SHORT STORY SALES/CONTESTS
As ever, this is a complete crapshoot. It's a rare year that I don't pick up at least twenty bucks from short story sales. Every so often I pick up a couple hundred bucks, but no more than that. Let's be generous and say I pick up a hundred dollars a year on average? That puts me at $600 a year behind.
Another way of changing things around in such a way that I could get into the black almost immediately would be to just write short stories. I'd make the occasional buck from getting them published, put out an anthology occasionally (grabbing the rights to pre-existing art, which is pretty cheap), and could probably figure out a way to keep the Patreon going. The thing that makes me hesitate to do that is that I don't think you can attract a crowd that way. The audience for short stories is cool and sophisticated and intelligent, but they don't follow you back to the source. Fans of a particular magazine or podcast are basically fans of that magazine or podcast. If you appear again in that venue and they liked your work the last time they'll be excited, but that's about as far as it goes. I thought the "Beasts" collection would get a sales bump when a story from the collection appeared in Podcastle, for instance, but I sold zero copies that week.
It's worth mentioning that getting published in classy markets put out by dedicated people is an honor in and of itself. Not everything needs to be about money, or even about building an audience. It can also be a force multiplier to have a track record of getting published in big markets (it can look good on a blurb, for instance). It just won't get you any further than that.
I sell a few books a year to people at my reading series, a couple of other events, and consignment at a couple of friendly independent bookstores. Let's be conservative and call that $50 a year, which is about what I did in 2016 not counting conventions and other experiments that cost more than I made selling the books. That puts us at $550 for the year.
It would be great if I could make more money this way. I've experimented with selling books at dealers and artist's alley tables at conventions (both the "all weekend in a hotel" and the "one-day farmer's market for nerds" styles) without ever selling enough books to justify the time, money, and travel. This seems to be par for the course. The only creative folks who seem to make money working tables seem to be arts-and-crafts types who make relatively cheap items based on popular culture. There are a couple of approaches I haven't tried yet (hopping between doing panels and the dealer's room at a weekend con instead of doing one-or-the-other, splitting a table with friends and making it more of an event, seeking out free shows at public libraries more aggressively), but for now this appears to be a dead end.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Tamale Hut Cafe Presents reading series in lovely North Riverside, IL. Every time I'm featured at that show, I sell a fat stack of books and have a great time on top of it. If I could do a show like that once a month, it would change my whole deal, and I'd cheerfully travel.
Let's stop there for now. $550 a year down, a little less than $50 a month. I'll pick things up next time talking about e-book sales, which is where I really start to have conflicts.