Odyssey: The Before and After Shots

Tomorrow I head off to the The Never-Ending Odyssey (aka TNEO), a week-long workshop for alumni of the six-week Odyssey Writing Workshop, so my current blogging scarcity will likely become even scarcer. But before I head out, an actual post!

Gearing up for TNEO over the last several weeks got me wondering: just how much have I really grown as a writer since attending Odyssey in 2007?

Writing workshops are most definitely not for everyone, but for some of us, they can be an amazing, inspiring, eye-opening experience. And contrary to what some would suggest, not all writing workshops result in cookie-cutter stories written to some kind of formula. I’m sure there are some that do, but my Odyssey classmates and I went into the program as very different writers, and we all came out of the program remaining very different writers.

Had I not attended Odyssey and just continued writing and seeking feedback on my work, I’m sure I would have still improved and grown as a writer over time. But I think Odyssey pushed me in the right direction harder and faster than I would have been able to do on my own. The question, though: how do you quantify that?

Writing success can be subjective and dependent on factors other than talent or the strength of a story. (Sure, you wrote a fantastic story about radioactive bunnies, but Magazine A just published a story about radioactive bunnies.) And of course, sales and artistic merit don’t always go hand in hand. (Repeat to self: I will not rant about sparkly vampires.) But because I’m someone who writes with the hope of achieving publication success, sales are probably the best measure I have to go with. That, and I’m one of those sick people who actually enjoys crunching numbers.

So I broke my submissions into three categories: (1) Pre-Odyssey: stories written before I attended the workshop (31 stories total); (2) Odyssey: stories written for or at the workshop, all of which were significantly revised afterwards (8 stories total); and (3) Post-Odyssey: stories I wrote after the workshop (8 stories total). I didn’t include reprint sales/submissions, sales that didn’t ultimately result in publication because the market folded, stories that have been written but not yet submitted anywhere, and one newer story that’s only been submitted once so far. From that breakdown we get:

  • Pre-Odyssey: 81% of the stories have sold, with an average of 6 submissions before sale
  • Odyssey: 63% of the stories have sold, with an average of 17 submissions before sale
  • Post-Odyssey: 63% of the stories have sold, with an average of 8 submissions before sale

At first glance it might look as if I’m doing worse, but those numbers don’t tell the full story. For starters, I cranked out a hell of a lot of stories before attending Odyssey, and they’ve all been making the rounds longer than the more recent pieces, so statistically it makes sense that more of them have sold. But more significantly, the numbers above don’t tell you where the stories sold to.

So from there, I broke things down by the pay rate of the publications the stories sold to: (1) Pro: 5 cents/word+ (or a commensurate flat rate payment); (2) Semi-Pro: 1 cent/word+ (or a commensurate flat rate payment); and (3) Token: token payment or paid-in-copies. In the pro category, I included any publication paying 5 cents/word+ and not just SFWA-qualifying publications. And that brings us to my lovely chart:

That’s the story I was hoping the numbers would tell: a shift from selling primarily to token-paying publications to selling primarily to pro and semi-pro publications. The pre-Odyssey stories that sold at pro rates are both flash pieces, which I think is worth noting since, in general (and probably due to the make-every-word-count nature of flash fiction), my flash pieces at that time tended to be stronger than my longer pieces.

However, while I’d like to think the shift to better-paying sales is solely a reflection of me growing as a writer, there’s another factor to take into consideration: my submission patterns changed after Odyssey. In the few years I was actively submitting before the workshop, I didn’t always submit to the pro or semi-pro publications first. After Odyssey, I changed my strategy to what it is now—aim for the pro publications first, then work my way down (though with some exceptions). So clearly that impacts the numbers. However, it was my experience at Odyssey that prompted me to change my submission habits. Had I not gone, I likely would have kept to the same routine for much longer. So while the numbers above can’t be attributed to writing quality alone, the fact remains that attending Odyssey influenced them.

I doubt my data will be all that interesting to anyone other than myself, but if you have your own stories of workshop experiences or realizations about your growth as a writer, please feel free to share in the comments.

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