How One Short Story Made A Lot of Money…
So many writers do not understand the value of a single piece of copyright. In this case, let me tell you the story of the life (so far) of a short story titled, “In the Shade of the Slowboat Man.”
Back in the early 1990s, about thirty years ago, I was invited to write a story for a vampire anthology and like a fool I said yes. I hate vampires.
So I put it off until a writing retreat on the Oregon Coast with eight other writers in one house for the weekend. I sat down at my then-massive computer sitting on an end table in the retreat house and decided I would get the story out of my hair and then write a couple of others that weekend, which I did.
I crammed together two partial titles from old stories in old magazines, put the title at the top of the page, and just under three hours later I finished the story. Printed it off for the others attending to read and went on to write a few other stories. (I never looked at it again, never rewrote it, none of that silliness.)
When I got home I sent it off to the editor and even though this was an invite anthology, he bounced it because it flat did not fit the blood and guts of the other stories. He was right. My story was sort of a vampire romance way, way, way before that sort of thing was being written.
So I tossed the manuscript that the editor had returned in a drawer, but my wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, loved the story and made me send it to Ed Ferman, the publisher of F&SF and he bought it.
And then it was on a few final ballots for awards and reprinted in an awards anthology.
Total earnings so far for the copyright, about $400.
The year after that I was contacted by a producer of a radio play series and they wanted to license the story for a radio play, with actors and everything. We came to terms and I got $5,000 for the license for the radio play. They needed a script, and since Kris used to write radio scripts, they hired her to do that and she got $6,000 for writing the script.
The play was wonderful and got a lot of attention. Total earned from the copyright for those three hours of writing so far was $11,400.
Over the next few years the story was republished three times in various books and I made another $300 total.
In the late 1990s I was approached by Hollywood and they took an option on the story for one year for $2,000. That option was renewed three more times over the years for a total of $8,000 and nothing was ever made.
Total earned for the author in the first ten years on the copyright, $19,700.
Story went dormant for about ten years until the indie movement came along and I started putting it in various books, collections, and such. At our regular going rates for a reprint short story, I have made another $1,100 for a total to the author of $20,800 for a three hour short story thirty years before.
Of course, since I own 50% of WMG Publishing, I could count the proportional income from all the projects it has been in, plus stand-alone sales, but too much work. Just say it has earned a lot.
I had no idea that a rejected vampire story from thirty years ago, that I wrote in a crowded room at a writer’s retreat in three hours could earn that kind of money over time. This is one reason I alway always, always harp on the value of copyright and that a writer should never get in a hurry when something doesn’t sell right off, and never sell all rights.
I have a hunch that “In the Shade of the Slowboat Man” still has a lot of life in the copyright, a lot more licenses to license.