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Yes, You Can Make Money Writing Fiction

by Patricia Fry

Many people doubt that anyone can make money as a writer. This belief is especially wide-spread among the fiction-writing community. The truth is that there is money to be made as a writer no matter the genre you choose. If you dream of making money writing fiction, follow the steps below to your very own pot of gold:

1: Change your mindset. The most common mistake that writers of any persuasion or genre make is becoming so attached to what one wants to write that one can't or won't bend. It is rare that you can make even a little spending money writing strictly what you want to write. If you hope to earn a living through your writing, you must begin to look at writing as a business rather than a creative outlet. It is time to step outside that comfy inspired writing zone and begin to write what others actually want to publish.

As an example, perhaps you love writing science fiction, but you notice that the higher paying markets are specialty magazines seeking more contemporary stories. Be willing to write a slice of life story for U.S. Catholic and earn a cool $150 or $300. Consider submitting a fiction piece featuring retirement for St. Anthony Messenger and collect $450.

Of course, you can still write science fiction. Earn a few bucks on the side and build your list of credits by submitting some of your stories to magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, or Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

2: Make sure you actually have a knack for writing fiction. Maybe writer is your name and fiction is your game, but do you have any talent? Do your stories possess all of the elements of good fiction? Have you actually tested your writing skill by entering your work in contests or seeking publication at sites or in magazines that are at least a little bit selective about what they publish? Maybe you can ask a professional editor of fiction or an acclaimed writer of fiction to review your work--just to see if it is worthy of publication. If not, then maybe some classes and a few writers' conferences are in order.

In the meantime, test your science fiction/horror writing through Web sites and online e-zines such as those listed at http://www.everywritersresource.com/horrormagazines.html. Locate general fiction writing sites and e-zines by doing a Google search.

Explore literary print magazines. While they generally don't pay much, most of them do publish fiction. There are over 100 literary magazines listed in Writer's Market.

3: Locate viable markets. In other words, start thinking like a businessman or woman. Do you subscribe to magazines that publish fiction? Scrutinize magazines that you find in the doctor's office as well as those on newsstands and online. Locate appropriate magazines using Writer's Market or the http://www.WritersMarket.com or http://www.WoodenHorsePub.com databases. Here are two directories that list magazines that use fiction:

When you locate a prospective magazine, visit their web site in search of their Submission Guidelines or Guidelines for Writers. Find submission guidelines...

By clicking on Submission Guidelines,
     or
By clicking on Contact Us
     or
By clicking on About Us
     or
By writing to the editor and requesting a copy.

Submission Guidelines will tell you:

  • Whether or not the editors accept submissions. Some magazines use staff writers only. Others accept submissions only during certain months.

  • What type of material they're seeking. Do they want short romance or adventure stories of 1,000 to 3,000 words or 10,000 word novellas?

  • The pay scale. Do they pay a flat fee or by the word--.01 cents/word or $1,000 per story?

  • What to include in your submission. Do they want to see a synopsis first or the complete manuscript? Do they want your credentials as a writer included in a cover letter?

  • Contact information. Always address your package to the appropriate editor. This information may be outdated at their Web site, so always double check by reviewing their magazine masthead. It's also okay to call and ask to whom your package or email attachment should be directed.

4: Go where the money is. Don't bypass magazines because you don't think they use fiction or they don't publish the type of fiction you want to write. You might be surprised at the number and variety of magazines that seek good fiction.

For example, Over the Back Fence (an Ohio regional magazine) pays $80 minimum for an 800-word humorous fiction piece. Many other primarily nonfiction magazines use occasional fiction pieces. Literary magazines also accept fiction. While they don't typically pay much, you could conceivably make enough take a Hawaiian vacation at the end of the year if you sold enough stories to enough magazines. Get writing gigs with higher paying literary magazines such as The Paris Review, Tin House and Zoetrope: All Story and you can fly to Paris for the weekend.

Consider writing things other than fiction while you're establishing yourself. Write nonfiction articles for magazines on some of your favorite topics: gardening, raising puggles, child-rearing, family finances or fitness, for example. This is also a good way to become acquainted with the magazine editors you'd like to work with. Add to your salary by writing ad copy and, if you're qualified, edit fiction works for clients, teach writing or develop a workshop to present locally.

5: Understand and respect the business of writing. When you find that magazine that pays the big bucks, get a copy of their guidelines for writers and follow them. If they want a 1,000-word inspirational fiction, do not send them a 3,000-word dark mystery. Laugh if you must, but this is one of the major mistakes that would-be writers make--not adhering to Submission Guidelines.

Always submit the absolute best manuscript possible. Don't expect the editor to fix your mistakes. The competition is not impossible to overcome, but it is fierce. You must present the most polished submission possible in the most professional way.

Some of the highest paying magazine markets, such as Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal are now requesting that writers submit fiction through an agent. While most literary agents will not represent writers of magazine articles and stories, a few will. Here's a site that lists 39 agents for fiction and short stories: http://www.writers.net/agents/topic/31/0

How much can you make?

If you can discipline yourself to write and if you're a fairly prolific writer, you have the potential to make some real money. But you'll most likely have to change your ways. Instead of writing something and then tossing it aside to go on to the next story, or endlessly changing the same story, you must actually complete it and submit it.

If you can write three short stories per week, for example, and place three new stories and three reprints with paying publications per month, there's the potential for you to make $1,500 to $2,000 (or more) per month. That's $18,000 to $24,000/year. Submit several of the older stories in your portfolio each month and perhaps you'll double this annual income. Here are some additional markets to help you get started:

Orion will pay as much as $800 for a good fiction piece with an environmental slant. Boundary Waters Journal pays $200 to $500 for articles relating to regional canoeing. Capper's pays up to $300 for fiction. Pockets will pay as much as $140 for a fiction with a moral lesson for children. Harper's Magazine pays from 50 cents to $1 per word.

Now, I don't want to hear any more excuses. No more complaining that you can't make any money with fiction. Use some of the 50 resources, ideas and markets listed here and you, too, can get paid for doing what you truly enjoy.

Copyright © 2009 Patricia Fry
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Patricia L. Fry has been writing for publication for over 30 years, having contributed hundreds of articles to about 250 different magazines and e-zines. She is the author of 25 books including A Writer's Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit and The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book (Matilija Press). For more inspiration, information and resources from Patricia Fry, follow her blog at http://www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog/.

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