Black Matrix Publishing Responds

Over on the Black Matrix Publishing site. Apparently the ridicule the man’s getting for paying a pathetically low rate to his contibutors has made him defensive, which is good, but the man presumably has no intention of upping his payment rate, which is, of course, very bad indeed. Likewise I’m not especially impressed at the various very bad no good terrible attempts at “logic” the fellow uses to justify paying a rate to contributors that would embarrass a depression-era pulp editor.

Oh, and Mr. Kenyon, should you be reading this: in response to your question “I could ask when was the last time he spent roughly $4,000 in one year to authors and artists out of his own pocket,” well, as it happens, in the last couple of months I commissioned artwork for a project I’m developing and spent my own money on it: $1,000, in fact. The difference between you and me is that I paid that money to one person for a single piece of art, because that was a fair rate for the work, as opposed to, say, the $50 you propose for compensation for a book or magazine cover. You can be likewise assured that should I ever choose to pay out of my own pocket for text, that I will pay a fair rate for it, and not mewl and whine about how much money I’m spending on things other than the people without whose work I would not have the product which I hoped to sell and profit from. Your bad business planning does not justify screwing writers.

114 thoughts on “Black Matrix Publishing Responds

  1. John:

    I’ve nothing useful to add to this except to say “thank you”. I don’t get why some people start publishing genre fiction who they so obviously hold genre writers and artists in utter contempt.

  2. He says he claims not to be a professional paying market. But let’s look at this another way.

    If you stiff a waitress, she won’t like it, but she’ll get over it.

    If you tip a paltry amount, she may get annoyed, but she’ll pocket the cash.

    If you tip a penny, she’ll almost certainly spit in your food if you show up again.

    That’s kinda how I look at nonpaying and low-paying markets. I don’t like it, but I know why it’s there. Black Matrix is trying to tip me a penny.

    Well, not me, because I’d never submit there, but you get my meaning.

  3. I love that successful SFF writers are willing to stand up for their less-established colleagues. I love how many of you are willing to call bulll**** on people who try to take advantage of writers, even when there’s little chance that they’ll ever take advantage of you. It’s awesome.

  4. AFH:

    “I love that successful SFF writers are willing to stand up for their less-established colleagues.”

    It’s the advantage of a writing genre that actually has a coherent community, which itself has a tradition of “paying it forward” — i.e., looking out for the new guy in the same way those ahead of us looked out for us as well.

  5. I still think you’re applying pro standards to an amateur / semipro publication.

    There are plenty of zines out there which pay nothing or a fixed amount that works out to this much.

    This is an exercise in applied fandom, not a scamming pro wannabe.

  6. GWH:

    “This is an exercise in applied fandom, not a scamming pro wannabe.”

    Not really. Black Matrix is apparently an LLC, which is to say, a for-profit, professional business. I certainly understand why the principals of that LLC want to run about trying to suggest they’re attempting something akin to a labor of love rather than running an actual business, but I don’t have to follow their lead on that. Dude’s running a business, he’s hoping to make money. He just doesn’t want to pay a fair rate for the raw material his business needs to succeed.

  7. Here here! (should that be ‘Hear Hear!’?)
    I’m always in favor off going after business people who have bad business practices coupled with massive entitlement complexes.

    This guy thinks he’s entitled to people’s hard work, but they’re not entitled to the money it makes him. I always wonder about that kind of thinking. Do other people really exist to them, or are they like props in the individual’s life?

    I used to think only cartoon super villains and republicans thought they should have all the money and the only money. Now we can add sleazy publishers to that list.

  8. ok, I tried to put “irony” tags around “republicans” in that last comment and they vanished. I promise I’m not trying to troll.

  9. George, I disagree. If you want to give people a shot at publication who aren’t going to make it in the publishing world, start an *unpaid* journal, and don’t charge for it. Paying, and paying so little, is worse than taking volunteer submissions… because it’s basically like free ($50 for a 2500 word piece probably works out to $2 an hour for non-professional writers) but pretends to be a professional publication (by paying, and doing so by the word). Paying by the word makes it ‘feel’ professional, without actually paying professional rates.

    At least he’s not charging people, I’ll give you that …

  10. Okay, here’s the thing. Writing for pay seems to fall into two categories. (1) “Enough to do something tangible” and (2) “Cool, I can call myself a paid writer”.

    There are all sorts of subtleties and important differences within and across those categories, but unless the quantity of money enables you to buy cheetos that month, or pay rent, or covers what you’ve laid out for the ink and paper and stamps necessary to submit said Work of Genius (WOG), then my general reaction is: Check for $10? Meh. Okay.

    Money is probably not your motivating factor in getting your work in a mag at the published pro or semi-prorates. Let alone one of the Black Matrix rags.

    If there’s a problem to fix here, and I’m not sure there is, then the problem’s way bigger and way older than Black Matrix.

  11. John, I don’t disagree with you … except to say that the lack of writers and artists who will respond and supply him with creative juice squeezings will be few and far between. He can’t rip people off if there is a fair market they can sell their goods to – i.e., they can just go elsewhere. He isn’t “evil”, he’s just testing to see if there IS a low-pay-for-stupid-nostalgia market for him to address. I believe – as, apparently, you do – that he is definitely WRONG in this. Therefore, why bother with him?

  12. Augh! No sympathy for him. A magazine is a business venture. Businesses cost money. Where does the money come from? Out of your pocket. Duh! Why? Because that’s where the profits go when you make them. An SF magazine is a risky business. It’s tough to make money, but that doesn’t mean you can abuse your vendors. The end result of this is that the magazine will suffer because it is supplying inferior quality “product” to its customers, just like a restaurant that chooses to serve powdered potatoes instead of real potatoes. How many restaurants do you know that do THAT? The powdered potatoes ARE cheaper, but who would ever come back for a second meal. Same with buying a magazine written by people who would accept 1/5 of a cent/word. There may be a few talented writers who are desperate enough or have low enough self-confidence to sell for that price, but it is mostly going to be pretty bad.

  13. Smarmy “entrepreneurs” have been trying to get away with this sort of thing across many industries since the dawn of time. They justify it by yammering on about markets and labor costs and blah blah blah, but the net result is still the same: People work hard and get paid crap or not at all, and some lazy asshat profits mightily from their labor.

    In civilized nations (and industries), there are wage controls (and other regulations) that help prevent this wholesale exploitation of workers. But elsewhere, and in contract work such as this, the practice is still rampant, and still horrible.

    The saddest part, though, is that there ARE workers who are supposedly willing to do this (and their willingess is how the exploiters justify what they do.) Problem is, there isn’t actually much will involved. Whether due to fear of consequences for not taking the job or because of monopsony or other limited-labor-market issues, people often work for far less than what they’re worth only because they feel they have no other choice.

    What this guy is doing is no different than the “talent agencies” who scoop up fresh-faced hopefuls and say they’ll make them into stars, but never get them any more work than a few photo shoots for packaging for dollar-store products.

    If the work is worth paying for in an end-product form, it’s worth paying for the labor at the same rate. A percentage off the top for the work involved in management/distribution/etc. makes sense, but when workers are being paid only a tiny fraction of the price of the end product they produce, something is seriously wrong.

  14. Alan Mimms:

    “Therefore, why bother with him?”

    Because

    a) In a world where people pay vanity publishers hundreds or thousands of dollars to print their books, it’s reasonable to assume not every aspiring writer has heard the news that a fifth of a cent per word is an unacceptable rate of payment;

    b) The ridicule currently being heaped on this publisher may inspire another aspiring publisher to up his or her rates to something that’s not inherently ridiculous;

    c) It’s fun.

  15. It seems to me this can only serve to reinforce the way art is undervalues in (at least) North America. An awful lot of people don’t seem to appreciate the amount of work and skill that goes into creating something, let alone that creation’s own inherent value. I know a quilter who ran a shop and ran into this all the time; people would come into the shop and be appalled at the $300-$600 price tag on most of her work. They don’t even stop to think of how much time goes into making something like this; they like the result but don’t see why it’s worth that. She would also (and still does) take somebody’s quilt top and do the “quilting” (sewing all over the quilt in nice patterns, to hold it together), but again a lot of people didn’t understand why it cost what it did; but in addition to the time involved in all that sewing, she’s got a huge specialized sewing machine the size of a banquet table, and she’s very good at doing the quilting in attractive ways that really compliment the quilt itself.

    Same goes for any field of art, I think. I don’t know if it’s that art itself tends to be undervalued in general in our society, or if it’s just that people don’t stop to think about what’s involved in the creation. Frustrating to see, though!

    What Black Matrix is doing is undervaluing the art. By offering a tiny fee for the work, yes, they’re “giving the authors something”, but they’re also sending a message: They’re saying, “We value your work. Just not very much.”

  16. Here here! (should that be ‘Hear Hear!’?)

    That depends on whether you’re responding to roll call (and think you might not have been heard the first time) or are stating approval for what’s been said (or in this case, written). ‘Hear, hear!’ is a cry encouraging others to listen to what’s just been said; it’s like saying “Did you hear that? Say that again!”

    Of course, it’s metaphorical in this context, since John is writing and we’re reading, but “See, see” is too silly for words.

  17. This sounds almost like the guy is not much more than a vanity press. Is the magazine free? Like some of those local newspapers paid solely by advert sales.

    At any rate, I am a firm believer in fair pay for good work.

  18. @ Xopher (19): Something’s happened where three posts from today are followed by stuff from November 2nd. It seems the last month just disappeared…

  19. I think what really annoys me about this is the excuses. Call yourself what you are. I think if he had paid nothing and called him self a fanzine or something else I would be less offended.

    As a want to be professional writer and a full time teacher I gave more money out of my pocket to musician friends to help them make their next album then he pays writers. That kind of pisses me off. My overall total isn’t as high as his but it is getting close. I am passionate about supporting the arts.

    I get gratitude and a cd back from my friends, nothing else. He should stop pretending and admit to the truth. It is not a pro or semi-pro zine.

  20. @ Scalzi (20): It wasn’t a momentary glitch. That’s what happens when you mess with the Matrix (Even, apparently, the Black Matrix).

  21. He’s talking about ‘investing’ $4,000 in his stable of writers and artists over the course of a year. That’s penny ante numbers for anyone seriously trying to start up a content based business online. Less than $350 a month is the generous amount he bestows upon his content creators? I’ve had gas bills higher than that.

  22. If Kenyon had any cojones, he would have come over here and not disabled comments on his response over there. But his position is pretty indefensible so he tries to smear our esteemed host by claiming that John is, in fact, dissing all the writers and artists who are lining up to take his fifth of a cent per word.

    I know people who have, on occasion and in need of fast cash, written 200-500 word articles for websites like helium and guru.com. They pay better than Kenyon proposes to, and they’re pretty much acknowledged as bottom feeders. Heck, if your fast, you can even beat minimum wage doing SEO articles for dubious websites. So if all you want is money for words, there are much more effective markets than BM.

    I’m a guitar player (well, I’m a writer too, but so far, I only get paid for ad and marketing copy, so I’m not sure that counts) and I’ll play for free sometimes for charity gigs, fundraisers, and the like or for esoteric instrumental improv music which is strictly non-commercial art, otherwise I get paid reasonably well. Part of being a pro is acting like a pro. Somebody offers you a gig that’s below your standard rates, but offers nothing from that first category I listed? The answer is a flat no. Once you get the reputation of working cheap, it’s hard to get rid of.

  23. And I do know the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’. It’s these damn fingers. I just washed my hands and I can’t do a thing with them.

  24. GVDub:

    “If Kenyon had any cojones, he would have come over here and not disabled comments on his response over there.”

    I wondered if he had disabled comments; seemed unlikely there would be none considering the amount of traffic I’m sending his way.

    That said, while I’d be happy to engage him should he show up here, I understand why he might wish to stay away.

  25. Certainly the pittance he’s paying is a problem.

    But Mr. Kenyon’s premise that an unknown start-up is going to somehow provide neophyte writers more exposure to publishers is equally flawed. Those writers would be better served accepting nothing from a popular fanzine where their work might get noticed than taking slave wages from the likes of Black Matrix.

    I’m sure there are some deluded or desperate souls out there who will be willing to submit to BM. But who’s going to actually read their drivel?

  26. From a reader’s perspective:
    I wonder if Mr. Kenyon would have published something that I might actually have wanted to read? I suspect not – all the competent authors would have sold their work elsewhere.
    He might – maybe, but don’t hold your breath – have been able to sell me no. 1 of his magazine or whatever. Selling issue no. 2 would have been infinitely more difficult.

  27. My favorite bit:

    “What I find insulting is the attitude from Scalzi and his ilk that simply because a small press publication can’t pay authors or artists a pro rate, all the material you find in said publications will be garbage from creators with no talent because they couldn’t sell it to a high paid market”

    Yes, because we all start at the lowest paying market and work our way up when submitting.
    Dolt.
    Even as a teenager I started with Omni, because they paid the most and would have been the coolest place to publish. Even as a teenager, his mag would have been after some well established, pay-with-copies-only ‘zines on my submission list.

  28. @ eviljwinter,
    I once ate at a resturant where the service was so incredibly bad that we left a 1/2 penny tip. Seriously. We took a pair of EMT shears and cut a penny in half, because it left a better message than simply leaving nothing.

  29. I’m not sure what’s so shocking here. It’s a recession. He’s running a tiny publishing company. How many people are going to buy his magazine? Maybe 50, if he’s very lucky. Do you think he’s going to make an extraordinary profit? That he’ll have scalped an award winning author for a real gem and that he’ll make millions while he gives us the 18$ he promised us for our stories? That doesn’t seem especially likely to me, so imagining that he could possibly pay authors professional rates without going bankrupt is floating somewhere in the realm of plot-hole ridden fairytale.

    Anyway, everyone has to start out somewhere. If all magazines paid professional rates, all magazines would be as staunchly picky as professional magazines since they’d have the luxury of only publishing what they felt would net a big return. Now I write well enough. At any rate, I’m not a blundering idiot drawing chalk figures on a wall and calling it a novel. But it is hard as hell to get published professionally without first having a foot wedged in the door. And how do you get a foot in the door? You publish for pennies so the big fish will take a second look at you.

    It’s not that I don’t agree with you. There are times I’ve felt like I sold my soul with my stories when I’ve been published only with the promise for “exposure”. What we do as writers is hard and criminally underappreciated. If it was easy, the publishing company heads would write the stuff themselves, but that doesn’t mean they don’t think we should still do it for free. In a perfect world, I would be paid what my stories are worth. But the fact of the matter is, publishing isn’t about art and writing, it’s about business. And that’s a heartbreaker, but it’s true, and I really don’t see it changing any time soon.

  30. Crystal Lynn:

    “It’s a recession. He’s running a tiny publishing company. How many people are going to buy his magazine? Maybe 50, if he’s very lucky. Do you think he’s going to make an extraordinary profit?”

    These are the publisher’s problems, not the writer’s. The publisher that makes those the writer’s problem is doing it wrong.

    If the publisher can’t afford to pay his writers something more than a fraction of a penny, he should very seriously consider another line of work, because he’s not very good at this one.

  31. I’m published with a micro sf press and I just paid $800 for some black and white drawings for a project of mine. I emailed the artist, asked what his pro rate was for the work, then went forward.

    If I had offered $50 he would have deleted my email and/or told me where to stick it.

    You want services? Pay the market rate.

  32. There are plenty of writers out there who are simply not good enough to get accepted into good publications. I’m one of them. Most of us know that we’re not good enough yet, so we keep working at our craft until we’re good enough to get published among the cream of the crop.

    And then there are the writers who refuse to accept that they are not good, and the writers who have not bothered to learn enough of the craft to know what they ought to be paid. These will be the ones who submit to Black Matrix, and Mr. Kenyon will wind up publishing the cream of the crap. People will not buy such a magazine in enough numbers to allow him to pay authors more, he’ll wind up losing money and needing to cut back further…

    Look, I’m a big fan of new magazines, and I honestly want Mr. Kenyon to succeed — but for the love of that which does not suck, man, scrimp on your paper quality and office supplies, not on your authors.

  33. @ Lee (38): Yeah, not so much. James Cameron has basically been working on Avatar since he finished Titanic

  34. “You can be likewise assured that should I ever choose to pay out of my own pocket for text, that I will pay a fair rate for it…”

    In fact, I remember when you announced earlier this year that you did plan to help launch a website that was going to pay authors for text, and that while you weren’t funding the entire thing yourself, a fair rate was always part of the plan.

    I’m still looking forward to Big Idea Authors, and not just for that!

  35. Scalzi: “You can be likewise assured that should I ever choose to pay out of my own pocket for text, that I will pay a fair rate for it.”

    You make it sound prospective, but didn’t you purchase a story several years ago to run on Whatever after it wasn’t able to be part of an anthology/magazine you were guest editing?

  36. Crystal Lynn:

    John is too polite to say this, but just because his own publisher, Tor Books, is part of of one of the largest publishing groups on Earth, it’s no more immune to the depression than any other sector of the publishing industry. Times are tough all over. Surely, this is when all writers should be resisting outright exploitation harder than ever?

  37. Once again we see the typical problem with people who play at publishing: If it’s my labor of love, it ought to be yours too. Oh, and, let’s see…is it in there?…

    …countless hours of labor to create publications where writers could hopefully share their work with some new readers.

    Sho nuff: EXPOSUUUUURRRRE!

  38. I agree that that rate looks ridiculous, but isn’t he simply paying what his product is worth? The market for fiction from unknowns is ludicrously small, and therefore of very little value, right? Did I snooze through another economics course again?

    No one is going to subscribe to a magazine simply because I’m in it, therefore my work should be valued far lower (and I should be paid less) than, say, yours, since people might actually pay him money to read it.

    By offering that rate, he’s simply acknowledging that he is going to start small, and hopefully work his way up. It’s a stupid business plan, I agree, but it sure seems like simple economics to me.

  39. @ Jordan Lapp (46): If those writers aren’t worth the going rate, perhaps they shouldn’t be published in the first place…

  40. I should add that, as my professional work right now takes place in film and TV, indie film is one of the areas where you are forever running into people trying to create masterpieces on no budget and trying to scam free work off people. On the one hand, it’s a little different than the situation with publishing and people like Black Matrix, because in indie film, the community can get very tight and clannish, and a lot of folks (including me) are willing to work free for a friend because they’ll return the favor when and if we get our own projects going.

    But mutual backscratching among friends is one thing, and very different from the calls I’ve gotten from folks who want me to devote two months of my life (during which I have rent, utilities, and dog food to pay for) to assistant-direct their little HD opus, on the old “deferred payment” plan. Which is indiespeak for “non-paying.” It makes me shake my head with a chuckle to hear so many wannabe filmmakers confidently assert that I’ll be paid handsomely “when (it’s never ‘if’ with these dreamers) we get distribution.” Yeah, do a little research on the Hiroshima-like wasteland that is independent film distribution these days, buckaroo.

    Any way, the latter group of people are like the Black Matrixes of the world. Great to be focused on the dream, but not to the extent that you underappreciate the real work you’re getting from real artists, who have real-life needs just like you.

  41. Jordan Lapp:

    Thank you for saying what I was trying to say, and saying it better in far fewer words.

  42. In a similar vein, consider a web designer’s reaction to being expected to provide work for free:
    http://www.27bslash6.com/p2p.html

    John, I don’t think your comments are out of line. If a person expects to have work done, he should expect to pay for it. Roofers and plumbers, in particular, do jobs I am plenty willing to pay to have done well. I do my own job well, and I expect to be paid pretty well for it. Why should an author expect any less courteous treatment?

  43. John H:

    It’s not that they’re not worth it. It’s that when I pick up the book and go “John *who*?” I’m unlikely to buy it.

  44. @ 46

    Jordan, that’s true in one sense. But there’s also the point that a mag has it’s own reputation to draw on. People read certain ones because they know the fiction within, whether by big names or no-names, is going to be worth their time and money. The economics here isn’t so much about what names you have (in the long-term) as it is about what name *you* have as a publication.

    It takes awhile to build up that name, but that doesn’t excuse forcing your writers to take up your slack. If Steven King wants to donate a few stories to an up-and-comer to help them along, fine. When you want new names with no guarantee that you’ll get them distribution to donate hours of work, that’s not so fine.

  45. Jordan @ 46: If “simple economics” leaves you no choice but to implement a stupid business plan, it’s time to get into a business you’re better suited for. Writers have to look at “simple economics” too, called their household budgets. Devoting weeks of your time to work that will not earn you enough to meet that budget is a bad idea—see, simple economics!

    A newb writer isn’t necessarily someone readers will categorically decide should be valued less than a veteran. Naomi Novik came out of nowhere, but she had first rate work and get the attention, and the right deal, from Del Rey for it. To think her amazing books should have been valued “far lower” just because she was a no-name when they debuted is just all kinds of wrong.

  46. @50

    Crystal: How do you find new people that will encourage you to pick up the publication if you won’t read anyone new?

    Oh right, you know the publication has a history of quality work.

  47. I don’t think comments are disabled, I think they’re just broken. The link is there but it doesn’t go anywhere. I sent him and email and he seemed confused but said he would work on it.

  48. Crystal @ 50: It’s that when I pick up the book and go “John *who*?” I’m unlikely to buy it.

    Frankly that’s a pretty narrow way to choose what to read. Just because you haven’t heard of someone doesn’t mean they haven’t produced excellent work. And if their books are out there by a major publisher, it means, at the very least, that they met standards of professionalism that that publisher found acceptable, and who decided they were worth putting under contract and being paid a professional rate for.

    And isn’t it the case that at some point in your life, every author you’re reading now was discovered by you for the first time? So the logic of your statement would seem to put you in a position where you’ve never bought a book in your life ;-)

    (On the other hand, I’m aware people have limited time and spending money, and so helping curious readers make good decisions is why I do what I do.)

    Anyway, I notice I appear to be contributing to thread drift, so I’ll hit the brakes on the matter of judging new writers.

  49. If it’s simple economics and his product is worth 1/25th of a professionally written story, how does he justify a cover price three times higher than say Asimov’s Science Fiction?

    It’s either a labour of love, in which case he should b almost giving it away, or it’s a business an he’s hoping to get rich by stiffing his suppliers.

  50. I’m not convinced by the idea they just couldn’t afford to pay writers a decent rate.

    Surely if Black Matrix had decided to invest in one magazine instead of four (oh, and the novels), this wouldn’t be an issue? Why not concentrate on one magazine, and make sure they get that right?

  51. I’m terrified about how they plan to handle the novels. The writer will get basically nothing provided by one of the established houses, and it appears advances are out as well.

  52. paying a rate to contributors that would embarrass a depression-era pulp editor.

    So, John, Alisha and I were wondering – how do you REALLY feel about this?

  53. One thing I loathe about small presses such as Black Matrix is that they give *all* small presses a bad name, and make it more difficult to convince name authors to work with you.

    We ran into this problem early on a number of times.

    Bill
    SubPress

  54. Hmmp. This is actually more complex than you are giving it credit for being. Before I get into why, let me say that I am a professional non-fiction writer and have made my living first as a writer and then as an editor for over twenty five years. I also own and run a miniscule independent press that I set up and keep going more for fun than anything.

    The reason is the long slow death of publishing – which is an established fact. The main reason for that long slow death is primarily because it is now VERY hard to make money as a publisher. So publishers take fewer risks, can afford to try new authors on spec even less etc. And Black Matrix does have a point – that point quite likely being that they are in fact NOT making any money. However they (and to be fair most of the publishing industry) are missing the point.

    The point is actually that established payment models for writers are not as effective anymore as they could/should be. In fact Black Matrix using that model really can’t afford to pay writers anything like a going rate. Of course what they are paying IS an insult and that is where some creativity should start coming in. Publishers even for magazines should profit share. Pay the equivalent of a royalty. Allocate them a fixed percentage of revenue (which makes financial predictions just as easy as paying a fixed cost up front). Pay for more flexible rights. Instead of (as is traditional) paying for exclusive rights, pay for NON-exclusive rights. There are now print on demand magazine setups. Yes it is more expensive and so harder to make a big profit. But it is also harder to make a loss.

    When I published my food blog collection (5 years ago now) I paid for non-exclusive rights for something that they had already written and published. I gave the authors collectively a 20% royalty – and I gave them the booksellers percentage as an affiliate marketing arrangement for any copies they sold through their own websites. We were about three years ahead of ourselves – if I did it today we all would have made a modest amount of money. Instead I lost money – the authors made a little but mostly waived their royalties out of kindness to me.

    The point is that the world has moved on – there are new publishing models that can at least set the financial footing more fairly.

    But at the same time, don’t be quite so hard on the publisher – it is a VERY hard thing to do nowadays.

  55. Thomas @ 53,

    Certainly, simple economics and paying for your household, etc. but that’s really a poor argument. If you’re accepting jobs for the rate being paid by Black Matrix, you shouldn’t be a full time writer.

    Here’s the thing: if I have a magazine, and I publish a piece by John Scalzi, well that brings me an actual tangible benefit, because his masses of readers will hie themselves over to my magazine and click my ads (or whatever). I can then pass that benefit along to Mr. Scalzi in terms of $$$. Sure, it’s paid in advance, but really, there’s no difference.

    Now, no name writers don’t have ‘masses of readers’, and therefore, the actual tangible benefit to me to publish their work is extremely small, so I should pay them less. Get it?

    It’s mercenary in the extreme, but it’s 100% fair.

    The problem, of course, is as atsiko @52 pointed out, that the reputation of the magazine itself suffers with low pay rates (from threads like these, among other things).

  56. At Johns in #20, 21: Not that this is going to help much anything, but my WordPress blog hiccupped just the same way, much at the same time. Some kind of a WordPress.com-wide glitch?

    Did anyone else notice anything peculiar?

  57. #45 Thomas : If it’s my labor of love, it ought to be yours too.

    Actually, I don’t think that’s the problem. To paraphrase #26, “I’ll sometimes work for free, but I’m damned if I’ll work for cheap”. I’m fairly sure that if this person were running a fanzine or some other obvious “I’m doing this until I run out of money or patience” labor of love project then there wouldn’t be such a kerfluffle, but this person is trying to run a business. A likely money-losing business, but you don’t get to use the fact that your business will probably fail as an excuse to pay your workers less than minimum wage.

  58. I’m really not following the “but it’s exposure” and “but it’s the market” arguments this time around, either (as they seem to get dragged off whenever somebody comes out with a new rip-off-the-artists scheme).

    It does a writer no good in terms of “exposure” to be published in a magazine that nobody reads. As Braxis pointed out in @59, this is an expensive line of magazines; the Crystals of the world will look at the $10 cover price, look at the list of authors, mutter “John *who*?” and put it back in favor of a cheaper copy of a better-known magazine with familiar authors’ bylines on the cover.

    As for economics, see above; there’s not a lot of profit in the gap between pay and sales price if nobody buys your product. What profits it a man to pay writers Depression-era word rates if nobody then wants to pay $10 a pop for the resulting collection of short stories by unknowns?

  59. @Owen 66

    Er… not really. See, we have these methds of payment because of the nature of the business. The writer does a great deal of hard work with no renumeration until they can sell a piece. That’s hard enough on their incomes. Profit-sharing takes even more time before they get paid. That’s why publishers “advance” them some of the money they expect them to earn anyway. In the case of magazines, they get *just* the up-front price, one reason being you can’t necessarily say which stories sold the most copies. Now, it may be less of a risk to profit-share on short stories and such, since the outlay of time for the one piece is less. But again, there’s more than one piece involved, and how the heck do you know which are moving the mag?

  60. @atsiko 72

    umm – no – you missed the point. ‘We’ have had these models – and they are failing – badly. As I said – I’ve been a professional writer for over 25 years. In the past ten years my rate of pay has gone down dramatically – along with the rate for everyone in my line of work – because the publishers are making less money. So they pay less. So in a few years we won’t have any publishers and then we will get paid nothing.

    And since I have been heavily involved in magazine publishing I can tell you that a good publisher knows exactly which writers are moving the mag and which aren’t. Which is why Mr. Scalzi gets the ‘big’ bucks per word and newbies don’t.

    But more importantly – the lack of willingness of everyone involved to try new models is another reason why the writing business is struggling. Right now it is finally possible to produce and distribute magazines and especially books and most especially e-documents without the production cost being a complete and total gamble with production on demand technology.

    I concede that fiction is a harder row to hoe than non-fiction in this regard – but this is supposed to be a forward-thinking genre. I would have thought people would be more interested in new approaches….

  61. Owen:

    “In the past ten years my rate of pay has gone down dramatically – along with the rate for everyone in my line of work”

    Well, not for everyone.

    More to the point, it’s still possible to be paid well for one’s work, and the assumption that there will be no publishers left in a few years is probably overdramatic.

  62. A decade back when I was a wee artist on the web I got bit several times by people who asked to use my art as cover art for what turned out to later be a vanity press. The vanity press people themselves paid me very little and told me that they were a startup and couldn’t afford much yet, but that I would get great exposure.

    Guess what?

    Pretty much NO exposure. Except possibly to the poor gullible author and his family.

    Cost to me: Certain types of rights could no longer be sold. My time. Paperwork for tax purposes.

    And frankly, the art that I submitted at the time wasn’t my best. If I had gotten exposure, it would have not necessarily been the best exposure for my portfolio.

    BM isn’t a vanity press, but the cost to the author will be similar to my costs: time, effort, paperwork and bureacratic necessities for tax purposes, loss of certain types of rights, and possibly showcasing Not Your Best Work. In the internet age, that can come back to bite you later.

    Mythago @71 makes a fairly accurate summation of some of the other economic issues here. It’s a small pond getting smaller.

  63. Leaving aside the “ripping off writers” issue, I don’t understand why anyone who has a reasonable level of intelligence and business acumen would try to start five (!) magazines at the same time. Kenyon says he’s seeking 100 publishable manuscripts for the first issues, and two people will read every novel-length manuscript submitted.

    Even if I were to accept at face value Kenyon’s statement that this is a “labor of love,” I’m not sure why his labor of love has to be undertaken on six separate fronts at once (five magazines and a line of books). I’d think he wouldn’t have time to edit and money to market so many projects at once. If I were thinking of submitting to him, the impracticality of his business model would bother me as much as his low rates.

  64. The comments are back up on the Black Matrix site. Mine is #2; I hope the irony came through.

    cheers
    Andrew

  65. Now imagine how much people whine about translation fees. “you just have to copy what it said in the original language, why should that be hard”. People think anything that involves language is just a natural ability, no skill involved…

  66. @Owen 73

    Owen, please. “Production costs”? Yes, they are not low. But they are not the major percentage of the cost of publishing a print venue. Besides, POD is more expensive per unit anyway. So yes, less returns, and no-sales and pulping–but not *necessarily* a significant decrease in cost.

    As for “new models” I guess that depends on what we are talking about. I fail to see the value of your profit-sharing. If you believe that publishers will all be under in the next five or so years (which I don’t), then that model certainly serves to hold up the publisher at the writer’s expense.

  67. I’m not sure that this guy is deliberately shafting the writers after all. In looking at how he is approaching his “business”, I have to wonder if he is playing with a full deck.

    I do not claim to be an expert on the publishing business, but I have been a consumer of its products for enough decades that I think I understand a little about it from the marketing end. In addition, cash flow is a basic economic factor regardless of what type of business you are attempting to operate.

    Starting multiple magazines at the same time, all of which pay rates that will cause established authors to spit in your face – plus publishing multiple novels by unknown authors – looks to me like a business plan aimed at failure. A $10 cover price on his magazines just compounds the stupidity. The only way that the market will support that kind of price is if the quality of the content is consistently absolutely awesome – and he is not going to get that kind of quality paying 1/5 of a cent a word.

    The only way that I can see anything other than crash and burn for this business plan is for the publisher to have very, very deep pockets to cover his losses AND for him to have incredible luck in finding a lot of really superb unknown authors who are also incredibly ignorant of going rates. The claim that this is a “labor of love” might be believable if he were talking about investing six or seven figure amounts of money out of his pocket, but the amount he quotes is chump change for the scope of his stated plans.

    Frankly, if this had appeared on April 1st I would assumed that “Black Matrix” was a clumsy attempt at an April Fools joke. As it is, I am left with the opinion that this is either a scam, or that the principal is very, very fond of recreational chemicals. Since I do not know this person, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is honest. Accordingly, it appears to me that he really needs to seek help for his problems.

  68. -et- @83:

    It looks to me that this guy is trying to market quantity over quality. Look at the cover for Encounters #1 It emphasizes two things: a long list of authors, and 70,000 words. Even if all I cared about was people reading my work, I still wouldn’t submit there: who’s going to slog through all that and read it?

    It’s the WalMart mentality, the sort of thing that only makes sense if you think of your writers as unskilled labor.

  69. @ Crystal 34

    But it is hard as hell to get published professionally without first having a foot wedged in the door. And how do you get a foot in the door? You publish for pennies so the big fish will take a second look at you.

    You get your foot in the door by writing outstanding stories, and then being lucky enough to cross the right editor’s desk at the right time with the right sort of thing.

    I’ve heard this before, that somehow selling to tiny, low- or no-paying markets somehow gets you noticed by editors, but it just isn’t true. The thing that gets you noticed by editors is professional-level writing and a kick-ass story. The end. A newbie writer with a string of “You never heard of them or if you did you’re not impressed with what they buy” publication credits doesn’t have any advantage over a newbie writer with no publication credits (yet).

    There’s nothing wrong with selling to low-paying markets–but it’s not going to get you noticed by the big guys, or increase your chances of selling to the big guys. Really.

    As for Black Matrix–five magazines launching at once? As a business proposition? Really? And one of those magazines abbreviates to BM? Have they really thought this all the way through?

  70. Ann Lekie @ 85 hits it nicely on the head.

    This just stinks of scam to me, frankly. Either that, or the guy can’t do the basic, not-particularly-hard math required to write a business plan. Either way he gets zero sympathy from me – not that I expect him to lose any sleep over my position, but it’s quite heartwarming to see that Mr. Scalzi bloke putting out warning flares on the information superhighway and CAUTION: REALLY BAD PAY AHEAD signs.

    The “We’re small so we can only pay small” argument is one I’ve encountered with numerous companies and startups over the years. My general response is “Great! Find a smaller artist, then”. Their problem is not my problem, and I will resist every attempt to alter that.

  71. It’s not a scam. The guy has not shown that he will not pay what he says he will pay. Unless this happens, it’s not a scam. Those markets that don’t pay anything are also not scams. If authors are informed upfront what they will get if their work is accepted and they get it, then nobody is being scammed.

    But the guy who starts four magazines and then says he can’t afford to pay more than a fifth of a cent ought to drop three of the magazines and bring the pay rate up for one of them. But maybe he really is just doing all this for the love of it and wants to juggle four magazines because he thinks it’ll be fun.

    I prefer to submit to markets that pay pro rates. I believe in working my way down from the top instead of working my way up from the bottom. But should a story go round to all the pro markets and get no takes, I might drop to semi-pro or even token payers. In this case, it’s not exposure I want, I just want to squeeze whatever amount I can out of the story and get the story off my back. If the token payers don’t want it either, I might throw it away.

    One thing that seems to be forgotten in this discussion is that sometimes even the best stories don’t sell. With so many great authors, editors are often forced to choose between really great stories.

    Just because a market pays a token amount, that doesn’t mean they’re printing crap. It probably does mean they’re not printing big names, but they might still have some good stories. And remember, sometimes the pro markets print crap.

    However, I often wonder why so many talented writers are submitting to low or no-paying markets. I never asked why they’re doing it, but I get the impression they feel they must start at the bottom to reach the top. If I express that I’m sending something to the Atlantic Monthly or Zoetrope like I have a couple times, the response I get suggests I aim too high.

    But it seems that everyone has their own way of doing it, and what they think is the best way to go is probably the best way to go. It’s their choice and maybe it works for them.

  72. Just because a market pays a token amount, that doesn’t mean they’re printing crap. It probably does mean they’re not printing big names, but they might still have some good stories. And remember, sometimes the pro markets print crap.

    1) A market paying a token amount is more likely to attract crap than a market paying the going rate.

    2) If the magazine isn’t printing recognizable names, who is going to buy it, thus causing it to become a going concern with which writers want to be associated?

    3) If the pro markets print crap, it’s excusable for non-pro-markets to print crap?

    BM is telling writers that their work is worth peanuts, and then turning around and trying to tell readers that the work is worth a great deal of money. You don’t see the disconnect there, really?

  73. 3) If the pro markets print crap, it’s excusable for non-pro-markets to print crap?

    No, it’s just a fact that the pro markets are not always at the highest standards either and the token paying markets can have good stuff too.

  74. Let me respond to the rest of these.

    1) A market paying a token amount is more likely to attract crap than a market paying the going rate.

    Not true. A market paying pro rates attracts even more crap than a market paying less than the pro rates.

    2) If the magazine isn’t printing recognizable names, who is going to buy it, thus causing it to become a going concern with which writers want to be associated?

    There might be some truth there, but I’ve seen magazines crash and burn on their first issues even though they had recognizable names and I’m sure there are magazines that have succeeded without the big names.

  75. Rob Darnell @87,

    Paying a fraction of the market rate per word (4%, I believe) then charging thrice the market rate for the magazine may not be “A Scam”, but anyone who’s contributed for that fraction has every right to feel scammed. Or shafted. Or in any other way taken advantage of. It is a massively inequitable business arrangement – if that’s not actually a definition of “scam”, then it’s well without shouting distance.

  76. Rob, still waiting for you to address the fact that the magazine is telling its writers “your work is worth almost nothing”, but telling customers “these writers’ work is worth a lot of money”.

    The relevant question is not what could happen but what’s likely. And what’s likely is that better writers, with better work, will gravitate to markets that pay pro rates — not only because it’s more money, but because it allows membership in groups like SFWA and creates exposure for that writer.

  77. Honest to God, I think that sucks. If that’s what the magazine is in fact telling writers. In the case of B;ack Matrix, you might well be right. Looking at them, I think they have a lot of opportunities to make changes that would allow them to pay writers better.

  78. I did a little research. He is using create space( a POD company) to print his magazine, which means he is making about 3.00 an issue at 9.95. (They have a roylaty calculator on their website) And the cover says that he has 70,000 words in Encounters. Which means he has to sell 63 issues to break even compare that to the 1000+ issues he would have to sell to break even at .05 cents a word, or the 250 issues he would have to sell at .01 cent a word.

    Taking that into account I understand why he decided to pay 1/5 of cent per word. I am not saying it is right but it is understandable, what new magazine is going to sell 1000+ issues?

    Maybe he should have started with an ezine and learned some html or found another way to print his magazine, create space seems to be a rip off to me.

  79. BB:

    “I am not saying it is right but it is understandable, what new magazine is going to sell 1000+ issues?”

    Lots of new magazines do, actually, especially if they budget for advertising and marketing, which these folks apparently have not. Also, lots of magazines with a competent business plan also factor in the idea that for the few years they are going to make no money while they build up readership/advertising.

  80. Amazon’s createspace (which just recently merged with booksurge, again owned by Amazon) is nothing more than a printer, anymore than Lulu is. So there’s no ripoff, on that end.

  81. I’ll say it one more time, since the Author of this ridiculous rant doesn’t seem to get the point.

    Nobody…is…forcing…anyone…to…submit…to…Black…Matrix.

    Do-gooderism on behalf of the poor, stupid, huddled masses of writers who are being “ripped off” is simply ignorant, not to mention arrogant. Perhaps John has never stopped to think that some people write for reasons other than money?

    Wait, no, that can’t be true. Can it?

  82. Edwin:

    “Perhaps John has never stopped to think that some people write for reasons other than money?”

    An author’s reasons for writing are an entirely separate discussion than whether a publisher is actively screwing writers with an appallingly low per-word rate, Edwin. Likewise, simply because a writer chooses to write for reasons other than money does not imply or suggest that paying writers a pathetic amount is somehow acceptable or justifiable. That you can’t or won’t make this distinction is not actually a point in your favor when you come to argue.

    “Nobody…is…forcing…anyone…to…submit…to…Black…Matrix.”

    No one has suggested such a thing, so you probably should have saved all your emphatic ellipses. Otherwise, find it curious that you seem to think an open and robust discussion of writer compensation by people with rather an extensive knowledge of publishing is somehow arrogant or ignorant; it does seem to suggest you don’t know the definitions of those words. Please send me your address; I’ll purchase you a dictionary and send it along.

  83. 97. “Amazon’s createspace (which just recently merged with booksurge, again owned by Amazon) is nothing more than a printer, anymore than Lulu is. So there’s no ripoff, on that end.”

    When you can’t sell your magazine for less than $7 if you want to make a profit that is a rip off. I wonder if Black Matrix looked at other printers? Maybe they could have found one that let them have an affordable magazine.

    Personally I don’t care about the 1/5 of cent a word. If people are willing to accept that as payment then let them, the arguement that it hurts the market is ridiculous. As Mr. Scalzi said people have been too cheap to pay authors the going rate since the 1920s and there are still pro paying magazines around today.

    But a $9.95 cover price? Wow, that is the real crime.

  84. This entire thread is water to a parched throat. I have a friend who got taken in by the “new online model” of writing (having been a successful corporate writer for years) and who finally admitted that he gets 6/10 of a penny “per view.”

    Examiner.com succeeds where Black Matrix fails…their writers also have to market Examiner to their friends. Nice match of multilevel marketing and vanity press in a paperless edition.

    Writing shit about snow for rich people is not art, wrote Basho. Writing shit to produce real estate for ads is not writing, either.

  85. I think part of what makes the SF community special is all the venues it has always had for semi-pro, rank amateur, and fannish writers AND editors.

    The anger being directed at Black Matrix for paying poorly and not knowing what they’re doing doesn’t feel like the spirit of SF to me.

    Obviously, just the opinion of one person whose greatest contribution to the field is that I enjoy reading the stuff.

  86. Hi all,

    I’ve stumbled across this discussion and am intrigued by it all. I will have a story in the horror magazine BM are publishing. I came across BM via Duotrope or Ralan, can’t remember which. As far as I can tell, Duotrope and Ralan are merely providers of facts, they don’t offer advice as to where is the best place to publish.

    I did have a laugh with my brother after I got the e-mail confirming acceptance and we did the calculation together of what I was getting paid. But, as a novice writer whose been published a little bit in 2009 (biggest sell was to Pseudopod – story 165, The Copse, folks!) I’m more than happy to be published anywhere and build up from that. Which may make me an a complete hack in the eyes of some!

    But, as a novice writer, I’m glad I came across this discussion because I’ve learned a great deal about how writers view the markets the write for and how they expect to be treated. Again, I’m pleased my story was bought but I will be more rigorous in checking out who I offer my work to.

    Thanks!

  87. Low pay rates aren’t the only problem here. Having published with Black Matrix, I have to say it’s a little like selling your soul for pennies. For the privilege of 20$ in your mailbox, Mr. Kenyon will take and “edit” your story–edits you will never see until you get your shiny new contributor’s copy in the mail and realize your wording has been butchered.

    Now, I’m not saying he ruins stories. Mine ended up mostly intact. But you can just kiss any sort of subtlety you’d snuck into your writing goodbye. Being busy (which I understand) he forgets to edit his edits (which I can’t), meaning that brand new plurals are left next to “a” and abandoned words wander lost and incoherent in the middle of long sentences.

    Hardly enough to complain about really, but devastating to a new author just the same.

  88. I’ve submitted to two of Black Matrix’s magazines. I should hear back any day. Yeah, I’d like to get paid more, but come on! I’ve got one contest win and one publication under my belt. I’ve got hubpages. I need by-lines. Can unknown writers really be this picky? And where do I sign up for the “experienced authors helping out the newcomers” program? That’s something I could use, because when a big name magazine is only publishing two percent of its submissions and the slush readers are thinking about their next smoke break, does it really matter how good you are?. Now, if Black Matrix butchers the two stories I’ve submitted, I’ll take it very personally. I won’t submit to them again. They’re good stories. Good enough for better magazines. But again, I’m an unknown. After reading these posts, I just hope that my talent is still on display if my stories are published. What I do not need is butchered editing making me look bad. Thanks to all for posting. This has been very enlightening. I’ve been warned.
    Does anyone know if Black Matrix at least pays in copy as well? The money doesn’t mean anything to me, but it’d be nice not to have to turn around and give it back just to have my own printed story.

  89. I’m compromising with myself. I’m withdrawing one of the stories and letting the other stay put. So many of the horror genre magazines are closed to submission right now (Shroud, Cemetery Dance), I figure I’ll leave that one. The other isn’t horror and is headed straightway to Alfred Hitchcock MM.
    Thank you Mr. Scalzi, for this post.
    It sucks being the new guy.

  90. @ Christopher 106

    because when a big name magazine is only publishing two percent of its submissions and the slush readers are thinking about their next smoke break, does it really matter how good you are?

    Yes. It does.

    No, really.

    That two percent of submissions is not the number you’re looking for. What percent of its good submissions does it publish? You can’t know that number, but I can tell you it’s higher than two percent. Guaranteed.

    They’re good stories. Good enough for better magazines.

    If your stories are good enough for better magazines, then submit them to better magazines. Shoot for the sky first. All you’ve got to lose is postage.

    But again, I’m an unknown.

    Only partially relevant. If your story is dynamite, and the sort of thing the place you’re subbing to wants, they’ll buy it.

    Aim high with your subs. You might not hit. But you certainly won’t hit if you only aim low.

  91. Thank you Mrs. Leckie. That was encouraging. My wife and son weighed in, and I’ve asked for both of my stories to be withdrawn. Upon further consideration – and given BM’s business model and unknown distribution – I would stand a better chance of getting read if I posted on Hubpages or something.
    I write to entertain people, but if no one is going to read it then I’m better off submitting elsewhere. Here’s hoping BM actually acknowledges my withdrawal requests. In any case, I like this blog. For what its worth to the writers, I’ll be reading it regularly.

  92. How does a dude unsubscribe from these threads? This was months ago, long after you’ve convinced me that you are right and I was wrong as usual, and yet I’m still getting emails every now and again when someone leaves a comment here.

  93. They’ve discontinued the other three publications and consolidated everything into the Encounters magazine. From their website:

    “Beginning with the July issue we are going to a bi-monthly printing schedule and will expand each volume to 150 pages. We are discontinuing Realms, Night Chills and Outer Reaches, all of which will be absorbed by the larger, more frequently published Encounters.”

    Is this a good sign?

  94. Another thing – the price for Encounters has been lowered, and it would appear that they’ve abandoned the practice of only paying non-USA/Canadian writers contributor’s copies for their work.

    I live in England, and today I was offered a contract by them for a story which offered 1/4 cent per word and a contributor’s copy.

    So it looks like they’ve taken on board the comments made on forums and blogs. What does everyone else think?

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