Short or Long - Investing in the Periodical Market
Most writers understand that getting a check for $1,200 to $3,000 or even a lot more is nice. But shorts are worth far less, so are they worth the investment in your time? It actually depends on two factors. One is the hourly rate. Remember that you need to calculate how much you must make an hour to keep yourself in business. (See the business planning article in the writer resources area of this blog.) A short that runs, say, 500 words, that pays $1/word, and that you can finish in three hours, comes out to almost $167 dollars an hour.
That is a nice rate, but you have to really watch your time. Add up all the time - all interviews, all writing of all drafts, answering questions from the editor, and so on. When I hear writers estimate the time it takes to do something, I know that most significantly underestimate the time they actually spent, because people do in general. When I run my business planning class and have people closely monitor where their time goes, they are almost always shocked, if they've never checked it before.
But say that you are accurately monitoring your time. Why not then do a lot of shorts to make your income? Because there's another consideration - the time for marketing, billing, and overhead. If you make $500 for a short, then four of them pay as much as one 2000 word article paying $1/word. The amount of writing time might even be comparable. However, figure that a 500 word piece really needs two to three sources to come across as sold. You're now booking 8 to 12 interviews, versus the 6 or 7 that might be all you need for the longer piece. That means more time interviewing and scheduling your time.
You're also going to spend about as much time writing a query for a short as you would for a longer piece, plus you have to generate the ideas and pitch editors. So your marketing and sales time has just quadrupled. If you make a lot of your income from shorts, then you're probably spending many more of your hours marketing, interviewing, managing your time, and billing (and collecting). Now you see the real drawback - not the hourly rate, but the time you must invest to do enough shorts to make a living.
I'm not knocking shorts, and still do them sometimes myself if I think it makes sense. However, recognize that your time is valuable - because once its gone, you can't get it back. Maybe you could use a few more hours of sleep, or exercise, or reading, playing with the kids, writing a novel or play - you get the idea. Don't base your business planning only on hourly rates. Keep in mind the overhead and support you need to provide per piece and factor in how long a week you need to sustain the income you want.