Award-winning writer Bruce Holland Rogers has done what many short story writers aspire to do — make money selling short stories. Rogers has lived in Europe and the U.S., sharing his creative works with fans all over the world, including the U.S., the Netherlands, India, Mexico, Spain, South Africa, and China. His honors include the 2012 Micro Award, two World Fantasy awards, two Nebula awards, and an Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination. Here, he talks about how he turned his creative ability into income.
Rogers: Part of that was through conventional publishing, having my work appear in magazines and books as translations. But I find that the most effective audience building is personal, that readers often take the strongest interest in writers they have actually met, so traveling to literary festivals and conferences has also had a great impact.
Especially for independent writers, I think that giving readings and lectures or workshops is possibly more important than print publicity.
That, and having a way for those readers who meet you and who like your work to follow you in some way, whether that’s through established social media channels, a free email newsletter, or something like my story subscription service, Short-Short Stories.
WL: You got the idea of selling flash fiction via email after reading a story about another writer who had sold his work to subscribers and now you have hundreds of subscribers. Was it difficult turning that inspiration into action? How did you make your idea work?
Rogers: It was difficult, and it’s also difficult to maintain the subscriptions.
Growing the list up from a few friends and fans was a matter of enlisting their enthusiasm. I set the subscription up so that existing subscribers would get, say, four stories a year, but would see that number grow to eight when I doubled the number of subscribers. When I had still more subscribers, everyone would get more stories. So my audience built gradually thanks to my own efforts, but also the efforts of existing subscribers who recommended the service to their friends.
I’m trying to build the subscriber base back up again. Personal issues led to a decline in subscribers over the course of a couple years, and at the same time, my personal circumstances changed to make me more reliant on my writing for income. I need to remind myself that building up to a thousand subscribers took time. It took a long period of relative neglect to drift back down to about five hundred subscribers.
Now it will take a couple years to my eventual goal of two thousand subscribers, though I have several different plans for how to get there.
One of those plans involves a quarterly contest in which I search for a short-short story that totally blows my socks off. Putting up prize money would, I hope, also bring some more attention to the subscription stories.
WL: How do your subscribers usually come to you? Are they people who attend the classes you teach? Do you meet them at speaking engagements? Do you find them on Facebook?
Rogers: Early on, most subscribers were people who had met me. Lately, most of my new subscribers are people who read about shortshortshort.com in interviews like this one or who read my stories in magazines and learn about the subscriptions from the contributor’s note.
WL: Speaking of Facebook, how important is social media to you as a writer? How do you use it in your writing, marketing, etc.?
Rogers: I have always thought of social media principally as a way for me to have a community of writers. Only recently, with a Kickstarter campaign, did I see how much help having lots of Facebook friends could be to crowd-sourcing the pre-production sales of a new book. I raised over five thousand dollars with a Kickstarter campaign that I publicized on Facebook.
WL: How do you write successfully in so many genres?
Rogers: I’ve always read for pleasure in lots of different traditions, so switching from literary realism to literary fabulism to category fantasy to science fiction feels like choosing different colors to wear according to my mood, or according to what sort of idea happens to excite me the most. There’s really no trick to writing in different traditions, other than really knowing each tradition you write in.
WL: What marketing challenges have you faced with writing in multiple genres?
Rogers: Because I write short fiction, the main challenge is in finding PAYING markets, period. But I also think that I have an advantage in not being too bound to a single genre. A lot of my work sort of skims the edges of one genre or another. Because of that, I have sold fantasy stories to magazines that don’t publish fantasy and literary stories to genre publications. A lot of my work will be rejected as not enough X for a particular magazine, but some of my work will also be the exception to the editorial policy that the magazine does not buy Y. Working in several traditions, and overlapping those traditions sometimes, is about equal parts blessing and curse.
I just have to keep sending the work out.
WL: Are you able to write across genres using one name, or do you use pen names?
Rogers: I write most of my work as Bruce Holland Rogers. I have used Brenda Holland and Hanovi Braddock for romance and commercial fantasy, respectively. I’m getting the rights back to a work-for-hire novel that I wrote as Hanovi Braddock, and I’m thinking that I may self-publish it under my own name now.
WL: What is your best advice to someone interested in making a living writing?
Rogers: Write a lot. Keep writing. And learn as much as you can about the new models that are emerging for publishing. I think a lot of the old models are collapsing, but some of the new models may collapse, too. There are so many people who think that the rules of copyright really don’t apply any more that ebooks may completely destroy the notion of writers making money from books. Does that mean that writers won’t make money at all?
We don’t really have the option of playing concerts, which is how musicians survive now that recorded music is copied and distributed for free. Writers ought to consider the possibility that writing careers will be possible only with something like shortshortshort.com, where a number of small-scale patrons are able to keep the writer eating and writing and everyone else reads that writer for free. Other models are bound to emerge.
Making a living by writing, particularly if you mean writing books, stories, or articles, may require as much inventiveness regarding how you get paid as inventiveness on the page.
WL: What’s next for you? Are you working on any new projects or have anything coming in the next few months?
Rogers: My successful Kickstarter campaign funded a trade paperback edition of my new collection, 49: A Square of Stories. That book will be generally available early in 2013. I won a grant to travel to Japan to do three months of research on stories based on the Tokaido Road between Tokyo and Kyoto. I hope to set up a blog about that experience.
WL: Where can readers learn more about your work or subscribe to your flash fiction?
Rogers: The best sources of information are shortshortshort.com or the entry about me on Wikipedia.
Photo: Nina Kiriki Hoffman