Professional rates don’t mean you’re a professional

Jason Sanford • December 15th, 2009 @ 6:35 am • Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing Tips

Guest blogger Jason Sanford often rants on his website at www.jasonsanford.com. His fiction has been published in Interzone, Year’s Best SF 14, Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Pindeldyboz, and other places, and has won the 2008 Interzone Readers’ Poll and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship.

I tried to stay out of the great rate fail debate, aside from posting some snarky Cliffsnotes to the whole affair. But it turns out I snarked prematurely, because after I posted a new writer naively waded into the affair, saying established writers were only trying to prevent the newbies from succeeding. After having a great stack of screaming outrage shoved down her throat, she probably staggered away thinking, “What the hell? Why are writers so touchy about short story pay?”

Here’s why: In our hearts, we know making professional rates for our short stories mean we’re still being paid nothing at all.

Only in writing circles would five cents a word be considered professional. After working on a 5,000 word story for 20 plus hours, you’re offering to pay me $250? Hell, you can make more pouring lattes for lawyers at Starbucks! Add in having to pay your own benefits and taxes, and professional rates are actually less than nothing.

I guess that’s why I’ve had such a problem with the outrage over this issue. The screaming chorus, lead by John Scalzi, proclaims that writers deserve to be paid for their work. No argument from me. But missing from their rant is a simple truth: the pay for short stories isn’t anywhere high enough to earn an actual living.

Don’t take me wrong. I still try to publish my short stories in the best possible venues, which are also the ones that pay the highest rates. But don’t pretend that makes you a professional writer. In my book, a professional is someone who earns their entire living working in their profession. Selling a short story at professional rates isn’t even a tiny bit of the way toward earning such a living.

If you write short stories, why quibble over whether a story earns $100 or $250? Instead, focus on writing the best possible story and making it available to readers in the best possible venue. Rachel Swirsky offered some great advice on this the other day (although, as opposed to her, I’d place pay rate after both audience size and prestige in deciding where to publish).

If you want to be a true professional writer like Scalzi, write novels and articles and other freelance work, which can actually pay a living wage if you hustle your ass. But realize there’s also nothing wrong with writing a short story you won’t receive a ton of money for. After all, even professional writers like Scalzi write for free to promote themselves. Scalzi writes tens of thousands of words each year on his blog, none of which he is paid for. But this free writing promotes his other fiction, and convinces people like me to shell out $45 for a limited edition of The God Engines.

In short, either write and publish short stories because you love the genre, or see it as a way to build an audience, or both. But don’t pretend the measly pay alone makes you a professional.

151 Responses to “Professional rates don’t mean you’re a professional”

  1. Gerry Huntman says:

    Dead right.

  2. Matt Wallace says:

    I’m not much for blog commenting these days, largely because 99.9% of these on-line action-items fall under the category of Stupid Bullshit I Don’t Care About And Don’t Have Time To Chime In On Because I’m Busy With That Unglamorous Freelance Muck And Who Cares About Another Asshole Writer’s Opinion Anyway (otherwise known as The SIDCADHTTCIOBIBWTUFMWCAAAWOA Project. Our hats and t-shirts are still at the printers). This post, however, is the first one to which I’ve been linked that points out what should be obvious about this whole topic. Which shows you just how far the market/we have fallen.

    Common sense can save your career and creative aspirations. Collective common sense can actually affect change, be it in a single industry or the world at large. I’m just saying.

    Lost me a little bit at the end with the Scalzi pimpage, but diplomacy is also good tradecraft for a working writer.

  3. Jonathan Laden says:

    I appreciate your perspective. I’d also like to think that some professional writers’ distress might best be directed at the “professional markets” who have underinvested in maintaining and growing their markets over the past decades, and thus can no longer justify paying nearly as much (in inflation-adjusted pennies).

    The current state of the professional marketplace was not inevitable.

    (Of course, I couldn’t say that if I had any plans to be published in said markets in the future. Lack of talent frees the soul in such debates….)

  4. Anonymous says:

    “Only in writing circles would five cents a word be considered professional. After working on a 5,000 word story for 20 plus hours, you’re offering to pay me $250? Hell, you can make more pouring lattes for lawyers at Starbucks! Add in having to pay your own benefits and taxes, and professional rates are actually less than nothing.”

    I’d like to see the Starbucks that paid someone 12.50 an hour to do lattes- I mean, really. And guess what? They’re lucky to get benefits. Man, writers really have no clue how much someone makes working at a low-wage, (probably part time, no benefits) job. Did I mention the city I live in, the average yearly income is 10,000$? Yeah, that’s before taxes, too.

    “Don’t take me wrong. I still try to publish my short stories in the best possible venues, which are also the ones that pay the highest rates. But don’t pretend that makes you a professional writer. In my book, a professional is someone who earns their entire living working in their profession. Selling a short story at professional rates isn’t even a tiny bit of the way toward earning such a living.”

    WTF. There is so much wrong with this sentence, I don’t even know where to start. First? Most writers with books under their belts, (some even making the NYT Best Seller’s List) published by major houses STILL work day jobs. STILL. Are they not professional as well? And also, a short story sale is part of the whole. IF you’re a professional writer, then you wouldn’t be trying to just sell short stories to make ends meet. That would be stupid.

    “If you want to be a true professional writer like Scalzi, write novels and articles and other freelance work, which can actually pay a living wage if you hustle your ass. But realize there’s also nothing wrong with writing a short story you won’t receive a ton of money for. After all, even professional writers like Scalzi write for free to promote themselves. Scalzi writes tens of thousands of words each year on his blog, none of which he is paid for. But this free writing promotes his other fiction, and convinces people like me to shell out $45 for a limited edition of The God Engines.”

    Okay, ignoring all the Scalzi worship, not everyone wants to work like that. Not everyone wants to write articles for magazines, write stuff for non-fiction. I do it. But it’s rough out there right now. The market for freelance writing is BRUTAL. And most of the gigs a starting writer can get? yeah, they make the short story market look golden. Seriously, I’ve seen some places pay $1 an article (which, to me, is insulting, but some people do it). Not everyone wants to put the man hours in sorting through crap to get the one job that will pay decently. Or spend hours upon hours pitching and pitching different articles and books to get the one deal that will bring in some pay.

    Some people have a wife and kids. Professionalism isn’t the amount of money you earn. It’s the respect you earn from others in your chosen field. It’s the attitude you have towards others in your chosen profession. Pay rates are just a portion of that. It’s talent and skill and ability.

  5. Brian says:

    Except for the fact that I am a human that likes reading pretty words, I’m a total outsider to this whole issue, but the noise it’s making is puzzling. Authors are another variation of people who sing for their meals. It is only a recent phenomenon that it was possible to live off that trade. It is not the natural condition.

    Making a living at writing is about as likely (and as responsible a decision) as making a living being a rock star. Not to say that folks shouldn’t try to be rock stars. But complaining that the pay is lousy for 99% of the people that try strikes me as a First World problem.

  6. jenn says:

    BTW, I’ve been accused of saying that “established writers were only trying to prevent the newbies from succeeding.” That is NOT what I said or even meant to say. What I was talking about was the much higher principle that the semi-pro market should be RESPECTed for what they do. Reading the posts previous to mine one very well could come to the conclusion that all of the semi-pros were being called junk. The whole notion that I think the pros are keeping the newbies down is hogwash and I wish people will stop saying that’s what I said.

  7. Andrew says:

    I laughed at the comment which stated “Professionalism isn’t the amount of money you earn. It’s the respect you earn from others in your chosen field. It’s the attitude you have towards others in your chosen profession. Pay rates are just a portion of that. It’s talent and skill and ability.”

    Are you kidding? If you were a lawyer doctor, people wouldn’t consider you a professional if you earned most of your income from work outside those professions. Oh her attitude to her fellow lawyers or doctors is so wonderful, it makes up for her not earning shit in our field. She is a true professional.

    No one would say that about a lawyer or doctor, so why say it about a writer? While it is tough to be a freelancer, professionalism is about earning your way in a field. That doesn’t mean don’t be respectful to fellow writers and act professional in your conduct. But merely acting as something doesn’t make you a professional. Being something makes you a professional.

  8. Anonymous says:

    “Are you kidding? If you were a lawyer doctor, people wouldn’t consider you a professional if you earned most of your income from work outside those professions. Oh her attitude to her fellow lawyers or doctors is so wonderful, it makes up for her not earning shit in our field. She is a true professional.”

    Yes, actually. Some lawyers work pro-bono, others work a day job while trying to get higher up at a firm. Also? They two jobs are apples and oranges. How many writers do you know that spend that long in law school earning a degree? or working for free at a law firm as an intern?

    By the way- most PROFESSIONAL writers keep their dayjobs. That’s a fact. Until he died, TS Eliot was an English Banker by day, writer by night.

    “But merely acting as something doesn’t make you a professional.”

    No, but earning RESPECT DOES. And that comes from talent and skill. Not everyone wants to work shit writing jobs to call themselves a professional writer.

  9. Anonymous says:

    And you’ve ignored teh RESPECT aspect. You know the important part. There is no community, no work anywhere that won’t consider you a professional if you don’t have the respect from others in the field.

  10. Mur Lafferty says:

    I, for one, enjoy my amateur status. This way I can write short stories in the Olympics.

    And agreed- my listeners tell me that with one small-press book published in August 08, I’m no longer a wanna-be writer. As I have failed to make a living off that one book, I don’t consider myself anywhere near a success. Like Matt, I’m working on the SIDCADHTTCIOBIBWTUFMWCAAAWOA Project.

    Jenn, you did say “The chill I feel is the people at the pro level pulling up the ladder saying, “you stay down there, kid.”” which pretty much sounds like you thought pros didn’t want newbies to succeed.

    Brian- Wow, the respect you have for writers is overwhelming. *thank you*

  11. Matt Wallace says:

    Mur is our sarcasm comptroller over at The SIDCADHTTCIOBIBWTUFMWCAAAWOA Project. You can see why.

  12. Eric Rosenfield says:

    A-freakin’-men.

  13. jeff vandermeer says:

    This is all facinating to me, as is the level of venom throughout the initial discussion and carrying forward. As someone who is a full-time writer, I will weigh in with a blog post when I return.

    (As an aside: this year, I made 10,000 from short story sales. Granted, that’s not usual. Even more unusual–the two biggest chunks of that were for my most personal and least personal works, in a starting inspiration sense.

  14. brendan connell says:

    I have always laughed at the idea of “professionalism” in general when it comes to art/writing. Because it is really contrary to the entire idea of writing poetry, fiction, or painting great pictures. I think people just somehow get turned on by calling themselves professional. It makes them stand taller in their shoes and makes them able to speak about things with a sharper lisp.

    Anyone ever try to pick up a girl at the Bar Rio by bragging about the 12.50 an hour you make . . . as a professional?

  15. SMD says:

    I’ve mentioned the “pro rate is crap” thing on my blog and on that SF Signal post. It’s entirely true. Pro rate is abysmal, especially compared to the top literary fiction markets than pay thousands. Even the best SF/F markets pay horrible rates. That’s not to say those venues are bad, just that paying 10 or 20 cents a word is only a lot in a field that hasn’t seen fair pay since the Golden Age. Back then, 5 cents a word might have been quite a lot. Today? I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent on what most of the professional SF/F mags pay.

    Good post. I agree with you on pretty much every point. Sanford for the win.

  16. John Scalzi says:

    “If you write short stories, why quibble over whether a story earns $100 or $250?”

    Because the latter is 150% more payment than the former. The difference between $100 and $250 is not actually negligible; $150 is an electric bill payment, a week’s worth of groceries (or more), a dental check-up or doctor’s visit. There’s a lot you can do with $250, basically, that $100 won’t cover. Which is worth a quibble.

    Additionally, in any year about a third of US citizens pay no taxes and quite a few more pay very little (less than $1,000 total), a population which I suspects includes a fair number of aspiring (and, alas, established) writers, so I’m not sure your “after taxes/benefits” argument stands up to scrutiny. For what I suspect is a substantial number of writers, the difference between $100 and $250 will be significant and relevant.

    I’m not sure what the benefit is for writers is accepting the argument that all small payments are equal after a certain level (that certain level apparently being five cents a word), and disregarding the real world value of money when dealing with short story markets. Certainly that’s an argument which benefits publishers, but not writers.

    Jason, whether you’re aware of this or not, you’re making an argument based from a position of privilege — when you can and do make the argument that the difference between $100 and $250 is not worth the quibble, what you’re actually saying is “the difference between $100 and $250 is not worth the quibble *to me.*” You’re swaddling it in a slightly more objective discussion of what is “professional” and what is not, which is in itself another value judgment.

    This is your prerogative, but it’s an argument I don’t agree with. The reason that I and other writers make such noise is that out in the real world there actually *is* a difference between $100 and $250, and there are writers out there — new and established both — for whom that difference can be a real and critical thing. We can argue whether these folks are “professional” or not, or whether they should have day jobs or not, or whatever, but at the end of the day, let’s focus on the actual issues, which is that when they sell that short story they wrote *for whatever reason,* that $250 is, in fact, better than $100.

  17. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    John–thanks for talking about that aspect of it. When I’ve caught up on sleep, I plan on posting something at booklifenow.com about how that difference works–i.e., $250 as opposed to $100 is like the mortar you use to shore up the bricks, or whatever. Patches that do add up.

  18. Living the Fictional Dream » My Take… says:

    [...] has been a lot of talking in the writers’ corner of the blog-o-sphere lately about professional markets, professional rates, and whether it’s worth it for a writer to send his or her stories out to [...]

  19. Paul Jessup says:

    I’m mixed. For one, the pro paying SF/F markets is pretty bad. But it’s probably bad for a reason….the sales just aren’t there. I always pictured short stories more like playing small bars and gigs for an indie band- it pays less (and you won’t make a living off of it), but it helps out. And it helps you get exposure, gain a following (like how an indie band playing at friend’s parties works there way up to opening for a BIG ACT).

    Should it be that way? I don’t know. I do know the New Yorker pays about 1-2 grand for a short story. Are the magazines paying less because they can? Or because they’re earning less? I’m not sure about that.

    As for what’s professionalism? I’ve never even thought of that. I know people that earn their bulk of their money from writing, yet don’t consider themselves professional authors because they don’t have a book on the bookshelves. It’s all a matter of prospective. Getting paid 5 cents a word for a short story? Dunno if that makes you a professional, but that’s not what the SFWA is saying anyway. Their saying the *publisher* is considered a professional market, and that you getting published is enough to become an associate member. Not an active member, mind you. Associate. That doesn’t mean you’re a professional writer, just that you qualified to join a professional organization.

    RWA and other writing org’s have lower bars of entry than these….and I just wonder why joining the SFWA has become a milestone in a writer’s career towards professionalism.

    Just some thoughts.

  20. molly says:

    >Some people have a wife and kids.

    Some people are even women writers trying to make it professionally, too!

  21. Rachel Swirsky says:

    “although, as opposed to her, I’d place pay rate after both audience size and prestige in deciding where to publish”

    Yeah, I didn’t mean to rank those with the numbers I used. More like it’s some kind of equation with a lot of variables, some of which drop off at points.

    I think also that people (including me) sometimes use pay rate as a proxy for the magazine’s audience size (esp since distribution numbers are no longer easy to find). As a general rule, SFWA pro markets probably have better audiences than for-the-love, though obviously counter-examples can be easily enumerated, e.g. Escape Pod’s enormous audience vs. some of the pro zines which no one has ever seen a hard copy of.

  22. Paul Jessup says:

    this might be relevant-
    http://www.wwd.com/media-news/fashion-memopad/fact-not-fiction-marissa-mayer-in-paris-changes-at-martha-stewart-2394937

    The New Yorker drops their second all fiction issue, gets 50% more ads as a direct result (more ads means more money to the magazine). Does this mean short story markets are paying what they can? If people aren’t reading short stories (and a lot of data points towards this) can we expect the professional markets to pay top rates? If this keeps up (with rates dropping and magazines dropping like flies) will writers even write short stories any more, if the money isn’t there? I suspect a lot of writers write short stories to get published and earn experience points to level up to an agent….if the market isn’t there, why write it?

    It’s an interesting time. Will anthologies replace magazines? Or novellas as stand alone?

  23. Rachel Swirsky says:

    “I do know the New Yorker pays about 1-2 grand for a short story. ”

    I’ve heard higher? And I think Atlantic Monthly is listed as 3-5k? And Tor.com’s rates end up being competitive with the literary glossies.

  24. Paul Jessup says:

    Rachel-
    Yeah, higher, depending…and Tor.com’s rates are really good. Short stories have been good to me (I made a good deal of money from shorter fiction this year…although all of it appearing in non-standard venues for the SF/F crowd) so I have vested interest to see how well they’re doing.

    But that begs the thought- if Tor.com can pay that much, why can’t F&SF? Or Asimov’s? Or Analog?

  25. Rachel Swirsky says:

    Paul –

    ” I suspect a lot of writers write short stories to get published and earn experience points to level up to an agent….if the market isn’t there, why write it?”

    I’ve been told by lit people that the agents troll the “___ Review” publications to find new authors they might want to represent. I don’t know how true this is. I’ve since been told that a lot of the vanishingly little business information I was given at Iowa was out of date!

    However, it was really striking to me that the other writers at Iowa who had agents used their agents to submit short stories to the glossies. Very different world view. I know people get picked out of the slush at the New Yorker — I believe Daniel Alarcon was — but it puts a different spin on things.

    It also suggests to me that while the narrative is that you publish 3 stories in the Iowa Review, and then try to level up to the New Yorker (though, just as in genre publications, the New Yorker does take first fictions sales, too; I think Daniel Alarcon’s first sale was to TNY) and then, via the New Yorker, get an agent — really, I think most people get the agent first, at least if my experience at Iowa was typical. So, already I think the process of publishing in the New Yorker is divorced from the idea that it will boost you to some other specific tage in the writing career process. I think it’s an end to itself.

    But I’m just speculating.

  26. Rachel Swirsky says:

    “if Tor.com can pay that much, why can’t F&SF? Or Asimov’s? Or Analog?”

    Maybe more knowledgeable people will come in, but I suspect it’s because Tor.com expects to run at a loss. The short stories at Tor.com aren’t Tor’s product. They’re the advertising for Tor’s product.

    This was explicit at first, if I understand things correctly? Weren’t the originally solicited stories intended to come from authors who were Tor novelists? Come read a Doctorow short, and then if you like it, pick up his novel?

    The same theory seems to be at work for Clarkesworld and Subterranean, which also pay above average pro rate. (And for that matter, for Fantasy and Lightspeed.)

    And all of these magazines offer the fiction for free. People may not want to buy short stories in magazines, and they may not want to read every story a publication puts out. But if they come to read one a year, and then click over on the book catalog… and if meanwhile, the stories are also generating awards and other things… then you can afford to pay for them the same way you’d pay someone to write promotional materials, right? I assume thats the theory.

  27. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Seems like maybe I should weigh in now after all. In a nutshell, I think everybody’s right to some extent. Here are a few points based on the discussions. And in the context that Jenn and Rachel should NOT have been blasted for their views, which I find quite as reasonable at Scalzi’s initial post (which I also agree with; confused? shouldn’t be–this issue is more nuanced than most of the commentary I’ve seen about it).

    (1) Being a writer and not having to live off of your writing income is a kind of privilege. In this context, a writer can take a more varied approach to submitting short fiction–using it for strategic purposes rather than the purely tactical purpose of making money. At the same time, most writers would be better off submitting to the highest paying markets first and working their way down. Even if this seems pointless at times if your work is really strange or non-commercial, it has benefits that include an editor who rejects your work having to engage it, and it may stick with that person even if they don’t take it (which benefits you in other ways over the long haul); exposing those editors to modes of work that they may not normally see, which can have an affect over time;

    (2) Being a full-time writer is a kind of privilege, although I know not everyone agrees; I say it’s a privilege because so many writers *do* have to have a day job, even ones who you’d think should be able to write full-time. In the context of being a full-time writer, though, one thing is usually not a privilege: making money. In lean times, the $250 versus $100 payment for a story can be a lifesaver, and in those lean times a full-time writer should and must go for the highest paying markets possible. However, even this becomes a complicated issue, as if you are *submitting* for the money (note, I do not say *writing* for the money), then you must balance the pay rate against issues like the probable response time to a submission and the lag time between acceptance and payment. $500 that’s coming in next month may quite simply be more important than $1500 coming in four months down the road…In times of plenty–say, after a book advance has just come in–you can afford to deploy your short fiction in more various ways. As I mentioned in another comment, I sold two stories to lit mags–Conjunctions and Black Clock–for about $100 each. I did that during a time of plenty, and to achieve specific strategic objectives. Those objectives included making more inroads into the non-genre world, and to use the publication credits as a kind of calling card or generic “invite” to other opportunities. And it worked–it worked marvelously well. I would say that those two sales, small in terms of cash involved, contributed to getting another $4,000 in other opportunities that had nothing to do with short fiction. Just as one example.

    (3) Pro rates do not necessarily mean an overall level of pro quality stories. “Quality by association” is an important point–it’s why Lady Churchill’s is a better publication credit than some mags that pay pro rates. The overall story quality, the writing, is better. Again, as in the example above, a credit like Lady Churchill’s conveys a sense that a writer has got something to their writing that might make them of interest to me as a reader or editor. Depending, too, on the type of story you’re writing, it’ll get more attention coming out from Electric Velocipede or LC’s than from a larger mag. Weird Tales on the other hand is the place you want to publish if you’re a 20-something writer who writes awesome dark fantasy–the stuff LCRW won’t find whimsical enough…At the same time, if you want to be considered for the Nebula or Hugo–two awards I find largely reactionary and flawed–Asimov’s and F&SF should be your markets of choice. But there’s a whole other world out there that some have mentioned of high-profile lit mags like Conjunctions with circulations similar to, say, F&SF. How you think about your own submission processes is up to you and will be different for every writer, but break the cycle every once in awhile and *don’t* submit to the same usual suspects. You might be surprised, too, at the comments you get back and what you learn about your writing as a result. How you approach these markets will largely be shaped by how much room you have to *not* start with the highest paying markets (and other considerations, like how far up the food chain you are, and thus how many closed anthos you get invited to).

    (4) Glossy magazines or magazines with evidence of high production values that pay 1/5th cent a word are not to be trusted. Scalzi is absolutely right about this one, especially for start-ups, and especially for genre publications. A lot of lit mags are published through getting university money or grant money, and so they can be forgiven for offering poor pay, especially if there’s a prestige factor you can point to. But for a commercial mag, it’s really poor form, and a bad idea, to offer next to nothing if they’re obviously pouring money into the look-and-feel. It’s a bad idea because they probably won’t be able to attract quality fiction (below a certain point, as we’ve seen, many writers won’t submit their best work). But it’s also, like I’ve said, kind of sleazy.

    (5) Semi-pro zines and mags that don’t pay aren’t automatically crappy or automatically being terrible to writers. Within the genre field we have a history of commercialism and commercialization that can at times make us blind to other traditions that are equally valid, and sometimes more valid. For example, the DIY/alternative press tradition of mags and presses that entered into publishing out of a sense of social activism and progressive politics. We recently saw a post about the pros and cons of this, but I would still say this is a valid tradition, and that in this context the issue of money is often moot. The other major tradition is that of the mainstream literary magazines. Although many of them do indeed have low print runs and have limited distribution, go into any Borders or Barnes & Noble and you will see a healthy representation of lit mags that *do* have good circulation and that are available to general reading public. Within genre, many “semi-pro” magazines are publishing amazing stuff–Weird Tales is an excellent example of what happens when an editor and publisher support acquisition of new writers whose work is just as good as that of more established writers. Much of that fiction wouldn’t have found a home elsewhere because of the horror elements and to say that WT is a lesser mag because of pay rate would be misleading.

    (6) Running a magazine is a difficult, time-consuming, and money-draining enterprise. Writers need to know that a magazine is an uncertain venture that requires a great deal of time, attention, organization, and, usually, money behind it, often for little reward. It’s easy to be critical–and situations like the one Scalzi pointed out deserve the criticism–but the fact is, it’s not a good time for mags, even online mags. (I’ll wager almost all of your favorite online mags don’t really do more than break even, at best.) It hasn’t been for several decades. So I would just say that the vehement disdain directed toward magazines is disheartening. The alternative is not a landscape with fewer mags that pay more. It’s a landscape with just fewer magazines period. Writers shouldn’t put up with abuse in the form of low wages where higher wages should be given, but civility of tone would be appreciated given that morale pays a large role in whether some of these operations can continue.

    (7) Being a writer is a difficult thing, and encouragment is, early on, a kind of payment. I came up through indie/alt press, and although I sold to Asimov’s in my early twenties, I had been submitting since I was fourteen, amassing a lot of credits through indie mags. I was learning on the job and wanting to submit even before I was probably ready. Fact is, the encouragement from non-paying mags and low-paying mags is probably why I continued. And there was another reason why those indie mags were so important: they were willing to look at the more surreal work that the commercial mags were not. Trust me, my novelette “The Transformation of Martin Lake” went to every commercial mag out there, including Asimov’s, F&SF, and the fantasy antho series Patrick Nielsen-Hayden was editing. It wound up in a small press antho. It also wound up winning the World Fantasy Award and being translated into 15 languages, and being included in City of Saints and Madmen. It and much else I was writing at the time, like “Balzac’s War,” subsequently proved itself as being really good fiction, but if not for indie press, I wouldn’t have gotten enough validation to keep writing. My point is this: if you are writing commercial fiction, easily identifiable fiction (vampires, etc.), or even just slightly quirky fiction and you can’t get published by the pro mags, maybe the story isn’t good enough. But if you’re writing really different stuff, or stuff that combines a lot of genres, or is very surreal…your work may be really good and you may still be getting rejected. This is a compelling reason not to be contemptuous of alternative routes to publication. Every writer’s career is different.

    I say all of this in this context: if you’re not writing short fiction for the love of it, why the heck write it? As someone pointed out, you can generally make more money doing other things. So the bottom line is: I agree with Rachel, I agree with John S, I agree with Jenn, and I agree With Jason S. You’re all right. At different times, in different contexts.

    Much Love,

    Jeff

  28. Rachel Swirsky says:

    “Semi-pro zines and mags that don’t pay aren’t automatically crappy or automatically being terrible to writers.”

    Jeff — just making sure — you do know this is not the argument I was making, yes?

  29. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Absolutely! My post is not really in reaction to any of the other posts so much as to some reactions to the posts. It just incorporates some aspects of your points and others. In no way was I attacking anyone else’s posts, as I thought yours, Jenn’s, Scalzi’s, and Jason’s all raise important and valid points.

    Jeff

  30. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    My comment, rather. Not my post. As I have not posted.

  31. Rachel Swirsky says:

    Just checking. :) I think this is a very valuable summary, and would make a good post!

  32. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Well, you know I’m a total fan boy when it comes to your work, and we share many common points of view, so it’s unlikely I’d disagree with you on much!

    I’ve got so much else to catch up on, I thought I’d comment here in case I don’t get a chance to post, but I might make a post out of it by Monday.

  33. Paul Jessup says:

    You and me both :) I love Rachel’s writing…great stuff.

    I wasn’t trying to knock any magazine above when I was speculating pay rates- I just meant that there is probably a reason why they pay as much as they do.

    Personally, the indie market is the awesomest. Lay pay rates be damned, I love reading them and still get hurt when they reject my writing (because damnit- they publish some great stories).

  34. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Paul–I didn’t think you were. And fact is, writers should evaluate each individual pub based on its individual merits and pros and cons. Cheers, Jeff

  35. Andrew Cooper says:

    Thank you for this, Jeff!!! As a slimy underling who has yet to make a professional sale, I couldn’t be more thankful for an opposing viewpoint.

  36. Paul Jessup says:

    Jeff- just wanted to clarify :) And agree with you, basically (since what you’re saying is 100% right)

  37. Short Stories and Monies says:

    [...] heard people mentioning in all sorts of places (and this isn’t anything new, really) that you can’t make a living as a short story [...]

  38. Damien Thorn says:

    Not only is $250 more than $100, but the difference just keeps adding up when you sell more stories! Believe it or not:

    $1,000 is more than $400!

    $2,000 is more than $800!

    $10,000 is more than $4,000!

    So the more you sell, the more chances you have to get screwed! WOW!

  39. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Wow, Damien. That added a lot to the discussion.

  40. Jason Sanford says:

    Jeff: Amazing post on this whole subject, and one I hope every writer reads.

    John: I’m quite aware of arguments based on positions of privilege. I’ve been on the receiving end of quite a few of those damn arguments in my lifetime. I wasn’t saying the difference between $250 and $100 wasn’t worth anything to me. I was saying that pay for short stories is so low we shouldn’t call the pay rate professional. I was also saying that sometimes where you publish a story should be dictated by facts other than money, as Jeff so eloquently stated. Instead of getting hung up on small differences in pay scale, writers should look at the big picture of what they’re trying to do with their short story publications.

  41. Anon. says:

    If there’s no difference between $250 and $100, then let the publishers pay $250. Otherwise, the only answer needed, because it is complete without more, is this: $150 matters more to the publisher than the writer. And that seems self-evidently false as a moral proposition.

  42. brendan connell says:

    I think the money is really not that important. At World Fantasy I was talking to Deborah Layne, Wheatland Press editor. For a while she had been trying to get Polyphony 7 out, but had been unable due to lack of funds to pay authors, because she wanted to pay “pro” rates. She had accepted a story of mine a while before and the pay due on that was $465 dollars. I suggested that she simply pay me and the other authors less so the thing could be published, and if all works out, I’ll get $100 instead of $465. Now this story of mine is pretty good and Polyphony was the fist place I sent it to, so I fancy I could get it published elsewhere for more money if I wanted to. But that is not really the point. The point is that Polyphony is a good series and should be supported. And that is the same reason I send material to Electric Velocipede – not for the money, but because I like what John Klima is doing. In the big picture is what matters is making things and sending them into the world.

  43. brendan connell says:

    I should add that I am far from rich (broke would be a better word), so it is not like I am talking from the money-folks point of view.

  44. John Scalzi says:

    “Instead of getting hung up on small differences in pay scale, writers should look at the big picture of what they’re trying to do with their short story publications.”

    But the difference between $100 and $250 isn’t, in fact, a small difference at all. It’s $150, which, as noted, allows a writer quite a lot of things, and is a not insignificant amount for many writers. You’re apparently focused only on the difference between two cents a word and five cents a word, which doesn’t appear to be much, but which, propagated across the entire length of a story, creates rather a significant variance in what the writer receives in compensation for their work. To attempt to dismiss that as a “small difference” is not accurate.

    I understand that you’re trying to make the argument that there’s more to placing one’s work than simply money considerations, but I don’t think that your argument as structured here is doing that very well, in part because you appear to want to trivialize the importance of financial compensation as a genuinely relevant criterion for market consideration. You are functionally using the the statement “we shouldn’t pretend these are professional rates,” as a foundation for a second argument, which is “the difference in payment rates for short fiction is fundamentally trivial.” The first of these is amply debatable but the second of these really isn’t, as the the functional difference between $100 and $250 is actually rather profound and measurable.

    You seem to wish to wave away the point that you’re making an argument from privilege by asserting that you’ve been on the receiving end of those sorts of arguments. That’s all very well, but it’s neither here nor there as regards your argument, which stands independent of any other argument from privilege that you have been subjected to. You also wish to say that you understand the difference between $100 and $250 but in your piece you explicitly question the value of “quibbling” over whether a writer gets paid one or the other. Your using the word “quibble” rather strongly suggests that you don’t, in fact, see much of a difference between one or the other, which gives lie to your latter statement and again gets you back to the issue of arguing from a point of privilege, in which you have both the ability to suggest the disparity in the pay is of minor consequence, presumably in no small part because it’s not nearly enough to be considered “professional.” Well, you know. That may be true for you. It may not be true for any number of other writers.

    The point I think you need to consider is that whether the rates generally offered for short fiction meet your definition of “professional” is not particularly *relevant* to whether or not the amount a publisher offers is of value to a writer. Moreover you need to more fully consider that the relevant difference between five cents a word and one cent a word (or one fifth of a cent of a word) is not the difference in payment for a single word, but for thousands of them.

    Finally, you may wish to consider that because five cents a word is a pathetically low rate to be considered “professional,” the correct response from writers is not to regard all variances below that pay rate as trivial but to argue forcefully that any publisher paying *less* than that bring something else to the table to compensate for the lack of income it’s providing the writer, and that something had better be good. Because, and this is something I think is not made clear in your argument, generally speaking most writers actually *aren’t* in a position to pick and choose where they will be published; they can only pick and choose where to submit their work. That really does make a difference in “the big picture.”

  45. stevie says:

    Jenn posted above:

    ‘The whole notion that I think the pros are keeping the newbies down is hogwash and I wish people will stop saying that’s what I said.’

    As has been pointed out at some length, based on the indisputable fact that you did indeed say these things which are permanently available on the web, it’s really counter-productive to keep pretending that you did not say what you said. It just adds to the perception of you as less than honest.

  46. Jason Sanford says:

    John: Since you responded to me both here and on my blog, I responded on my blog. There’s a good discussion going on here and I have little desire for us to sidetrack it.

  47. John Scalzi says:

    I’m not exactly sure how responding to the argument you make in your entry and in follow-up comments qualifies as “sidetracking,” Jason.

  48. Jason Sanford says:

    I meant the issues of privilege and knowing the value of money. That’s a touchy subject with me because I’ve seen so many family members and friends I care deeply about broken b/c they lacked privilege and money. I didn’t want to have the discussion here go into those subjects. If you want to discuss that, we can at my blog.

    With regards to what you say about publishing and being paid, I don’t have a lot of disagreement. I mean, you’re dead on when you say “…because five cents a word is a pathetically low rate to be considered ‘professional,’ the correct response from writers is not to regard all variances below that pay rate as trivial but to argue forcefully that any publisher paying *less* than that bring something else to the table to compensate for the lack of income it’s providing the writer, and that something had better be good.”

    Amen to that. As an emerging writer (at least, I hope I am emerging into something), I’ve found my biggest success in Interzone, which many people consider a semi-prozine b/c of lower pay and circulation. But I’ve received a great response to my work there and it’s exposed me more widely than some of the pro magazines I’ve been in. The reason for this is b/c Interzone designs a beautiful magazine, provides great art for their stories, and they are highly respected by others in the field. So yes, as you say, they bring something good to to the mix.

  49. Jason Sanford says:

    Crap. Didn’t finish my train of thought before uploading. Anyway, there are other semi-pro mags which bring that “something good” to the table to make up for a lack of lower pay (Jeff mentions Lady Churchill, which is another great example). No, they aren’t paying 1/5 a cent a word, but the way some people were talking in all this you’d think they were the same as Black Matrix. I merely wanted to point out that when you’re talking about places whose pay rises to near pro levels, then there are also other factors to be considered.

  50. Nathaniel Tapley says:

    Um, John? You do remember how this started, right?

    Because, with the exception of the word ‘generally’…

    “The point I think you need to consider is that whether the rates [generally] offered for short fiction meet your definition of “professional” is not particularly *relevant* to whether or not the amount a publisher offers is of value to a writer.”

  51. jenn says:

    Jeff VanderMeer, all I can say is “Thank you.”

  52. Nathaniel Tapley says:

    To be clear, I agree with John about most of what he’s said in this discussion, but think that that particular argument is what people have been trying to tell him for a couple of weeks now.

    Whatever publishing with people who exploit them gives them is their business, and it’s up to them to decide the value.

    And I think Jason’s right in pointing out that the whole industry’s business model is based on the fact that many, many writers will work for an amount that some would consider ‘exploitative’.

  53. G. Arthur Brown says:

    “I understand that you’re trying to make the argument that there’s more to placing one’s work than simply money considerations, but I don’t think that your argument as structured here is doing that very well, in part because you appear to want to trivialize the importance of financial compensation as a genuinely relevant criterion for market consideration. You are functionally using the the statement “we shouldn’t pretend these are professional rates,” as a foundation for a second argument, which is “the difference in payment rates for short fiction is fundamentally trivial.” The first of these is amply debatable but the second of these really isn’t, as the the functional difference between $100 and $250 is actually rather profound and measurable.”

    Well, I’m poor. And I’m not really selling many stories yet. But $100 or $250 makes very little difference to me in terms of where I submit. Granted, I’ve still never earned 100 bucks yet from any of my stories that I know of. But I have a day job and I don’t treat writing as a source of income. I look at it first as an opportunity to create something unique, second as a means to reach readers, and thirdly as a nifty way to get some fun-money in the pocket, maybe take my girl out for a steak and some malts. But really, math equations aside, Jeff’s point here does stand. $250 for a short story isn’t going to motivate anyone to become a writer. Anymore than $100 bucks is. And it doesn’t make them able to earn a living from their writing. As I once put it, if I sell a story every day, I can afford to exist.

  54. G. Arthur Brown says:

    And of course I mean Jason and not Jeff’s point.

  55. John Scalzi says:

    Nathaniel Tapely:

    “Because, with the exception of the word ‘generally’…”

    i.e., if you alter the argument, the argument looks like a different argument? Well, yes.

    “And I think Jason’s right in pointing out that the whole industry’s business model is based on the fact that many, many writers will work for an amount that some would consider ‘exploitative’.”

    His assertion that five cents is a low rate to be considered “pro” is not one I argue with. It’s his assertion that there’s no point in quibbling between one low rate and one even lower with which I take issue.

    “$250 for a short story isn’t going to motivate anyone to become a writer. Anymore than $100 bucks is.”

    But if you had a choice of which you would prefer to be paid, it’s not much of a discussion which you would prefer. What motivates one to write and what payment one should seek are in fact two entirely separate discussions.

  56. brendan connell says:

    I think the thing about 100 dollars against 250 really depends on the publication. If the one that pays 100 could lead to something more, or be a bonus to the resume, then it is in fact better. That is why I don’t write much non-fiction. I have been paid relatively higher rates for the little non fiction I have written, but have found that it doesnt take me where I want to go.

    The real truth is however that there are probably less than 10 publications that pay decently in the US. And how many of them are genre magazines? Maybe one . . . The reason to submit to genre magazines is that there are a lot of them and it is relatively easy to sell to them. Yes, you might be able to pay your electric bill with what they pay, but that is hardly an ambitious goal.

  57. John Scalzi says:

    “If the one that pays 100 could lead to something more, or be a bonus to the resume, then it is in fact better.”

    This suggestion is predicated on the idea that one or more of the semi-pro-paying markets in science fiction is better read or regarded than the pro-paying markets, which while theoretically possible is not the case in the world as it exists today. Likewise, among the semi-pro-paying markets in SF, one does generally find critical reputation is correlative with payment.

    So generally speaking, if one were simply to pick markets based on payment alone, one would not find a lack of benefit as regards reputation and opportunity. Which I think it a useful thing to point out.

    Beyond this, again, one real issue for people to remember is that you can pick which venues you’d like to submit to, but not usually the ones you’ll actually appear in. That’s why they have editors.

  58. G. Arthur Brown says:

    “His assertion that five cents is a low rate to be considered “pro” is not one I argue with. It’s his assertion that there’s no point in quibbling between one low rate and one even lower with which I take issue.”

    What’s the issue you take with it? Beyond merely wanting to disagree for the sake of disagreement.

  59. Sam says:

    Also: Paying “pro rates” ($0.05/word) also doesn’t make a magazine any good necessarily, or a place good writers would want to put their story if they want people to read it and think well of it. When Mr. Scalzi first started talking about Black Matrix, my response was something like: “*if* they’re paying 90% royalties and have marketing connections to get the magazine in every bookstore, and they’re going to market it well and it should sell… then a fifth of a cent a word is more than fine” — of course BM isn’t doing these things, and while Mr. Scalzi is right to point out that this is a case of “i.e., if you alter the argument, the argument looks like a different argument? Well, yes.” I don’t think that’s completely fair; nobody is (as far as I can tell) lining up to defend Black Matrix specifically. We’re here talking about the general case, the patterns. And there are “pro paying markets” the best writers probably *should* pick below “semipro” or “fanzine” markets like Electric Velocipede and a host of others, and it’s fair to talk about that. There’s a difference between $100 and $250, and there’s a difference between having your story read by 1,000 people instead of 100, too.

    But for another perspective, I bring you a “Wayback Machine” episode: a William Gibson interview from over 10 years ago (http://www.theedge.abelgratis.co.uk/gibsoniviewone.htm):

    Belkom: Before you were professionally published, at least one of your stories appeared in a fanzine [‘Fragments of a Hologram Rose’ in UnEarth, in 1977, collected in Burning Chrome.] Was it a case of lack of confidence in your own work, naiveté about the market, or did you think it was too different from what was being published at the time?

    Gibson: It was lack of confidence and naiveté. I went from this one semi-professional publication to submitting to what were the top markets at the time, but I was forced to do that by other writers. My initial impulse was to hide it under a bushel and avoid rejection, and I was very fortunate that I had people who came along who beat me up and twisted my arm.

    Belkom: Did you think they were crazy?

    Gibson: No, I knew they were right because that was basically what it said in all the ‘How to Market Science Fiction’ checklists. They said send to the most lucrative market first, and when it’s rejected there send it to the next most lucrative market. But the first time I just wouldn’t do it. Actually the first piece of fiction I wrote [‘Fragments’], I had turned in in lieu of an essay for a science fiction course at UBC. I got like a B+ or something, and then the instructor said, ‘You should submit this for publication.’ And I said, ‘Okay,’ and submitted it to UnEarth, which was this fabulously obscure magazine.

  60. John Scalzi says:

    G. Arthur Brown:

    “What’s the issue you take with it?”

    I’ve already explained it in some detail upthread.

    Sam:

    “there are ‘pro paying markets’ the best writers probably *should* pick below ‘semipro’ or ‘fanzine’ markets like Electric Velocipede and a host of others.”

    Yeah, not so much, actually. In the calculus of these things, audiences are cheap and easy to get (why do you think everyone promises “exposure”?) while higher rates of pay are somewhat more dear. If I were to sell my story to a small-but-well-paying venue, there’s no reason that I couldn’t attempt to sell it for reprint elsewhere, or just simply put it up on my site for eyeballs.

  61. Sam says:

    And another “Wayback” episode: Terry Bisson, talking about coming back to short story writing after a couple novels, in the afterward of his collection “Bears Discover Fire And Other Stories”:

    I came to the short story both early and late. In 1964, after the birth of my oldest son, Nathaniel, I wrote a story about a kid born with wings. “George” won honorable mention in a Story magazine contest and made me fifty dollars. After a couple of false starts, though, I gave up the form entirely.

    Then in 1988, after three or four published novels, I wrote “Over Flat Mountain.” It was to me not really a story but the fictional illustration of a conceit—the Appalachians being all rolled up into one mountain; a goof, if you will. By this time I was a published SF and fantasy novelist, and when Ellen Datlow asked me if I had ever tried short fiction, I sent her this one with the warning that it was “not an OMNI story.”

    She told me she would decide what was and what wasn’t an OMNI story, thank you very much. And bought it. There’s nothing like an eighteen-hundred-dollar sale to revive an interest in short fiction.

    $1800. In 1988. And here we are in 2009 talking about $100 vs. $250.

    Per: http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm

    “$1,800.00 in 1988 had about the same buying power as $3,279.15 in 2009.”

  62. Sam says:

    John — you’re very right in your overall seeing a very clear pattern between higher pay rates being *also* the “better” markets for most useful definitions of “better” — like I said a week ago on Twitter in this bizarre “discussion:” “f I could post a story at @tordotcom for *free* I’d sure as hell be tempted. Of course, one of the reasons @tordotcom *is* @tordotcom is that they don’t publish crap stories from hacks like me.”

    And I’m hoping you’re right about audiences being easy to get. My (not yet published our first issue) market pays “minimal pro rates” but most writers should submit to the higher end semipro and fanzines first, the $150 or whatever in difference notwithstanding. I might only end up with 100 readers and their story might go unnoticed; and they might not have a popular site (such as yours, which I’m very aware is hard-earned through hard work and good writing) to fall back on; there aren’t a ton of places jumping over themselves to publish reprints from relatively unknown authors.

    As was brought up elsewhere: anthologies are certainly everywhere I look these days. (Mr. VanderMeer has edited a few, of course!)

  63. Sam says:

    Ugh; I hate not finishing a thought. The anthology comment was meant to finish with: magazines may not be the best market for short stories right now. What are the “real book” publishers paying for short stories in anthologies these days?

  64. Nick Mamatas says:

    It takes you 20 hours to write a 5000 word short story?

    lol

    Hey, I like my latte HOT, so step on it!

  65. Rachel Swirsky says:

    Yeah, I think it’s important to remember that there are decent rates to be had. They may be in the minority, but I made something like 70% of what VanderMeer made this year off of short fiction, maybe a little more. And I don’t have nearly his reputation.

    Clearly this is an outlying statistic — I sold three quite long stories to venues paying 10-20 cents a word, as well as several other pro sales. This isn’t something that happens for everyone, and a great deal of luck was involved.

    But it’s not *impossible.* And we’re not always quibbling over 100-250 dollars. Sometimes it’s 100 versus 2,000. One of them pays my mortgage, and the other does not.

    I could also clearly make more if I started gearing my submission habits to make more financial sense (e.g. I could sub more to lit mags even though I find their submissions process annoying, which is a silly reason to avoid it; and I could follow my own advice by subbing to high-paying markets first, even though I sometimes self-select my stories out of the top tier because I think a story is a good fit for, say, Interzone and try Andy before I try anyone else), and did things like market more aggressively for reprints. Not to mention taking up non-fiction again, which I let drop after college because I don’t particularly like magazine writing.

    So statements like “there are only 10 decent paying magazines and only one of them is genre” strike me as facile. There are a lot of ways to be smarter about making money, even off of short fiction. Mamatas and Scalzi have always struck me as eminently sensible about these things, at least as they discuss their business decisions in their blogs, and the fact that I don’t follow their model more closely is mostly because my husband’s salary means I can afford not to.

    It’s awkward to talk dollar amounts, and I don’t want to come across as bragging (believe me, I’m aware of how lucky I’ve been…), but I’ve always found Scalzi’s forthrightness about numbers to be helpful, and I’m not sure what refusing to name numbers does except A) prevent me from feeling embarrassed, and B) keep the conversation limited to less useful generalities…

  66. brendan connell says:

    I can say for fact some of my stories that I have been paid very little for I got way more back in other ways than some published in top paying markets. Well…As an example, a story of mine was published in an antho called Strange Tales from Tartarus. Pay: zero. Copies printed: 300 (I think). But the antho won the World Fantasy Award and I got a good deal of feedback for it, and it was also republished in another book (and I was paid for that). At the same time I sold a story to Adbusters, and I think they paid something like 20 or 25 cents Canadian a word (cant quite remember) and have a readership well over 100,000 from my understanding. But my story was burried in their pages, with a by-line hardly readable, and not a single human being seemed aware of it. The Strange Tales sale put my stuff in front of people who later bought other material from me (a story just sold two months ago for example), while the other one did not do much aside from give me some wine money and a writing credit.

  67. Other Bill says:

    “In my book, a professional is someone who earns their entire living working in their profession. ”

    I like your point here. It seems like you are getting at what you see as the difference between a professional and something like a craftsman. I get that. I think, particularly in line with Rachel’s post (as you mention) it helps put the emphasis on a particular issue of quality work.

    But, I think you laid the foundation wrong for your point. Part of being a professional involves defending the rate at which your trade is compensated. I think that’s a huge distinction. Partially because a professional, in the way you outline it, appears to be the business side of the discussion. Where the craftsman represents the art, or fullfillment, side of the discussion. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, if one has a blue sky goal of sustaining one’s self as a writer, becoming a solid craftsman represents only one half of the equation for success. One must also become a savvy professional.

    The difference in pay scale presented is only small, presumably, when you compare it to what you seem to think short stories *should* pay. In reality, that’s a 60% reduction from 5 cents to 2 cents. BM represented a 96% reduction from 5 cents to a fifth of a cent. In terms of what is being paid out on a professional scale, this is exactly where the battle needs to be fought. The battle lines have not been drawn on *should be* terms. The current professional rate is five cents a word. *Professional operations* not offering professional rates need to be clubbed in order to preserve the current rate.

    Rachel has made a great case on the calculus of venue selection. And much has been said about the value of semi pro markets. Valid reasons have been given for considering less pay. And I agree that in some cases the total calculus for RoI on the submission of story is not based on the rate per word. But, I think there is a lot of truth to the argument that better venues with bigger readerships pay better too. As has been said, it also seems like there are a number of significant exceptions to that rule. That said, Strange Horizons is a volunteer, donation supported for-the-love free publication that still manages to pay a professional rate.

    “No, they aren’t paying 1/5 a cent a word, but the way some people were talking in all this you’d think they were the same as Black Matrix.”

    I like what you say. And I think you’ve defended yourself reasonably well. But, I’m going to be a dick now. Or at least I think it will come across as dickish. But, I do have a point. I apologize in advance. For the potential dickishness.

    It’s frustrating when a person responds in the comment thread of their own post to a specific commenter to defend something (again in their own post and in their own comment thread) they said to that specific commenter with “but the way some people were talking…”

    Be specific. I make this point because this seems to have been a large part of the argument at every post on this matter. Aspiring writers taking offense at the notion that they might be suckers for having submitted a story to a semi-pro market that probably has a reasonable reputation. But they think they’ve been called out. Because of a lot of vagueness – vagueness which has also been legitimately defended. User experience may vary; opinions may vary. I get it. But, that vagueness should be limited.

    Either make your argument stand on its own without vague references to what the words that some other people used meant to you OR name names on crappy semi pro publishers and the semi pro and the for the love publishers that you think cut the mustard in the variable calculus we all agree on. I have no problem with talking about x and y and z considerations and how they might interrelate in the fashioning of an equation. Examples help, but specific names are not necessary for a discussion of how to determine where to submit your short stories. They probably actually hurt it, after a certain point.

    Specifics are important in terms of calling out publishers treating their writers like rubes. I think that is where this conversation started. Publishers treating writers like rubes hurts every writer and the campaign to improve professional rates.

    Or name names on the crazy bastards running around pulling up ladders on every market that they aren’t interested in cornering with their huge powers of professional publishing experience. Screwing aspiring newbies and laughing maniacly all the way — in their expensive pirate ships; with their eye patches and cutlasses; and their ladder pullerupper tools.

  68. brendan connell says:

    Rachel: my point is that the discussion about whether to send stuff to Asimov’s or “the Three Giants” or whatever seems silly to me since all of these places really pay little more than corn. To be honest, the whole “business” thing strikes me as silly, becase, yes you can make money doing this, but not a lot, and even to make that not a lot you have to bust your ass. Professionalism and “pay” make everyone feel good about themselves, I understand, but when the money is not there and neither are the professionals it is like turning an empty tea cup upside down and being afraid of spilling something on oneself.

  69. Nick Mamatas says:

    Perhaps if Brendan Connell could tell the difference between corn and a $1000 check he wouldn’t be broke (as he said he was above)?

    I find it hard to believe that people are soooo economically productive that there are 70+ comments on a thread discussing whether there is a big difference between $100 and $250 or $250 and $1000? What are people’s billable hours that such differences vanish on the margins? Are there that many direct TARP bailout fund recipients here?

    (Of course, I also can’t believe that there are people who think the going rate for non-fiction is a buck an article, or that really wonder why a weekly slick magazine with 800,000 readers and color ads can and does pay more than a bimonthly pulp magazine with 25,000 readers and small b/w ads either, so what the hell do I know?)

    Perhaps this convo strikes me as especially funny given that a couple of friends of mine who placed work in a penny-a-word reprint antho last year got $1500-3000 royalty checks from that antho a few weeks ago. And we’re not talking the top stars either.

    Or maybe because one of my friends is a novelist who has sold books to Pocket, Dorchester, Berkley, S&S, Harper etc. still works half-time at Starbucks for the health insurance, so that his spouse might stay alive.

    Or maybe it’s because of such a nonsense phrase like ““In my book, a professional is someone who earns their entire living working in their profession” which means that outside of a few recluses, there are no professional writers as virtually all professional writers may make a speech for an honorarium or do a little teaching (Clarion, a MFA program) or edit an anthology (which is NOT writing!) or might sell their home at a profit, etc. and make something other than 100 percent of their living from typing away.

    Or maybe it is because I parlayed a part-time editing job that involved a fair amount of slush reading but ultimately all of twenty-nine stories selected and edited plus perhaps a dozen feature articles over two years into a senior editorial position running my own imprint for some ridiculous sum of money plus throw-myself-off-my-roof-for-fun health benefits.

    I dunno, but somehow this thread stopped being either about pay or some notion of professionalism and ended up being one of the silliest things I’ve seen in a while, and I’m the guy who people send crazy furry/Dick Cheney snuff porn to.

  70. Rachel Swirsky says:

    “Rachel: my point is that the discussion about whether to send stuff to Asimov’s or “the Three Giants” or whatever seems silly to me since all of these places really pay little more than corn.”

    That’s the point, though, *you can make a significant portion of your living selling short stories,* starting at a base pay of 5 cents a word and going up. Cat Valente already discussed her method for doing this.

    I’m not sure where you and I are starting to disagree, but I think it’s somewhere in default assumptions. $500 pays part of my mortgage; it’s not “corn.” Perhaps this is the grist of the disagreement, a different feeling about what constitutes “a living.”

    But I also note that I’ve never found the freelancing market to be brutal, but quite the contrary. So there’s definitely somewhere where our experiences aren’t matching up.

    “Either make your argument stand on its own without vague references to what the words that some other people used meant to you OR name names on crappy semi pro publishers and the semi pro and the for the love publishers that you think cut the mustard in the variable calculus we all agree on. I have no problem with talking about x and y and z considerations and how they might interrelate in the fashioning of an equation. Examples help, but specific names are not necessary for a discussion of how to determine where to submit your short stories. They probably actually hurt it, after a certain point.”

    I hear that, believe me, I do. I did my best to name the qualities that create markets that may be bad for writers rather than neutral:

    1) magazines that accept nearly all subs (e.g. mags with a 40% acceptance rate)

    2) magazines that always seem to end up on the bottom of the pile. (This is ambiguous, admittedly, but when there are hundreds of markets on duotrope, only a small percentage of them can be on the bottom all the time, just as only a small percentage can be on the top)

    3) a large number of credits (somewhere between 10 and literally 1,000) at magazines that are fort-the-love and die quickly.

    I know that these are not as specific as they could be, but they’re not totally general. I also understand that emotion caused people to read past these descriptions as if they weren’t there. But there is no stretch of the imagination by which one could suggest that the respected semi-pro names we’ve been tossing around actually hit numbers 1, 2, or 3.

  71. Other Bill says:

    Nick, I got this note from someone in third period English:

    “Is Nick Mamatas a braggart of a savvy professional?”

    I checked yes.

    I wonder if the trouble is that this conversation is mixing a lot of parties across the interwebs. There are probably a lot of folks that intend to submit only one piece this year. Of course they then lend their voice to the cacophony, scratch that, chorus of there is no difference between a hundred dollars and two hundred and fifty dollars. Because, in terms of one time compensation for something undertaken solely for other purposes, that really doesn’t matter to them. It means the difference between a movie binge and a PS3.

    But, for the writers out there, it’s a pretty unsustainable point. It’s art, but there’s a business to it. And to be savvy, one should appreciate the different ways writers can leverage their skills to earn an income. Not to mention knowing the value of their time. Even if we were talking about an hourly wage, I’d still fight tooth and nail for 250 dollars an hour instead of 100 dollars an hour. You know, because that’s like 300k difference annually. And if some sucker has to take that financial hit for the same job, it had better be the other guy. They should really know that over the course of the requisite repetitions taking place each month, the difference between 100 and a 1000 really adds up.

    After I heard this argument, I called Visa up and asked if my 100 dollar payment increments could count as 250, since there really is no difference. They laughed. And then raised my interest rates just to make a point. Because, there’s really no difference.

    On the other hand, they wouldn’t take corn either. So, maybe everyone is right. Corn and money have no discernable monetary value.

  72. Other Bill says:

    Rachel,

    I meant no criticism of your post. I actually quite rather liked the way you laid out your thinking on the calculus of it. And I think it helped bridge some fundamental miscommunication gaps.

    I think the advice to people who don’t know the ropes is appropriate if it focuses more on the variables to be aware of. And some general signs that should be interpreted as red flags. Because, I think what happens sometimes is that four or five names are tossed around as good publications and then aspiring writers submit only to those four or five.

    Unfortunately, they haven’t learned how to evaluate a new venue as being suitable for their needs as aspiring writers. And I think that advice becomes trickier, or less helpful, if it is structured around Asimov is good Black Matrix is bad.

    What qualities make them good? Bad? Which should I be concerned about if I want to be a successful writer? And for that matter, what the hell does the road to success look like? And will it be all gum drops and candy canes when I get to that destination?

    I felt like in trying to resolve some of the argument that sprung up over the attack on BM, you delved into addressing some of these fairly key points.

    It’s difficult mixing conversations defending pro rates from an assault by a specific organization with commentary on the general value of for the love and semi pro magazines. They are two very different conversations. And they have been somewhat mashed together in this conversation, screwing up the signal here and there.

  73. Rachel Swirsky says:

    Other Bill, thanks for clarifying. I’m sorry I’m being a bit twitchy on making sure I’m being understood.

    I think your points about the different kinds of needs people are bringing into the conversation is good. I think that’s what Jeff was getting at too. It’s definitely important, and rather difficult to navigate.

  74. Other Bill says:

    Rachel,

    No worries. You got stuck somewhere down at the bottom of that dog pile. I’m twitchy for a week in general conversation about a point I get dogpiled over on just one post on the internet.

    I’d consider some zen therapy or something after being dogpiled by multiple posts and their rapidly expanding comment threads.

    (Frustration plus anger plus amazement plus bafflement) 1000 comments = month long eye twitch.

  75. Jason Sanford says:

    John: I’m looking at the situation as how long it takes a writer to write that short story. I used a time of 20 hours, but that’s likely a low minimum. Many times the editing and rewriting push that time commitment much higher, especially for writers who are still learning that craft. And if you’re working for that long to earn an extra $150 dollars or so, then you should consider other factors than merely pay. B/c these other factors–exposure, # of readers, prestige of the publication–will likely have a bigger impact on their writing career than the monetary difference.

    It’s like the difference between getting a job immediately out of high school or going to college or trade school. The immediate job will result in quicker money, while schooling will cost you money. But few people say that in the long run furthering your education will pay off more. Another analogy is when someone works in one field but wishes to make a career change, so they take a lower paying job in a new field to gain experience and exposure. The pay may be lower, but in the long term they see how they will gain.

    That’s the point in what I wrote. That if the pay difference isn’t that extreme, then consider other issues. Obviously if the pay difference is between 1/5 cent word and 20 cents a word, that rearranges the equation toward pay. But its not privilege or wrong to suggest people consider other things than money, and to make strategic decisions based on where they want their writing career to go.

    I’m afraid I won’t be able to continue this for a while b/c I’m about to go to work. Damn the stinking privilege of earning a living. :-)

  76. Jason Sanford says:

    Before I go, let me make a radical suggestion: Low professional rates for short stories will never change until:

    1) Readers buy more short stories magazines and collections. So people need to support short story venues, and encourage these venues to embrace new technologies like the Kindle (as The Atlantic magazine is doing).

    2) Established writers insist that the minimum paid for short stories be raised. We all know best-selling authors don’t have to quibble over the difference between a $100 and $250 payday; they are paid much more for their short work because their names are a draw for readers. So if an established author is approached to publish in a pro magazine or anthology, ask what the minimum payment is to new writers, not only what you’ll be paid. If the minimum is only 5 cents a word, say you won’t publish your story in the anthology or mag unless all authors are given at least 10 cents a word.

    Any thoughts from people? Would something like this change the low professional short story rates?

  77. Paul Jessup says:

    “That’s the point, though, *you can make a significant portion of your living selling short stories,* starting at a base pay of 5 cents a word and going up. Cat Valente already discussed her method for doing this.”

    Ya gotta link to this method? I’d be interested in seeing this :)

  78. John Scalzi says:

    Jason Sanford:

    “I used a time of 20 hours, but that’s likely a low minimum.”

    As the plumber would say, well, see, that’s your problem right there. In 20 hours of butt in chair, I wrote and did the initial edit of “The God Engines,” which is 30,000 words. It was two hours a day for ten days (I did in fact track it, as I was looking at how much time I use writing). The story for which I was nominated for the Sidewise Award, “Alternate History Search Results,” I knocked out in about an hour, which means my hourly rate for that was $100 an hour. Offhand, with the exception of “The Sagan Diary,” which I wrote as free verse, which is harder than it looks, I can’t think of a short story I’ve written which I’ve spent more than a few hours on, and this includes when I was a newbie writer. Consequently, my own per hour rate for short stories has always looked quite good.

    Does this mean that I’M AWESOME? No, it means I’m lucky, in that I’ve always been a quick writer. That’s a gift I got, I don’t claim it as something I earned. But it is what it is, and I know other writers who write equally quickly, and always have, just as I’ve always known writers who write (to me) painfully slowly.

    What’s the takeaway from this?

    a) Attempting to standardize writers’ processes is likely to get you bad results, as writer process is idiosyncratic and varies highly from writer to writer;

    b) Consequently, trying to equate writer pay to a “per hour” rate, while fun and showy rhetorical tool, is not actually useful or generally accurate — which is one of the reasons writers typically AREN’T paid by the hour, they’re paid by the piece. Speaking as a writer, the only time I’ve been paid by the hour is when I was working in corporate consulting, because apparently the accounting department weren’t able to handle it any other way.

    And again, this is why I’m really rather resistant to your “if the pay difference isn’t that extreme” argument. It’s based on what I find an unrealistic and unrepresentative model of the writer experience, because you’re making a lot of baseline assumptions going in that I find to be incorrect or at least ignoring the highly fungible nature of the writer process. Yes, five cents a word is a crappy professional rate. But if I can write a five thousand word story in five hours (and I can), and can sell it for $250, then that’s $50 an hour. So, five cents a word is a crappy rate, but what about $50 an hour? If it were a day-to-day job, that’d be a $90,000 a year gig. Is that a professional enough rate for you? If I sell the same piece for $100, then I’m only making $20 an hour. Would you argue that there’s not that much of a difference between a $20 an hour job and a $50 an hour job? I don’t suspect you would. Of course, THAT isn’t a realistic equivalency either, but this rather goes to my larger point.

    Which is that no matter how you slice and dice how writers get to what they’re paid, WHAT number gets put on the check is still actually rather important.

  79. jeff vandermeer says:

    Nice to see no one engage most of the points I brought up. A little alarmed some can’t tell the difference between 100 and 250 dollars. A little alarmed some can’t be bothered to understand the strategic and long-term consequences of their decisions. But, you know what? That just means less competition for me in a sense, so I am going to be selfish on this one and not elaborate further.

    Rachel: I sold three stories this year.

  80. Mary G. says:

    30,000 words in 20 hours? That is doable at 1500 words an hour. But I do not believe that was all the work you put into the story. No editing or rewriting after that. No reading proofs? No plotting out the story before? Be honest.

  81. jeff vandermeer says:

    John: Now you’re losing me in the chest-beating, much as I respect your main point. As in: why the fuck would anyone *want* to write a 5k story in five hours? Then you’re just churning out product.

  82. John Scalzi says:

    Mary G:

    No, no editing or rewriting, which is in fact normal for me; I edit as I go along, so the end draft is generally pretty clean. Also, no, I generally don’t plot or outline before writing; I find that the actual process of writing is essential for me in plotting; I often don’t know what’s going to happen before I write it. I read proofs, of course, but this is why I point out the edit I did was the “initial edit.”

    This goes to my point, however, that writer process is idiosyncratic and that one writer’s experience is not the same as another’s.

  83. jeff vandermeer says:

    I think the main point re this very limited area you guys have decided to argue about is this: no, short stories generally won’t pay well, given the hours put into them. Yes, we’d all like to be paid as much as possible when possible. Yes, to most people there is a real difference between 100 and 250. And, mostly, you should be writing stories because you love to write them and want to produce something awesome, and only consider this other stuff after you’ve finished and polished your story, no matter how long that might take. I get real pissed off when people start conflating craft and commerce and that firewall between creation and what happens after becomes porous. There are exceptions, but not ones any beginning writers reading this thread should worry about.

  84. John Scalzi says:

    Jeff VanderMeer:

    “why the fuck would anyone *want* to write a 5k story in five hours?”

    Because they can? Look, I’m not pointing out my writing speed to chest beat; it’s just a simple fact that when I sit down to write, I can write at a 1k/hour clip, and faster if I’m really into what I’m writing. I’m a pretty clean writer in terms of structure and organization, some of which is native, some of which is due to years of writing at a newspaper. Put it all together and I can give you perfectly good story in a few hours. I don’t know why this is particularly surprising; since 2003, I’ve written a dozen books, hundreds of columns and non-fiction features and piece work, and hundreds of thousands of words annually on Whatever. If I didn’t write very quickly, I would not also be able to sleep, eat and have a life. But, again, I’m also not the fastest writer I know.

    In terms of “just churning out product,” I don’t know that someone who writes shorts as infrequently as I do can get pegged with that one, and beyond that I think the quality of the work speaks for itself; if I’m not happy with the work I’m writing, no one else sees it.

    Point is, in the writing world there are all sorts of writers. There’s not a single standardized unit of writing output. And one certainly can’t map it to a per-hour rate.

  85. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    That’s my point too. I’m getting nervous here that beginning writers reading this thread are going to start thinking certain approaches to both marketing and craft are the norm, which probably isn’t the case. My apologies for going a little overboard. Maybe this whole conversation is just annoying me a little too much. It’s very difficult to read all of this stuff, having been a magazine publisher, having been a magazine editor, having pretty much seen all of this crap from every conceivable angle, and see how cut-and-dried, how black-and-white a lot of people want to see these issues. They’re not. And as writing technique and speed are different for every writer, so too is their marketing strategy, if they have one. Most writers do not have one, besides just submitting to the highest paying markets and working their way down. And that’s fine, but at this point, in the current environment, it’s simplistic.

    John, you’re one of the hardest working writers I know, but you also never came up through the ranks in the traditional way, and I think this is blinding you to ideas of story publication strategy in which payment is only one element of the decision-making process. I can guarantee you that I get top dollar when and where I can–or when I want to–but sometimes I don’t want to. Like, I never submitted to BAEN’s Universe. Why? Subscription only. Not well-respected in the field. Etc. They paid top dollar, but getting into BAEN’S Universe wasn’t a big deal. I respect Stanley Schmidt, but selling a story to Analog wouldn’t do my career a bit of good, whereas selling at even a lower rate to an antho or a top lit mag would make a difference to my career.

    I also don’t buy that the best mags out there in genre are the ones paying the most money. Some of them are, and some of them aren’t–most decidely are not.

    What does need to be spelled out is this:

    –If you’re thinking of starting a magazine and it’s going to be more than 500 copies mailed to your friends, you damn well better try to provide a decent pay rate as part of your operating expenses.

    –Writers who are submitting their stories to lower-tier markets first (in the sense of payment and prestige) better be doing it for a sound strategic reason, not because they’re afraid of the response from higher-tier markets or from stupid ideas about higher-tier markets being exclusionary (a self-fulfilling prophecy), etc.

    –There’s a whole wide world out there, boys and girls, outside of the term “genre publication” and some of that world is really sympathetic to non-realistic writing.

    –And…see everything I said above.

    This is probably coming across as more argumentative than I mean it to, but I haven’t had my coffee yet.

  86. brendan connell says:

    Jeff: I agreed with your post completely. I think I was trying to say the same thing: That there are different roads to take, and getting paid is important, but it can’t be taken as simply how many cents per word… It depends on what our goals are. My goal has less to do with making money, and more to do with building something.

    Rachel: 500 dollars is good money, but at 5 cents a word that means a 10,000 word story. And for most folks that is a lot of work. I could spend a month writing such a story.

    Nick: I think you probably write pretty quickly, so for you the cents a word thing might equate differently. For me I sometimes spend an hour on 50 words. Not because I am a snail, but because I think a lot before I even begin to type. My last paying job I made 50 dollars an hour, and I felt very underpaid. Now for me to make that writing I would have to get 1 dollar a word – and I would still not consider that to be a lot of money.

    I would say if we want to talk about cents per word, an ok starting place, realistically, would be 10 cents, double the “professional” rate.

  87. John Scalzi says:

    Jeff VanderMeer:

    “I think this is blinding you to ideas of story publication strategy in which payment is only one element of the decision-making process.”

    Heh. You’re saying this to the fellow who’s never submitted a story to the “Big Three” because they don’t take electronic submissions and he can’t be bothered to buy a printer.

    I’m well aware there’s a range of factors, of course; I find this point non-objectionable (which is also I suspect why no one’s really pinging off your large comment, Jeff. What is there to say to it but, “yes, this”?). We all have different criteria of market desirability based on personal needs/wants/desires. I like to be paid well for my work, which is obvious, but it’s not my sole consideration either, when placing my work.

    With Jason I’m taking issue with a specific point of his where I see him making a bad argument, and I’m being a bit of a bear about it because in my opinion his bad argument has caused him to offer some very poor advice to writers. Yes, it’s worth quibbling about the difference between $100 and $250, just as it’s worth quibbling about every other factor when considering publication. Aside from the issue that for most writers money paid out is a significant issue, he’s counseling people to think uncritically about a critical factor of publishing, based on the premise that the pay rate is too low to make much of a difference in any regard.

    This premise is arguable in itself, but beyond this if one is to make smart and strategic decisions about one’s work, one doesn’t begin by declaring one deeply significant factor not worth the quibble. This is particularly the case in a field in which — based on my own anecdotal but not inconsiderable experience — many writers have money issues as a real world, pressing consideration. He’s not *helping* anyone by doing this.

    All of which is to say that Jason’s overall point is fine, but the specifics of his argument are highly questionable, and are so to such a degree that I think it’s worth pointing out the errors. Again, yes, it’s a highly focused discussion, but one of value to have, which is why I’m having it with him.

    “My apologies for going a little overboard.”

    Nothing to apologize for.

  88. Sam says:

    Jeff: “I also don’t buy that the best mags out there in genre are the ones paying the most money. Some of them are, and some of them aren’t–most decidely are not.”

    Not to put you on the spot, and particularly since this is very tertiary to the discussion and you already said you thought you might be “selfish and not elaborate further”; but as a very novice writer, and since Other Bill brought it up: other than mine (most decidedly in the “not best” category; it’s of the “sell 500 copies to your friends” level so far) what most-paying markets would you place below what non-most-paying markets? (And if in addition to the “selfish” part, if you don’t think it’s fair of someone in your position to point specific fingers and make specific praises, that’s fine, too.) I know I have high opinions of, say, Shimmer, GUD, Electric Velocipede, M-BRANE SF, but I’m not sure other than EV which ones I would place above which of the “pro” markets.

  89. Lucas Tern says:

    Thank you Jeff for taking the time to bring sanity to this thread: “I also don’t buy that the best mags out there in genre are the ones paying the most money. Some of them are, and some of them aren’t–most decidely are not.” The same can be said about authors. Most decidedly.

    Amid all this nonsense, perhaps this comment amused me the most. Nick Mamatas wrote:

    “It takes you 20 hours to write a 5000 word short story?
    lol
    Hey, I like my latte HOT, so step on it!”

    Leave it to Mamatas to betray himself as a hack in a pointless attempt to make someone else look bad.

  90. Nick Mamatas says:

    I am a quick writer and I also spend a lot of time thinking before I write. I also spend a lot of time reading before I write, having experiences before I write, exercising before I write, picking up dog poop before I write, etc. All of that stuff influences my writing.

    I also spend time doing those things—you know, the business of living—before I don’t write.

    I’m not sure that it makes sense to call existence itself a billable input, even if one spends a lot of existence on one’s couch, a pad and pen in hand, looking up at the ceiling.

    But yes, I am a fast writer, though I don’t think anyone can look at my stories and decide that I’m just “churning out product.” (And even the most avant and careful of writers have their own schticks and tropes and turns of phrase that emerge and are cultivated by both the writer and by editors—style and voice are elements of a product in a marketplace after all.) I trained myself to be a fast writer for a number of reasons, including joy in taking on the sheer challenge of programming my brain to operate in a certain way.

    Just because it’s fun doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get paid, though. Looking over the last bunch of stories sold or published or paid for, I see that I made 10¢ a word or more from Brutarian Quarterly, Clarkesworld, Heliotrope, and Nature over the last year and a half or so, and some reprints have brought stories that have originally sold for 7-8¢/wd up past a dime a word now. It doesn’t strike me as all that difficult to double the SFWA pro rate, despite my never having been published in “the big three” (or ever submitting more than two stories to two of them).

    Some of my favorite magazines don’t pay at all or pay token amounts (these are mostly crime magazines)—it’s not that they cannot afford me, but I generally cannot afford them. Feedback is easy enough to get as well, with online publication or with the old tactic of going to the store and buying ten copies of the magazine one is in and sending clips to people. (Anyone worried about their stories being “buried” somewhere shouldn’t write for magazines, a medium designed to be disposable.)

    As far as Jeff’s point about strategy, it didn’t seem worth engaging because it is self-evidently true. Clearly nobody here is simply writing to maximize their money as then they wouldn’t be writing short fiction at all, and certainly not SF/F, not when one can make a lot more money writing about one’s personal relationship with Jesus or about the evils of carbohydrates. So clearly on some level people are already engaging in some strategy, if only one wrapped up in the sort of writer they wish to be (King of the Nerds! Cap’n Fancy-Boots!, Lady Miss Chi-Chi Extravaganza! whatever), or in some goal within a field (or set of fields), or are just trying to maximize their competitive advantage in a bit of the market they enjoy being in.

    Sorry, I just don’t really see this as a topic that needs a lot of swagger and pants-hitching and Straight Talk from People Who Are Gonna Keep It Real by pointing out that magazines with a circulation of over 100K don’t pay very well. Reeeeeeeaaaally? Thanks, Scrooge McDuck, for the combination to your vault full of GOOOOOLD COOOOOIINNS! I always wanted a Rich Dad to go with my Poor Dad. Now I know that the best use of one’s creative time is honking away on the Internet that writing ten stories a year, even at twenty hours, per, is not a full-time job. Gosh, I mean, my full-time job wants ten times the hours put in, so you can see why I wasn’t very confused after all.

  91. Nick Mamatas says:

    Leave it to Mamatas to betray himself as a hack in a pointless attempt to make someone else look bad.

    Yup, that’s me. One of those hacks like Joyce Carol Oates. Have you seen her most recent Star Wars novel? She thinks the little green guy is named Yuda!

  92. Nick Mamatas says:

    That should be circulation UNDER 100K. (Sorry, was busy with dog poop and push-ups again.)

  93. Luke Jackson says:

    Yup, writing short fiction is not an economically viable way to survive. Scalzi’s coming at it from the ass-end because he was already a “name” before he started writing short fiction in the first place. Plenty of people who write great books never had a short story accepted (Richard K. Morgan). When I had a story sell for over $1,000 I had to pick at them via e-mail for about a year to receive payment.

    Anyway, what virtually all of them pay is… well, it’s crap. Why do you think I became a lawyer in the first place? You think I LIKE writing these legal briefs and bickering?! Sheeet….

  94. John Scalzi says:

    “Scalzi’s coming at it from the ass-end because he was already a ‘name’ before he started writing short fiction in the first place.”

    Well, except for that thing where the first thing I had published in science fiction was a short story, more than three years before my first novel came out, i.e., long before I was a “name” in the genre.

    But aside from THAT.

  95. Luke Jackson says:

    The Strange Horizon story? 5c a word is still, well, not so good. Not enough to live on, at least. I’m sure the pay for that one didn’t make a huge dent on your tax returns.

    It’s all a cult of personality clusterfuck. You have a recognizable name and so people are only too willing to throw money at you now. A name that is not so recognized is derided and disparaged, given peanuts and chickenfeed to survive on in the hardscrabble world of short story publications. Whereas being a lawyer, people just throw money at you like you’re a name already. Is nice!

  96. John Scalzi says:

    “5c a word is still, well, not so good.”

    And this is relevant to your factually inaccurate statement that I didn’t publish short fiction before I was a name exactly, how, now?

  97. Luke Jackson says:

    Facts are stupid things. I’m thinking big picture, forest for the trees, Scalzi!

  98. Nick Mamatas says:

    Scalzi clearly benefited from his “platform” (to use one of the more odious publishing terms these days) but it is not as though his advice boils down to “Step One, Become a Famous blogger” or, even, “Step One, Intern at The New Yorker and impress the fiction editor so that you can get a $500,000 advance for your short story collection. Also, remember to be stunningly beautiful.” (The latter is much better advice clearly, if you can manage to make it work…)

    His advice is “aim high” and “be efficient” which is pretty universal and workable. So what? More specific to this conversation, he is saying that 2.5x is larger than x. Why THAT is somehow a controversial statement just shows me that a lot of people are on this thread to deal with some internal psychological issue they have, and not because they have a point to make other than “Someone, please love me!”

    Well, I love you all. I love your Buddha natures, which is all that is good and pure within you. Come, let us make love in the rain…

  99. Rachel Swirsky says:

    “So if an established author is approached to publish in a pro magazine or anthology, ask what the minimum payment is to new writers, not only what you’ll be paid. If the minimum is only 5 cents a word, say you won’t publish your story in the anthology or mag unless all authors are given at least 10 cents a word.”

    I’ve been looking at the # of sales generated by anthologies because I’m thinking of pitching one. A recent one that I remember being vaguely interested in as a writer, which paid a few cents a word, sold only 90 copies. They’re operating at a huge loss with 2 or 3 cents a word. If anthologies had to pay 10 cents a word to every contributor… hm. Well, I won’t say there are none that would happen, but I don’t think the antho publishers are out to screw people out of money that’s *there.* On the other hand, the press I’m thinking of pitching to is not SFWA pro, so I suppose it’s possible that the dynamics in other situations are different. I just don’t know that anthos or magazines are trying to screw writers out of money that’s *there*. But perhaps this is my naivete.

  100. Rachel Swirsky says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I hope I didn’t come across as knocking strategy. I was mostly trying to say that if I wanted to maximize my income, I would *stop* some of the dithering I do, some of which is decidedly non-strategic.

    For instance, I got really lazy with my submission habits when I got to Iowa. I know that I can probably sell a story within a few months if I send it around to spec markets, so I stopped sending to lit markets. This was stupid, even if the lit markets pay less in absolute dollars, for reasons you’ve brought up, and for other reasons (such as I would prefer to write novels that are marketable outside of genre and it might be good for someone to know who the fuck I am if I do that). I tried to bring this up before, but I elided…

    “Rachel: I sold three stories this year.”

    I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. I sold… I’m not sure, 7 or something, though the vast majority of the payment were for 3 stories. But I know other people who have sold 16 and not approached $10,000. The fact that I have, without your reputation, gotten anywhere near to your sales figure makes me an outlier, at least among people I know. Perhaps I misread something.

    Re: speed:

    I’m fucking slow. I’m slower than slow. I’m glacial. The idea of writing a 5,000 word story in 5 hours is amazing to me; the idea of writing a 5,000 word story in 20 hours is sort of amazing to me. I stand in awe.

  101. Nick Mamatas says:

    Actually, SFWA, HWA et al already set a minimum. Thus, one cannot get a qualifying credit from a magazine that pays one 5¢ a word but everyone else 1¢ a word. Only those venues that pay 5¢ generally are “qualifying markets” and the raise in rates six years ago did see a number of venues raise their rates to match and some have since gone even higher. That is what established writers can and do do—they join these orgs and support the pro rate.

    The idea of a single “established author” demanding that a magazine double its payouts is rather silly. It’s not like there aren’t a very large number of established authors out there, after all. The one who tells an anthology editor, “Okay, instead of paying yourself with your advance and the authors, only pay the authors” (which is, in essence, what Jason is saying) is just going to be disinvited from submitting for obvious reasons.

    As far as it being possible that “it’s possible that the dynamics” in a SFWA pro book publisher and a small press (especially one that sells 90 copies of its anthologies!) are different, well, yes, it is possible. It is also possible that an elephant isn’t a mouse. Major publishers simply lose track of 90 copies of anthologies from handing them out to someone who might be visiting the office or having a box fall off a forklift or just from shoplifting at the bookstores. Jesus.

  102. Rachel Swirsky says:

    “As far as it being possible that “it’s possible that the dynamics” in a SFWA pro book publisher and a small press (especially one that sells 90 copies of its anthologies!) are different”

    Nick, that’s an uncharitable reading of my comment.

    I intended to say that I don’t think anyone is screwing authors out of money that is around to possibly pay them. It’s possible some of the major NY publishers could change the way their bottom line operates, but everyone else seems to be operating close to the margins from what I can tell. Obviously, the 90-copy-people are an extreme example.

  103. Rachel Swirsky says:

    F&SF, for instance, doesn’t seem to have the resources to do a blanket increase on its pay rate.

  104. Nick Mamatas says:

    I don’t think it’s uncharitable at all. I think you’re being very loose with facts you don’t fully grasp. It is extremely easy for what you’ve said—that you’ve been looking into the sales numbers for anthologies and you found an antho that sold fewer than 100 copies—to be taken up and repeated endlessly as some sort of cosmic fact. (There is already TONS of confusion about anthologies. This sort of thinkin’ aloud in public sows all manner of confusion and misinformation and needs to be put down instantly. Sorry you find that uncharitable or somehow orthogonal to your point, but it is simply so.

  105. On the sidelines says:

  106. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Rachel–I didn’t get to finish that comment ’cause I’m stoopid. I meant to say three fiction sales for $10k represents my best year ever, and thus an anomaly–whereas you making 3/4th that across several fiction sales is a model that might work for more people.

    Nick–settle down now. There really isn’t that much money out there for mags.

    I think the moral of this story for anyone watching from the sidelines is: you can form your own mag submission strategy however the hell you want! Some will agree with you. Some will not. Those who want to keep doing it from most to least money–hey, perfectly legit, especially since there are all kinds of ways writers screw themselves out of opportunities by rationalizing settling for second-best in that regard. But, if you want to factor in more things and make your short fiction submissions part of a larger, over-all strategy you might reap some unexpected benefits from that, too.

    Rachel, I didn’t think you were saying you didn’t factor in other stuff. And even if you didn’t, like I said, it’d be a perfectly legit–traditionally legit–approach to markets.

    Again, though, and especially in conservative times, if you’re writing weird shit (and boy does it burn me when SF/F folks, who ought to have the requisite imagination, call something “weird” or “bizarre”), you might *need* another strategy because of conservative buying practices. (And: there’s nothing wrong with conservative buying practices, but then don’t blame the surreal and others who don’t buy into trad storylines or situations for going after other options.)

    Let’s keep this thread going! I’d like to see more repetition of thought! Nick, surely you can muster up some more outrage! Let’s burn the whole house down! Woo-hoo!

    Erm, I’m gonna go do something constructive, like *write* a fucking short story.

  107. Nick Mamatas says:

    Nick–settle down now. There really isn’t that much money out there for mags.

    I’m not saying that there is. I’m saying that if you’re trying to figure out what rates the market will bear based on a small press anthology that sold ninety copies, you’re going to famously, heroically, wrong. If you do it publicly, you’ll mislead others.

    Some “extreme examples” are so extreme that they are no longer exemplary. But they will lead to people saying, “Well, sometimes anthologies only sell ninety copies!” which is on some level true, but not true on any useful level since the overwhelming majority of anthologies aren’t being published by small presses whose owner is explicitly against the idea of learning how to go about running a publishing company.

  108. Bill Crider says:

    Okay, one thing I learned from all this is that after publishing more than 75 novels and as many short stories, nearly every one of them for pretty good rates, I’m not a professional writer since I earned most of my income from another source. Stupid day job.

  109. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Nick–that’s true. It’s like playing the lottery, though. You never know what the hell’s going to happen.

    Bill–that’s something I find annoying about the whole idea of “professional”. You would be a prime example of a professional, by my definition.

  110. stevie says:

    ‘Then you’re just churning out product.’

    Three words:

    Lope
    de
    Vega

  111. jeff ford says:

    I think a lot of good points are made in this back and forth. Jeff’s point of view on pro and not pro seems really reasonable as does his input about being an editor and publisher, etc. I write short stories because I like to. And I’m not a professional writer, if the definition is someone who makes all their income from writing, although there have been quite a few years out of the last ten when I’ve made enough money writing to constitute a living wage. Still, I keep my job because I want the option of publishing when and what I want. All that said, I have to agree with Scalzi that 1/5th of a cent per word really shits the bed. Especially being offered by a place that’s starting three new magazines at once. And let me add, I’m someone whose decision to publish somewhere isn’t always driven by money. I do like to get paid and well if possible, which I do a lot of times, but I liked writing stories even back when I got very little for them.

  112. Jason Sanford says:

    John: I should not have used the word quibble, which indicated a more dismissive attitude to the subject of pay and differences of pay than I intended. You raised many valid points, and writers shouldn’t ignore what they’re being paid, especially if they’re trying to make a living as a freelancer. But that said, writers–and especially emerging writers–should also keep in mind there is more to publishing strategy than simply how much they are paid, and that different strategies pay off differently over the long run. And to summarize Jeff, the ultimate goal for all of us should be to create the best stories we can without concerns about money during the story creation process. Afterward, land the highest rate possible for publication, or publish with a magazine which pays less but brings “something good” to the table to offset the low pay, as you said.

    I hope there’s no hard feelings on this disagreement, John. Because none were intended.

    But that said–ahem, stepping onto my high horse–I’m stunned at how nasty some of the comments in this thread have been (not from John or Jeff, just FYI). Damn. If anyone is angry or irritated about this thread, feel free to go after me since I wrote the f’in post. But there’s no need to go after others on such a nasty level.

    I’ve now stepped off the high horse. Anyone can have a go at me if it makes them feel better.

  113. John Scalzi says:

    Jason Sanford:

    “I hope there’s no hard feelings on this disagreement, John. Because none were intended.”

    No hard feelings on this end, Jason. It’s been a very interesting discussion, so thanks for it.

  114. David Alton Dodd says:

    Scalzi, while I appreciate your attempt to champion the cause for writers earning more money, it’s a pretty unrealistic expectation in 2009. Just today, the New York Times laid off a bunch. In San Diego, right across the border from where I live, the majority of the journalists have been let go. All over the country, lay-offs have flooded the market with writers. Guess what they’re all doing now? Short stories, for one thing. The market is overwhelmed. If you have a name and a reputation, you stand a better chance at scraping by, but for guys like me, we take what we can get.

    A few times a year I have an opportunity for a $1500 gig. Other times I get $500, or $250 and at the low end only $100. If all I can manage is $100 then I have to take it, otherwise someone else will. When I can’t get $100 then I have to bust my ass and do $40 stringer pieces. That’s only if I can manage to pick up the work.

    Getting a novel published in 2009 has turned into a crapshoot for a debut writer. If it doesn’t involve vampires or unicorns or emotional young teen girls simultaneously dealing with their parents divorce, puberty, and an embarrassing rash, forget it. The publishing industry currently has no idea where it’s going.

    John, I read your blog and follow your tweets and I know you mean well. But step back and please try to understand that, assuming you started out in the same position as I did, the market was a lot different back then. While your success manifested itself because you are a good writer, there is a lot less room for good writers now if they aren’t so established. I propose that if you had started your career in 2009, even as a good writer you might not have met with the same success; or perhaps, it would have been much more difficult and taken much longer for that success to manifest itself into what you have become.

    I don’t question your good intentions, only your perspective.

  115. John Scalzi says:

    David Alton Dodd:

    “But step back and please try to understand that, assuming you started out in the same position as I did, the market was a lot different back then.”

    Was it? When I first entered the job market as a writer, it was in 1991, during which the US was in a middle of a recession. I was rejected for jobs at dozens of newspapers, most of them citing a hiring freeze. When my first book was published (on Internet finance, of all things), it was in 2000, when the first Internet bubble was collapsing, which basically crushed the sales of that particular book, which could have ended my book career right there. When I started writing fiction, it was in late 2001, during which we had that 9/11 economic dip.

    Which is to say every time I entered a market, it was at something of a low economic ebb. To be sure, I’ve caught my breaks in my time (going to work at AOL in the mid-90s, just as it was taking off, for example), but the argument that things are vastly different now than they ever were for me when I was starting out isn’t one that I’m going to buy 100%.

    Beyond this, you’re falling prey to the common fallacy that at some point in the not too distant past, the publishing industry had any idea where it was going and everything was groovy. This really isn’t the case. The history of the science fiction genre is one of more or less constant market upheaval; get some old timer to tell you about the collapse of the pulps 50 years ago, or the consolidation of the supermarket rackjobbers 25 years ago, and so on. Outside our own little shady vale all sorts of other upheavals were going on as well. In the early 90s, newspapers were going out of business not because of the Internet but because of the cost of newsprint. In the mid-90s, the first wave of Internet publishers had a huge bloodletting because AOL changed its economic model from per hour to all-you-can eat, and the business model of these publishers couldn’t sustain it. What’s going on now is just the latest end of the world — different details, but a lot of the same dynamics.

    It’s *always* a bad time to be a writer, David. If you’re waiting for it to be a *better* time to start thinking critically about the economics of your writing life, you’re going to be waiting a long time, and you’re going to be a disadvantage to the writers who do.

    And quite clearly, I think there’s no time like the present to remind writers to put value in their work, and to think critically about the economics of their writing life, *particularly* if they are starting out. If you don’t do it right from the beginning, when do you think you’re going to get around to it? Do you actually think you’ll *have* a career if you don’t? Do you think *I* would have had a career in writing if I hadn’t?

  116. David Alton Dodd says:

    John Scalzi:

    We’re going in three different directions here, my fault, so allow me to tie these things together a little tighter.

    I am in no way marginalizing your success. I’m sure that you had your fair share of unfortunate timing. But I wrote for a newspaper in 1991 and 1992, I did it in the evenings to keep me away from booze in-between wives. What happened in the early 90′s and what has been happening in the past couple of years in the newspaper business isn’t comparable. The scale of what is going on now is enormous. And when the twin towers fell, even though I had never considered a career in writing at that point, it still affects what I’m doing at the moment (q.v.). So I do have a notion of where you’re coming from.

    And, being a huge fan of writers like Vonnegut and Bukowski and Saroyan and so on, I have read what they went through when they started and how that all changed. I lived through the AOL years, and even though it never struck me to become a writer during that time, the dynamics of what happened were not lost on me. And now, here we go again, e-publishing and electronic books and who knows what’s next?

    A few years ago, after the last manufacturing company I ran went south (just prior to the burst of the housing bubble – guess what industry we manufactured for?), I heeded the advice of people who followed a now-deceased website I had, and I gave writing a shot. The idea, if I were to be able to write novels full time, is that I would have to write other stuff in order to make a living and at the same time build a platform. My goal was simple: Make at least $25,000 per year writing for magazines and weeklies and so on, and spend the rest of the time writing novels.

    It started out well enough, but as the newspapers began to fold and the others that survive keep laying off journalists, the market for what I do is now cutthroat. My $25,000 per year goal is becoming unrealistic. Even in this crappy economy I can always find some engineering work in the United States, but after 9/11 the border has become a very time consuming endeavor. My daily commute turns into three hours one way and an hour the other way. Doesn’t leave much time for the novels.

    There is no *good* time to be a writer, but there are better times than others. I’ve finished one novel and come to realize, what with all the structural conceit I so enjoy employing as a vehicle to drive the story, no agent in their right mind would try to sell it as a debut novel. I’m in the middle of my second novel, which will fare much better as a debut, and then I’m sure I can sell the first one after that. Meanwhile – and I can’t imagine you would disagree – my writing is much better when I’m able to devote six solid hours a day rather than a few hours on weekends.

    So my point is, then, can an aspiring novelist afford to not sell shorts at unfair market value in order to devote the time necessary in order to write a good novel?

  117. Nick Mamatas says:

    Pretty much every published first novel is someone’s actual second or third (or ninth) novel.

    Ebooks, despite the panic in and out of the trade, are a vanishingly small percentage of the market.

    Newspapers are dying, yes. What of it? Plenty of people are paying for online content of various sorts.

  118. G. Arthur Brown says:

    I’m still waiting to make $250 dollars, dammit! Publish my weird shit!

  119. John Scalzi says:

    David Alton Dodd:

    “So my point is, then, can an aspiring novelist afford to not sell shorts at unfair market value in order to devote the time necessary in order to write a good novel?”

    The very nature of this question makes me wonder if you’ve thought through its basic assumptions with anything approaching analytic rigor, David. I’m not saying this to be snarky.

    Also, I wrote my first novel on the weekends, while I had a full-time job. I also wrote my second novel largely on the weekends, because during the week I had to work on projects for clients. The quality of the writing didn’t particularly suffer because I did not work on it daily; one of those books got nominated for a Hugo and won me the Campbell. Lots of writers — and lots of very *good* writers — write after putting in a full week of work. Most novelists have day jobs.

    If you genuinely want to write a novel, you’re going to find the time, and you’ll make the commitment to doing the work.

  120. David Alton Dodd says:

    John Scalzi:

    “If you genuinely want to write a novel, you’re going to find the time, and you’ll make the commitment to doing the work.”

    *Headdesk*

    John, I’ve already genuinely written a novel, and I’m genuinely working on my second. My *commitment* to my work is that I want to devote all of the time that I can to it. I began writing my first novel on the weekends about five years ago, and unlike your badassed talented self, my work suffered for it. I have published many shorts, and I have yet to submit a MS novel. It doesn’t mean I haven’t written one.

    The question posed in this weblog entry is what I’m addressing, and I’ve tried to communicate it to you the best way I can as it relates to what I’m up against. I’ve read what you’ve written about the value of stories and I’ve considered it. I don’t think you’ve done the same with me. It makes me wonder if you’ve read my comments thoroughly. If the fact that I haven’t published a novel somehow diminishes my opinion of the subject in the actual blog entry, then I’ll re-approach it with you once I’m a published novelist. And I’m not saying that to be snarky, either.

  121. Jonathan Laden says:

    +If there’s no difference between $250 and $100, then let the publishers pay $250. Otherwise, the only answer needed, because it is complete without more, is this: $150 matters more to the publisher than the writer. And that seems self-evidently false as a moral proposition.+

    Absolutely, it’s morally false. Of course, it’s also absolutely true. Because the publisher is paying, what, 50 people that extra $150 in a year. $7,500 might make the difference between losing so much money that you can’t face your kids (who must now attend state schools and miss out on the chance to discover the cure for cancer, etc. etc.), and losing little enough that you can justify continuing the hobby and working hard to continue finding ways to grow your market. LIke it or not, even podunk publishers risk real money to do what they do. Most of them lose money, year after year.

    On the other hand, you, the writer, are either gaining $100 or paying more money to submit to the next semi-pro market in that endless quest to get those words out. Your talent and time do present real (and sometimes massive) opportunity costs, but costs that thousands of us are willing to pay.

  122. Nick Mamatas says:

    Plenty of wonderful cancer research is being done at state schools such as my alma mater SUNY Stony Brook:

    https://cbase.som.sunysb.edu/cancer/trials.cfm

  123. John Scalzi says:

    David Alton Dodd:

    “It makes me wonder if you’ve read my comments thoroughly.”

    My not giving you the answers you were apparently hoping you would get does not constitute me not reading your comments, David. I suspect it’s best if we leave this particular conversation at that.

  124. Anonymous-9 says:

    I have the answer! We could all chip in and hire a hitman to start thinning the writerly herd. There would be less competition and zines would have to pay the survivors higher rates. Of course we could also have a suicide lottery or a public cliff-flinging and charge the cable networks money to broadcast the action as writers get thrown from a picturesque cliff. Somehere in Greece maybe, to add a bit of history and class? Hey, if we could make money throwing a bunch of other writers to their sacrifical deaths off a cliff, we wouldn’t even have to write for money anymore! We could write for free, but still make money!!!!

    Oh wait, I just thought of a wrinkle. What if we kill all the good writers by mistake and let the crappy ones live? Eventually, nobody will want to read anymore. That wouldn’t be good. If anybody can figure this out please take the ball and run with it. Right now I gotta go to my day job.
    Anonymous-9

  125. Nick Mamatas says:

    What if we kill all the good writers by mistake and let the crappy ones live?

    Even worse, what if that has already happened!!

    I’m just kiddin’; Anonymous 9 is one of my favorite crime writers.
    http://www.plotswithguns.com/5Anon9.htm

  126. Sam says:

    A bit off-topic: I see a couple mentions of “growing the market” for sf/f short fiction readers. What are people doing on that front? I’m trying to interview sports figures, gaming figures, music figures, and particularly women who like sf/f and grow in those directions, along with college students, comic book readers, and in particular a local focus, etc. Likely I’ll fail spectacularly, and at least I’m planning ahead to lose money year after year, but that’s one of the (likely too many) things I’m trying to do: find readers-in-waiting and spark their interest and imagination about short speculative fiction. (And hopefully get a little closer to breaking even in the process, sure.)

  127. Anonymous-9 says:

    Why Nick Mamatas are you flattering me? (Bats eyelashes, sashays hips) Thanks for posting a link to my stuff. It was generous of ya.

    I think you pose a diabolical question, Nick, but it’s no solution. If all the good writers are already dead, we still need to lessen competition among us crappy ones. How about it, Nick, eh? Want to volunteer first off the cliff? It won’t make you rich, but you’ll star in the first episode…How’s about it? (Wink wink)

  128. Sideways « Strange and Savage says:

    [...] learning, from it and from observing discussions in his blog (this one in particular) that I’m coming at all of this obliquely, sidling sideways between the rawly creative [...]

  129. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Growing the market is a young person’s game. I’m glad you’re up for it. Ann and I have no patience for it through magazines anymore. All we can do is try whenever possible to have open reading periods for anthos and to be as useful as possible to new writers.

    JeffV

  130. Greg London says:

    > Professional rates don’t mean you’re a professional

    Uhm

    > If you write short stories, why quibble over whether a story earns $100 or $250?
    > Instead, focus on writing the best possible story and making it available to readers
    > in the best possible venue.

    But

    > If you want to be a true professional writer like Scalzi, write novels and articles
    > and other freelance work, which can actually pay a living wage if you hustle your ass.

    You broke my irony meter. I’m sending you the bill.

    How is it that professional rates don’t mean you’re a professional if you’re telling people
    that to be a “true professional writer” that they should “write novels … which can pay a living wage”

    All you’re arguing is that professional rates means youre a professional writer,
    and sometimes it’s OK to write something as a *loss leader* to bring in more customers.

    The original discussion was about a market that was paying less than one cent a word.
    So, you tell me, of all the people who will sell their stories to that market, what percentage are
    selling their stories as a *loss leader*? And what percentage will never sell a novel even
    though they sold their their short story at less than one-cent a word?

    And what percentage are selling to that market based on some illogical nonsense like
    “the pros are trying to keep us down!”
    “only the semi-pro markets really have an open door to new and unpublished authors”

  131. fritz freiheit.com blog » Link dump says:

    [...] Ecstatic Days � Blog Archive � Professional rates don�t mean you�re a pr… [...]

  132. Professional Techniques for Pet and Animal Photography | Pet Animals says:

    [...] Ecstatic Days » Blog Archive » Professional rates don't mean you … [...]

  133. Warren Ellis says:

    Could you guys all come back and do this once a week? Because you’ve made me all so damned happy to be working in comics, and a regular boost like that would be great. You could talk some more about corn and being unable to count. Thanks in advance.

  134. T. W. Anderson says:

    As someone who has been coming up in a non-traditional fiction route, and having just stumbled across this discussion today, I thought I’d chime in with my thoughts.

    Everyone wants to make a living writing in their particular passion field, spec-fic or otherwise. And while it might sound good on paper to only sell your stories to places that pay 250+ for a short story, the reality of it is much uglier. The reality is that the publications who are willing to pay that kind of money only publish “established” authors, or people who have already been published. Most “pro” rates that are paid are only paid out of places that require an agent in order to submit your work. Many of the best markets out there have gigantic flashing signs on their submission pages that say “no unsolicited manuscripts accepted”, “no unsolicited queries accepted”, or “closed to submissions”. It is virtually impossible to get published these days through traditional routes if you aren’t an already-established writer who has an agent backing him up.

    It’s all well and good for those of you who are already a “name”, who have had your work published in the “major” publications”, to talk about what is/isn’t acceptable as far as rates go, but the reality is that most of the other writers out there can’t even come close to getting paid that kind of money for their stories. Why? Because the established ‘zines won’t even look twice at their stories because they aren’t “established”.

    Personally, I chose to take a different route: writing fiction for computer games. Fiction credit is fiction credit. Ironically enough, my work has been rejected at every major publication I’ve sent it to. Yet I’ve continued to land sale after sale, contract after contract, working as a freelance writer, journalist, and travel writer. For example, I just recently landed a fiction contract writing a 6-12k short story for an MMORPG company out of Dubai, with a sci-fi theme. The pay rate? Close to double what what Asimov’s pays to first-time writers.

    Yet here’s the thing…despite the fact that I’ve logged over 6 months and 100+ stories for one title, 2 short story sales to indy publishers, and make a damn good living as a freelance writer with plenty of other fiction credits to my name…big name magazines still won’t buy my work. So I have a choice…I either sell it for pennies in comparison to what the “big dogs” pay, or I find alternative means to get my work published.

    I chose the later. Why deal with the inflated egos of the people behind traditional publications when there are other markets out there in the world that pay as good as (and in some cases, better than) the places that are telling me “nah, you don’t have an agent, you aren’t established in traditional markets, so we don’t want your work”?

    If I was trying to make a living off my fiction selling to traditional big-name magazines, I’d be out on the street, starving. Instead, I’m using alternative routes, making a good living, and I’m still earning fiction credits….it’s just not the kind the big dogs approve of.

    Meanwhile, I’ll keep selling to any place that will take my work. Sometimes I get paid a good wage, other times I don’t. What I can’t afford is to stand around and “hope” that I’m going to make a sale in the “official” places. Sure, it might bring some prestige, but I prefer steady paychecks than wishful thinking.

  135. T. W. Anderson says:

    In closing…I’m not always getting paid “professional” rates, but I’m a professional writer who is making a living 100% off of my writing. Granted, it’s spread between travel writing, freelance journalism, freelance content writing, and fiction, but the fact of the matter is my paychecks pay for my wife and I to enjoy half a dozen trips every year, have us debt-free before either one of us are 30 years old, and put a good chunk of change in the savings every year. And I have YET to be published in anything remotely resembling a “professional” market as determined by the SFWA or otherwise.

    /shrug. I’ve always taken the Stephen King approach to the whole thing. If you wrote something, got a paycheck for what you wrote, cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and then paid your light bill with that check…you are successful. While I would love to be published in Interzone or Asimov’s or on Tor or somewhere else that carries a lot of traditional weight, the simple fact of the matter is I’d be out on the streets STARVING if I was only trying to make it with them and their so-called professional rates. My work might be in places that none of the “elite” writers and publications have ever heard of, but as far as I’m concerned…a paycheck is a paycheck.

    In my mind, I am a professional writer not because my work has been published in X publication, or because I’ve been paid X dollars for a submission. I am a professional writer because I do this for a living, 100%. I don’t have to supplement with another job. 100% of what I make comes from the words I put down on paper (or PDF/doc/docx/etc.)

  136. Sam says:

    T. W.: “The reality is that the publications who are willing to pay that kind of money only publish “established” authors, or people who have already been published. Most “pro” rates that are paid are only paid out of places that require an agent in order to submit your work. Many of the best markets out there have gigantic flashing signs on their submission pages that say “no unsolicited manuscripts accepted”, “no unsolicited queries accepted”, or “closed to submissions”. It is virtually impossible to get published these days through traditional routes if you aren’t an already-established writer who has an agent backing him up.”

    There are literally dozens of “pro rate” ($0.05/word) short fiction markets which will gladly read (and publish if they like it) completely unknown authors stories. It’s a bit harder in the upper end of the novel submission food chain (the “require an agent” and so on) but I don’t think you’re very accurate overall in what you just said here that I quoted. Now, I personally do think writing fiction for RPGs and games and other things (screenplays for example) is certainly writing. Duh.

  137. Greg London says:

    TW: “despite the fact that I’ve logged over 6 months and 100+ stories for one title, 2 short story sales to indy publishers, and make a damn good living as a freelance writer with plenty of other fiction credits to my name…big name magazines still won’t buy my work. … Why deal with the inflated egos of the people behind traditional publications”

    So, the reason they won’t publish your work isn’t because it doesn’t fit their market or isn’t a rehashed old story they’ve seen a million times, it’s because they have inflated egos?

    Good to see the “pros are keeping me down” meme lives on.

  138. T. W. Anderson says:

    Less of a “meme” attitude, and more of “why should I waste my time with the traditional professional publications who won’t even bother to grace me with anything other than a form letter because they really don’t care about anyone but previously-published, established authors.”

    I made a recent post over at Jason’s site regarding the simple fact that if I have a choice between a publication that is going to pay me X dollars, but requires me to wait 4-6 months to hear back from them, and I’ve got a .5 percent chance of actually ever getting my foot in the door with them because I’m not an “established” author…and a publication (indy) who pays less, but will give me a much higher chance of getting the work published, plus they will get back to me within 3-4 weeks and give me a personalized rejection letter that tells me they actually took the time to read it without passing it on to their slush editor….I’m going to go with the indy publisher, hands down, every time.

    Why? Ultimately I write fiction to have it read. I don’t write it for a paycheck (although the paycheck is a bonus, and the bigger the bonus, the better). I don’t have the time or the inclination to deal with the traditional, “big boys only” club rules. Professionalism in the 21st century has little to do with where your work is being published, and more to do with whether or not you are making a living doing it.

    I absolutely believe the traditional publishing houses have inflated egos. I have seen some really atrocious stuff come out of so-called professional authors in recent years, all because they are a “name” in the industry. Yet these publications continue to publish the same re-hashed old drivel simply because it’s from someone who is a name. Meanwhile, there are thousands of little guys out there with super innovative ideas who can’t even get their foot in the door because the guys at the top pull up the ladder any time they see one of the little guys coming.

    That’s not to say there aren’t professional publications that look for new talent, but the vast majority of them have big ol’ “members only” signs on their doors these days, and for people like me…well, I’ll go with the indy guys instead. At least it gets my work read, even if it’s not as large of a paycheck.

    Everyone’s work has the potential to fit the market. The problem is that unless you have an agent or are an established name in the industry, the people behind the major publications won’t even look at your submissions. Thankfully, there are alternative ways to get your work published these days :)

  139. Kenneth Mark Hoover says:

    Good post and helpful. Thank you.

  140. Greg London says:

    T. W. Anderson, like I said, the “pros are keeping me down” meme lives on.

  141. mythago says:

    T.W., which are the SFWA-eligible publications that you believe are interested only in pro writers? Or, since the ‘vast majority’ of them are, it might be shorter for you to list that tiny minority of SFWA-eligible publications which *aren’t* members-only in their outlook?

    You seem to infer this “big boys only” attitude from assumption that all pro publications have long turnarounds and from the fact that many use form rejection letters. I’m not sure I follow your logic there.

  142. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    No, TW, not everyone’s work has the ability to fit a market. Do you know why? Because some writers’ work just blows. Like, just sucks.

  143. Booklife: Seven Points to Consider When Submitting Short Fiction « Booklife says:

    [...] The blogosphere saw a lot of discussion during late 2009 about short fiction submissions practices. My main concern with the discussion as it existed was a lack of strategic planning when it came to submitting short fiction. Which is to say, for many writers a top-down approach of submitting to the highest paying and most visible markets may make sense. But that there are good reasons to develop more nuanced approaches. Here, then, are seven points to consider when thinking about the submission of short fiction. (In altered form, the following post originally appeared in the comments thread on my blog, on a guest post by Jason Sanford.) [...]

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