As of this writing, I am the author of some seven full-length books with my name on the spine. I have contributed to plenty of others, edited one more, and published a handful of chapbooks and zines. But these seven books are all me, from start to finish, minus the occasional introduction by an esteemed colleague.
Four of them are short story collections, because short stories are my primary raison d’etre. Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, my first collection and first full-length book, has actually been published twice. First back in 2012, in softcover, and then reprinted in a (gorgeous, frankly) deluxe hardcover in 2017 by Strix Publishing. The latter adds new illustrations by Mike Corley and a couple of new stories not collected in the previous edition.
The other three collections are all out from Word Horde, who has been my most reliable and frequent publishing partner. These include Painted Monsters, Guignol, and, most recently, How to See Ghosts. I’m proud of all of them, and all three boast phenomenal cover art by Nick Gucker, who has probably been responsible for selling more copies of any of them than my name ever has.
My other full-length books include two collections of short, informal essays on vintage horror films – Monsters from the Vault, reprinting a column that I used to write for Innsmouth Free Press on the subject, and Revenge of Monsters from the Vault, which continues the theme.
Rounding out the list is Godless, my only published novel to date, written for Privateer Press as work-for-hire, and intended as the first book in a proposed series that never came to pass for various reasons.
Recently, I got royalty statements for most of these books from the publishers, and I thought it might be a good time to talk somewhat transparently about royalties and the writing life and what it means when you buy one of my books. I believe in transparency, in general, and I’ve only gotten where I am thanks in part to the generosity of my fellow writers in this regard.
I am a full-time writer, which most people assume means that I make a living writing novels or even – absurd as the proposition actually is – short stories. This is far, far from the truth. There are writers who make a living writing novels, but I’m not one of them. (I don’t think there have been any writers who made a living writing short stories for… many years.) Instead, my income comes, primarily, from writing “content,” which means any number of things. I write marketing copy of all sorts, from the words on websites and corporate blogs to social media posts to “white papers” and press releases.
I also write for a number of what are sometimes derogatorily called “content mills,” websites that busy themselves with generating a never-ending stream of listicles, articles, and other odds-and-ends. Of these, I am probably most closely associated with Ranker and The Lineup. Ultimately, though, all of this is my “day job,” the work I do to bring in the money to write my goofy little short stories about monsters and ghosts.
Besides all that, I currently produce four regular columns: one on folk horror, one on old horror TV shows, one on board games, and one about… pretty much whatever I want to write about, ranging from muck monsters to Ultra Q and beyond. And I continue to regularly write for Privateer Press, including putting together a large swath of their new Iron Kingdoms: Requiem 5e-compatible RPG.
All of that (with the exception of the columns) is work-for-hire stuff, meaning that, once it is published, I no longer own it. I get paid my fee, and that’s the last recompense I will ever get for the work. Fiction and such is, however, a different beast. When I sell a short story, I am likely to sell it again, at least into a collection down the road. Then, when I publish said collection, I will get a small advance.
Short stories do not pay well, nor have they for many, many years. Short story collections do not pay any better. While advances on novels may vary considerably, one can still potentially expect a few thousand dollars, maybe even five figures, if one is publishing through a larger press. Publishing a short story collection through a larger press is mostly unheard of unless one is already a best-selling author. So, you’ll be going through smaller presses, and your advance is more likely to be in the neighborhood of a few hundred to a thousand dollars, at least in my experience.
The advance is an “advance against royalties,” which means that you have to “earn out” that advance before you start making any royalties. Royalties on a collection are a fraction of the total price of the book. This fraction varies depending on your contract and the form of the book, but let’s say around 5-10% for physical copies, around 25% for ebooks. So, to make the math easy, if you sell a physical book for $1, you’ll make a shiny nickel. If you sell an ebook for the same amount, you’ll get a quarter.
Once you’ve accrued enough nickels and quarters, you will eventually have gotten enough money to pay back your advance, at which time those nickels and quarters start coming to you as royalties. At this point, most of my books (that pay royalties) have earned out, with the exception of How to See Ghosts, which literally just got published at the tail end of last year.
And yet, part of the reason why short story collections don’t pay as well as other books is that they also don’t tend to sell as well. I have been very fortunate, but even then, the number of copies of all my collections that are in circulation – including ebooks – still numbers only a few thousand, less than the print run of the average single novel. This is not a cry for pity or any such thing, but a bid toward transparency. I knew the marketplace of the short story when I got into this business, and I make a nice living with my writing, despite that it isn’t in the form of story sales.
What’s more, as I promised at the beginning of this surprisingly lengthy essay, I want to talk about what happens when you buy one of my books, in any form: I get some money. One way or another, sooner or later. Maybe it’s those nickels and quarters, but they add up. Every three months or so, I get a check from my publishers for enough money that I can buy a couple of nice Blu-rays, or pay part of one of my utility bills. It’s appreciated, and it helps, and that only happens when you buy my books.
And if you’ve already bought my books (thank you), it helps further to blog about them, review them, ask your library to order them. Little books like mine only do well thanks to word of mouth. That’s just the nature of this business. Without people talking about them, posting about them, leaving reviews, and telling their friends, they sink out of existence and into oblivion.
Perhaps even more important, those books selling as well as they do – the numbers might be relatively modest compared to a novel, but they’re pretty nice for short story collections – helps ensure that I’ll have the opportunity for more down the road. I look forward to a nice, long career writing various other stuff on the side so I can keep publishing books filled with stories about ghosts and monsters. And if you look forward to reading more of them, then I hope you keep buying! And for all those who have bought my books so far – I literally couldn’t keep doing this without you!