So, how do you do it, how do you make that first sale?
Well, below are two teeny tiny suggestions that worked for me.
• Write for an Anthology
It doesn’t matter what you write: Sherlock stories, contemporary supernatural, erotica, fantasy—there are small presses putting together an anthology that needs your work.
For example, if you write erotic fic, there’s Improbable Press, Clan Destine, Manifold Press, Carnation Books, Lethe Press, Riptide Publishing, most of these publish novels but they also publish anthologies and those books need stories.
It's your job to keep your eye on these and the websites of your favorite publishers so that, when they post a ‘call for submissions,’ you can jump on it. Read the guidelines for that call closely, obey the deadline, send them your best work.
Let me repeat something, and it’s important:
Read their submission guidelines closely.
Send them what they are asking for.
Please do not absolutely do not send them the story that’s been tucked in a chilly corner of your hard drive for a year and which mostly fits. They'll know you didn’t write it for their anthology, believe me they will know.
Even more importantly: Other writers will have read the guidelines closely and sent the anthology exactly what they asked for. Their story will be selected over yours. You’ll feel not so great about that.
Don’t do that to yourself. Write something fresh and new or, if you do adapt, adapt the hell out of your pre-written story and absolutely, completely, thoroughly give them what they asked for. Read those guidelines closely. Then send your story in by the deadline. Not the day after.
Then do that again.
With as many anthologies as sound exciting to you, keep writing, keep submitting. The more stories you have out there, the less important just one feels and if you get a rejection from one place, you have every chance of an acceptance from another. So keep writing and submitting.
Then there’s the other way to make your first sale.
• Write for a Living
Wait, what? That sounds…isn't that circular logic?
All right, here's the thing: I write fiction. I love writing fiction. In a perfect world that would be the source of all my income.
However, when I was nearing thirty I decided I wanted to be a writer for a living and so I decided any sort of writing would do.
So I sat down one week and wrote a technical manual for some software I loved. I wrote one sturdy chapter, formatted it as if it came from a larger manual. Then I applied for technical writing jobs with an employment agency and used the manual I made up as my writing sample.
I got the first technical writing job for which I interviewed and for the next ten years I was a technical writer.
Was I being paid to write novels or short stories or scripts? No, no, and no.
But I was being paid for my words and I’ll tell you that that does wonders for your ego. It makes you believe in yourself. It fills your pockets. With all that going for it, you’ll find yourself believing you can do more. You’ll find yourself with enough energy to write stories at night. You will.
Then you’ll submit them to anthologies, yeah? Or pitch publishers—like Improbable Press—your book ideas. Or send production companies your scripts.
Before you do any of that read. their. guidelines. Read them close. Believe what you read. They know what they want so listen. Then pitch them a book idea. If they say no, think up another book. And another. You want to write? Write. Coming up with ideas and then crafting pitches is writing.
The first sale, it happens. It does. But very rarely that first time. So keep going. And going. People want to read stories, you want to write stories. Your market is out there.
You are a writer.