For many of us, writing fiction is a passion. There is something amazing about weaving together a story and creating a world that didn’t exist beforehand. Yet, making money in the field can feel impossible. The most obvious approach is publishing a novel or a collection of stories, which can seem like an incredibly difficult goal.
Yet, in practice, there are multiple ways to earn money writing fiction. This time, we’re going to look at one small area of this field, how you can get paid to write horror stories. So, if this is what you want to do – tune in.
Sites That You Can Submit To
One of the best ways to earn money writing fiction is to submit stories. There are many different sites (and physical magazines) that regularly compile stories from a specific genre – including horror. Some of these sites just offer exposure as a reward but others do pay authors as well.
There are too many of these to cover them all. But, the list below are some key examples that you can turn to.
- Unfading Daydream. A relatively small site that publishes stories and offers between $5 and $10 per accepted submission. Their main emphasis includes areas like horror, fantasy, supernatural and sci-fi.
- Solarcide. This is a slightly odd site but they periodically release collections of stories and pay $50 for each one that is featured. Their guidelines for submission are intentionally vague but there is an emphasis on ‘dark and/or weird’ writing. The site is only open for submissions periodically, so you may have to check back.
- Apex Magazine. Pays up to $0.06 per word and accepts pieces up to 7,500 words. Genres featured include science fiction, fantasy and horror.
- Clarkesworld. Clarkesworld is a well-known science fiction and fantasy magazine. While they don’t focus on horror specifically, their guidelines do allow for many horror pieces. Just make sure you avoid their list of overused themes. The site pays $0.10 per word for the first 5,000 words and $0.08 per word for anything above this. While the pay rate is good, the competition is likely to be high.
One other good place to look is Dark Markets. This site is specifically designed for horror writers and provides detailed information about various sites that pay for horror writing, along with some related competitions. There is also a list at Freedom with Writing, although this covers all genres and doesn’t seem to be regularly updated.
Entering In Competitions
You can also make some money by entering competitions. Here, you’re not getting paid for the story but you may earn a prize if you win the competition.
In some cases, competitions will let you write whatever you like in a given genre, although there might be a word limit. Other competitions will have a specific prompt or style that you need to follow.
One challenge is actually finding competitions to begin with. They are always time-specific and most aren’t well-advertised. Plus, horror is a relatively niche genre, so there are fewer options than if you want to write literary fiction.
A good place to start is Inkitt. The site isn’t horror-specific but it offers an updated list of current writing competitions, along with information on their prizes and requirements. Many of the options won’t be relevant for horror writers but the list is worth checking out anyway.
You can also use Google to search for competitions. If you do, make sure you include the current year in your search somewhere. Otherwise, you’ll mostly get competitions that have long since expired.
Even if you find good ones, competitions can be tricky. Often you’ll have to write a specific piece to enter them, which takes time and energy. Unless you win, you don’t get anything from that effort. In some cases, you may be able to resubmit that same story elsewhere. But, many competitions come with terms and conditions that prevent you from doing so.
As a result, it’s best to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of a given competition. For example, if it is hosted on a relatively obscure site and the prize money isn’t very good – it’s probably not worth much effort. If you have something written that will already fit, you could submit it but writing something new would be a waste of time.
In contrast, if the prize is substantial or the competition comes from a high-quality source, it may be worth pursuing. One example is the site The Guardian, which offered a Stephen King short fiction competition in 2015. The competition itself has expired but it would have been a good one to enter.
In fact, competitions like that are ones that could be worth it even if they didn’t offer compensation. After all, exposure is relevant if you want to be a successful writer and some sites do have an extensive audience.
Going The Self-Publishing Route
For a long time, publishing a book was extremely difficult. You had to find a company willing to publish your work, which involved submitting your manuscript to many different publishing companies. With so many people wanting to write, the odds of success were low – and companies favored people who already had an established track record.
You could self-publish a physical book and many printers continue to offer that service. But, doing so isn’t particularly helpful unless you can find somewhere to sell the book and can market it effectively.
The development of eBooks has made self-publishing that much easier. For example, you can use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing to publish an eBook. The cost for doing so is simply a commission on your sale, which isn’t too bad. Amazon also has an extremely large audience, where many people regularly buy eBooks.
This means that you can get a book live with relatively little effort and few costs.
There are many books on Amazon and similar services, so you do still need to get noticed. But, this is something you can do yourself as well.
- Ensure you have a compelling cover and that your entire eBook is high-quality with correct spelling and grammar. People do judge a book by its cover after all (even though they shouldn’t). If you’re stuck, there are many designers on sites like Fiverr that offer engaging book covers.
- Choose a good price point. Inexpensive books can sometimes seem low-quality but people may buy them more readily. A good starting point is to see what successful books in your genre sell for, particularly ones from new authors. You can also play around with the pricing over time.
- Turn to your social media accounts. Promote on Facebook, Twitter and similar services. You could even use paid ads.
- Use your own website to promote your work. This can tie in with social media promotion and you can also use SEO techniques to drive traffic and get interest that way.
- Offer a sample chapter if you created a novel or a sample story if you have a collection of short stories. This can show people what to expect and get them interested.
- Don’t be afraid to try again. Getting traction as an author takes time – but it is achievable.
If you can get people interested in your writing, self-publishing offers the best potential for return. After all, you’re getting paid per sale, rather than having to find buyers for individual stories. You’re also promoting a non-physical product, so you have no significant ongoing costs to worry about.
Other Potential Options
The styles that I’ve mentioned so far are the most common ways to earn money with horror writing. But, there are some other options as well.
One of these is freelancing. Sites like Upwork sometimes host horror writing jobs, where you would be given specific requirements and write fiction for the person posting the job. Sites like this have some advantages for general writing tasks but they are odd places to find fiction writing work. As a result, many of the jobs won’t be as good as they seem. Some may even be outright scams.
Additionally, when people hire freelance writers, they tend to want specific pieces of writing. You may not get much freedom with what you write about or even about the style.
There are also some sites that offer services for writers. For example, PenPee uses an entirely different mechanism. Authors on the site can earn credits for their work, making money on individual chapters, rather than entire stories. This also means that you can publish one chapter at a time. However, the service costs and there is no guarantee that you’ll earn more than you pay.
You could also write content for horror YouTube channels. There’s a market for both fictional story telling as well as research and script writing for factual channels. You might even find something related to true crime genre channels or podcasts. Though it may not specifically be “creative writing” per se, you’d still be involved in the greater genre of writing spooky stuff, so could be interesting to pursue!
In practice, the income potential probably isn’t high. With this platform, people have to pay to read relatively short stories, many of which will be unfinished. Many people wouldn’t want to do so, especially as there are free sites like FictionPress that offer the same type of content.
Self-publishing and submitting to publications are the two main ways to get paid for fiction writing, in any genre. Of these, self-publishing can offer the greatest return but the time investment is much more significant as well. If you’re just getting started, trying to get paid for individual stories can be more practical and you often get valuable feedback along the way.
Combining these approaches, along with entering competitions, can help you break into the market of horror writing and start to make a name for yourself.
Regardless of the approach, writing fiction is a slow way to make money. Early on, you won’t be earning much at all and you may even spend more time submitting stories and getting rejected than you do writing. Still, if you can break into the market, success is possible. For anyone passionate about writing stories, that result could well be worth the effort.
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