Writer, editor, app developer and drinker of fine alcohol, Tom Dullemond is one of those guys who you meet online and assume that they can’t be as awesome in person as they are behind a computer – but when you meet them they prove that hypothesis wrong. Not only is Tom producing some fine work of his own, he also puts in a whole lot of time helping equip other writers, both through his website and through personal support and encouragement. In fact, Tom is so willing to help he gave me a choice of two great pieces – the only problem being I couldn’t pick which one was better, so I plan on running them both!
To start with, something I am sure any writer will find of great interest – a piece about money. Stay tuned in the next couple of weeks for another great article, but in the meantime – enjoy!
Submitting for fun and profit
In a recent post to his blog, Alan Baxter mentioned reading outside of your comfort zone, and recommended grabbing something outside the genres you’re normally working in, both to expose yourself to different writing styles and to learn a little bit about what makes other genres tick.
It’s great advice, and you’re not going to go wrong reading more broadly.
I’m going to propose something similar relating to making some money for your writing.
I’m going to suggest that you write outside your comfort zone and submit to literary competitions, for fun and profit.
For genre writers, this can provide either an opportunity to write something completely out of character (I write predominantly speculative fiction, but have had some success with literary fiction), or the chance to write a more literary spec fic piece, or even to stick with what you know best and attempt to win an award or competition wholly with a genre piece.
Turning our creative energies into something so different may seem counterintuitive, but let’s attempt to convince you with what I shall refer to as Cold Hard Mathematics (also money).
Serious Spec Fic Magazines
Clarke’s World Magazine helpfully provides submission statistics, and I’ve grabbed a post from January 2012 to give you some numbers.
They received, in one month, 684 submissions, which is apparently close to their average of 600-800 month. According to the article, 6% receive ‘near miss’ rejections, and 1% receive acceptances. So we’re looking at 7 accepted stories out of almost 700 submissions, with a ‘short list’ of 48 stories. As of writing, Clarke’s World prefers stories of 4,000 words, paying exceptional rates of $0.10 USD per word. So we’re looking at $400 a sale. Now, normally I wouldn’t expect more than say $80-$100 for a story sale, but since I’m trying to make a point, and Clarke’s World gives such helpful statistics, let’s run with $400 as a serious magazine sale. (In reality that’s crazy money for a magazine sale, if you ever get something like this, cherish it with all your writery heart)
Now let’s compare two literary competitions that I have personal experience with.
The Voiceless Writing Prize was awarded in 2012, with a prize pool of over $20,000 AUD. I was shortlisted (see the ‘near miss’ rejection) with another 33 writers. The total number of submissions was ‘over 350’. Already we’re looking at a 10% ‘almost won’ hit rate. Note that out of those 34 short lists a further 10 ‘basic’ prizes were awarded. We’re looking at a 3% success rate for $500, and the honour of putting ‘award winning writer’ on your resumé.
One of those accepted stories was slated to earn $15,000 and another (popularly voted on) earned $5,000. (For your interest, the $15,000 prize was actually jointly awarded to two stories in the end.)
Not bad for only competing with 350 other submissions.
My second example is from a late-2011 competition to promote Adult Learning for the National Year of Reading. This competition offered 12 prizes of $3,000 each. I actually won one of these, out of a field of 280 entrants. That’s a 5% acceptance rate at $3,000 per sale.
Note also that both these competitions were free to enter. There are many other literary competitions that have an entry fee, but I suspect the added barrier of entry might reduce the total number of submissions sufficiently to push the percentage acceptance rate even higher.
And you might be pleased to hear, o speculative fiction writers, that none other than the fabulous Tansy Rayner Roberts won one of those $3,000 prizes too, for a Science Fiction story. So you don’t even have to step outside your comfort zone if you don’t want to.
My recommendation, then, is to dedicate a little bit of your market research time to sourcing literary competitions and submitting to them. Not only are your odds of success much higher than the top genre magazines, you might actually make some decent money, flex your writing muscles, and possibly add the phrase ‘award winning’ to your future cover letters.
Tom Dullemond stumbled out of university with a double degree in Medieval/Renaissance studies and Software Engineering. One of these degrees got him a job and he has been writing and working in IT ever since. Tom was a co-editor of The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy and has sold short fiction to a handful of anthologies, including Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper. He writes a regular flash fiction column for The Helix science magazine, and is working on Literarium (www.literarium.net), an online service to help with the project management side of writing. His first middle-grade book, ‘The Machine Who Was Also a Boy’, has just been published through e-Mergent Publications (http://emergent-publishing.com/bookstore/the-machine-who-was-also-a-boy/ ).