05 December 2020

Locked Down and Writing


I think everyone would agree that 2020's been a downer of a year, so far. A global virus, hurricanes, wildfires, riots, political crises, murder hornets--and the year's not even done yet. As for Covid, my wife and I have medical folks in our immediate family who have some strict rules about behavior during the pandemic, so we've been staying close to home for nine months now. The only people we see are those on Zoom or FaceTime, tellers at the bank drive-thru window, and neighbors at shouting distance.

I've seen only two advantages to all this. First, we no longer get robocalls asking us to book a cruise. Second, I've had a LOT of time to create stories.

2020 (so far) in review

As of the first week in December, I have written 35 new stories, I've had 38 stories published, and I currently have 42 more stories that have been accepted and not yet published. Five of those TBPs are scheduled to come out later this month, and the rest sometime in 2021. In addition, I had a collection of 300 poems published, I signed a contract with an overseas publisher for a bilingual collection of my Saturday Evening Post stories, and an L.A. production company recently extended a film option they bought last year on one of my AHMM stories. So it's been a pretty good year, writingwise.

These past two months have been especially kind to me: Between October 5 and today (December 5), I've had 21 stories published. Of those, eleven were in magazines like Woman's World, Strand Magazine, Mystery Weekly, and Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and ten were in anthologies (The Beat of Black WingsA Grave Diagnosis; Cozy Villages of DeathPeace, Love, and CrimeThe Best American Mystery Stories 2020; etc.). In fact, within those two months I had two stories in Woman's World and two in Mystery Weekly. (Many thanks to those editors!)

If anyone's interested in this kind of thing, here are some numbers and statistics about my literary output since January 1st:

Year-to-date stats for 2020 . . .

21% of my published stories were less than 1000 words, 45% were between 1000 and 4000, 34% were longer than 4000. The shortest was 50 words, the longest was 8000.

89% were mystery/suspense, 2% westerns, 2% romance, 5% humor, 2% science fiction, and 0% literary. In other words, they were 100% fun to write and 0% work.

58% of my published mystery stories involved robberies of some kind, 55% involved murder, 19% involved both. The rest were about other kinds of crimes.

55% of my published stories this year appeared in the past two months. (This was unusual, as mentioned earlier, and I can offer no reason for it. It's just the way the mop flopped.)

66% of my published stories this year appeared in magazines, the rest in anthologies.

20% of my anthology publications were the result of invitations to contribute, and the rest were via open-call submissions or after-the-fact, best-of selections.

43% of my anthology publications and 75% of my magazine publications involved editors I've worked with before.

82% of my published stories were written in third-person POV, the rest were first-person.

100% were written in past tense. I'm not overly fond of present-tense stories.

16% included otherworldly elements of some kind.

29% had a female protagonist.

78% were submitted via email, the rest via online submission systems. For the first time ever, none of my submissions were snailmailed.

89% were published in U.S. markets.

26% were reprints.

84% were published in paying markets.

82% appeared in print publications, the rest were online.

53% were published in new (to me) markets, the rest in places where I've been published before. 

Takeaways, from these percentages: My stories seem to be getting a little longer, almost all of them are mystery/crime, I still submit occasionally to non-paying markets, I continue to sell a reasonable number of reprints, and I still seem to prefer third-person stories.

NOTE: I have written and submitted half a dozen Covid-related stories but--as of this post--all have been rejected. Maybe editors think we hear enough about that subject in the news. Either that, or those stories just aren't very good.

How about your year, so far?

What are your views, on writing during all this isolation and stress and uncertainty? I've heard some writer friends say it has taken away their inspiration to produce stories (at least fictional stories) and others say writing has been an especially important form of therapy for them this year, and a welcome escape. If you have been writing a lot, has the pandemic changed the subject matter at all (darker/less humorous)? Have any of your stories/novels involved Covid, masks, lockdowns, etc? Have editors/publishers been receptive to that?

Maybe this'll all be behind us soon. Meanwhile, I hope you and yours had a great Thanksgiving. Best to everyone!


  1. An impressive output, John. Congratulations, you can celebrate a vintage year as a writer!

    I haven't written as much as I would have liked to. I sold one story to EQMM (still to be published). In my home country, the Netherlands, I saw an increase of income as a writer due to the fact that people read more during the lockdown. So, in that respect I can look back to my best year ever.

  2. Uh, Wow. Impressive work. Made me look back and see what I've done this year. 8 stories published. One novel published. Finished another novel and 3/4 way through another. Wrote 6 new stories. That's a lot for me. I'm glad you put your numbers up so beginners can see what can be accomplished with hard work.

  3. Hi Anne -- If you sold a story to EQMM, you had a major win right there, this year (!). That's always a big accomplishment. And I'm pleased you mentioned the fact that folks are reading more, during the pandemic--I said nothing about that. Our "business" seems to be one of those that hasn't suffered as much as others, except of course via the brick-and-mortar bookstores. I wish you an even better year in 2021!

    O'Neil, in your case, you need only to look back at the number of novels and stories you've published in your career--and what an impressive total that is! Even one novel, timewise and efforwise, equals many many short stories. As for those percentages I mentioned, they often surprise me, because they change so from year to year. For one thing, I think the reason I published in so (relatively) many new markets this year is that I had stories in a lot of one-time anthologies. (It seemed to me that there were more anthology submission calls this year, compared to the last few.)

    Thanks, both of you, for commenting!

  4. Impressive and instructive numbers, John. Also inspiring to see what you can really accomplish with hard work. The pandemic and my own health issues have changed my writing and process this year, and at least some of the changes are positive, and like yours on a much smaller scale. I'm saving details for my own blog in two weeks.

    But congratulations on another productive year.

    Ditto O'Neil. looking forward to your novel(s).

  5. Thank you, Steve. I suppose the pandemic has changed everyone--writers as well--in many ways. But, as you said, some of those changes ARE positive. I've always considered writing to be a form of therapy, even before Covid came along.

    I look forward to seeing your upcoming post. Thanks again, as always!

  6. And, here I thought Ed Hoch was prolific in the short story world during his life time. You are truly gifted. But then, hard work has a lot to do with it. I just need to get off my.... No, wait a minute, I need to get on my ass.

  7. RT, you're too kind--anytime I'm mentioned in the same sentence with Ed Hoch, I'm grateful! He's one of my all-time literary heroes. As for work, I guess some of the rewriting and editing could be considered work, but I honestly find the planning and writing of these stories to be great fun, and I know you do too. in what other job could I sit and stare out the window with a blank look on my face and tell my wife I'm working?

    Keep up the great stories, my friend.

  8. John, you never cease to astound me with your productivity! I had a good year for me, but nothing even close to the year you've had: ten new stories, four translations, and three reprints published in various magazines and anthologies, plus two anthologies I edited and one I co-edited. I'm happy with that ... and in awe of your 2020 accomplishments.

  9. Hey Josh. Thank you, but congrats on your output as well--Both of us know how much time and effort are involved in editing an anthology, and you did three! You even had to edit one of my stories, there, and I KNOW that was hard. And the only thing I can translate is Southern into English, and even that doesn't always work well.

    I love reading your stories--keep it up! And thanks again, as always.

  10. Wow. Congrats on your publications this year! Mine are down a little this year, and nothing like yours, even in a good year. Although I was thrilled to be in the Black Beacon Book of Mystery along with you and Josh Pacter.

    As far as Covid, I found myself writing a lot more earlier in the year, but lately I'm finding it hard to sit in front of the keyboard. Maybe Covid fatigue?

    Here's hoping next year is a better one.

  11. As always, John, I'm astonished and inspired by your output. I had high hopes for this year, but I'm definitely one of those who got derailed by this trash fire of a year. I wrote nothing in March or April, managed to get productive again in the summer and fall, and then wrote nothing in November, when I allowed myself to get completely distracted by the election and its aftermath.

    As of today, I've written 12 new stories this year, totaling some 55,000 words. Of those, eight have been accepted for publication, seven in anthologies and one in Mystery Weekly. Two stories have been rejected and are now out for second submissions, and the remaining two are still pending responses from the first submissions. I do hope to get at least two more stories written by the end of the year.

    One shift from previous years: almost everything I've written this year has been a submission for a themed anthology. I haven't written any stories for magazine markets where I came up with the idea and theme from scratch; I seem to need the launching pad of an announced theme and a firm deadline to get motivated.

    I've had nine stories actually published in 2020, with two more scheduled to come out before the end of the year. I have five stories I know of so far scheduled for publication in 2021.

    Overall these aren't bad numbers by my standards, on a par with what I did in 2019, but I'd been hoping to hit 100,000 words for the year. Oh well. There's always next year.

    As for COVID, I haven't written any stories that mention it or are set during it, and I find it difficult to imagine that I will. Even if I hadn't heard that many editors are leery of such stories, I find it too depressing. My stories can be dark, but writing them is still a form of fun escape, and I spend too much time already thinking about masks and social distancing. Maybe in a year, when vaccines, better treatments, and sane leadership have truly contained the disease, I might think about setting a story in 2020. COVID is off limits for me until it can be consigned to historical fiction.

    1. I have no idea why my name didn't show up here. The post beginning "As always, John," is by me, Joseph S. Walker

  12. John, I am in awe of your output. Clearly I've been in a coma all year by comparison. I've only published four stories this year, and finished one novel, now languishing on some editor's desk somewhere. Next year has to be better, I keep telling myself. You're a model for all of us.

  13. Thanks, Bob--I too was pleased to be a part of the Black Beacon anthology with you and Josh. As for Covid affecting your writing (or the desire to write), I know what you mean. I've heard that from a number of our writing friends, and I think it makes sense. On the other hand, writing and reading has always been a way from me to escape reality, and what better time to escape than this year? With regard to next year, it HAS to be better, right?

    Thanks as always for the comment--keep up the good work.

  14. Joe, sounds as if you've produced a lot of stories this year, and that most of those have already found good homes. As for the election and its aftermath, it was one of those things I chose to escape, so I'm afraid I was able to write as much in November as before.

    I think you've probably done a good thing, in avoiding writing any Covid-based stories. Those I've written have (as I mentioned) not fared well with editors, although I did enjoy writing them--how can a mystery writer not be intrigued by the idea of both the suspects and the victims being masked?? And strangely enough, I read a novel awhile back that included Covid as well (Carl Hiassen's SQUEEZE ME).

    Anyhow, thanks as always for stopping in, here. Keep in touch!

  15. Susan, it's been a coma-inducing year, so you're forgiven. And hey, you produced a novel this year, which is more than I've done. Good luck with it, by the way!

    Thanks for dropping by.

  16. Simply in absolute awe. My production and publication have both been down this year - on the other hand I've been helping keep Alternatives to Violence (AVP) Sioux Falls afloat, writing this blog every two weeks, and writing to the inmates we've been working with every two weeks. So... But yeah... my fiction production is way down.

    1. Eve -- Sounds to me as if your priorities are right. Your AVP and inmate work are more important than dreaming up mystery stories. And SleuthSayers is certainly more important. If you don't believe that, ask Velma.

      Take care, and stay in touch!

    2. My 2020 writing production is up over 2019, but I'll save the stats for my first 2021 post. Suffice it to say that 2020 has been a highly unusual year.

    3. Michael, I can't imagine how you can continue to publish so many stories and still edit all the anthologies that you do every year, plus all your other commitments, both writingwise and otherwise. My hat's off to you! Also glad to hear your production's up for 2020, over last year.

  17. I didn't really think I'd done that much this year until I actually totted up the numbers and surprised myself. Six short stories sold in previous years finally published in the second half of 2020. Three new novels written and published this year, along with one written in 2019 and published in 2020. Two short story collections (of my own work), and three multi-author anthologies (including the above-mentioned "Cozy Villages of Death" - and, John, your story was one that needed no extra effort on my part to include!), each of which also include an original story of mine.

    It's more output than I've had in the last several "good" years - a silver lining, of sorts, to not being able to go anywhere or see anyone this year. And, speaking just for myself, writing was one of the few things I felt I had some semblance of control over; a happy bit of "normal" in the crazy.

  18. Well said, Lyn. Sure enough, your writing is something you can control during times when nothing else seems controllable. I feel the same way.

    Your track record this year is impressive, especially so because it involves not just short stories but novels, collections, and anthologies (!!). Great jumpin' Jiminy. You are correct to be proud of all that.

    And since you mentioned it, thank you again for including my story in the delightful Cozy Villages anthology. That's a fun book, and I'm honored to have been a small part of it.

    Always good to hear from you. Take care, and keep me posted!

  19. That's fantastic news, John! Sláinte! As for me, my production this year is worse than ever. I'm a fast typist, which does NOT make a person a fast writer, & besides, I like to write extremely short stuff, & also I am still recovering from a serious illness. That's my excuse ... 2021 will be better for everyone I hope.

  20. Elizabeth -- I love the very short stories also. As for your (lack of) production, sounds like you have a great reason for that--I wish you a quick and complete recovery! Yes, 2021 will be better!

    Thanks as always for stopping by!

  21. "Just the way the mop flopped!" Love it! Congrats on the perseverance! As for me, I've had a few extra things going on, so I didn't want to be under a lot of deadlines. I had three stories from a couple of years ago finally get published, and I've written about three full-length stories, as well as a weekly flash fiction I post in conjunction with a Facebook page. (The big thing here is two of the full-length stories are mysteries, a genre I've been sorely neglecting---I know, shame! Shame! :) Keep up the good work, John!

    1. Oh, and I'm avoiding any stories involving COVID; of the three mysteries I've written this year, one is set in 100 B.C. and two (and I don't know how this happened!) are set in 1969!

  22. Jeff, I bet you're having fun with all those different kinds of stories. You and everyone else seem to be doing the right thing in avoiding writing Covid tales--as I said, I've written several and they've all tanked so far. And your 100 BC mystery sounds interesting--I'm getting images of a Roman senatorial scandal. (When that gets published let me know so I can read it.) As for my expression of fate, I guess I can picture mops flopping easier than cookies crumbling.

    Keep me updated.

  23. John, you are amazing. This is incredible output again this year. It makes me feel a bit lazy but also delighted to know you. The ex-accountant in me is pleased that your metrics are well sliced and diced.

    I wrote 1 story in 2019, so the 2020 bar was low. I work at a medical center, so 2020 constrained my writing time more than ever -- rightly. But I wrote 5 stories plus 2 I immediately shoved into the compost heap. 21 submission this year netting 3 acceptances so far. 2 were published, and 1 remains in AHMM's publication queue.

  24. How kind of you, Bob. Believe me, the secret to writing a lot of words is having the time to write them--if I were still working fulltime like you, that would be another matter entirely.

    For what it's worth, I too wind up throwing some of my creations straight into the old circular file--but most of them I keep and polish and submit someplace to see if they can make something of themselves. I'm keeping fingers crossed for you that more of those 21 submissions will result in acceptances (I'm sure they will), and congrats on having a story in the TBP queue at AHMM. Those AH stories take a long time to see the light of day, but they'll eventually come out, and it's always a proud day when they do.

    Take care, and stay in touch!

  25. Replies
    1. Sophie, thank you for stopping in here at SleuthSayers!

    2. Sophie, thank you for stopping in here at SleuthSayers!


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