Sunday, November 1, 2009

6 cents a word

For example, here’s one fun fact: The engine of Fitzgerald’s income (at least until he went to Hollywood) was not his novels but his short stories. He considered them his “day job,” a thing to be endured because writing them would allow him the financial wherewithal to write the novels he preferred to do. And how much did he make for these short stories? Well, in 1920, he sold eleven of them to various magazines for $3,975. This averages to about $360 per story, and (assuming an average length of about 6,000 words) roughly six cents a word.

To flag my own genre here, “Six cents a word,” should sound vaguely familiar to science fiction and fantasy writers, as that’s the current going rate at the “Big Three” science fiction magazines here in the US: Analog (which pays six to eight cents a word), Asimov’s (six cents a word “for beginners”) and Fantasy & Science Fiction (six to nine cents a word). So, sf/f writers, in one sense you can truly say you’re getting paid just as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald did; but in another, more relevant, “adjusted for inflation” sense, you’re making five cents to every one of Fitzy’s dollars. Which basically sucks. This is just one reason why making a living writing short fiction is not something you should be counting on these days.

Scalzi on Fitzgerald.


William said...

Wow. Well, let's see, I got 15k for writing (just me) a 300,000+ word reference work, which comes to a nickel a word. With the research and everything else it was well below minimum wage. So through the beauty of inflation (cf. Philip Pullman's Galatea), I am approaching the luminous FSF!

Anonymous said...

At least someone is getting paid. 'Round here (Brazil) literature is more like a leap of faith than a profession.