I was out of town most of last week on a business trip that didn’t give me a lot of access to my normal online channels, but I did find out that I’d sold a new story while I was out. I sometimes get asked about that, meaning the experience of selling a story. “Doesn’t it get old? I mean, after 20-30-40-50+ short story sales, doesn’t it get a little ho-hum?”
In case you were wondering, the answer is: “No. It never gets old.” I mean, sure, I’m less likely to be found dancing in the kitchen as my wife discovered me on my third professional* sale. But, trust me, I get notice of a sale these days and for the rest of the day at least I’m a happy guy, and my mood is not one that’s particularly easy to lighten. My steady state is something approaching “morose.” It takes a reasonably strong kick in the rear to move me out of that. A new sale does it every time.
And that brings me to the nature of a sale, or what amounts to one. Publishing isn’t now what it was when I first broke into the field. I marked the word “professional” above with an asterisk, and the reason for that qualifier is that when I first broke into the field of sf/fantasy, the term meant something very specific. There are those who will argue to this day that it only meant those who were earning their primary livings from writing, but no, that wasn’t it. A professional in sf/fantasy was a person who was writing at a professional level, meaning they were selling to the professional markets, and everyone knew what those markets were: Analog, F&SF, Asimov’s, SF Age for sure, with other magazines like Omni, Amazing SF, and Weird Tales, if they were currently being published, anthologies if they were edited by a recognized pro and paying pro rates adding to the mix. (I don’t include Realms of Fantasy because it didn’t exist at the time). Omni was the first to go digital, but otherwise we were talking print only. If you were selling your stories to one or more of these venues, you were a professional writer. If you were self-publishing, you weren’t, and suggesting otherwise would get you laughed at. Case closed.
That was then. So what does being a professional writer in the sf/fantasy field mean these days? I’m not sure I know anymore. Not what it once did, that’s for sure. There are self-published writers who don’t make enough in a year to pay for a decent lunch. There are self-published writers who make more in a week than I do in a year, and that includes the day job. I and most other pros (by the old term) self-publish at least sometimes with greater or lesser measures of success, but it’s no longer the stigma and career-killer it used to be. Now it’s just one more arrow in the quiver.
And yet…I still prefer selling a story to an editor, rather than publishing it myself, easy as that is to do. Call me old-fashioned. I call myself a pro.