Professional rates don’t mean you’re a professional

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.

Comments

  1. Rachel Swirsky says

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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?

  12. 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?

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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.)

  20. 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)

  21. 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

  22. 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”

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.)

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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 :)

  29. 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.

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] 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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