Complaining Pays 0¢ per Word

A pair of friends are putting together an anthology of short horror stories written by Connecticut writers. To that end, one of them posted a submissions call for the anthology in the r/Connecticut subreddit. She provided the guidelines as well as the compensation: $20, a contributor’s copy, and a free PDF of any future books the editors produced under their imprint. Sounds harmless, right?

But this is Reddit we’re talking about. Immediately my friend was swarmed by keyboard Bolsheviks indignant at such exploitation. Only $20 for a short story? Outrageous! Nevermind the fact that token-paying markets (defined as paying 1¢ or less per word) are common in the genre world and nothing about my friend’s offer was unusual. One little Lenin claimed she had friends — close friends — who were HWA members and they would laugh at such an amount. “Your ancestors were probably slave owners as well,” snarled another self-styled Che Guevara. And thus a blow was struck against my friend, the capitalist pig-dog. Writers of the world unite!

You can certainly make money as a writer but writing fiction is probably the worst way to do it. A 2022 survey of nearly 5,700 members of the Author’s Guild revealed that the median pre-tax income for authors — both full-time and part-time — from their books was $2,000 a year. Yet their earnings jumped to $5,000 when all writing-related income was considered; according to the survey, “56% of respondents reported that such activities as journalism, conducting events, editing, ghostwriting, and teaching more than doubled their income.”

Not all of these authors are fiction writers, of course, but the survey does jibe with my own experience: the most lucrative writing is the unglamorous stuff. Copywriting. Technical writing. Journalism. Over the years, the best-paying gigs I’ve had involved ghostwriting, editorial work, or writing short nonfiction articles.

So if there are better ways to make a buck by writing, why write fiction? There are a few reasons. One, I enjoy it and take great satisfaction when a story or book comes together. Two, some readers seem to like what I write. And three, I own it.

It’s almost unheard of for a writer to sell their copyright to a piece of fiction, whereas journalism, ghostwriting, and the rest is often work-for-hire. That means you sell the copyright in exchange for a one-time payment. Meanwhile I can theoretically publish and republish a short story an infinite amount of times because I always retain the copyright. Same with novels and novellas. Should A Season of Whispers go out of print, I can republish it with another publisher or self-publish it myself — hardly worst-case scenarios. It will be mine until long after I’m dead and it joins Jay Gatsby and Mickey Mouse in the public domain. I should add that this goes for book-length nonfiction too, like Smedley.

A writer may not make a lot of money from an individual sale of a piece of fiction but those sales can accumulate over a lifetime; and obviously the more works one has to offer, the more sales he or she can potentially make.

While I would never write in exchange for that dubious social credit known as “exposure,” I’ve mentioned before that I believe there are circumstances in which it’s OK for a writer to sell their work for less than what they might otherwise expect. For example, I have no problem contributing a free blog post or article that advertises a bigger project of mine, like a newly released book. Or, for reasons of ownership mentioned above, selling first-time rights at a bargain rate may be in your interest if your goal is to create a body of work that you can hustle forever.

Likewise, should you feel called to write lesbian steampunk poems, then you probably shouldn’t expect whopping sums in return. But if your goal is to become the preeminent name in lesbian steampunk poetry with all the fame that it brings, then token markets may be solid stepping stones toward achieving your vision.

The key is to examine a given situation and ask, Who’s making money here, if anyone? If the publishers are earning substantial profits from the project, then you should absolutely receive a piece of that, either upfront or as a royalty. But many projects operate on much leaner budgets, like, say, anthologies of horror fiction meant to showcase the talents of Connecticut writers. I assure you my friends did not embark upon their collection as a money-making scheme.

In that case, it’s up to you to determine if receiving $20 in exchange for a short story is worth your time and energy. Ask yourself if it aligns with your goals and the ultimate vision you have for yourself. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. There are nine and sixty ways of constructing a writing career — and all of them are right.

Where’s Jackson?

Saturday, October 21 @ 11 AM: I’ll be on a panel with HWA CT co-conspirator John Opalenik asking, “Why Do Readers and Writers Choose to be Unsettled by Horror Writing?” It’s part of the Woodbury Public Library’s literary festival, A Confluence of Readers and Writers.

Saturday, October 21 in the PM: I’ll be at StoryFest 2023 at the Westport Public Library. StoryFest is Connecticut’s biggest literary festival, and I’ll be manning the table with my fellow HWA CT members selling and signing books.

Monday, October 30 @ 6 PM: I’m leading a Gothic fiction writing workshop titled “What We Write in the Shadows” at the Mystic and Noank Library. Participants will learn about the history of Gothic literature and leave the 90-minute workshop with a finished piece of flash fiction. Space is still available!

Saturday, November 4 @ 10 AM: I’ll be hustling books at the Norwalk Local Author Festival at the Norwalk Public Library. Come meet me and a bunch of other local authors and maybe pick up a book or three.

Saturday, December 9 @ 1–4 PM: I will be at Rule of 3 Brewing in East Hampton reading, signing books, and hanging out with other great authors. Grab a beer and a new book.

The Book of Pangloss

A Darkness Visible

The premiere anthology from Onotology Books, A Darkness Visible, has hit virtual shelves just in time for Halloween.

The anthology is a collection of postmodern horror. Sounds heavy, you say. What is “postmodern horror?”

Put simply, the fiction of A Darkness Visible plays with or overturns the conventions of both fiction itself — how it’s presented or by using nontraditional methods to communicate the narrative — as well as those of the horror genre.

A Darkness Visible includes my contribution, “The Book of Pangloss,” which is a piece of interactive fiction — what’s otherwise known as a choose-your-own-adventure story, complete with numbered passages that end in a decision to be made by the reader.

In the story, YOU are the defense attorney for an accused murderer. But is your client actually guilty? And what do the murders of three women have to do with a mysterious occult volume known as the Book of Pangloss?

Writing “Pangloss” checked off a box that’s long sat on my to-do list. Like other Gen Xers, I grew up on a heavy diet of CYOA paperbacks sourced from B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, with Fighting Fantasy being an absolute obsession that lasts to this day. I’d always wanted to write interactive fiction but could never find an appropriate market for it until the call for A Darkness Visible came around.

To write “Pangloss,” I used a freeware app called Twine and designed the story so that it stretched about 3,000 words long no matter which path the reader took. It was challenging but a blast to create, and the experience whet my appetite to write more CYOA.

A Darkness Visible is available now in paperback or as an e-book.

Write a Ghost Story With Me

This October I’ll be leading a 90-minute workshop on gothic fiction at the Mystic and Noank Library in Mystic, Connecticut.

The gothic is the past returning to haunt us in the present. Yet like vampires and werewolves, gothic stories can assume different shapes and forms: Bram Stoker’s Dracula involves a supernatural evil unleashed in contemporary England, while the narrator of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is haunted simply by his own guilt. In this workshop, join author and freelance writer Jackson Kuhl for an evening investigating the dark art of gothic fiction writing. We’ll look at some examples of classic gothic literature to inspire us, then brainstorm ideas, sketch a brief outline, and craft a piece of gothic flash fiction to take home.

Interested in attending? You can register at the library’s website. There’s no charge but it’s expected to fill up fast.

Kickstart My Heart

Editor extraordinaire Sara Crocoll Smith is preparing a third volume of her anthology series, Love Letter to Poe, this one themed around Poe’s story, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” For this entry she’s using Kickstarter to fund its production. It hasn’t launched yet but you can follow the Kickstarter to be notified when it does.

In related news, the previous volume, Love Letters to Poe, Volume II: Houses of Usher, which includes my story “The Last Stand of Sassacus House,” has been nominated for a 2023 Saturday Visiter Award. Winners will be announced in October.

The initial book in the series (which also included a story of mine) won the 2022 Saturday Visiter Award in the category of “Original Works Inspired by E.A. Poe’s Life and Writing.”

You can purchase copies of Volume I here and Volume II here.

First Contact

Recently I reinstituted a Contact form on the site after someone expressed difficulty getting in touch with me. Since then the site has been bombarded by brute-force hacking attempts, which is why I removed the original Contact page back in 2021. I don’t know what is about web forms but they’re blood in the water for attracting bots. I’ve now taken it down a second time.

If you want to contact me, the best way is through social media. Links to my profiles are available at the bottom of every page on this site and I’ve added a second set at the top of the sidebar that appears on blog pages (if you’re reading this on a desktop).

• Instagram and Threads are the best way to reach me. I’m often on Insta spending too much time watching videos about dogs, chimpanzees, and chimps petting dogs; and while Threads is a little chaotic during its salad days and I don’t check it often, I will receive notifications.

• I have a Facebook profile but I rarely check it. Facebook’s interface is like a child’s toy, full of buttons meant to keep you distracted while the grown-ups eat dinner but it’s cumbersome to use for practical purposes. You can reach out to me there but I may not notice for a couple of weeks.

• The less said about the website-formerly-known-as-Twitter, the better. If you tweet or DM me there, I will lock my car doors and stare straight ahead through the windshield while pretending I didn’t see it.