In 1927, Ernest Hemingway was paid two hundred dollars for his short story, “The Killers.” The story appeared in Scribner’s Magazine and is considered by scholars to be his first mature work. Over his career, the income from his stories only went up.

Today, the situation is rather different. Whatever the cause of the decline of the pay-scale—often heralded to be a lack of interested and/or paying readers—the writer is left in a tough spot: He/she wants his/her story out there, but thinks the piece deserves compensation. I agree; however, magazines and literary journals often make little or no profit. Therefore, pay tends to be in copies, subscriptions, or a small honorarium.

With the inexorable growth of online journals, the pay has been reduced to nothing. In tandem, several new start-up journals use Print On Demand (POD) technology and they only pay with a digital copy. The situation, at least financially, remains bleak.

The question remains: why do you want to be published?

For the prestige? Seeking tenure? To see your work in print? To say something important? For the promotion of art? For the money?

In terms of the latter, and to backtrack a tad on what I said earlier, slick international magazines, such as, The New Yorker, Playboy, The Atlantic, etc. will often pay several thousand dollars for a short story. Of course, most work is carefully agented—few pieces making it out of the slush pile.

So, then, the realistic options: several current literary journals, The Sun (up to fifteen hundred dollars), Subtropics (one thousand), Glimmer Train (seven hundred, and more for contest winners), One Story (one hundred) pay well. I wrote an earlier post, which discussed several of the top literary journals. Getting published in these journals can help a budding academic career or attract an agent.

Contests are the other chance for making money. Often they have top prizes of one thousand dollars or more (watch out, though, for the entry fees of ten to twenty dollars!). Send only to reputable places, like, Crazyhorse, Narrative, Cream City Review, New South, and so forth. The Internet is rife with various scams, including journals set up only to produce profit from contests.

As always the best advice is to write, send work out, get drunk at AWP, accumulate publications, graduate from an M.F.A. program, gripe about the state of literature on HTMLGIANT, get on the tenure-track, switch to novels, acquire an agent, and then shift into memoir, collect literary prizes, publish more books, elope with a grad student, publish a magnum opus, refuse literary prizes, and then end your days teaching undergrads in a small liberal arts college somewhere in the Midwest.

Sounds like bliss to me.

Recently, I took a break from reading the Best American Short Story series and devoured instead two novels: Paul Auster’s Invisible (2009) and Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply (2009). Although I chose both books at random from the library shelves, the two did harbor, at least in part, similar thematic concerns: identity and its formation. For me, though, each text suffered from a problem of believability: Auster’s reliance on his characters’ obsessive behavior and, in particular, the madness of old, wiry men, and Chaon on two-dimensional characterization (note: this is a novel about identity theft; however, authors should always be wary of the mimetic fallacy).

Often in fiction-writing circles we talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief” (the phrase is taken from his Biographia Literia [1817]) and how the writer earns it through style, tone, voice, and characterization, etc. I found the two novels in question to have fallen short in these regards. Although both are amiable enough reads, they each pale in comparison with the writers’ earlier works, especially Auster’s The New York Trilogy (1987) and Chaon’s Among the Missing (2001).

In light of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton’s purple prose competition, I put forth Auster and Chaon’s first lines…

Auster begins:

I shook his hand for the first time in the spring of 1967.

Chaon begins:

We are on our way to the hospital, Ryan’s father says.

In comparison, Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, begins:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

To be honest, for the literature of the time, it’s not too terrible. In fact, the clause, “it was a dark and stormy night” has over the centuries demonstrated a wide cultural impact. Perhaps, a little unfairly, terminating now in this annual competition. The winner/s of this year’s competition can be found here.

Will we remember Auster and Chaon’s first lines in two hundred years?