Ages ago, when I was writing nothing but short fiction and sending out MSS to the far corners of the publishing world, I had an idea for a computer application for writers. It was a struggle to keep track of where my dozens of MSS were; where they out with a publisher? For how long? Too long?
So I thought: What if you could enter the names of all your MSS into an app, note when you sent it out, and keep track of where everything was and how long it had been there?
It seemed like a good idea, and so I cracked my knuckles and began to write the code for my MSTracker app.
The app was actually pretty cool. In one section of the program, I could enter information about my MSS, including genre, length, blurb, etc. In another section, I had information on publishers, like genres accepted, min/max length, pay rates, average response time, editor names, publishing address, the whole shebang.
Sitting between the two was the information about when a particular manuscript was sent to a particular publisher. Reports told me what was out with editors and what was languishing in my backlog. Queries told me which markets were best suited to a specific story, and I could sort them by pay rate or by response time or whatever I chose.
Seriously, it was pretty slick (for the ’90s). All the writers in my workshop thought it was pretty slick, too, and they all were using it. Soon, I devised a method to give them mass updates to the publisher information, so we could filter out those magazines that were closed to submissions and get updated info about pay rates and response times.
The next logical step, of course, was selling it to the public. I set a budget, placed ads in magazines, and waited for the orders to start rolling in.
That’s when the flaw in my business plan showed up:
Writers don’t have any money.
I made a handful of sales, including subscriptions to quarterly updates of the publisher database. The application got excellent reviews from the few who tried it out, but it never translated into sales. In desperation, I tried distributing a trial version…nothing. Then I tried a free version where you could subscribe to just the updates…nada.
Writers don’t have any money.
Writers, like anyone strapped for ready cash, will take what’s free and use it as long as they can. It doesn’t matter if you’ve disabled features or if they don’t get regular updates, they’ll make do with what they can get for free and be satisfied.
Needless to say, I didn’t make my fortune. I didn’t even recoup my investment. After a year and a half of servicing subscriptions, I issued refunds and closed up shop.
Now, as I start putting my toe back into the short fiction market, I find online web-based submission trackers. Some are for academia, but others are for fiction, essays, and such.
The submissions process itself has changed radically, too. When I left short fiction behind, everything was still done with hard-copy and snail-mail. Only a few small non-paying markets were accepting electronic submissions.
Now, most markets are electronic submission only, but not through email. Now, we submit via http://www.Submittable.com and other online services.
Unfortunately, what has not changed is the basic pay rates for short fiction. Penny-per-word rates are rare, and any higher rates are extremely rare and usually accompanied by exceedingly low selection rates.
I spend hours crafting a 3000-word story, edit it, enlist readers for feedback, polish it, search out a market, and then have to wait three months for a reply so I can get a $30 paycheck?
Short fiction is still, on the whole, a money-losing proposition, so I need to make sure I’m learning something from the process.
I can always learn something new. There’s always room for improvement.