A long time ago, in a magazine I did for fun for writers called The Report, I came up with an idea to try to add numbers and quantify the mysterious process of submissions to traditional markets. For some reason it got the name of “The Race” because it was a race against ourselves as writers.
And it worked in so many ways, I was stunned. First off, it was a clear number that many of us could hang onto to show progress in a business that often doesn’t give a sense of progress. And secondly, it gave a yardstick measurement of the writers who were pushing hard and those who couldn’t seem to get started.
Also, this allowed writers to take some sort of control of what they can control. Writers can’t control if an editor will buy a story or not. But a writer can control the mailing of the manuscript to the editor. The more manuscripts on editor’s desks, the more chance of sales. Pretty clear concept.
So following some discussion on the last topic, I figured it was time to bring “The Race” forward into the new world. Besides, The Race is a great way to help writers set smaller goals that are in their control to get to larger dreams.
The traditional Race is a simple point system. You get one point for each short story in the mail, three points for chapters and outline in the mail (only once per project, even though multiple submissions are allowed in novels), and eight points for a full manuscript to an editor. Manuscripts to agents DO NOT COUNT, since an agent can’t write a check for anything.
Short Story… 1 Point
Chapters/Outline… 3 Points
Full Novel MS….. 8 Points.
I hit seventy-some points with short fiction only when I was starting out. That was my high. Interestingly enough, I was selling stories all the time at that number. Many of my friends such as Kevin J. Anderson and my wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, were above that number. And what was interesting is that those of us with high numbers, above fifty, were selling regularly, while those writers with five or ten points wondered why they didn’t sell much. Hmmmmm, putting a hard number on it seemed to give a pretty clear reason why they weren’t selling.
Remember that evil word “practice” so many writers hate? Well, if you have over fifty short stories in the mail to traditional publishers, you are practicing as well as giving your work a shot at selling. Higher numbers help a writer in more ways than one.
So that’s the traditional race that has been used in one form or another by writers for twenty-plus years now.
BUT WHAT ABOUT ELECTRONIC SELF-PUBLISHING?
The question has come up a number of times since publishing started shifting this last year or so about having an electronic race for indie-publishing. At first I resisted. Then two fine writers (Amanda McCarter and Annie Bellet) came up with a way of keeping track of electronic publishing and they called it the eRace.
Here is what they suggested (that I like a great deal and will use myself). 1 point for each short story published electronically. 3 points for each short story collection published (five stories or more…and yes, you get a point for having a story up as a stand-alone and then can include it in a collection.) 5 points for a novel, meaning anything you call a short novel that is about 15,000 words long and up.
—eRace Point System—
Short Story… 1 Point
Collection… 3 Points
Novel….. 5 Points.
Now, this system will also show clearly one aspect of electronic publishing, and that is that the more stuff a writer has published, the more they will sell and the more money they will make. Again a pretty simple concept assuming decent quality and storytelling. (One addition I would make to the structure above: If the story is put up for free, it doesn’t count as an eRace point. Must be for sale.)
There are a couple of clear differences between the Traditional Race and the eRace.
The traditional race has a ceiling on it. When the story sells, you move the points off the race. So at a certain point the sales will level with your points and maybe even be faster than your writing. And you will get multi-book contracts and so on. So the goal with the traditional race is in the early years to ram it up high and then try to keep it high against all the sales knocking the points down. Trust me, that’s a great fight and one you want to fight.
With the eRace however, the goal is to keep the total climbing because once a point is added to the eRace, it doesn’t ever fall off. There is no ceiling on the points in an eRace structure. I like that as well. It is one of the best things about electronic publishing. The stories are not produce. So this eRace helps writers with long-term thinking as well and might get some away from all the silly and wasted self-promotion.
The novel structure is different. In traditional publishing, a short novel is considered a short story and even though 26,000 words, like a story Kris just sold to a major magazine, it only counts as one point. Only novels to novel publishers count. And since traditional publishers have length restrictions, those restrictions are placed on the writer by the publisher.
In the eRace, there are no restrictions of length, so short novels are starting to make a comeback. Amanda and Annie lowered the points for novels so that the short novels could be fairly included and not make the race too complicated. Besides, readers don’t care too much about length for the most part if the story is great and ends well. Long novels are a construction of the last 30 years in traditional publishing anyway. So anything from around 15,000 word and up is considered a novel or short novel and all get the same 5 points for simplicity sake.
Why Not Do Both?
No reason. In fact, if you have read my challenge post a few back, you know I will be doing both this next year. My goal is to write 100 short stories, but if my wife, a Hugo Award winning editor tells me a main genre magazine might buy it, the story won’t count in my challenge or the eRace, but will count in the Traditional Race. (At least until it sells and is published or until it doesn’t sell. Then it will go only eRace.) And if you follow the idea I suggested a while back of putting a novel up electronically and POD and then sending it to a traditional publisher to buy, the points would count on both Races.
I can see far more reasons to do both races in this new world than just focusing on one side or the other.
For Traditional Race points, it has been fairly established over the last 25 years of watching the Race that the writers with above 60 points tend to sell regularly and if they keep going make a career. And once selling regularly, a writer has trouble holding the Race points up.
The eRace is just brand new. I have no idea how it will actually go, and there are a ton of factors involved that haven’t been figured out yet, including pricing structures. But my gut sense is that if you get up around 1,000 points at distant point, you’ll be making pretty close to a six-figure income every year.
Right now my eRace total is 25. I only have 25 short stories up and I am making around $100 per month, which is above the minimum math I use to figure possible sales. Actually about double, which surprises me, considering I only get 35 cents per sale. And it’s growing slightly each month. It will grow dramatically as I get more stories and novels and collections published. I hope to have a total of well over 1,000 eRace points within two years.
Kris has an eRace total of about 105 already, with 7 collections selling at $2.99 and 7 short novels selling at $2.99 and one full novel at $4.99 and one large nonfiction book at $9.99. Plus a bunch of short stories. Her total income has a comma in it per month. And the total is climbing like crazy. I know, without a doubt, she’ll be past 1,000 eRace points in a year or so. Just on backlist work, not counting all the new stuff.
Thanks Amanda and Annie for getting this started. It’s a great system and a great addition to The Race. Very glad you figured it out to give us indie-publishers a way to track our progress. With more work available to readers comes more sales.
This is a great new world we are living in. Great fun.