So, in my post the other day I shared the news of my first pro-rate short story sale - "Scavenging" to Written Backwards' Chiral Mad 2. Obviously, I'm head over-heels, delirious to have finally cracked this barrier, also so completely humbled to be on such a stellar TOC.
But in some ways...it's odd. It's a goal I've finally reached, but only after I'd sorta given up on it. And by given up, I mean this: I finally came to the decision about a year and a half ago that I shouldn't measure my growth as a writer by pro-pay rates, or by what I sold my work for.
No, I decided that what I needed to do was ramp up my reading, glut myself on short stories written by the masters and hone my internal standards, really focus my writing goals on the writing ITSELF, write what I truly WANTED to at that moment, write what I truly FELT, submit where I may, and let the chips fall as they would.
See, about five or six years ago when I first waded into this whole thing, I had a goal: three pro-pay stories to qualify for active membership in the Horror Writers' Association. Why?
That's what all the cool kids were doing. So obviously, it's what I had to do, too. That, and I very quickly ran into the prevailing notion that if it wasn't pro pay, it wasn't real writing. If I got paid only token pay, or only semi-pro pay, that was a reflection of my obviously poor writing skills or hopeless naivete as a young writer.
Now, to dispense with the snark: I have no issues with the HWA. In fact, soon as I qualify for Active Membership, I'm applying, because I want to try it out for myself, I want to try and contribute to their community.
And, in all seriousness, I DID learn some pretty serious (and sometimes disheartening) lessons about submitting to "4theluv" anthologies that paid only in .pdf contributor copies. I found that, very often, publications with very low rates of pay also had very low standards of quality.
BUT, along the way I also found publications with high standards both in production and content, like The Midnight Diner, Shroud Magazine, Cutting Block Press, Horror Library, Crystal Lake Publishing and others that didn't offer pro pay rates. And I started to sense a little bit of a...well, LIE in there. Yes, very often rate of pay reflected quality and standards. But, very often...it did NOT.
And when I spent a year talking to an acquisitions editor at Harper Teen, I discovered another lie: the big publishers actually don't care at ALL where you've sold your short work. At least this one didn't. Our conversations only dealt with what I pitched them, and that was it. It didn't matter to them at ALL where I'd sold my short work. They were just concerned with the work before them.
Here's another thing: all the stories in Things Slip Through only earned semi-pro pay or token pay rates. And you know what? They're GOOD stories. People REALLY LIKE THEM. And I've grown enough as a writer to know not to judge the quality of those stories by what they earned.
So what's the advantage in writing for pro pay? Or at least submitting to pro-pay? Why I am so JAZZED to appear in this collection? Take a look at the TOC below the cover for your answer.
Erik T. Johnson
Mason Ian Bunschuch
Max Booth III
P. Gardner Goldsmith
Thomas F. Monteleone
I'm in a collection with David Morrell (y'know, the guy who invented Rambo?), Jack Ketchum (who Stephen King calls 'the scariest guy in America'), John Skipp (the father of splatterpunk), Mort Castle (the Hemmingway of horror), Ramsey Campbell (the 'greatest living British horror writer,' according to the Oxford English Dictionary), and Tom Monteleone, a virtual legend in the horror genre.
And also, even more importantly? Mort and Tom are mentors. Former instructors. And I've now joined them in a publication for the very first time. Not necessarily a "student has become the master" sort of thing, but to JOIN my teachers at their level, even if for just this collection...
Certainly not of lesser nature is the pleasure of joining a crop of writers I might even dare to call my contemporaries: like Gary McMahon, P. Gardner Goldsmith, Dustin LaValley, John Palisano, James Chambers and others. Several of these folks I've met at conferences, two of them studied with me under Mort and Tom. And here's the kicker: there are MORE folks who'll be announced. And the names of those folks will only make this collection even MORE awesome.
And to me, that's what's most important. This collection could be paying me NOTHING and I'd still be screaming from the rooftops. Why? Because I survived over 700 stories to make it in. It was HARD. And I MADE IT. I may never sell another short story for pro rates ever again. But for this one collection - my story was selected to be with work by the "greats" and the "established" voices in the genre. And that is a milestone, no doubt about it. And it pushes me to attack more pro-rate submissions...for all those same reasons.
I won't lie. The pay is awesome. Selling this story will allow us to rent a car and really enjoy AnthoCon next weekend, versus scrimping and spending the whole weekend worrying about bills, worrying if our family car will make the trip up and back in one piece.
But then the money will be gone in a flash. You know what'll be left over?
The respect. From others, and, maybe most importantly, from myself.
The satisfaction of joining these greats; the knowledge that my story was better than 700 others. THAT'S what lasts.
But of course, guess what happens tomorrow?
I get up early and start writing something new...