Tag Archives: writers

Written While You Watch

In July 2018, I undertook a small experiment and wrote a short story while readers “watched.”

Naturally it wasn’t quite like that. I wrote and published the story on Medium.com, so nobody was actually looking over my shoulder. Instead, I inserted comments as I wrote, indicating some of my thought processes and points at which I took breaks. The result was “Zoe,” one of my most popular Medium stories to date, not bad for a first draft. Two weeks later, I published the final version, which contained substantial edits. You can read both versions here:

I like to think the story proved popular because it’s good, but a lot of writers found it valuable in another sense: they got to see some of my thought processes. The experiment proved so successful that I repeated it in more detail. The result was “The Test.”

“The Test” was presented in three versions, a first draft, a revised draft, and a final draft. The first draft included notes written while writing. The revised draft included notes about what I revised and why. The final draft was the completed story without commentary. If you’re interested in seeing how a story evolves, “The Test” provides a deeper look. You can read all versions here:

If you’re interested in the writing process, I hope you enjoy these experiments and find them valuable. And if not, I hope you enjoy the final versions. Thank you for reading!


A Place for Readers and Writers

For the past few months, I’ve been a member of Medium.com and have been posting stories there, some fiction, some nonfiction.  The idea behind Medium is simple. Writers post stories, then readers read them and “clap” for the ones they like. (There’s a little hand icon you can click repeatedly to signal how much you like a story. That’s “clapping.”) Writers get paid based on how well their work is received, measured by story views, time spent reading a story, and claps.

How do writers get paid? Medium could have splashed ads all over the place, but they don’t do that. Instead, they charge a small subscription fee. You can read three stories per month for free, but to really use the service you’ll need to pay $5.00 per month, or $50 per year (which saves you $10 over the monthly rate). Do that and you’ll have access to everything Medium offers. The writers you engage with (by reading and clapping) earn a share of your subscription fee.

For readers, this isn’t a bad deal. What else can you get for $5.00 per month? Not even your morning coffee, or if you’re a coffee-hater like me, your morning tea. It’s really a very small price to pay, especially since there are a wide variety of stories to read, written by a wide variety of writers.

For writers, it’s also a great deal, because you can get paid for your work. Likely you won’t get rich off of it, but I and a number of other writers I know who have ventured into the world of Medium find it insanely easy to make back that investment of $50 per year plus a small profit. Initially I was making about $5 per week. By now, I’m earning nearly $30 per month, and I expect that to slowly rise as I gain more followers and publish more stories.

Of course, you want to publish good stories that people enjoy reading. It also helps if you can be accepted as a writer for a publication. Publications can be created by anyone and run the gamut from one-person shows to major productions like the one managed by the Washington Post. Generally, publications have much wider reach than most individuals can achieve. I’m currently writing for two publications, The Writing Cooperative, which is all about writing and the writing life, and Lit Up, which focuses on short fiction and poetry. I’ve also published material under my own account, mostly nonfiction as well as flash fiction I’ve written for the weekly Indies Unlimited contests.

I’d encourage you to check out Medium and consider joining. If you do, please follow me and read my stories. Here are a few to whet your appetite, but remember, you can only read three a month without joining:

Running Down the Track – a short story from Lit Up

How a Roadrunner Saved my Wife’s Sanity – a true story of parental genius

Moonlight Sonata – a flash fiction SF tale

Baha’i Houses of Worship – the growth of a religion illustrated in architecture

Plotting When you Hate Plotting – advice for writers like me from The Writing Cooperative

Enjoy, and see you there!

Do Writers Deserve to Eat?

The job title “writer” covers a lot of ground. Writers can be, among other things, journalists, web content writers, technical writers, script writers, legal writers, fiction writers, or song writers. They can be staff writers or freelancers.  Their work can appear in print, electronically, on stage or screen.  Some lucky writers earn a great deal from their work. And then there’s the rest of us.

According to a 2017 survey conducted by freelancewriting.com,  65% of freelancers in the U.S. earn less than $10,000 per year from their writing, while for over half of freelancers, writing is their only job. The “top tier” freelance writers work full time and earn $40,000 or more per year, not enough to get rich but enough to pay the rent and eat.

The writers involved in this survey do a broad range of work. Most of them aren’t writing books, but web content, technical material, advertising copy, articles, and so forth.  They’ve sought out work, sold themselves, and negotiated a rate (or accepted what they were offered). Somebody is paying them to do a specific job. Those of us who write books to share knowledge or tell a story have to find a publisher, or failing that, self-publish. We make our money off of sales of our work to the reading public. You are our clients. And you pay us not according to a contractual rate, but by buying copies of our work.

So the big question is, how much are you willing to pay? That’s been a burning question for independent book authors for quite a few years now. Scan the ranks of books by indie authors, and you’ll see ebooks selling for anywhere from nothing to a few dollars. Our print books typically cost more, but generally less than $15.00 and frequently less than $10.00. That’s great for the reader, but horrible for the writer. Why? Because at $0.00 per copy, the author makes nothing no matter how popular her work may become, and even at $2.99, the profits don’t exactly mount up.

Consider what goes into making a book. While we all write at our own speed, it’s not uncommon to spend six months to a year writing a book. Let’s go with the lower end of that range. Now, after that book is written and revised to the author’s satisfaction, it goes out to an editor. If a writer is very lucky–as I am–an “in house” editor like my wife Kathleen may be available for free. But most often, the writer has to pay for editorial services. That can run anywhere from several hundred dollars to over a thousand, depending on the skill of the editor and the length and complexity of the work.

So let’s say after six months hard work and maybe $500 editing expense, you have a book. You’re not done yet. You likely purchase an ISBN for each book format you intend to publish (about $25 if you buy them individually, although considerably less if you can buy them in bulk), possibly a bar code for the print book (another $25), and of course cover art. You might do the cover work yourself, but if not you’ll spend a few hundred to a thousand or more for that. And let’s not forget the copyright registration fee, another $35 to $55, depending several factors. So the writer has invested six months labor and probably anywhere between $100 and $1,000 in expenses to produce one book.

Now it’s time to make back that investment. The book goes on sale.

Many indie authors are lucky to sell 100 or so copies of a book. Even at the “high” price of $2.99,  that can fall well short of what they’ve spent in bringing you the book.  If they keep costs low, they might actually make a small profit, but let’s face it, how many other laborers would settle for a payout of $300, or even $1000, for six months’ work?

At the $2.99 price point, an indie author would, assuming a lot of do-it-yourself, need to sell well over 13,000 copies of their book in one year to hit that “top tier” income level of $40,000. That doesn’t happen too often.  Achieving “bestseller” status can require selling about 1,000 copies within a few days of release. That’s five to ten times what many indie books sell over a year or two. To make serious money as an indie author requires writing bestseller after bestseller.

If you’re a writer, this may seem discouraging, but don’t be disheartened. Consider this a call to keep writing good books while learning the art of promotion. A series of good books well-promoted can, given time and effort, earn you enough to enable you to eat.

If you’re a reader, consider this is a call for understanding and help. Please don’t expect to get something for nothing. We work hard to bring you stories and intellectual excursions you will enjoy. Be willing to pay at least as much for a good book as you pay for a good cup of coffee. You only get to drink the cup of coffee once. The book will stay with you through re-readings and conversations and happy memories. It’s also lower in caffeine. And if you do enjoy our product, please let others know about it by leaving reviews and telling friends and family. Praise from satisfied customers goes father than almost anything we can do ourselves.