the book will sell, the agent you have will keep you or you will keep her, or that you’ll be the next big thing. Your book may sit on a shelf for what seems like an eternity, or be sent back for a refund. Or, in the end, have its cover torn off.
You have to remember, writing is a starving profession. Freelancing is quick cash. Thanks to it, I sell most of my works a minimum of three times each. Thanks to it I have heat and hot water, a full refrigerator, electricity and gas, copays on prescriptions covered, clothes on my back, toilet paper to wipe my ass, diapers on my kid’s behind, and all other bills and necessities besides a rent firmly paid.
But, I understand. Even though you realize that genre is a lottery, with one in every 10,000 to 20,000 truly making it BIG, you aspire to be that New York Times Bestselling writer. There’s nothing wrong with that. Dreaming big is a part of life. Sometimes those workshops or classes, however, are pricey. With round-trip airfare, hotel and food, you could be talking $2000 just to attend! Freelancing, in the fashion mentioned above, can PAY FOR THAT PROFESSIONAL WORKSHOP… It can help you afford these writing camps in what is a truly reserved economy.
In the end, it’s all about enjoying what you do. The storytelling aspect, and of course, entertaining your readers. Listen, you don’t have to stay in this little shell your whole life because some organization has it hammered out that way or because people have inferiority complexes (such as Chubbs). What good is a writer who ends up worm food from lack of finances? I think that at a certain point, you have to come out and set up your career the way you feel most comfortable with it. Remember, only you are responsible for your own destiny. Only you can carve out a niche for yourself, thus turning it into your own reality.
Until Next Time,