Wendy Hornsby

It’s two days after Christmas.  By now, the visions of sugar plums that danced in your head on Christmas Eve and were consumed with abandon on Christmas day have become no more than a small part of the lump in your tummy that is the inspiration for a New Year’s Day resolution to not repeat that particular excess for at least another year.

Your guests have by now vacated your office—or soon will—that served as a guest room for the duration.  You will be able again to work at your desk, with sticky notes close at hand, with no need to sneak away to a secluded corner where, hunched over your laptop, you might put in an hour’s worth of writing time.  You love your guests, you want to be with them, but there are deadlines looming.

It was during one of those stolen hours that a revelation occurred.  Beginning last summer, I began to receive royalty checks for short stories that were far greater than the usual little bonuses that appear from time to time in amounts that might cover lunch out; the smallest one was for $5.05.  But, out of the blue, a royalty check for a story that was published four years ago was large enough to cover most of our summer trip.  I was paid well for the story initially, and again when foreign rights were sold, but since then, the usual lunch- or dinner-size royalty checks were the norm.  I went hmmm, and deposited the check.  But after that one, unusually large checks began to arrive with regularity.  What was up?  Had I suddenly trended?  Had short stories trended?  I liked that second notion very much.

Short stories were my first love, and I have written a bunch of them.  In some ways, the short story is to the novel what haiku is to epic poetry:  an economy of words and images used to covey a compelling story.  I find the process to be challenging and rewarding, so whenever an invitation arrives to submit a story, I drop all other projects, write the story, send it off and wait for a check to arrive. 

I never expected to get rich writing short stories.  The pay per word ranges from the same nickel Hemingway was getting early in his career to something quite handsome, but the amount I’m offered generally has no influence on the story itself.  I say generally, because once, when a very well-known author was editing an anthology, the per-word pay was singularly generous so, I confess, I wrote the longest story I have ever written, as did a couple of the other authors I spoke with.  That said, my story, I say with all modesty, was damn good.

To me, it never really matters what the initial payment for a story is, because if it’s a good story, I can resell it, depending on the contract, beginning about a year after initial publication.  For my first published story, “Nine Sons,” I think I was paid well under $200.  But I have resold it since then more than two dozen times to publications around the world, each time earning more than the initial paycheck.  While the paper and ink books in which it has been printed may shift off to the remainder table and eventually disappear, the story itself may continue to have its own publishing life.

The ah ha moment came when I was tucking a check stub into the 2012 tax folder, and caught sight of a copy for the first royalty check for the e-book versions of my back list, published by www.mysteriousbooks.com.  I went into Amazon, and quickly found the source of this new bounty for old stories:  several of the wonderful anthologies where those stories had been originally published are now available in electronic formats.

I will no longer apologize for loving my Kindle and the mass of previously out-of-print works that I can now access.  And for which the authors, once again, are paid for their work.


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