Dragon Magazine Wants to Own Your Ass, Cheap

Note to aspiring fantasy writers out there: avoid Dragon magazine, which has apparently re-opened to fiction submissions. The pay is on the low side of adequate for the genre (three to six cents a word), but the kicker is that for that royal sum, you are expected to give up all rights to your work. Says so right there on the submissions page — in fact, it says it twice, in rapid succession: “In the event we buy your manuscript, you must assign your rights to us. That means that once your contract is signed, we’ll own all rights in your submission.”

These aren’t submission guidelines, they’re a stupidity test, as in, “are you actually stupid enough to give up all the rights to your work for three to six cents a word?” And if you are, what other stupid things are you willing to do for a mere pittance? I ask only because I have this gallon of latex paint here, and seventy-eight cents in my pocket. And I’m willing to pay every penny of that seventy-eight cents to see someone drink that paint. Because, man, that would be a hoot. That’s 9.75 cents a pint! What a rate!

Quick definition: When you write something and you give up all the rights to it, you’re doing “work for hire.” Some writers have a philosophical problem doing work for hire, but I don’t — provided that the upfront fee for the work is good, among other factors. For example, when I worked for a newspaper, the paper owned my work. On the other hand, I got a salary, a 401(k), health and dental, and someplace to get out of the rain on a daily basis. Fair trade. Likewise, many of you know I occasionally contribute pieces to the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series of books. That’s work for hire, but I also get paid a really excellent rate; I got paid more for contributing articles to the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into the Universe book, actually, than I got as an advance for my own astronomy book. The point is, when you do work for hire, you should be compensated fairly for walking away from future gains from your work.

Three to six cents a word is not even close to a fair rate to give up all rights to your work. Hell, three to six cents a word is hardly a fair rate for publishing anything, if you want to get right down to it, and most genre editors know it, or should. Those rates are barely adequate for first North American serial rights (i.e., the right to publish the story once). A 3 to 6 cents rate is on the lowish end of what pro genre publications pay, so Dragon is not only offering no premium to authors for their work for hire, it’s actually paying less than some magazines who buy fewer rights. Which brings us back ’round to the “stupidity test” aspect of submitting one’s work to Dragon.

Why not submit to Fantasy & Science Fiction? It offers 6-9 cents/word for first North American and foreign serial rights and an option on anthology rights. How about Weird Tales? It offers 3-4 cents/word for first North American serial rights, with an anthology option. All other rights stay with the author, who also retains copyright. Realms of Fantasy? A nickel a word up to 7,500 words. The site doesn’t offer information on the rights it buys, but I would be deeply surprised if it tries to vacuum up all rights. Strange Horizons: five cents a word for a two-month exclusive window (NB: They’re closed to submissions through the end of the 2007, however). All of these places will treat you better than Dragon. Indeed, I would personally suggest that pretty much any paying market that does not presume to suck up all your rights is better than Dragon, because you’ll have the chance to make more with your work later, and you definitely won’t have that with Dragon.

It’s stuff like this that shoves your face into the fact that writing, whatever else it is, is also a business. From a purely economic point of view, the Dragon set-up is terrible for a writer: No premium to the writer for work-for-hire, and no potential benefit for the writer on the back end. It’s a lose-lose situation. Mind you, it’s win-win for Dragon, and its various corporate owners (Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro), since they’re getting viable intellectual property for very literally next to nothing with no risk of having to share revenues later. Brilliant! Somewhere an Hasbro IP lawyer has gotten his wings. Good for him. Bad for the writer.

To sum up: Submitting your work to Dragon = dumb. Giving up all rights to your work for pennies a word = dumb. Supporting a magazine happy to bend you over a desk, violate your rights and then slap down a couple of grimy bills for your time = dumb. Not remembering writing is a business = dumb.

If after all this you still kinda want to send something in to Dragon, well, you go right ahead. But when you’re done, be sure to drop by my place. This gallon of paint ain’t gonna drink itself.

180 thoughts on “Dragon Magazine Wants to Own Your Ass, Cheap

  1. As a performer, I’d be more than happy to drink that gallon of paint for nothing. As long as I retain the rights to all videos of said drinking thrown up on the YouTubes.

    Get it? Thrown up? Thank you, I’ll be here all week. Try the paint!

  2. This is what the RPG industry pays for everything. It was 3 to 6 cents, work for hire, when I started ten years ago, and I won’t be surprised if it’s 3 to 6 cents, work for hire, in 2017. It’s a shoestring industry; very few companies can afford to remain open at all. That’s not to justify what they’re doing (especially when Hasbro is hardly a shoestring player).

    The problem with the RPG industry — and I was guilty of this when I started — is that many, many gamers do tons of this sort of work for fun, for free, for themselves and their friends. So the prospect of getting paid and published is just a bonus. And therefore there’s a ready supply of newbies to replace any given writer.

  3. As I remember, WotC was sued for republication of articles and fiction previously published in Dragon (I think it was on a CD or something). There was a settlement and the project was also scuttled. My guess is this is some lawyer’s suggestion of how to not get into that problem again. You know, as opposed to behaving responsibly and renegotiate rights for reuse.

  4. #5: But if the story is good enough to be published in Dragon, it’s good enough to be published somewhere that will pay better and let you keep your rights.

  5. Note that Dragon is more likely than most to actually use spinoff rates to, say, RPG or video game versions of a good concept. (In the unlikely event of your cabin losing pressure your having one)

  6. Bugger. Strikeout doesn’t work, nor does my brain. Should have used the big red preview button.

    The above should read:
    Note that Dragon is more likely than most to actually use spinoff rights to, say, RPG or video game versions of a good concept. (In the unlikely event of \your cabin losing pressure\ your having one)

  7. Spook:

    They quit publishing the printed magazine but are relaunching it as an all-digital creature to coincide with the upcoming release of the next edition of D&D.

  8. “#5: But if the story is good enough to be published in Dragon, ”

    This may not be saying much. Especially under the terms described.

  9. I put in a query yesterday to see whether it’s a carryover from the article guidelines (which usually require the use of their proprietary IP), since “article” is used in place of “manuscript” or “fiction work” or “story” a few times in that paragraph–or, if not, whether it’s only for stories that use their worlds/characters/property.

  10. It’s a shame that they’re treating authors that poorly.
    Early issues of The Dragon (before they dropped the definite article, when TSR was still run by a handful of gamer geeks in Lake Geneva, WI), they printed some very fine fiction including one of DeCamp and Pratt’s Enchanter tales (The Green Magician), a Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser tale by Lieber (Sea Magic), a few by Gardner Fox, and many more (see http://www.aeolia.net/dragondex/fiction.html). Many of those were clearly reprints, and they certainly didn’t keep all rights to those stories (hah!).

  11. Two thoughts from a guy who makes his living as a freelance writer.

    1. The pay rate for SF/F fiction really sucks, doesn’t it?

    2. Note to writers: What you sell is your rights to your writing, not your writing. Think it through.

  12. Yeah, joelfinkle, but that was in the days when the Dungeon Master’s Guide included a recommended reading list in the back that featured a nice fantasy-primer list that included HPL, Vance, Tolkien, REH, deCamp, ERB, Zelazny, Moorcock, et al. These days, any such list in a Hasbro/WOTC volume would merely be a list of Salvatore tie-ins. For all of the game’s faults in the early TSR days, it was a much more literate game that assumed players were educated geeks.

    But maybe I’m getting off-topic: the real point is that anyone who is familiar with Hasbro/WOTC would be shocked to see any other kind of submissions guidelines, I think. They’re not really advertising for general fantasy lit–someone writing a Susanna Clarke-ish short Georgian-fantasy isn’t going to get published in Dragon no matter how brilliant the writing. They’re looking for stories that are going to use or tie in with WOTC IP–something set in the Forgotten Realms or Eberron, maybe involving a mysterious Drow or vicious Mind Flayer and possibly a hero who uses something invented by Melf. To that extent, actually, I can’t entirely fault their terms: they’re looking for derivative works and can’t exactly be expected to release their IP into the wild by giving it back to the author along with his story. And, as Jim Kiley wrote, there is an inexhaustible supply of fanboys–some of them talented–who would be happy to let Dragon publish something of theirs just for bragging rights (to get $.03/word would just be gravy).

  13. An Eric:

    “These days, any such list in a Hasbro/WOTC volume would merely be a list of Salvatore tie-ins.”

    Boy, I sure hope he has some sort of royalty set-up.

  14. Yes, the pay rates for F/SF short fiction hasn’t exactly kept pace with inflation. OTOH, there are lots of short fiction writers and not a whole lot of demand. (See previous discussion of short fiction market)

    Whether or not Dragon is actually looking for stories which use existing Hasbro IP, the submission guideline reads like they are just looking for good stories. In fact, it makes a point of saying that they’re looking for stories outside their familiar hunting grounds. Obviously, what they’re looking for is IP. i.e., they want to pay you a pittance so that they can develop a D&D book, or module based on your short story. Just because there are people who would be happy with this deal doesn’t actually make it a good deal.

  15. A handful of observations:

    One: it should be noted that this online incarnation of Dragon is apparently being published directly by Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro, whereas the recently folded print version had been published for a number of years by Paizo Publishing under license from WotC.

    Two: FWIW, in the years when I was doing book reviews for Dragon (under TSR, Wizards, and Paizo) and Amazing Stories (under Wizards and Paizo), my contracts never specified all rights/WFH — and my word rates were better than what’s being offered in those guidelines. In a couple of cases, the initially offered contracts did so, but I was always able to negotiate the boilerplate into a more appropriate form. Alex is right to have put in a query, and I’ll be interested to hear the response.

    Three: the TSR incarnation of Dragon, under fiction editor Barbara Young, generally didn’t buy all rights in original fiction either (as opposed to stories set in the TSR house universes), and I believe she paid at least 5-6 cents/word, possibly more. This was, in fact, the precise issue that caused problems with the Dragon CD-ROM project Steve Buchheit mentions above — SFWA’s objection at the time was that it amounted to an exercise of reprint rights, meaning that Wizards owed reprint fees under those original-fiction contracts. As I recall, some SFWA writers still had issues with the eventual settlement, and I had thought the CD-ROM actually was published, though it apparently didn’t stay in print for long.

  16. >Hell, three to six cents a word is hardly a fair rate for
    >publishing anything, if you want to get right down to it, and
    >most genre editors know it, or should.

    Thanks for the slap in the face to all us small press genre publishers that can’t AFFORD more than 1 cent a word, but who try very hard to be fair to our authors. Not every genre editor/publisher has a huge budget.

  17. Oh, wah wah wah, crystalwizard. Your pay rate sucks. That it’s all you can afford is neither here nor there to that fact. Just admit your pay rate sucks; you’ll get points for that admission.

  18. I think the point missed here is that for the 3-6 cent rate Dragon wants ALL rights. Not first worldwide rights, not digital rights (they are a digital publication only now), not first Nort American — they want all.

    Smaller zines and small presses generally don’t ask for all rights for less pay. From what I’ve seen they ask for first print rights and limited exclusivity for a period of 3 months to a year.

  19. 3 to 6 cents a word sounds okay to me. Let’s be honest, if you’re writing short fiction, you’re not doing it for the money. There’s good publications out there that pay less than that and as John’s pointed out before markets like F&SF are tough ones to crack, even for pro SF/F writers.

    But the loss of copyright, that’s just plain dumb.

  20. Indeed, JKRichard, which is why I would be rather more likely to sell to a penny-a-word market before I would to Dragon.

    (Mind you, if I got to the point where I was looking at penny-a-word markets, I would just post the story here and be done with it. But theoretically, it would be the penny-a-word, first serial rights market before Dragon.)

  21. Wait, what? Better to not be published at all than to be published at a penny a word? I beg to differ. In fact, our genre has it pretty cushy, all things considered. My mom writes mysteries, and if you think a penny a word sucks, try “nothing” or “five dollars via Paypal.” The mystery markets are far fewer and farther between than the spec markets, and they pay a LOT worse. A penny a word isn’t great, but it’s better than nothing, and I for one would rather have the market out there paying a pittance than not have it at all.

  22. {As I remember, WotC was sued for republication of articles and fiction previously published in Dragon (I think it was on a CD or something). There was a settlement and the project was also scuttled. My guess is this is some lawyer’s suggestion of how to not get into that problem again. You know, as opposed to behaving responsibly and renegotiate rights for reuse.}

    That was regarding fiction, as the contracts for it were unclear. RPG articles for a long long time had an all-rights clause. Makes sense that they would try to extend it to all works to avoid such problems in the future. The fact is that the Dragon CD-ROM was an awesome project, the fans craved and loved it, and a few authors messed it all up over some old old stories they hadn’t managed to sell to anyone else in years and yet sued because the CD-ROM somehow “devalued” the saleability of these stories … that already weren’t selling.

  23. Julie:

    “Better to not be published at all than to be published at a penny a word?”

    I didn’t say that. I said I would post it here. This site gets more visitors a day than any of the genre magazines/sites have subscribers/readers.

    Also, in this case, what I would do is not necessarily what anyone else would do. For various reasons, I could be considered a special case.

    Sean K. Reynolds:

    “Makes sense that they would try to extend it to all works to avoid such problems in the future.”

    Doesn’t make much sense for the authors.

  24. The hell with all this stuff about rights and pay rates, Scalzi. I just want to know if the paint is blue and, if so, what shade. Because $.78 can buy my way on TWO buses, with three cents to spare, but if I’m going to poison myself, it might as well be be a color I really like.

    But yeah, signing away all rights to your work for a few quarter notes = not smart. And the entity requiring that of its writers? Very bad. Dragon should be very ashamed of itself and forced to drink chartreuse paint for nothing.

  25. John (#29), our posts crossed. I was referring to William Shafer’s post that said that if she couldn’t afford to pay writers “reasonably” (whatever that means), she shouldn’t be publishing. Which strikes me as not only ridiculous, but condescending as well.

    Of course, I’m speaking as a new writer whose first sale was to one of those penny-a-word publications, so I may be a teeny bit biased.

  26. One of the problems I’ve noticed on the fanbase from the fallout of the Dragon/Paizo relationship (fyi for those that don’t know, Paizo was the previous publishers of Dragon for the last 4 (5?) years) is the hate of Dragon Magazine itself. It’s even gone to malicious verbal attacks against the new editor of Dragon Mag.

    What folks fail to realize is that it is not Wizards at blame per se, but a decision brought down the line from their parent company Hasbro. I know a few folks that work for WotC — they are hardworking people and fans as well. They’re just owned by accountants and lawyers on the top end.

    Hasbro has dumped printing, and then initiated the DDI program (Dungeon and Dragons Insider) which gives folks the “inside scoop” of projects at WotC and the digital publication of Dragon for $10.00/mo. Financially lucrative move on Hasbro/WotC’s part — but again — you can’t pay more than 3 -6 cents per word for ALL rights?

    The upside to the fall of Dragon (maybe not the slaying of the Dragon but damn near) is that it has opened the door for Paizo to continue its own publications innovations under the OGL. It has also allowed game making veterans like Wolfgang Baur to succesfully launch niche publications like Kobold Quarterly.

    KQ and Paizo’s Pathfinder might not have the mighty coffers that WotC is backed by — but if they each continue to bring home the bacon so to speak — and not ask for ALL rights… I know who this table-top fanboy is going to be reading, writing and submitting to.

    -=Jeff=-

  27. That was regarding fiction, as the contracts for it were unclear.

    Er, no. The contracts were perfectly clear; the legal issue was whether a CD-ROM compilation counted as a reprint usage — and while that was arguable at the time, the Supreme Court’s decision in Tasini pretty well resolved that in favor of the fiction authors.

    RPG articles for a long long time had an all-rights clause. Makes sense that they would try to extend it to all works to avoid such problems in the future.

    “Try” being the operative word. As noted above, no contract I ever signed with TSR/WotC/Paizo for original (as opposed to derivative) work was an all-rights contract.

    The fact is that the Dragon CD-ROM was an awesome project, the fans craved and loved it, and a few authors messed it all up

    I agree that it was a superb idea — but the root error was that WotC’s legal team failed to properly advise the company of its obligations under the contracts it had signed with authors of non-derivative works.

  28. Hm, I have some dreadful fiction that I wrote a while back – if Dragon is foolish enough to take it off my hands, that could be a fitting punishment for their deceptive ways…

  29. Does giving up all rights to Dragon also mean that they could take your work and base a game on the world and characters you created? If such a thing happened, would you ever be able to write in that world again (since it now belongs to Dragon)?

  30. Man, I have to echo what Mark Terry said above: fiction doesn’t seem to pay well.

    I’m getting $500 for 2,500-word feature articles I’m writing for a bi-monthly magazine. In fact, that same magazine recently paid me $300 for a 500-word introduction to a photo essay. On the other hand, they’re pay for movie and book reviews is a little low — $40 for 800 words, but I get to keep what I’ve reviewed. :-D

    Another magazine I’m writing for is paying $175 for 1,000 to 1,500 words. Not as good as the first magazine, but I can publish for them more frequently because they’re an on-line magazine that publishes daily.

    The thing is, although I have to do a lot of research for the articles I write, I think that writing fiction is probably more difficult or time-consuming than the non-fiction I’m writing. I would think that it should pay at least as well, but I’m really not familiar with the short fiction market.

    -Drew

  31. Crystalwizard: is your publishing outfit offering a penny a word for first NA serial rights + maybe anthology option and letting the author keep the rest of the rights, or ALL rights like Dragon?

    If the former? Well, honestly… your rate sucks but you’re not completely screwing the authors. Congratulations, I guess? Just don’t expect to get a whole lot of really high-quality submissions if that’s all you’re willing to shell out.

    If the latter? You are a festering boil on the rear end of the publishing industry. This paint’s for you. Sit down, shut up, drink it, take your penny, and go crawl back under whatever rock you came from.

  32. Anne C. Yes, ALL rights. If they want to create derivative works based on your intellectual property they can— because, well, it’s no longer your IP. Which is the whole point here — they are not paying professional rates for what is essentially “work for hire.”

    Drew, for the vast majority fiction doesn’t pay well. You can make a much steadier income flinging fries at your local fast food place than chasing submission guidelines and swimming slush.

  33. Does giving up all rights to Dragon also mean that they could take your work and base a game on the world and characters you created?

    Yes, though pencil in “WotC/Hasbro” for “Dragon” in the above.

    If such a thing happened, would you ever be able to write in that world again (since it now belongs to Dragon)?

    Oh, you could write in that world again — note, for instance, that Ed Greenwood has continued to write and sell “Forgotten Realms” novels since selling his world to TSR/Wizards/Hasbro. (I say “selling his world”, but that may or may not be correct; it’s just possible that he licensed the rights rather than selling the universe outright.)

    However, while you can write further works in the WFH universe, the new owner of that universe controls your ability to publish them, and thus has great leverage in terms of what it’s willing to pay you for any further works.

  34. “I had thought the CD-ROM actually was published, though it apparently didn’t stay in print for long.”

    Since it’s sitting in my CD caddy at home, I can tell you that yes, it was published.

    Anne C. : Bingo!
    Say I create a character named “Blitz Geterdun”, the dual ax wielding emo-dwarf. Blitz proves popular, they could contact one of their “regular” authors and say “we want more of this guy, intergrate him into the Forgettable Realms somehow, right a series of mediocre at best novels”.
    And I would have no say about it, as I’ve signed my rights away.

  35. Strangely the Dragon ‘magazine’ paragraph of legalese seems to be an almost direct lift from the website of “Fantasy Makers Industries”.

    Straight off their d100 Talarius Gaming System submissions page, but with the word “material” in the original replaced with “manuscript”.

    Are they sharing lawyers or something?

  36. Sorry, Mr. Scalzi, but I’ll have to disagree.
    I don’t have my own website with tens of thousands of daily visitors, and I don’t have a list of publishing creds as long as my arm.
    Hey, I’m not complaining. You’ve earned every bit of it. Don’t forget, I pay money to read your work just like everyone else here, but it’s tough to draw a comparison between your situation and mine.
    So I guess you could say it would be dumb for Scalzi, or Silverberg or Mieville or Ringo or a lot of other guys to agree to those terms, but gelee? Dude, nobody is offering to publish an anthology of my best short unpurchased crap. I need sales and credits. Maybe I lose a short story in the process, but maybe one more sale means I get a second look from a publisher who wouldn’t look at my work before. Maybe that’s not so dumb.

  37. IMO, anyone who submits to Dragon is probably too stupid to write publishable fiction. But given WotC/Hasbro’s attitude toward IP rights in general (Not just the CDROM, but other things, including a personal case about which all I can really say is “The dispute was settled in a manner agreeable to all parties involved”) I felt that way before they came out with these guidelines.

  38. gelee:

    Well, gelee, and this is why Dragon will get away with their aggressively contemptuous deal: because there’s always someone willing to say “hey, it’s not so bad.”

    I would note that when I was unpublished and unknown, I wouldn’t have taken this sort of deal. You can check this, if you like, by trolling through the USENET archives of the mid-90s in misc.writing and other places and reading my messages mocking the people who were going to create “e-zines” where everyone was going to get paid in exposure, rather than money, and/or someone was trying to buy all rights for close to nothing. Basically, in my opinion, it’s never been worth it.

    You are perfectly free to do as you will. However, I would suggest you first try the markets that are not aggressively trying to screw you out of your work.

  39. gelee, I’m in the same boat you are but IMO the sale’s not worth it if the story never reverts back to you. We’re not talking about a year of exclusivety, we’re talking about it never being yours again.

    It’d be better for you to sell your story somewhere that pays a significantly lower rate than Dragon does instead of trying to go through them.

  40. Imagine if Super Science Stories and Astounding Science Fiction had this policy. Based on what I’ve been able to find in a brief search, they were the first publishers of the nine short stories that later became “I. Robot.”

    Without engaging in a debate over whether the movie had any meaningful relationship to the book, it still earned more than $144 million at the box office.

    Who knows what potential exists in any given short story? The only sure thing is that there’s a potential for the author to be the big loser in the long run.

  41. Drew @37: As a point of reference, you can find business-oriented publications (trade magazines, in-house journals, etc. — not talking about Forbes, Portfolio, et al.) that pay $1/word and up.

    gelee @43: Hang on to your rights. What if you accidentally sell the second coming of “The Lottery” or “King of the Bingo Game” or “Hills Like White Elephants” as work-for-hire? You’ll watch it anthologized for the rest of your natural life, but you won’t collect a dime off of it.

  42. I remember years ago Tracy Hickman got fed-up with the TSR, WoTC bunch and swore off ever working for them again. It seems whatever caused that has been resolved since there is a whole new set of DragonLance books with his name on them.

    Does make you wonder though what they are thinking?

  43. We’re not just talking about that story not being yours, either. Worse case scenario, you might never be able to use the characters you created in that story for publication in another venue ever again. If you’ve created a ‘verse where you can reuse your characters in other stories, you might be screwed out of writing them…and not only that, but you’d also get people in Dragon’s stable writing your characters. So not only would people use your characters for (basically) glorified fanfiction, they’d be getting paid for it–and you wouldn’t have to give them permission (because you already have), and you wouldn’t get a cut.

    Yeah, I’m not going there. Unless I actually write something in their ‘verse, in which case I’d go there first, because getting paid to write fanfic would be amusing.

  44. Julie:

    Yeah, that’s about the only scenario in which it actually makes sense, because then there’s nowhere else you could publish it.

  45. If the story’s crap, who cares? Lose your rights.

    On the other hand, if your story’s crap — why are you trying to publish it?

    If your story’s not crap, then theoretically you might want to use it someday in an anthology of your own work. You might want to expand the piece into a novel. If you sell to Dragon, you will not be able to do these things without express permission from Dragon.

    I’ve been chatting on speculations about a few non-fiction pieces I did for the Cricket group, the only writing to which I no longer own rights. Those articles have popped up in reprint, on the net, one’s even in an encyclopedia; I don’t get repaid for it.

    Now, I don’t really care about that. They were my first non-fiction sales, I was in college, and I was getting 25 cents a word. Totally worth it. I might even sell all rights to more non-fiction with the Cricket mags if I go back to marketing n-f. But these were highly specialized articles of low interest to me as reprints — I wouldn’t have written them if they didn’t fit with the themed issues of the magazines.

    Which brings me back to the crap rule. My non-fiction articles weren’t crap, but were of limited interest to me as they were commissioned. This scenario is unlikely with Dragon. Presumably you’re writing and trying to sell your work because you suspect it’s not crap. Unless you’re abandoning that principle, send it somewhere else first.

  46. S. Andrew Swann: IMO, anyone who submits to Dragon is probably too stupid to write publishable fiction.

    Wow, nice generalization. I know many, many people who have published in Dungeon and/or Dragon, and none of them are stupid. Some of those people have already commented here on this blog. Regardless of how you feel about Wizards of the Coast, don’t bash the people who got their start with these publications.

  47. As a publisher, this cuts both ways. Making sure that authors retain their rights has been a selling point for Kobold Quarterly.

    And it has meant that readers get articles from a few top game writers that I otherwise couldn’t bring on board.

    Haplo Peart @49: Tracy probably decided that they pay a much better rate for novels than they do for web articles. And the rights to the Dragonlance setting were bought long ago.

  48. DKT, John:
    Don’t get me wrong. What Dragon is doing is pretty sorry. I don’t think the rates are reasonable. Even if I had something for them (I don’t, at least for now) they wouldn’t be the first market I’d go for, probably not second or third either. Just go easy on the folks who can’t afford to be so picky about who they submit to. The other publications you mentioned are great, and that means competition is stiff to get in. Without prior sales to make my submission stand out, I get tossed into the slush pile with everyone else, where my ‘script is reviewed, at leisure, by a summer intern working for free, or someone’s brother in law, or maybe deleted unseen when the ed’s roommate ‘borrowed’ his laptop for a WoW session.

  49. The art side of things in the RPG world used to work that way too. I don’t know if it’s currently this way, but all art was work for hire back when I first started sending portfolios out. (In fact, MUCH art everywhere still seems to be work for hire. I think more artists need to get together and work on retaining their rights. I don’t think this is necessarily the case for a lot of book artists–since I’ve seen various covers on multiple books and the artist credited appropriately every time–but man, a lot of people approaching me about my art definitely want the work-for-hire without paying work-for-hire prices.)

  50. “Without prior sales to make my submission stand out”

    Prior sales aren’t the metric, gelee. Good prior sales are sometimes.

    Good writing helps more.

  51. Rachel:

    “Good writing helps more.”

    Rachel nails it.

    My first short fiction sale was from the slush pile (to Strange Horizons, which paid a pro rate).

    My first novel sale didn’t even manage to get to the slush pile.

  52. Gelee:

    You and others are still missing the point. Low pay for beginners is nothing new and ever will be. If you want to be on the radio, for example, you have to start off working out in the middle of nowhere at four in the morning for little more than a stale PopTart and whatever was left in yesterday afternoon’s coffee pot.

    This isn’t about selling your first story to some hobbyist publisher’s journal for bus fare in the hope you can someday together achieve the pot o’ gold. Or whatever. The point is that the second biggest toy company in the world — which owns things like Monopoly, Mr. Potato Head, Easy Bake Oven and GI Joe — wants to pay practically nothing for everything you got. (Another situation, I guess, that ever will be.)

    This post is simply a “Watch Your Step” sign on the bank of the Niagra River.

  53. Purely as a point of information, as I read the pay rates the online Dragon will probably NOT qualify as a pro credential for SFWA membership, because the payment for longer material drops below the minimum word rate, and last I looked, the rule was that all of a market’s fiction purchases had to receive the minimum pro rate in order for the market to qualify as a pro venue for membership purposes.

  54. “Low pay for beginners is nothing new and ever will be. ”

    I made my first sale at pro rates, and so did several people I know.

    I’ve since sold stuff for $5, $10, $30. But I still own it.

  55. Jeff Hentosz:

    “The point is that the second biggest toy company in the world — which owns things like Monopoly, Mr. Potato Head, Easy Bake Oven and GI Joe — wants to pay practically nothing for everything you got.”

    Indeed. If nothing else, Hasbro can afford more than 3 to 6 cents a word for all the rights to your work, you know?

  56. Once you have created a finished piece … the IP rights is all you have. You give away all the rights to the world, characters, items, monsters, heroes, villains etc… you have nothing. You have to and create another piece of IP.

    It doesn’t make sense when looking at it from the standpoint of the writer’s efficiency and the writer’s economy.

    Creating additional material from a world that you’ve already built is easier and less time consuming then world building from ground zero.

    The ability to continue to create in a (hopefully successful and well written marketing platform) single “world” is is also potentially more lucrative to the writer than selling all rights and maybe being allowed to contribute to that world again.

    You are your own mercenary club gelee. You get to set the value behind your work.

    If the IP Rights are worth selling away at 3-6 cents a word: sell away.

    Right now, I’m worth about another pot of coffee and the continued reading of Scalzi’s blog.

  57. gelee,
    As several people have said before me, if your story is good enough for Dragon, it’s good enough for any of the magazines which pay comparable rates for only NAFSR, or world electronic first serial rights (and possibly a non-exclusive anthology option for which you will be paid additional money).

    Keri,
    I believe S. Andrew Swann is talking about the current incarnation of Dragon which insists on taking all rights. The people you know were surely published in the previous incarnation of Dragon which bought first serial rights. So, when he made his comments, he wasn’t talking about the people you know. He was talking about people willing to do work for hire at 3-6 cents a word.

    Personally, I’m disappointed at Hasbro. Normally, I’d love that there is another pro market. But selling all my rights at 3-6 cents a word is, at best, penny wise pound foolish.

  58. John Chu: I believe S. Andrew Swann is talking about the current incarnation of Dragon which insists on taking all rights.

    Except that he said he “felt that way before they came out with these guidelines.”

  59. [Sorry, I just noticed this]
    John C. Bunnell @60: Are you sure? Asimov’s pays a flat $450 for works between 7500 and 12500 words, inclusive. They fall below pro rate for anything between 9001 and 12500 words. In reality, I suppose this means they don’t get any stories which falls into the doughnut hole.

    There’s also an amusing pay discontinuity between 12500 and 12501 words. Since I’ve yet to crack any market, I don’t know if publishers do estimated typesetter word count or actual word count to determine pay. If Asimov’s does the former, writers will likely never see the discontinuity.

  60. Keri,
    He felt that way about Hasbro/WotC. They were not the previous publishers of either Dungeon or Dragon.

    However, he can defend himself from here.

  61. Yikes.
    OK, I’m not defending Hasbro/WotC, or their practices. I’m not even disagreeing with the idea that selling all your rights to a story is unwise. I’m just saying that it’s not nice to throw stones at people for the way they market their work. People who sell to Dragon aren’t necessarily dumb or stupid.
    I think a lot of folks feel like accepting these terms devalues the work that all of us do, whether pro or am, but I’m not going to call anyone a scab for selling to Dragon.
    As for me selling away the next “Hills Like White Elephants,” I think I’m safe :)
    As to the value of quality writting vs. publication credits, well, yeah! I agree, to a point. Sure, the cream will rise to the top, but having a “resume” helps grease the skids and puts your material in front of a different screener. There are plenty of people here with a lot more experience in this area than I. Am I that far off?

  62. Gelee:
    I worked on a small press SF mag for a while, and yeah, I think you’re off.
    Think about how the editors would come to find out about your previous credits. Nobody knows what’s in your submission’s cover letter until it gets opened out of the slush pile, at which point, the slush reader is going to be the one to give it a pass or fail no matter what you say in your letter. Trust me, it takes at most one session of filtering through slush to make any slush reader very jaded. If your story wouldn’t make it to the next level on its own, you could have invented white bread, it’s still going in the trash.

    The only way to get your story out of the slush pile and into the hands of someone who might give it special attention is to either know the guy personally, or for him to recognize your name on his own. Getting published in Dragon, under those terms, is likely to make him think you’re not serious even if he does recognize your name, which means it goes in the slush with the rest.

  63. My view (explained more fully here: http://paulskemp.livejournal.com/150569.html)

    I agree with John’s point as it relates to established writers, but disagree with respect to a blanket application of the point to non-established writers (and will also add that I think his use of the term “stupid” is over the top).

    At this point in my career, I would not submit an original, non-shared world story to Dragon on the terms being offered (my non-shared world story in Dragon 356 (one of the last print versions) paid six cents per word and did not have an “all rights” clause). Of course, I have the luxury of already being a published author who’s sold hundreds of thousands of books.

    What I take issue with is the notion that in ALL cases it will be better to go unpublished than publish under less than ideal contractual terms (or bad ones, as in this case). Is that what you’re saying, John? If so, I submit that’s wrong. Instead, I’d simply advise new writers to understand what they’re doing in each case, what they are getting and what they are giving up, and make a decision that is right for them.

    Cracking short fiction markets that pay pro rates (even low-end pro rates) is hard, short fiction markets are not perfectly substitutable (so choosing between Dragon and Strange Horizons and F&SF may not really be an option), and publishing is not a meritocracy. That last seems to me doubly true in the case of short fiction. Publishing has elements of a meritocracy, but where it’s not a meritocracy it’s just a club, where backscratching, schmoozing, networking, and friendships are important factors as to who gets published and who does not (of course, if you think those things should be elements of a system we call a meritocracy, then I surrender). Given that, gaining a credit or establishing a relationship with an editor, even on mediocre or bad contractual terms, might — emphasize might — be worthwhile to you, particularly for a new or aspiring writer. Whether it is or isn’t is for the individual writer to say on a case by case basis. John would not do it. I would not do it. Most of the commenters above would not do it. Fair enough. But another writer, with eyes wide open, might find it worthwhile.

  64. ” Are you sure? Asimov’s pays a flat $450 for works between 7500 and 12500 words, inclusive. ”

    I was working with the SFWA admissions committee to help them promote awareness of their criteria etc. (I still am, I think, though I haven’t gotten off my duff to do anything in a while.) I asked them about this — they said that all the pro markets had promised to address their rates so that all the work they bought was purchased at pro rates.

    “There are plenty of people here with a lot more experience in this area than I. Am I that far off?”

    *Good* prior credits can get you in front of a different screener, at some markets, some of the time.

    I don’t know why GVG @ FSF seems to pull some stories automatically and not others; I know pros who stay in JJA’s slush pile, and newbies who always get passed through. To get a pass at RoF, I think you have to have a prior sale to Shawna. All submissions at Strange Horizons are read by one of the co-editors.

    I think the biggest wheel-greaser, honestly, is a recognizable name which can be obtained in several ways, not always correlated to publishing history.

    At PodCastle, we take reprints primarily. Yeah, I tend to read stuff that was originally published in F&SF or Strange Horizons myself rather than giving it to my slush reader. Stuff originally published in Podunk 3: Blood Axe Twin Dragon Elves? No help to you at all, I’m afraid — story must stand on its own merits. Dragon seems likely to be in the latter category, for me.

  65. “Most of the commenters above would not do it. Fair enough. But another writer, with eyes wide open, might find it worthwhile.”

    Thanks, Paul. Exactly what I was trying to get at. Also, I was beginning to bruise a bit. :)

  66. gelee:

    “I’m just saying that it’s not nice to throw stones at people for the way they market their work.”

    Well, as I’ve amply shown around here, I’m not particularly concerned about being nice, particularly when I think being not nice about it is going to make the point sink in more effectively. And anyway, who am I throwing stones at? In the article I’m not speaking of or to any person in particular. What I’m hoping is that people will read it, think “wow, I’m glad I’m not that dumb,” and then congratulate themselves for their non-dumbness and move on.

    Aside from this, whether people are in themselves stupid or not, signing away the rights to one’s intellectual property for pennies a word is a stupid act, particularly in light of the other options available. It might be conceptually possible to construct a scenario in which one’s options are so constrained that the only choices one has is to sell a work to Dragon or consign it forever to the Desk Drawer of Oblivion, but it’s not very likely; unless one is writing D&D fanfic, there are almost certainly better places to sell one’s work.

    The choice to sell to Dragon is bad, and to choose it would be to act stupidly, all things considered, and there’s not much point in sugar-coating it.

    Incidentally, saying that someone is acting stupidly is not the same as saying they’re acting as a “scab,” which has a specific meaning as regards to labor. I’m not aware of calling anyone a scab here, and it would be well not to confuse the two.

    Paul S. Kemp:

    “Of course, I have the luxury of already being a published author who’s sold hundreds of thousands of books.”

    Such prodigious output! Mind you, I know you’re meaning “words” when you say “books” (or alternately, discussing units sold): it made me grin anyway.

    And to answer your question, as a matter of fact, yes, I think it’s probably better not to publish a story than to publish it under these sort of egregiously rapacious terms. For one thing, in a theoretical sense it would be better if the community of writers, including the aspiring ones, starved any market willing to screw them so badly on the issue of rights. I say “theoretical” because in the real world it would never happen this way — too many aspiring writers are too willing to do anything to get published, even if it means under bad terms, to kill off markets like this. Dragon will not likely be punished for its bad behavior, precisely because people will find some way to rationalize giving work to them — “oh, well, it’s better than not being published at all,” or whatever.

    For another thing, I think writers need to grace their work with an inherent level of value, which is to say, “I will sell it for a certain value, or I won’t sell it at all.” I think they need to be realistic about it, but at the same time, there has to be a lower bound. As I noted earlier in the thread, even before I became well-known as a science fiction writer I would have never have sold all the rights to any of my work for such dirt-cheap prices; I’ve been pretty consistent about that. I’ve also been pretty consistent about not selling the work for less than I think it’s worth, either, which is one of the reasons I’ve written so little short fiction (and, conversely, why I’ve been generally paid so well for the short fiction I write).

    Naturally, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I can certainly see how an author could choose to sell for low pay, or sell most of their rights, depending on their situation. However, selling all one’s rights and receiving low pay? Dumb. People are free to do as they will, but I’m not obliged to say their choice is a smart one.

  67. “. Nobody knows what’s in your submission’s cover letter until it gets opened out of the slush pile, at which point, the slush reader is going to be the one to give it a pass or fail no matter what you say in your letter.”

    That’s not technically true, Skar — a lot of markets have an established policy about what gets an automatic pass out of the slush pile.

    There are no markets I’m aware of, however, where the criterion is “prior publishing credits” alone.

  68. Gelee, it seems to me like a balancing act. Is it worth 3-6 cents a word for the story if you keep it? Sure. Is it worth 3-6 cents a word for the story, the world, the characters, the roleplaying supplement, the movie, and the Happy Meal toy? Nope, not a chance. I’ve heard it said that the three main criteria for markets are pay, prestige, and exposure, and Dragon is failing miserably at the pay part. Is the prestige and exposure worth being paid for FNASR when they’re taking all rights?

  69. Let’s put the rights/rates issue into perspective: The creator of Superman sold away all of his rights for $130 in cash (1938). Don’t do that! You’ll never know if what you’ve written will be the next Superman.

    If you’re doing any kind of creative work you should be doing it for the money. If not then how will you be able to pay your bills so that you can do more creative work?

    In 2003 we did a panel at Philcon called “For the Science Fiction Writer, the Great Depression Was ‘The Good old days’” on the topic of rates. Here’s the description: In 1933 an average salary was around $15 a week. If you sold a 6,000 word story to a rock bottom pulp magazine for a penny a word – that’s $60 – a month’s salary. Why aren’t writers paid that well today? Is it even possible?

    Shortly after that panel ran SFWA raised the “professional” rate from $.03/word to $.05/word. It’s still far from a month’s salary. An author today would have to sell (not just write) 60,000 to 80,000 words each month at the “professional” rate. With that in mind I don’t know who would want to be a writer.

  70. Sure, the cream will rise to the top, but having a “resume” helps grease the skids and puts your material in front of a different screener. There are plenty of people here with a lot more experience in this area than I. Am I that far off?

    I’d say you are.

    I really think it would do every aspiring writer a huge amount of good to read slush. Partly because you see stuff there that you’d never see otherwise, but also because you see the dynamics of it firsthand.

    I happen to read slush for Podcastle. Stuff comes in, I read it and maybe reject it or pass it up to Rachel. It’s true that if something comes in from an author who, say, has been anthologized in a couple of years bests, (and for podcastle, since it’s reprints, the sub was previously published in a really respectable market), I’ll automatically pass it up to Rachel.

    If the writer has no or few credits, this is what I do–I scroll down and start reading. If the story is good, I pass it up to Rachel. I don’t say, “Oh, this sub is by a nobody, so I’ll just reject it!” Your credits do absolutely nothing for getting your story up to Rachel unless they’re really impressive. In which case, you need to be chasing those credits–the good ones. In which case, you need to be avoiding places like Dragon and sending to SH, F&SF, RoF…etc.

    The fact of the matter is, good writing will get you out of the slushpile and up to the editor. Every time. Every. Single. Time. A list of credits that is entirely made up of markets that I don’t respect (because I don’t like what I read there, pay is immaterial) will get you…read by me, and passed up to Rachel if it’s good.

    It’s that simple. You don’t need credits to stand out. You need to be able to write.

    I freely admit that it’s really nice to be able to put a few nice credits in your cover letter. But don’t sub to markets just because you think it’s lower level and you have a better chance of getting in and you need that credit. You don’t need that credit. You need to write like gangbusters. Submit as though you were a professional already. Write your butt off.

    Now, I could also go on about the common misunderstanding involving “you have to grab the editor in the first few paragraphs” too–that’s another thing reading a slushpile is good for. But that would be way off topic.

  71. As a note on John Brunnell’s comment above, Dragon *is* a SFWA qualifying market and is listed on the website as such. Since the rules for disqualifying a market state that –

    “A market will have a one year grace period from time of query for issues relating to pay rate, production schedule, or circulation. Markets inside such a grace period will not be publicly noted as being in such a grace period, and sales made during the grace period will be considered qualifying if they meet the pay rate criteria that all sales must meet. ”

    – until a year after the comittee are notified of the change and query it, selling to Dragon can make you a SFWA pro.

  72. “That’s not technically true, Skar — a lot of markets have an established policy about what gets an automatic pass out of the slush pile.”

    I stand corrected.

    Just out of curiosity, what are some of those pass-worthy criteria?

  73. Kat, my question about that would be whether the magazine’s shut-down means that its new iteration would technically be considered a new market.

    I’ll poke the committee.

  74. Diatryma,
    For me, no, it’s not worth it. For the most part, I just don’t write that stuff anymore. On the other hand, if I want to sell my short fiction adaptation of “The Seige at Kratys Freehold” to Dragon for 2 cents a word, lock, stock and copyright barrell, where do you get off calling me stupid? It’s my story, my contract, my time. How have I harmed myself? How have I harmed you? You don’t know what that story is worth to me, or what it cost me to write it. How do you figure you can set a price on it?
    Admitedly, I haven’t seen or read an issue of Dragon since 1994. Back then, circulation was pretty good, as was prestige. As to the pay, me griping about .06 per word is like a bum refusing to work for minimum wage, even though nothing else is in the offing. Maybe it’s the most hideous pile of dreck in the publishing universe now, but is there really any magazine out there so hideous that to be published in it is a greater negative than to have never been published at all?
    I bring up the “scab” issue because we’ve seen this kind of thing before, when Spinrad got all in a tizzy about people releasing material on the web for free. I think that part of the reason everyone is ready to storm the offices at Hasbro and burn the Dragon editorial staff at the stake is that they feel these terms are an insult to the art and science of writing fiction. Some people seem to think that the going rate for fiction gets driven down if people start accepting rates that are too low.

  75. “Such prodigious output! Mind you, I know you’re meaning “words” when you say “books” (or alternately, discussing units sold): it made me grin anyway.”

    I do mean units. :-)

    On the point we’re discussing — Consider as one example: New Author A has a sword and sorcery novel coming out from Tor in four months. Meanwhile, Author A has a sword and sorcery short story that he’s written. Has a similar flavor/vibe to the forthcoming novel. Not the same IP, just the same tone. Author A is interested in creating as much pre-release interest in forthcoming novel as he can generate.

    Before the novel’s release, he’d like to get the short story into a market with a large readership and stick a little blurb on the end that says: “Author A’s novel, “Thus and So,” will be released in four months.” Given the subject matter of Author A’s story, he thinks he’s got two potential markets — Black Gate and Dragon. Both pay about the same per word, but Dragon has onerous contract terms. Still, Dragon has a readership that is (say) five to seven times that of Black Gate. After consideration, Author A decides to submit his work to Dragon, deeming the added exposure for himself and his novel worth the trade off of potential future earnings from the short story.

    That doesn’t strike me as stupid, or even unreasonable. It strikes me as merely the same kind of short-term v. long-term, certain outocome v. uncertain outcome kind of calculations that we do everyday.

    Nevertheless, I take your point about unpublished authors being hungry. Someone raised the same point on my blog. My position on this does rely on the sense that an author would go into this with eyes wide open. Perhaps that occurs less in the real world than I think.

  76. #76. (Hey, Nate!)

    The writers I know — yours truly included — don’t necessarily want to be writers. It’s either in your blood or it’s not. With the pay rates we’re working with, I’d rather be interested / good at almost anything else creative.

    Sadly, that’s not the case. I write because I must, and if all I ever accomplish is giving my works away, at least I will have written that stuff out of my head. There is value there unaffected by filthy lucre. At least I still own the rights to my stuff when I give it away.

    I keep writing because of H. Beam Piper–you never know how close you are to literary or financial success:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._Beam_Piper

  77. Undoubtly this is not good business. If you’re writing “in” a WoC world then it doesn’t matter. That is if you are using the Dragon exposure to get a WoC media tie-in novel the way they do for WarHammer over at Black Library then no problem–they own that Drow anyway and it might get you into the club.

    Dragon seems to have a more *genre* action/adventure orientation than other short magazines these days. So probablly a story that would fit in Dragon and be loved by Dragon readers would have too many sword fights (or whatever) to see pub in RoF or SF&F–no matter how well written on a technical level. That point maybe enough for some to go that route–they want to write something other than the Oprah Book Club fantasy that the “biggies” put out, to wildly generalize.

    The deal, as offered by Hasbro is crazy tight-wad but if you want to write “action” pieces at “pro” rates Dragon maybe one of the few places one could do that.

  78. Ann,
    I’m a big fan of the Escape Artist productions, but doesn’t Podcastle have the same “repubs only” policy that Pseudopod and Escape Pod have?

  79. Skar,

    “Just out of curiosity, what are some of those pass-worthy criteria?”

    It varies by market. Here are some of the things that I know some editors use, or have used in the past:

    *A sfwa qualifying credit
    *A sfwa qualifying writer
    *A writer they’ve heard of
    *A writer who’s sold to them before
    *A writer who’s gone to Clarion, Clarion West, or Odyssey

    At lit markets, I’m told there are certain markets at which degrees from particular MFA programs are useful. Rumors buzz suggesting that one or two of the technically open and higher rated lit markets only seriously consider agented subs, but I don’t know how seriously to take those.

  80. “I’m a big fan of the Escape Artist productions, but doesn’t Podcastle have the same “repubs only” policy that Pseudopod and Escape Pod have?”

    Reprints are preferred, not required. All three magazines are open to original fiction — Escape Pod and Pseudopod have published a fair amount. (We’ve not bought any yet for PodCastle, but we’ve not bought much for PodCastle since we haven’t started yet.)

    “in the real world it would never happen this way — too many aspiring writers are too willing to do anything to get published, even if it means under bad terms, to kill off markets like this. Dragon will not likely be punished for its bad behavior, precisely because people will find some way to rationalize giving work to them — “oh, well, it’s better than not being published at all,” or whatever.”

    There’s no way that sentiment against this kind of publishing manipulation will kill the market, no. But there may be an advantage to making sure that Drago is not considered a professional or respectable publication. If other editors, and other writers, don’t take it seriously, that’s a hit to the magazine’s prestige and makes the credit less desirable.

  81. Paul S. Kemp:

    “Nevertheless, I take your point about unpublished authors being hungry. Someone raised the same point on my blog. My position on this does rely on the sense that an author would go into this with eyes wide open. Perhaps that occurs less in the real world than I think.”

    Indeed, that’s one of the foci of concern: that a newer writer looks at this and says, “well, that seems reasonable,” without knowing why it’s not. I think you’re right that an established writer can go into it eyes open (or alternately, be able to wrangle a better deal).

  82. Heya Rachel, that’d be good (because if SFWA decides that this *isn’t* the same market it could be sad news for anyone selling stories to these guys in the meantime).

    But it is kind of interesting that if Dragon were paying everyone 5c a word, there’s nothing in the stated rules would disqualify them as a pro market.

  83. I realize this has no reflection on the rights issue, but I’m curious…does the fact that this would be an (initially, at least) online-only endeavor possibly be coloring their thinking? That is, that Hasbro is thinking (not unlike the AMPTP) that this is ‘just on the web’ and thus not worthy of what would otherwise be considered a legitimate rate? I’m not arguing that that is a logical deduction…just wondering if that’s where Hasbro’s thinking is at.

  84. WizarDru, other folks have mentioned that buying all rights seems to a general SoP for the gaming sector. That might have something to do with it. Alternately, and what I suspected, is a directive from the top (re: Hasbro lawyers, not familiar with publications in general) to buy all rights to avoid legal/financial entanglements later.

  85. Hey everyone,

    I’m not an established fiction author by any means but as a former journalist and having friends who make a living out of script-reading here in Vancouver, I can tell you only “good credits” count. So if you are submitting to a crappy magazine just to get something under your belt, if the magazine has a bad reputation or if the publication is not very well known it’s better off to not say anything.

    I’ve sold stories to magazines and newspapers just by putting a cover letter with no credits (just here’s a story, have at it), and I’ve also jumped the slush pile (at newspapers and non-fiction publications). Why? Because I had a friend in the inside or somebody knew me for some reason.

    Dragon’s pay rate is too low for what they want and unless you’re doing some D&D fanfic (which wouldn’t sell anywhere else) I don’t see the point of submitting there.

    gelee, there’s a lot of small press markets. If you need sales and credits you can try them first. It would be rare for F&SF to buy anyone’s first story but there’s many, many publications and you can always give contests like Writers of the Future and specialized anthologies a try. I’ve only made seven sales in the year in which I’ve been writing fiction and I haven’t sold to any of the SFWA markets but Shimmer, for example, bought my second story. They’re a very nice little magazine.

  86. Ann,
    I’m a big fan of the Escape Artist productions, but doesn’t Podcastle have the same “repubs only” policy that Pseudopod and Escape Pod have?

    Mostly reprints, as Rachel says. However, the slushing process is exactly the same.

    Yes, certain credits can get you passed up to the editor. Those credits get you passed up because by and large they show that you can write really well. Any credits that do not convincingly demonstrate this will not get you passed up. Good writing will get you passed up, at any market, no matter what your credits are or aren’t.

    Please believe me when I say this, I am telling you the gods’ own truth.

    As for Dragon, specifically, I imagine most people who aspire to professional level writing will avoid Dragon, for all the reasons Scalzi’s outlined. Which means that more than likely the quality of subs won’t be that hot. Which will mean that listing Dragon in your cover letter won’t impress anyone. Will it hurt? No, the only thing that will really hurt is if the story the slush reader is looking at isn’t excellent.

    You don’t need those credits. You just (just! hah!) need to be able to write really well.

  87. Oh, I meant to mention that Podcastle gets more previously unpublished subs than you might suspect, and I read every single one of them, and pass them up to Rachel if they’re good. Cause it’s all about the writing.

  88. As a note on John Bunnell’s comment above, Dragon *is* a SFWA qualifying market and is listed on the website as such.

    I would guess that SFWA’s Membership Committee will be looking at this carefully. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the printed magazine Dragon was a professional market; I am not sure, however, that the new online Dragon, under new management with entirely new contract terms, will be seen as the same magazine.

    A question, in fact: does anyone know to what extent, if any, Wizards is honoring subscriptions to the Paizo print Dragon by providing access to the new online publication? If they are not, that strikes me as a good argument that the two markets are essentially different despite the name overlap.

  89. John, a question that’s sort of on the side:

    What do you think about the Writers of the Future contest? As far as I can tell, they don’t claim -any- rights to your story, and will pay decent money if you win.

    Is the moral of the story to keep your rights unless you’re paid damn well?

  90. After consideration, Author A decides to submit his work to Dragon, deeming the added exposure for himself and his novel worth the trade off of potential future earnings from the short story.

    As a lawyer, that would worry me tremendously. If your short story is a derivative work or closely related to something else you’ve already sold, and now you sell ‘all rights’ in the short story to Dragon….where does that leave the IP from your shared world? What if you want to reprint that short story in a bigger market, or write a follow-up, or include it as a chapter in the sequel? I’m no C.E. Pettit but I see all kinds of potential lawsuit-fu emerging.

    re the question about ‘do they share lawyers’–it’s called “boilerplate”. Certain legal phrases and clauses have been time-tested and have particular meaning, so they are commonly used. This is why you can use pre-printed legal forms for many ordinary legal things like renting an apartment.

  91. John Scalzi

    In general, thanks for the advice. I had already noted that WoTC was being a little stingy on their rates, particularly if you download the .pdf and discover that they are currently not looking for shared world submissions. They want the writes, low pay and want you to do your own world building. As a new writer, with eyes wide, I will be looking for balance, good pay and exposure for the future.

    “For one thing, in a theoretical sense it would be better if the community of writers, including the aspiring ones, starved any market willing to screw them so badly on the issue of rights.”
    .
    I would like to point out that your idea, should it ever get off the ground, would be considered collusion. Similar to a cartel, and would be considered illegal. I know it was only theoretical and to help your argument, but flip it around. What if all the publishers got together to drive the rates down, then what? Will you stop being a writer? Or just bring the wrath of the publishing world down on us all. Ha ha.

    Just a thought. Again thanks to all for the advice. It is still my choice where I decided to drop my submissions…

  92. NewGuyDave:

    “I would like to point out that your idea, should it ever get off the ground, would be considered collusion.”

    Uh, what, now? I think you better pull some legal cites here, Dave, else I think you’re completely high.

  93. does the fact that this would be an (initially, at least) online-only endeavor possibly be coloring their thinking?

    I think the answer to this is “not exactly”.

    Very broadly, there seem to be three ways that operators approach Web-based publication. Most small-scale Webzines and publishers seem to run on a “we pay what we can afford” model; either they pay low to moderate word-rates (by print standards) or adopt some sort of profit-sharing payment model (royalty-only, in the case of many ebook publishers, or sometimes ad-based revenue sharing).

    Aggressive publishers seeking to establish a strong professional presence, in my experience, tend to pay as much or more than comparable print markets for their content, on the theory that Web publication involves less overhead and that the content is what’s going to sell their site. One sees this both in the tech sector and in some corners of the fiction pantheon (Baen’s Universe, Orson Scott Card’s Medicine Show).

    Then there’s the school of corporate thought that says that the Web is all about maximum profit, that quality of content more or less doesn’t matter as long as you have a lot of it, and so content ought to be as cheap as possible.

    This is where you get the hordes of “get rich by blogging” pseudo-publishers . . . and also, unfortunately, what Hasbro may be thinking in trying to insist on cheap all-rights deals for original content. In the long run, the content-is-cheap approach will deliver what its operators pay for it — mediocrity. But it’s awfully tempting if you’re a corporate shark that doesn’t really understand how selective readers (even on the Web) really are.

  94. Paul Kemp touched on one of the reasons to write short fiction for Dragon Online: promotion.

    I’ve had several stories published in Dragon over the past ten or so years. All were related to books I’ve written in the Forgotten Realms setting. I viewed these stories as advertisements for the novels. I still believe that this is a viable promotion; in fact, content-based advertising has become much more common in recent years. These tie-in stories provide a way to bring upcoming or recently published books to the attention of the fan base. Since not all gamers read RPG-related novels, this is also an opportunity to get your work in front of people who might not otherwise seek it out. Consider the cost of a single full-page ad, then throw in a professional rate–albeit a LOW professional rate–and it’s not a bad deal.

    Yes, I know I’m giving up all rights to those stories, but I came to terms with that issue (sort of…) when I started writing shared-world fiction. Viewed in a shared-world context, the deal Dragon Online is offering could be viewed as a welcome opportunity for writers currently working in one or more of WotC’s licensed settings, as well as for those who hope to do so.

    That said, I would not submit any creator-owned work to Dragon Online. As has been pointed out, there are other, better markets for original fiction.

  95. Hey, people have boycotted Gap and Wal-Mart for unfair labour practices and nobody is saying it is collision. If I and my friends boycott Dragon because I think it has unfair contract stipulations it’s my right to do so.

    Aren’t they calling for a boycott of the Golden Compass because it’s anti-religion?

  96. It was kind of a joke people, I was trying to draw attention to the idea that if you starved the publishers, they wouldn’t like it. Sorry. I guess jokes are not allowed. Besides I’ll just shut up now.

  97. Collusion is only when competing companies get together for price fixing, wage fixing and other unpleasant things. As I said, your points are great. Thanks for the advice.

  98. The definition of “joke” is not “I said something dumb, and I got called on it, but if I say I was being ha-ha funny then it doesn’t count and you’re a big meanie.”

  99. I’ll admit that I know nothing about publishing SF/F except what I’ve read on Whatever, as that’s not what I write, however much I may enjoy reading it.

    However, I do think that, if getting published and getting credits is of concern to a new author – to help “grease the wheels” – couldn’t New Author submit to the SF/F equivalent of a prominent literary magazine? There are a number of them in the non-SF/F world that don’t pay (or pay very little), but are well known and well respected and don’t ask you to sign away all of your rights and your first born. They receive FNASR (IIRC – it’s been awhile since I’ve submitted) and that’s it. It’s a way to get published without losing all rights to your intellectual property. Of course, the writing still has to be damned good to be accepted in Chicago Review or Boston Review (Boston Review‘s guidelines specify that copyright reverts back to the author after publication – I think that’s standard for reputable literary magazines). If SF/F has something analogous, it seems to me that might be the way to go.

    On the other hand, if I want to sell my short fiction adaptation of “The Seige at Kratys Freehold” to Dragon for 2 cents a word, lock, stock and copyright barrell, where do you get off calling me stupid? It’s my story, my contract, my time. How have I harmed myself? How have I harmed you?

    gelee, I don’t mean to be piling on, and I can see what you’re saying, but I have to disagree. If “The Seige at Kratys Freehold” does turn out to be the next “The Lottery” – no matter how much you think it won’t – you are going to harm yourself by losing future income. If you’re cool with that, fine. I know I’d be pissed, but I’m not you. However, by accepting sub-standard payment and losing all rights, you’re encouraging outfits like this to continue screwing new writers.

    Personally, I wouldn’t call you stupid over this, but I would call it a stupid thing to do. We all do stupid things, even the smartest of us, but knowing you’re doing a stupid thing which is encouraging entities to screw over yourself and others and still doing it? That is Stupid Cubed.

  100. Ann, Rachel, many others:
    About my question regarding prior publications:
    Thank you for the clarification about the submission/slush pile process. All I can say in my own defense is that I was referencing “Professional Writers.” Oh well.
    At any rate, I don’t have any intention of submitting to Dragon, for exactly the reasons everyone has pointed out. Has the quality there really gotten that bad? It’s been a while since I picked one up, but when I was in high school, they published pretty decent fiction.
    BTW, can’t wait until Podcastle goes live.

  101. Scalzi said:

    “For one thing, in a theoretical sense it would be better if the community of writers, including the aspiring ones, starved any market willing to screw them so badly on the issue of rights”

    NewGuyDave said:

    “I would like to point out that your idea, should it ever get off the ground, would be considered collusion.”

    Scalzi replied:

    “Uh, what, now? I think you better pull some legal cites here, Dave, else I think you’re completely high.”

    Apologies in advance if I missed the point here, but it seems to me that there’s a little writer’s strike going on right now to throw all of this into sharp relief.

    –jw

  102. NewGuyDave:

    “It was kind of a joke people, I was trying to draw attention to the idea that if you starved the publishers, they wouldn’t like it. Sorry. I guess jokes are not allowed.”

    They’re allowed, they just need to be funny, and (barring that) clear in context that they’re actually jokes. Your misfortune, Dave, is that there are people on the Internet who would take that as a real position.

  103. I withdrew what would have been my second sale ever from a market because they wanted all right for too little pay. (Where too little was more than 3 cents a word, even then.)

    It was 15 years before I had to withdraw another story for similar reasons–and that second story was withdrawn from WotC. I managed to negotiate away the “all rights” clauses, but there were other unacceptable things in the contract as well, including a clause that would have forbidden me to even discuss my (less than 3 cents a word) pay rate and royalties with anyone, or to talk about any of my contract terms at all.

    Anyone who does decide after careful consideration to submit a story to Dragon will want to read their contracts very, very carefully should Dragon offer publication.

  104. “However, I do think that, if getting published and getting credits is of concern to a new author – to help “grease the wheels” – couldn’t New Author submit to the SF/F equivalent of a prominent literary magazine?”
    I have, and I will continue to do so:) I haven’t actually gotten any feedback, just “thanks but no thanks.” I think that mostly means I stink:) That’s OK, I like my day job.
    My understanding (until today) was that, editors at larger outfits, like Asimovs, RoF, SF&F, as well as some of the more prominent digital publications, were so utterly covered in unsolicted submissions that those by unpublished authors were placed in the “when I get to it” pile, subject to screening by interns, temps, parents, children, roommates, etc., with only experienced, published authors getting real scrutiny from the ed’s, even if those credits are only from The Decatur Fiction Review. The idea, as presented to me, was to start with bottom feeders and work your way up to a more prestigious pub. You don’t go from Dragon to The New Yorker, but you might go to Phil’s Fantasy Quarterly or whatnot, working up the food chain.

  105. “My understanding (until today) was that, editors at larger outfits, like Asimovs, RoF, SF&F, as well as some of the more prominent digital publications, were so utterly covered in unsolicted submissions that those by unpublished authors were placed in the “when I get to it” pile, subject to screening by interns, temps, parents, children, roommates, etc., with only experienced, published authors getting real scrutiny from the ed’s, even if those credits are only from The Decatur Fiction Review. ”

    This is dead wrong.

  106. A side note to Elaine’s and Janni’s posts: it’s important to realize that Dragon has gone through a great deal of evolution over the years, not to mention multiple changes of ownership/management. I first wrote for Dragon in the pre-Dragonlance TSR era, before the company even started publishing book-length fiction, kept reviewing for them through the purchases by Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro, and reviewed for Amazing Stories both in its Wizards-run incarnations and the later relaunch under Paizo Publishing. My editorial relationships were always cordial, and I was always able to negotiate appropriate contracts with my editors — but that said, I will observe that historically, WotC’s lawyers have been the most reclusive and inaccessible of any of the three companies in my personal experience.

  107. I replied fliply, but shouldn’t have.

    That is dead wrong, and dead wrong in several different ways.

    1) Roommates? Parents? No. Certainly not for the prestigious outfits. RoF’s slush reader is Doug Cohen. F&SF’s slush reader is John Joseph Adams. I don’t remember the names of Analog’s or Asimov’s readers, but they have readers. Dedicated, single readers.

    You might, if you were submitting to a small mag, hit someplace where the slush reader was “parent” or “roommate”… maybe. Maybe.

    2) only published authors get real scrutiny from editors

    There have been lots of people who go from no credits to publishing in pro magazines. Heather Lindsley’s first credit was to Fantasy & Science Fiction, for instance. When your story is put before the editor, you have the editor’s attention. First, you get the slush reader’s full attention. Then, if you’re good enough, you get passed through and get the editor’s full attention.

    Editors aren’t in the business of wasting their time. If they didn’t want subs that were by people without publishing credits, theywouldn’t accept subs from people without publishing credits. It’s easy enough to be a closed or invitation-only market. See: Helix.

    3) The Decatur Fiction review would count as a publication credit in your imagined scenario

    It wouldn’t. For many editors, bad credits count basically the same way as no credits. For some editors, they may count as worse.

  108. #111 — not quite with you, but just thought it was interesting to see how the conversation had come ’round to other current events (see WGA as example of writers organizing to protect their rights, both literal and literary).

    Scalzi, I know the SFWA election didn’t go as planned, but how would you like to be a union chief? think we could make that happen for you.

  109. gelee,

    I submitted something to F&SF about 8 months ago and got a personal rejection from Gordon with some nice comments on how he liked some of it but ultimately did not think it was the right fit. (My cover letter, btw, listed no writing credits).

    Shimmer, for example, almost always gives personal comments with your rejection.

    And if you really want feedback join Critters or another critique circle. It’s the only way to get lots of feedback. Most editors, even if the best of cases, will only drop you a line.

  110. “That is dead wrong, and dead wrong in several different ways.”

    I stand corrected, and thank you for it! I have rarely been so pleased to be wrong.

  111. gelee,

    I’m neither a slush reader, nor an editor editor nor a great and mighty writer. I’ve lucked out with less than a handful of reasonably good sales, but that’s it. My first story sold to Strange Horizons. Publishing credits aren’t necessary or even that important.

    You’re fixating on the slush process, but the slush is only one stage towards publication. Imagine a scenario where the slush reader passes your story directly to the editor without checking that it’s cogently written just on account of your name and credits. (I have a hard time believing this, but lets hypothesise for a sec). Guess what? You still have to get passed the editor! And the editor might cut you some slack if you’re LeGuin or Scott Card or Scalzi, but a couple pubs, even if they’re pro aren’t going to get you there. Your stories must be good. Period.

    From personal experience, I can tell you this: my writing has gotten better. I receive a lot more encouraging rejections. My rejections sit on editor’s desks a helluva lot longer (maybe as a result of having “survived” the slush process, I can’t know for sure). Do I get more acceptances? Not exactly.

    Surviving the slush is a means to an ends. It has a certain (small) importance. You should make your first page good enough to keep a weary slusher reading. But hell, you need to do that anyway if you want people to read your story.

    Having no credits on your cover letter only means you’re starting, you’re full of potential and haven’t made any of the obvious mistakes like self-publishing or selling to, er, Dragon for example.

  112. oh, and gelee,
    you start each story at the top and then work your way towards the bottom when it’s rejected.

    of course this doesn’t include sucky stories that you don’t want associated with your name :) This also goes for mags. Don’t publish in mags that looks so cheesy you’re embarassed to show them to your friends (unless, of course, the point of the mag is shere cheesiness couched in subtle irony for the uninitiated…)

  113. You are in for a long, sad ride if you are thinking of submitting the same kind of story that would get published in Dragon (even avoiding the whole bad rights purchasing issue) and then sending that story to Asimov’s, F&SF, Glimmer, RoF or any magazine who’s sub guidelines include the term “literary”.

    The closest would be Black Gate or Weird Tales at the >3-cents level even then if it were “too RPG-ish” you’d get a pass but quick–*no matter how skillful you were on a paragraph by paragraph level.* The difference between what constitutes “genre” in the papberback original mmpb field and short story world is a vast gulf.

    If you wrote a story and considered it a good fit for Dragon (say blatant S&S or action/adventure Epic Fantasy in feel) you can bet you wont get into any of the “Big” mags. Though oddly enough that same short story pitched as Chapter One to Tor might get you a second look.

    In terms of broad, big picture feel–not in regards to any one story in particular.

  114. Scalzi @ 119
    Sure, Justin. Because right now, I have time for that.

    machine. Well, Scalzi, I’ve got this here wayback

    (all due credit to Alan Moore but I can’t find an appropriate link)

  115. Thanks to everyone for the advice. I’m not terribly worried about the submission process, though you wouldn’t know that to follow my posts today. All of this sort of came up on a tangent to the original topic, as a means to justify a hypothetical submission to the evil publication listed above. I actually didn’t know Dragon still existed until I came to visit Mr. Scalzi’s webhome today. I sort of thought WoTC would have turned it into some sort of collectible card game by now.
    I certainly didn’t mean to stir up any drama, and I had no idea I’d be so fringe, and I hope John doesn’t decide I’m an ass and take away my posting priveleges. :)

  116. Just as a slight tangent–two situations where basically giving away your short fiction is a good thing. (1) Prestige. Like, to McSweeney’s or something (I don’t know what McS’s actually pays, but just as a name to throw out there). (2) Foreign markets. In some countries, I let the editors of my books use short fiction for free in those countries’ magazines prior to publication of a book, in order to build name recognition, which doesn’t always carry over from English.

    But I also published in small press extensively before getting pro sales, and while some of those stories were goddawful, some of them won awards (one won the World Fantasy Award), and some of them were highly praised after appearing in my fiction collection. Which is to say, depending on the kind of writer you are and what the field is like when you enter it (conservative/more accepting of weirder stuff), you may well appear in low-paying markets for awhile, and some of them, for a certain kind of fiction, may be of higher quality than things that pay more.

    But this is, as I say, a tangent, since I pretty much agree entirely with the sentiment in John’s original post.

    JeffV

  117. Shawn Struck:

    You quoted NewGuyDave’s statement that Dragon Online was not looking for shared-world material. This is incorrect. They are not looking for shared-world material exclusively.

    From the writers’ guidelines:

    Wizards of the Coast is the publisher of novel lines set within the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dragonlance and Magic: the Gathering settings. However, submitted works of fiction need not be written within these settings; we are also looking for original works of speculative fiction, including but not limited to fantasy (of all types), science-fiction, magical realism, horror—essentially, send us your best speculative fiction, and we’ll see if there’s a place for it in Dragon.

    In case anyone wants to read these guidelines, if for no other reason than to trash the notion with accuracy, here’s a link:

    http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/4news/20071126a

  118. gelee, if you’re brave enough to put out a question into this pool of very intellectual commenters and humble enough to listen to the tidal wave of replies, you are doing extremely well. After all, you can’t learn if you don’t ask questions, right? Sounds like you’re on the right track. It also sounds like you’re open-minded enough to get some value out of a critique group like Critters. Good luck!

  119. “As a lawyer, that would worry me tremendously. If your short story is a derivative work or closely related to something else you’ve already sold, and now you sell ‘all rights’ in the short story to Dragon….where does that leave the IP from your shared world? What if you want to reprint that short story in a bigger market, or write a follow-up, or include it as a chapter in the sequel? I’m no C.E. Pettit but I see all kinds of potential lawsuit-fu emerging.”

    Well, that makes two of us who are lawyers and this would worry me not at all. As I think I indicated in the post, the vibe between novel and short story is the same (i.e., sword and sorcery) but nothing else. There’s no risk to the novel as IP by merely sharing the same sub-genre and byline.

    As for the rest of the “what ifs,” that’s a decision for Author A to make. As I indicated, if he’s prepared to surrender rights to the story (and perhaps to the underlying IP in the story) for the purposes of promoting his related-but-different novel, then so be it.

  120. My first sale was to a pro-rate closed anthology that came out in hardcover from Baen. It can be done, but it’s a slog to get there.

    It certainly would have been a faster road to publication to sell to semi-pro markets; I might have even sold Rhonda to one of those and never had the pro sale for that story. I don’t think I’d have had a faster road to a pro sale had I gone that route.

    For the most part, I haven’t submitted to semi-pro markets. I read a lot of them, though.

  121. Djonn said: My editorial relationships were always cordial

    I want to echo that–both in the old days and in the present, the editorial folks at first Dragon, then WotC, have always been very much a class act.

  122. “A question, in fact: does anyone know to what extent, if any, Wizards is honoring subscriptions to the Paizo print Dragon by providing access to the new online publication? If they are not, that strikes me as a good argument that the two markets are essentially different despite the name overlap.”

    Not at all. If you (like I did) had issues in your subscription from Paizo, they converted over to either issues of Pathfinder, credit at the Paizo store, or a refund. Other than issue numbering, there is no connection at this time.

  123. In the time it took for moderation, and a review of the guidelines on WOTC’s site, and then me getting back to work to go and post a mea culpa, Elaine seems to have beaten me to the relevant passage. I would like to take this time to formally acknowledge that I was (pleasantly) surprised to have been mistaken in my initial skimming.

    I’d also like to thank you for your work. You are completely right, and I was completely wrong.

  124. To confirm the clarification. I was talking about selling stuff to WotC/Hasbro, and not the pre-WotC TSR.

    WotC has not had a stellar record when dealing with writers and or artists and I still have a bit of a grudge I guess…

  125. I’m so glad that you and some of your peers have no qualms about telling everyone up front the business side of things. Kill those romantic myths that lead victims to their doom. There are way to many sirens in publishing.

  126. 77. Ann L. said: Now, I could also go on about the common misunderstanding involving “you have to grab the editor in the first few paragraphs” too–that’s another thing reading a slushpile is good for. But that would be way off topic.

    I’m all ears if you change your mind. :)

  127. Some thoughts,

    1: A lot of the work submitted to Dragon Magazine is going to be unpublishable elsewhere because it will incorporate WOTC intellectual property. If that’s the case, you might as well sell all rights because you didn’t really have any rights anyways.

    2: This deal wouldn’t bother me if they put a big sign up front that said, “This deal is for our gamers and fans who want to get their work officially published. Do NOT consider this professional rate. Consider this a collection of amateur writing by fans, for fans. If you wish to pursue writing as a career, consider discussing your opportunities with other fans and authors on our forum.” In that context, its much like that holy grail- a fanfic forum that pays you. I think there’s room in the world for that. Not everyone who writes and wants to get paid is doing it for the same reasons and in the same context as a professional author.

    3: I think that, no matter what they do, they need to revise the “all rights” language to permit authors to continue to write using the characters and plotlines they create. Technically, the current language makes it illegal to write a story featuring Joe the Half Dwarf Half Elf Paladin of Bob the Righteous, sell it to WOTC, and then write a sequel. The sequel would be a copyright infringing work, even if you had every intention of selling it to WOTC. That’s just dumb.

  128. A lot of the work submitted to Dragon Magazine is going to be unpublishable elsewhere because it will incorporate WOTC intellectual property. If that’s the case, you might as well sell all rights because you didn’t really have any rights anyways.

    To be fair, I’ve seen plenty of writing in Dragonthat didn’t conform to any D&D or TSR or WotC IP throught the mag’s history (TSR, WotC and Paizo) and was pretty darned good.

  129. Paul, it wasn’t clear from your post, but taking you at your word you have two possible scenarios:

    #1 – Published Author sells a completely unrelated fantasy piece to Dragon to promote his fantasy novel. This means an author who knows he can produce saleable work, and is paid the going rate, is supposed to sell all rights for pennies a word in the hopes that a completely unrelated story will get people to buy the novel. Why not sell the work to a different, non-rights-hogging magazine?

    #2 – Published Author writes a story similar to his novel, in order to get Dragon readers interested in the novel. (“Hey! I want to read more about this Blood McThunderson dude!”) Now PA has managed to sell ‘all rights’ to some IP that is partially contained in a different work to which Dragon had no rights, causing problems if not legal issues with his existing contract with the novel publisher, not to mention what could happen if he writes a sequel.

    gelee, set aside the whole money thing. If you sell all rights to a work, the buyer can do whatever they please. They can have somebody else write sequels or ‘shared world’ fiction or whatever they like. That lovingly-crafted setting and those characters you slaved over? They’re all somebody else’s playthings now. Think of every book you’ve ever seen warped into an awful movie by a bunch of hack movie writers. That’s what.

  130. “#1 – Published Author sells a completely unrelated fantasy piece to Dragon to promote his fantasy novel. This means an author who knows he can produce saleable work, and is paid the going rate, is supposed to sell all rights for pennies a word in the hopes that a completely unrelated story will get people to buy the novel. Why not sell the work to a different, non-rights-hogging magazine?”

    I already addressed that question in the post. Author A does the math and decides that the added exposure of Dragon, in terms of number of readers, is worth the surrender of his rights. In other words, he accepts the fact that he will not be doing follow up work on the characters (and possibly the setting, though that is much more muddy, depending upon its nature) in the story.

    And if, by virtue of your emphasis on “completely unrelated,” you are suggesting that such a story would not help promote the novel, I can assure you that you are wrong. Author A isn’t necessarily looking for readers to say — wow, I sure loved that Thundarr character. Instead, he wants them to say — Author A sure can tell a rip-roaring tale. I wonder what else he’s done? Oh, hey a novel!

    “#2 – Published Author writes a story similar to his novel, in order to get Dragon readers interested in the novel. (”Hey! I want to read more about this Blood McThunderson dude!”) Now PA has managed to sell ‘all rights’ to some IP that is partially contained in a different work to which Dragon had no rights, causing problems if not legal issues with his existing contract with the novel publisher, not to mention what could happen if he writes a sequel.”

    As I noted above — the stories are “similar” only in that the share the same sub-genre and byline. There is, accordingly, absolutlely zero risk to the novel as IP. Imagine Stephen King selling “all rights” to Carrie. Has “Cujo” been compromised? Of course not.

    Now, imagine instead that Moorcock sold “all rights” associated with a Corum short story, and in that story introduced the idea of the Eternal Champion. Is his later Elric work compromised? Not likely (the whole notion of compromising IP is being vastly overblown in this thread; is it your area of practice, I wonder?), but the question is potentially a bit more complicated.

  131. Those wondering what credits and reputation can and can’t do for your MS in the slush process might be interested in this post from Jay Lake, Editing the wild anthology.

    Ditto what Jeff said @129: If you’re not getting paid in money, make sure you’re getting paid in something. If that something is the fun of writing R.A. Salvatore fanfic, then good for you; but if it’s not, there are plenty of good markets that will be willing to pay you more for less and will look better on a cover letter.

  132. The term “win-win” is used for both sides of a negotiation, in particular when both sides “win”. So when Dragon screws the writer, it’s “win-lose”, and when the writer tells Dragon to FMH, then it’s “lose-win”. I could say more, but I can’t find my copy of Covey right now…

  133. You didactic jerk!

    Since the sentence previous to it was discussing two separate ways that something was bad, I was comfortable using “lose-lose” to signify both of those. Likewise the “win-win” refers to the two ways the publisher has an advantage. I think it’s reasonably clear in context.

  134. I see I’m coming in late here, but what the hell.

    John is absolutely correct. Dragon‘s contract is dumb, and anybody who agrees to it needs a serious head examination, because they are commiting cranio-rectal inversion.

    When you compare the funding behind Hasbro to the funding behind Jim Baen’s Universe you have to wonder why we can pay between 6 and 28 cents a word or more and make an online magazine successfully…and they can’t. And we don’t ask for more than NAFSR.

    By the way, in case you were wondering, JBU is self-funding on a daily basis and doesn’t even require operating cash from the main Baen Books operation. How we did this isn’t a mystery– we wrote a good business plan, and we worked the plan. So we’re a small press magazine– if we can do it, anybody can.

    Just how successful are we? We pay our authors better than SFWA minimum, we pay on time, and we’ve had authors in the ‘Best of…’ anthologies, had a Locus Award winner, and had two Hugo nominations…and we’ve been in business not quite two years. So I’d say we’re successful.

    John is also correct about how to make a living as a writer. I make a good living as a writer and editor. Unfortunately, because I can easily sell to nonfiction markets that pay an average of $1 a word, I don’t write a lot of SF or F. I mean, if I have x hours in a day that I can devote to writing freelance, and I can either make $1 times x or I can make $0.06 times x, which would YOU choose to do most of the time?

    Hell, I pay between $0.85 and $1.30 a word for freelance writing in my day job. If any of you can write a multisource technical article on automation in the process industries, send me writing samples.

    And for the small press folks, c’mon. Figure out a business plan that lets you pay decently for the intellectual property you use to make money…Eric Flint, Dave Freer, Jim Baen, Rick Boatright, Paula Goodlett and I did…we call it Jim Baen’s Universe and the business plan was very carefully thought out, too. AND IT IS WORKING, SEE? So there aren’t any excuses for paying less than the SFWA minimum. If you can’t do it, you might reconsider your business plan (that’s me being nice for ‘get out of the business’ in case you missed it).

    Writers don’t have to write for nothing. Publishers don’t have to pay dick for good writing.

    Writers who let publishers have their IP for nothing or next to nothing have nobody but themselves to blame.

    And everybody who said, “good writing rises to the top,” is absolutely accurate.

    At JBU (and at our companion magazine, Grantville Gazette which also pays pro rates and should be a SFWA qualified venue shortly) we read EVERY submission, regardless of who sends it in. A big list of credits is no guarantee we’ll buy your story. We’ve rejected some “big name writers.” What sells is story, story, story, with good writing.

    We’ve had so many good submissions we have had to close to new ones, except for the highly successful writers’ clinic we run on Baen’s Bar. We’re still workshopping stories there, and we’ve bought more than a dozen of them and still more have been bought by other magazines.

    Walt Boyes
    Day job: Editor in chief, Control http://www.controlglobal.com
    Night job: Associate Editor and Marketing Director, Jim Baen’s Universe http://www.baens-universe.com

  135. There seems to be some confusion over shared-world writing and fanfic. There are many reasons for writers to be wary of shared-world writing. I won’t dispute that for a moment. But Dragon is not, and never has been, a refuge for fanfic writers. “R.A. Salvatore fanfic” would be turned down in a heartbeat. It is difficult enough to maintain continuity in a shared-world setting without having many authors writing about the same characters. With few exceptions, the writers who create characters are the only ones who write about them. People who wish to submit Forgotten Realms or Eberron stories to Dragon will need to create new characters and devise a plot that works within the rules of the setting. It’s not unlike writing historical fiction, other than the fact that the “history” can be found in game products and other novels. And the Realms is broad enough and (dare I say) generic enough to accomodate a wide range of characters, themes, and writing styles. Fanfic, this isn’t.

    The issue here is not so much the pay scale–which is comparable to many other, more “reputable” markets and qualifies in its upper limits as a professional rate–but the assignment of rights. People who write in a shared-world setting understand that we don’t own the characters we create. There can be considerable satisfaction in creating characters we care about and telling stories we want to tell, but we can’t take our toys and go play in another sandbox. Problems arise when this policy is applied to characters and stories in original settings.

    I hope the folks at Dragon will modify their “all rights” policy and bring it more in line with Paizo’s contract terms. Until then, I would agree that people who are not writing shared-world fiction should seek another home for their short stories.

  136. Business plans are confidential. What worked for us may not work for you. What we did was combine the (aw, come ON, Walt, that old chestnut will never work…) readers’ club idea with a subscription plan. You can read all about it on the website…the Universe Club got us started, subscriptions keep us going.

    So, how do you do it yourself? Start with actually PAYING $0.15/word and work backwards. Figure out what you had to have done to get there, step by step, and go and do it.

    Walt Boyes

  137. Vocabulary amplification: it’s probably a good idea at this point to better distinguish the terms shared world and work-for-hire as we discuss the Dragon Online rights situation.

    Short form: not all shared-world fiction is work-for-hire, and not all work-for-hire fiction is (necessarily) shared-world material.

    Work-for-hire describes the legal context in which a story is published; at least in the US, it determines who owns the copyright. (WFH novels commissioned and first published in the USA are typically copyrighted to the corporate entity that owns the franchise; WFH novels commissioned and first published in the UK — the Doctor Who books, for instance — are typically copyrighted in the names of their authors.)

    Shared world describes the creative context in which stories are developed and written, by multiple authors working in the same setting. The Thieves’ World anthology/novel series is usually regarded as the first major shared world project in genre fantasy, although the Encyclopedia of Fantasy says that shared worlds date back as far as Charles Dickens. Many tie-in or franchise universes (Star Trek, the Forgotten Realms) operate as shared worlds, but many shared world projects operate as creator-owned settings under various organizing principles. The “Ring of Fire” universe arising from Eric Flint’s novel 1632 has become a shared world (see the reference to the Grantville Gazette above). The Wild Cards project, overseen by George R. R. Martin and others, is organized as a literary trust. And there are a host of other examples.

    This is a complex — and fascinating — subject, and one that today’s genre writers ought to be thinking carefully about. For the moment, though, just take note that the two ideas (shared-world and work-for-hire) are related but emphatically NOT interchangeable.

  138. It should be pointed out, of course, that the Fantasy sub-genre of fiction is RIFE with works that literally began as D&D games. Raymond Feist’s Riftwar Saga, Steven Brust’s Jhereg series and Mizuno’s Record of Lodoss War being just a few. Did they undergo varying levels of change on the road to becoming successful properties of their own right? Certainly….but with the serial numbers rubbed off, they were perfectly publishable.

    That doesn’t even go into the Gord the Rogue series by Gary Gygax, co-creator of D&D, that started life as an actual D&D series, continued with him after he and TSR parted ways and then became D&D again when he was published in Paizo’s run of D&D in 2006.

  139. As a writer, it’s this crap that makes me seethe. I’m so tired of publications ascribing little or no value to the people who provide the content that attracts their readers, allowing them to attract advertisers.

    Of course, all of the aspiring writers willing to work for free out there don’t help matters much. Here’s a tip, young ones–never work for free because it sucks the value out of content. Someday when you’re trying to pay your mortgage with you pen, you’re going to rue the day you gave away your words for nothing.

  140. I know I’m coming into the end of this thread, but here’s something else to think about from the perspective of a newbie fiction writer trying to break into the scifi/fantasy world.

    Back in college, while working on a BA in Journalism, I had the opportunity to work as a stringer for a small town newspaper. I got to cover town council meetings, school board meetings and even the occasional parish (anyone living in a state or country that was never under Napoleonic law can translate this word as “county”) council meeting that the fully-employed government and education reporters either didn’t have time to cover because of a meetings’ relative smallness or they just needed a backup to go in their place for whatever reason.

    I got paid $30 an assignment for doing this. Yep, PER assignment. Even if I got two or three stories out of a meeting, I only got $30 for my whole evening. I did this about once a week for two years and the cash was just enough to cover my gas, some McDonald’s, and a beer if the meeting let out early enough for me to get home, write up my stories, and make my way over to hang with my friends before last call.

    I didn’t mind the low pay because I knew this was a pretty awesome gig for a college journalist to earn experience that would translate into bigger and better things later in life. Sure enough, my work as a stringer picked me up a couple of awards that say “me write good” on them and helped me gain employment at a NYTRNG newspaper right out of college.

    So, getting a story printed in Dragon for extremely low pay under a work for hire deal can be viewed as the same experience building thing for a new writer, right?

    Wrong.

    For me, that small town newspaper was the best game in town for a budding journalist to gain valuable experience. I knew it would help me later in life. However, any experience, promotion, or pay a new writer (and I think this is most important to a NEW writer, because Elaine Cunningham and Paul S. Kemp both had good points on when it would be a fair trade for a more established writer to consider Dragon) would gain from being published in Dragon is NOT worth the tradeoff. They don’t want fanfic. They want you to create worlds for them.

    As John listed, and many have joined him here in pointing out, better games are in town that want to treat new writers fairly. Granted, there are limited venues for submitting “sword and sorcery” fiction to because most of the publications that want fantasy stories are inundated by hack and slash stories from RPG fans (see also Strange Horizons’ list of “Stories We’ve Seen Too Often”). However, if you think you can write a sword and sorcery story to the likes of Robert E. Howard (i.e. you can make the blood spray from your mighty barbarian’s decapitation of a dark snake god sound both beautiful and poetic), then chances are you can get published in one of many other fantasy mags, be they online or printed.

    John, thanks for posting this to warn people and also putting together the list of places new writers can look towards. I’d like to ask, since you are now the newly elected union chief of scifi and fantasy writers, could you maybe work on expanding that list and puting it up as part of a permanent link on Whatever for new writers to turn to when trying to find markets for their writing. I mean, yes, the SFWA has a great list of Pro Rate markets, but there are others out there that fall under this category and I think you could do a world of good putting them together in one place for people.

    You know, when you’re not on deadline.

    Please, oh Grand Pumba!

  141. I actually did submit to a story to Dragon magazine a few years back. I’d read it at WFC and the Dragon editor at the time handed me a business card and asked me to submit it to his magazine. I figured it would be a new potential audience for my novels, and sent it in. And then got no reply for some truly insane amount of time; I queried, got no response, queried again, still no response, and finally I got a rather snide rejection letter from a completely different editor saying something along the lines of, “why did you send us this? we don’t publish these sorts of stories.”

    C’est la vie.

    If a story has made the rounds of the big magazines and none of them wanted it, I will happily sell FNASR for a penny a word to a semiprozine I like. (I have a blog, but — possibly due to my failure to tape processed meat products to my cats — it has fewer readers than the Whatever.) But even when I was completely unpublished, “all rights” to my fiction were not up for discussion. Now, I worked as a corporate tech writer for several years, and obviously, the rights to all that stuff was owned by my employer, not by me. But as they were giving me a salary. And health insurance! Not 3 cents per word!

    P.S. John, I don’t know why this is, but my text runs off the screen in the comment box. It makes it really hard to proofread my comment and confirm that I don’t sound like a complete idiot. Preview also doesn’t seem to be working for me. This is probably because I am using a really outdated version of Firefox, but I thought I’d mention it so that if other people with current browsers are having similar problems they can chime in.

  142. Writing for money is one of the last vestiges of real capitalism. The fair market value of a written submission is what a willing buyer will pay and what a willing seller will accept so long as both have full information.

    People who are even considering submitting to Dragon are by definition not depending upon their writing income for the necessities of life so they are free and willing sellers. Dragon doesn’t have any need for a specific submission so they are a willing buyer.

    So whatever bargain they reach amounts to a fair price – particularly since they don’t try to hide the nature of the bargain.

    Whether or not it is “stupid” to agree to those terms depends on alternative markets. If no one else with better terms will buy your writing then it is not stupid to agree to work for hire to Dragon.

  143. Rather than looking at this from the perspective of the “Published Author,” or the “Young Author Looking to Break Into Fantasy Writing,” what’s the take on this from the perspective of the “Guy Who Doesn’t Intend to Write Except as a Hobby But Has One Story He Thinks Might Be Kind of Decent?”

  144. ‘what’s the take on this from the perspective of the “Guy Who Doesn’t Intend to Write Except as a Hobby But Has One Story He Thinks Might Be Kind of Decent?”’

    How badly does he want Wizards of the Coast to own all the rights to his one kind of decent story?

  145. “Guy Who Doesn’t Intend to Write Except as a Hobby But Has One Story He Thinks Might Be Kind of Decent?”

    I’d say this species is non-existent. If one story is sold most people would find that to be a good thing and might write some more (thus there’s no longer one single story).

    And there’s no such thing as writing as a hobby. Maybe you don’t make it a living at it, but damn it, call yourself a writer if you’re trying to get published.

    Writing as a hobby is like saying you write for yourself: a total lie. We write to be read.

    And I would say that in the end if your story is decent it deserves better than Dragon.

  146. Back when I wrote for Dragon, they had no problems with my substitution of a standard writer’s contract for their boilerplate, in which they purchased only first publication rights and I retained all other rights. Far as I know I still got paid the same, which wasn’t terribly much, but mostly I was doing it for the amusement value anyhow.

  147. By day I am a software engineer and by night I am an amateur sci-fi writer. I worked very hard on the universe that I created in my story. And it is conceivable that someday I would want to create and sell a computer game based on that universe. So yeah I am firmly in the “Giving up all rights to your work for pennies a word = dumb” camp.

  148. And there’s no such thing as writing as a hobby. Maybe you don’t make it a living at it, but damn it, call yourself a writer if you’re trying to get published.

    Writing as a hobby is like saying you write for yourself: a total lie. We write to be read.

    It’s also possible to write to be read without writing to be published. And some of those categories do indeed fall under “hobby.”

  149. Writing as a hobby is like saying you write for yourself: a total lie. We write to be read.

    Actually … and it took me some years to fully understand this … writing for a hobby is totally legitimate.

    I’ve done things as hobbies that other people do to earn their livings: learn sing, ride horses. I had every right to do those things as hobbies, and no, I had no real desire to be seen doing these things or to earn any money from them. They were hobbies, and the wonderful thing about them was that my professional life depended on them not at all. I had no desire to be paid for them.

    Why shouldn’t people have the right to let writing be their hobby, if they choose?

    Which doesn’t mean even a hobbyist should give away the rights to their work. But writing as a hobby is no more a lie than knitting as a hobby is.

  150. Wow. And I thought the process of writing was hard enough. These posts scare me. : )

    Kam — writing hobbyist

  151. As an unpublished writer, I can understand the desire to get a cred for future sales. But I’m not willing to settle for just *any* cred. It sounds to me that gelee is defending the desperate. I can sympathize with that, but desperation shouldn’t ever go so far as to sell your soul to the devil, and that’s the kind of deal you’re talking about here. Any publication of note will look at the cred and recognize the desperation. That works against a writer, in my opinion, not for them.

    I’m not inclined to agree, however, with those who say that anyone who can sell to Dragon will be able to sell to somewhere else. After all, those kinds of deals are only going to appeal to either the desperate or the foolish. And if you’re that desperate to sell a story that won’t be picked up by another publication, then it seems like that the story isn’t good enough to warrant publication. Which again, is a count against the writer that has a Dragon cred, not for them.

  152. I’m posting this Anono, but John can e-mail me if he’d like to talk more about this stuff.

    I’m writing for Hasbro right now via WotC, and what I’ve noticed is that Harbro has a very large number of people making decisions that do not completely understand exactly how to be a publisher of books with words in them. Toys, they know. Cardgames, they know. Books, they don’t have the same level of experience doing books and working with freelance writers of books.

    They are well-intentioned, intelligent people, and they show a lot of promise. Though I wouldn’t touch Dragon Magazine with a long pole, right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the very talented people working and editing in the books department cannoodle this one into industry standard over time.

    Things have definitely gotten better since the initial buyout, and it’s been largely due – from what I’ve seen – to the staff of Wizards gently communicating this new form of business to their new corporate overlords.

  153. Paul, you’re starting from a very bad premise: that a good way for an author to promote their work is to give a magazine all rights, forever to some other work they’ve done.

    If you’re trying to tell me that you are an IP specialist and have some legal perspective I’m missing here, feel free. But I’m not getting your argument that it’s wise for an author to pay somebody else an indeterminate sum–the complete ownership of something they, a published author, have written–as the cost of publicity of unknown value. Especially since the ‘free sample’ argument suggests that the author would be better off publishing in a venue that doesn’t suck up all rights.

    WizarDru, as I remember dimly, there actually was some legal foofaraw over Feist’s Riftworld series, because he based it on his local group’s D&D campaign, not knowing that the GM had in turn based part of that campaign on M.A.R. Barker’s Empire of the Petal Throne books.

  154. {{The fact is that the Dragon CD-ROM was an awesome project, the fans craved and loved it, and a few authors messed it all up over some old old stories they hadn’t managed to sell to anyone else in years and yet sued because the CD-ROM somehow “devalued” the saleability of these stories … that already weren’t selling.}}

    The awesomeness justifies the means. How dare those writers stand up for themselves–protect their IP and demand their contracts be honored, their rights respected! WotC would never send out threatening letters to fan web sites that reproduce WotC material without permission! If the fans crave it, the company would never dream of getting in the way!

    If anyone needs a reminder of the sort of silly, writer-unfriendly attitudes that make decisions like this possible at WotC….

    These new [i]Dragon[/i] terms are a bad deal, even for PR use.

    Cheers,
    James Lowder

  155. annon’s comments about WotC are important to note. There are some people in house there who know better, who fight to bend things to more creator-friendly forms. There were also people in house at the time of the Dragon CD ROM fiasco who thought it was a stupid idea and recognized the blowback the company would get from professional writers by making that sort of rights grab.

    Perhaps this will get fixed — the company is launching a new book line that might suffer thanks to this Dragon move in the same way the relaunch of Amazing Stories was harmed at the time by the Dragon CD ROM. (Some writers stopped selling to Amazing, others dropped their subscriptions….) Problems like this certainly diminish the PR value of publishing with a market. Editors and other publishers know when a market is tainted — when it offers such bad terms that many pro writers stay away. So listing a market like that on your resume isn’t likely to impress. In fact, it may make another publisher or editor wonder just how professional you are, if you accepted such bad terms for your work. All credits are not necessarily good credits.

  156. Ken@175:

    I’d remembered reading about Paizo taking steps to compensate subscribers, and certainly didn’t think there’d have been money flowing from Paizo back to Wizards as an artifact of the license non-renewal. So that much isn’t a surprise.

    What I’d been wondering was whether Wizards — whose plans seem to have morphed somewhat since the original announcement of the printzines’ demise — might have extended “goodwill” subscriptions to Dragon‘s print subscribers as a means of kickstarting the ezine and generating good PR for themselves. (Before anyone laughs, I didn’t think this was likely, but it would have made enough marketing-sense to be worth thinking about.)

    Anyhow, the point I was trying to make up in #95 thus stands — if I were second-guessing rulings from SFWA’s membership committee, the way I’d vote would be: Dragon, the printzine, remains a pro market for membership purposes. Dragon, the new ezine, is a completely different market, and presently is not.

    I also agree strongly with Annon and James Lowder; my experience over many years, though at greater distance, is that a variant of Feist’s Law (“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”) applies here. This is not a case of WotC’s editorial teams setting out to screw writers; this is a case of corporate management and corporate legal powers hamstringing the editorial teams. Substitute “ignorance” (at the corporate level) for “stupidity” in the axiom as quoted, and the context should be about right….

  157. I think the most sigh-inducing response has been ” This hubbub about retaining one’s IP for a piece of fiction is largely just so much wind because, frankly, the large majority of what’s published in there as fiction wouldn’t be able to reach any higher anyway. “, followed by

    “Don’t want to worry about your best work and ideas getting lost because you sign them over in order to get work with Dragon?

    Don’t submit your best work and ideas.”

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