Aspiring Writer Stockholm Syndrome

One of the things I’m finding interesting — and by interesting, I mean appalling – about my recent thumping upon Black Matrix Publishing for paying an insultingly low fifth a cent a word for its stories is that there’s a category of aspiring writer who appears genuinely offended that I would call out this company for paying its authors so very poorly. The complaint goes a bit like this, and you’ll understand that I’m excerpting from various sources:

It’s not really fair that Scalzi is singling out Black Matrix Publishing when so many others are doing the same thing. Doesn’t he remember what it was like to be a new writer? We can’t all make what the pros make. A market like this gives me hope. It’s not Scalzi’s business anyway.

Allow me to address each of these in turn.

“It’s not fair Scalzi is singling out Black Matrix Publishing” — This is an “if lots of people are cheapskates, you shouldn’t call out just one of the cheapskates” argument, which as you may expect is not an argument I have much time for. Sure, lots of other publishers might have business plans predicated on screwing the writer, but this is the one I was looking at that particular day, and its payment scale richly deserved comment and derision. Is this fair? Of course it is: Calling out ridiculously poor payment rates is always fair. One is not required to make a list of all known poorly-paying publishers in order to justly and fairly criticize one of them. If and when I call out another publisher for equally ridiculous payment levels, that’ll be fair too.

I do notice Black Matrix Publishing is currently wrapping itself in the “we’re just simple fans doing a hobby, here, we never intended to be a pro market” justification for paying writers badly. Really? Planning to publish four magazines and two separate book lines is a hobby? Does one generally create an LLC for one’s hobby? Call me skeptical. This is a business.

“Doesn’t he remember what it was like to be a new writer?” — Sure I do. And when I made my first science fiction sale, it was to Strange Horizons, because it was a market which made a point of paying what’s regarded as a pro rate in science fiction (and still does). Because even as a new writer, I felt very strongly that I deserved fair payment for my work, and, separately but equally importantly, I placed value on my work. Even as a newbie writer, I wouldn’t have sent a damn thing to a publisher like Black Matrix, because I assume my work deserves better than a market that values it that poorly.

Mind you, this isn’t limited to fiction, either — when I was starting out as freelance writer back in college and then again after I left AOL, I also didn’t write for markets which didn’t value my work; I wrote for the ones that paid me what I felt should be paid. It’s worked pretty well for me, and trust me, I am not so very special as a writer that this is not replicable for others.

“We can’t all make what the pros make” — Why not? All it takes is the decision not to take less than that for your work, and patience until you get to that point. This is why I advise writers to keep their day jobs. If you can’t or won’t wait, pick a lower amount you’re happy with, below which you do not go. Allow me to suggest that amount be a positive integer when it comes to pennies per word.

“A market like this gives me hope” — A market that thinks so little of you that it takes five words to get to a penny gives you hope? You need better hope standards, my friends.

Look, this is pretty simple: Black Matrix Publishing pays crap rates because it can. The people running it appear to be running it on a shoe string, if the proprietor’s lament about paying a few thousand dollars to date into it is correct, and they’re likely well aware that none of the other vendors providing elements for their little operation are so fungible in their costs as writers. The people who print their magazines will not be pleased to make 4% of their generally accepted “pro rates” for their printing services; the Staples down the street is not going to give them a 96% discount on pens and printer cartridges. The only group of people so willing to offer such a steep discount on services rendered are writers. Why? “Because at least they pay something.” “Because I’m working my way up.” “Because no one writes this stuff to make money.” “Because it gives me hope.”

Bullshit. Someone intending to make a profit off your words offering you a fifth of a penny per word isn’t giving you hope, he’s giving you the shaft — and he’s banking on your psychological need for approval and recognition in a field you want to be a part of to make you grab your ankles and sings his praises while he reams you. This isn’t hope, it’s Aspiring Writer Stockholm Syndrome. Snap out of it.

“It’s not Scalzi’s business anyway” — Sure it is. I’m a writer. It’s in my interest to call out markets that in my opinion are taking advantage of writers, because I prefer a marketplace filled with markets that value the work I provide, not filled with markets that take as read that writers will be pathetically grateful just to be published not matter how badly you pay them. How would I feel if Black Matrix Publishing folded its tent? Delighted. Good riddance to publishers who value writers so poorly. But what would make me even more delighted is if the proprietors stopped saying they were committed to writers and actually showed some commitment by paying something more than a fraction of a cent per word. I think it’s not too much to ask. I also think it’s my business to say so.

169 thoughts on “Aspiring Writer Stockholm Syndrome

  1. I agree that these guys need to be smacked around a little. Be nice if other similar rags were slapped down as well. Perhaps some sort of reverse adoption thing where authors each pick an indefensible affront to the publishing industry and tear into it.

    Yay! Bloodthirst!

  2. I’ve never understood tha argument that you have to attack everybody or nobody. Who’s got time to trak down all the slimeballs or honestly ignorant people screwing writers? Nobody. But we can get those people we do find, so why shouldn’t we? You’ve got to tackle big problems in small bits, and every campaign starts somewhere.

    I don’t know how much my writing is worth right now, but it certainly isn’t a fifth of a coin that people are seriously discussing doing away with.

    Good for you, Scalzi.

  3. ““It’s not Scalzi’s business anyway” — Sure it is. I’m a writer. It’s in my interest to call out markets that in my opinion are taking advantage of writers, because I prefer a marketplace filled with markets that value the work I provide, not filled with markets that take as read that writers will be pathetically grateful just to be published not matter how badly you pay them.”

    Hear, hear!! If writers don’t point out the abuse of other writers, who will?

  4. Everyone: if you want to be published in print that badly, and no one will take your stories, there’s this thing. It’s called a zine. You print it out and staple it yourself. You can then leave it at coffee shops, go to book fairs and zine fairs, and sell on commission indie bookstores. You can probably even make more than .002 a word on it, too.

  5. That’s where I’m at with this….Not in the author biz. Not (probably) going to be. But I like fair. Fair play, fair deals, FAIR. I don’t like people, or corporations or governments that are unfair. Everybody WINS when things are fair and the only ones complaining about fairness are the ones trying very hard to be unfair.

    And besides, somewhere on this page it CLEARLY STATES “Taunting the Tauntable since 1998″.

  6. Aww, c’mon. Blood thirst can be used for GOOD! Redeem blood thirst. All right, fine. You’re right. It’s not required.

    But it’s the holidays, isn’t it?

  7. Bravo and well said. The arguments for accepting such dismal per word rates sound like the arguments used as justification for poor labor practices. I was recently castigated by a co-worker for boycotting Walmart for their dismal record on employee treatment. His argument was that Walmart paid what the market would bear and that ‘those people wouldn’t have jobs otherwise.’ Doesn’t make it right, doesn’t make it fair, doesn’t make me want to support them with my patronage. Ditto Black Matrix Publishing.

  8. Hey, I’m a writer just trying to secure my first agent and I’m GLAD that seasoned authors such as yourself care enough about us newbies to make this argument! We’re the little kids on the playground here, if some of the big kids don’t show us the ropes, who will? You have to have enough self respect to believe yourself worthy.

  9. I do notice Black Matrix Publishing is currently wrapping itself in the “we’re just simple fans doing a hobby, here, we never intended to be a pro market” justification for paying writers badly. Really?

    Also pretty insulting to the “simple fans” who started small presses and ‘zines — all on the delicious aroma of the proverbial oily rag — without expecting to be thanked for fucking over contributors. Like much else in life, you’re only as big a douche as you choose to be — and the people who decide not to be are respected and supported for good reasons.

  10. You sir deserve a standing ovation for that piece of writing. Bravo! You’re right when you say it is your business because you are a writer. I’m in the camp known as “aspiring writers” and I hope someday to be paid for my work. I know I won’t get paid a lot for the first few things I publish, but what Black Matrix is offering is just plain exploitation. We need established writers to stand up and say “NO!” to these people, because they are the voices that people will listen to, not us lowly peons still slugging it away in the unpublished trenches.

    Thank you again Mr. Scalzi. I hope to get the chance to meet you when you’re up Toronto way next year.

  11. This aspiring writer totally agrees with you. It’s ridiculous that people think that’s a good way to start out, as a devalued artist. I did feel that way for some time, but if you do not think your work should be properly paid for, what does that say about your work? When I do get published, it will be with someone who attaches worth to my work and gives me fair compensation for my work.

  12. I’m in no position to say for sure, but my gut says that the defense of Black Matrix is primarily being made by those who have sold their works to Black Matrix and don’t like being made to feel they made a bad decision.

    It’s hard to own up to being snookered.

  13. Total agreement with you here, John. As a photographer I’ve watched this happen in our realm for years. Even before the internets, there was always someone who would work cheaply for the same reasons some of your respondents claimed, “for the exposure.”

    And now, the big stock agencies drop their lines in the likes of Flickr, snapping up pix for a couple dollars each.

    So good luck with shedding some light on evil bloodsucking publishing evil bloodsuckers like Black Matrix (evil bloodsuckers!)

  14. Rob Reiter:

    On the evil bloodsucker front, I think it’s entirely possible the Black Matrix people didn’t see paying writers so poorly as a bloodsucking act — it’s possible they just sort of internalized the fact that some writers will want to be published no matter how poorly you pay them. If that’s the case, I do understand their defensiveness, even if that doesn’t excuse the very very poor payment rate.

    Which is to say it’s possible they didn’t know they were evil bloodsuckers until it was pointed out to them. That said, I’m not really buying their arguments from this point forward. Particularly the “oh, we’re not a real business” one.

  15. BM publishing has every right to pay whatever the heck they want for stories. Just like aspiring writers have every right to take their stories elsewhere. Just like Scalzi has every right to textually castigate BM publishing (BM here does not, but could, stand for Bowel Movement).

    It’s called the free market. There is no law forcing writers or readers to patronize BM publishing. And since we have luminaries such as Scalzi around to act as scathing lighthouses, there is little excuse for an aspiring writer to be duped into a bad deal by old BM. In this age of the intarwebs, being suckered by a BM stems inseparably from a lack of research.

    Rage on Mr. Scalzi, rage on.

  16. Amen! I’m a firm believer in people will treat you how you allow them to treat you. You have to put a value on your work, or you’ll never be fairly paid–it’s just how the world works!

    I’m extremely grateful for pros like you helping us newbies see what the scams are :).

  17. I’m not an aspiring writer. I just read. I strongly feel that it is in my interest for authors to be paid fairly for their work.

    I won’t argue with a seasoned professional who has found an alternate way to make money from his or her writing. But taking advantage of the aspiring writer by paying so much less than the standard rate is just wrong.

  18. Skar:

    “And since we have luminaries such as Scalzi around to act as scathing lighthouses, there is little excuse for an aspiring writer to be duped into a bad deal by old BM.”

    While I appreciate the implication that my reach online is all-encompassing, Skar, I suspect that there are yet plenty of writers who don’t yet know what’s considered a fair rate in the genre. It’s something that we need to continually work on.

  19. Heck, if I wanted to be paid in infinitesimal increments for my writing, I’d get a blog with an AdSense account. (Oh, wait, I kinda did . . . )

    Any business model that depends on guilt to function is not a sustainable business model.

  20. Rob:

    Yeah, the internet creates too many opportunities for devaluing creative work. I think that makes it imperative that artists take a stand and value their work. It has to translate into quality from us, but also in who we choose to procure and disseminate our art.

  21. Scalzi-
    Oh, absolutely. I myself, even in my still aspiring status, have directed and will continue to direct the occasional fellow traveler firmly AWAY from self-publishing and other nasty pits like BM. Not all of them listen though, alas.

  22. Rebecca:

    Ex-freaking-actly! This is my second go-around as a writer. I tried my hand at it in my early 20s and failed miserably, because I placed no value on my work and felt that I needed to pander and produce what I thought people wanted. It’s hard to feel good about your work sometimes when you are unpublished, especially if doing the work is an ego-boost or a vanity pursuit. And businesses like BM and the atrocious new thing that Harlequin is doing feed into that.

    Getting paid a fair rate is about respect, reciprocity, and indeed about ego-boost as well, but the type that comes from doing your best work and knowing that if it is good enough it will be appropriately valued. Seems like a healthy way for artists AND the marketplace to go.

  23. As yet another Aspiring Writer I’ve read a whole lot of advice on writing stuff and getting it published. Not one published author I’ve come across has ever said that “exposure” is in any way useful, or said that no “big” (read “normal”) publisher will ever so much as glance at your work unless you’ve got something published somewhere else first.

    The procedure for getting your first publication has been universally stated as: “Write. Revise until it’s the best you can make it. Send it out to a properly paying market. When it’s rejected, send it to another one. Repeat until acceptance. In the meantime, write more!”

    Places like Black Matrix serve only one purpose: to let you say you’re a “paid author”. The pay is indistinguishable from zero, so the ability to say that is really the only thing the submitter gets out of it. And as I mentioned above, that has very little practical use.

  24. I don’t see the problem with calling a company out. There are lots of them out there and this just illustrated the point.

    I met someone from a “semi-pro” once that asked me to submit and when I declined (nicely I might add) they were really angry. Started spouting things about how it was a chance to get my foot in the door and other nonsense.

    I tried to explain that it was professional or nothing for me (and I am okay with that). He left thinking I was a fool and actually told me I would probably never get published with the way I was trying to do it.

    I might never get published (unless you count newspaper articles) but I value my words. I value the profession that I am trying to break join.

  25. Yes!

    When I was in the aspiring stage, my ultimate goal was to make a living writing. The paths that lead to that goal are clearly defined. None of them include getting paid micro-pennies or less.

  26. You’re on target here, John.

    Harlan Ellison’s recently publicized rant — no link, but if you check “Pay the Writer” at youtube, it should come up — should be required viewing for any writer starting out. I swear that man’s talk can inject the right attitude into you for dealing with folks like BM.

    You know, part of the fun of going to conventions such as Bouchercon was being able to sit with writers and listen to the kind of advice you get anytime now on the intertubes, but it only works if you accept it. (Peschel’s law: Advice given is useless. Advice received is priceless.)

  27. I suppose I’ll throw in my two cents in this debate. I agree with some of what’s said on both sides, buy I want to bring up something that’s been bothering me about this debate: The statements of some writers who feel they need to aim low because they’re not good enough to get in the professional magazines.

    I find this attitude disturbing. If you don’t feel you’re good enough to sell a story for a $200.00, why are you trying to sell your stories at all? I’m not being mean here. I’m just asking an honest question. If I feel I can sell a story for $5.00, I also feel I can sell it for $500.00. So naturally, I’m going to try to send it to the $500.00 market first. If your work is good enough to sell, it’s good enough to sell. So again, why aim so low from the start? That appears to be somewhat of a defeatist attitude–the thinking that “My stories are only worth a tiny amount.” You can sell them wherever you want, but why be afraid to try some of them out on the higher paying markets? My point is this: Don’t sell yourself short. Take your product first where the money is and see what you can get for it. When I first began submitting, the higher paying magazines were at the top of my list–where they have been ever since and where they will continue to be. If the stories don’t end up in the top-paying magazines, so be it–but don’t let it be for lack of trying. That’s simple logic at work. Just offering my opinion.

  28. Bill:

    Oooh, an Ellison rant! I will check it out.

    At this past summer’s Readercon, Gene Wolfe recalled his early career at his kaffeeklatsch. He talked about the work, the worry, making just enough money to give his wife for the kids’ school clothes, but at no point did he say “and I owe it all to that shitty publisher who paid me absolute crap for my early work, and to the vanity publisher who took $500 of my money to put out my first novel.” It was, simply, a story of him writing and getting it out there until something good stuck. He abided by the Golden Rule of Writing (put your ass in the chair, write like a fiend, get it out there, keep at it), despite his doubts, and did not give in to the little voices that say you are crap and to take what you can get.

    That’s a notion I’ve taken to heart, even though it wasn’t really advice.

  29. What the heck does “semi-pro” mean? Yes, I understand what it’s meant to mean, i.e. “we’re a ‘zine for purposes of paying you but a business for purposes of paying us.” I’m just wondering what the BS gloss on the term is.

  30. Robert @ 31: At the risk of playing devil’s advocate, I think what the “aim low” writers are saying is that they actually ARE sending to the pro markets — and the pro markets aren’t buying. So why let that story sit around collecting dust when you can sell it for two bucks?

    The problem with that is what everyone’s been saying: it devalues your work. When I had stories I couldn’t sell to the pros (and oh, I had dozens and dozens of those…) I trunked them. I chose not to sell them at all. I had a limited number of publications that I was willing to see my work in, based on pay rate or reputation (for example, Talebones paid only 1 cent a word, but it had a fantastic reputation and was read by folks like Ellen Datlow and Gardner Dozois for their years best anthologies). If I couldn’t sell to those, I didn’t sell.

    But these guys are saying “any ‘sale’ is a good sale.”

    And a bunch of us are here saying that just ain’t true.

  31. John,

    I agree with you that all writers should be paid what they deserve. Unfortunately, reality tends to depart from that ideal. If you want to compare professions, ask any musician, painter, sculptor or actor how much she gets paid. And, whether he can live on what he makes. Rob Reiter makes the same point about photographers. Even if Sturgeon was right about 95% of everything being crap, there’s still a lot of talent out there. Great people whose voices are heard only by a small group of friends and fans.

    I was lucky enough to be a minor league folksinger in the 1960′s. We all worked for whatever appeared in the basket we passed around after every set. I knew some very talented people. Very few of them became superstars. Many ended up on the road playing at coffee houses and pubs for crap wages. Some of these places were exploiting the musicians. Most were paying what they could. Exploitation occurs because most artists want their work to be in front of people.

    Lousy, rotten compensation is the lot of probably 95% of all creative people. A lot of talented people cannot make a living doing what they love and do very well. It well and truly sucks.

    I think there’s an unpleasant whiff of self-righteousness floating around this subject. I know squat about Black Matrix Publishing. Is it really so hard to think that there are a lot of writers who would be happy to see even $20 or $50 for their work?

    There are and have always been amateur/semi-pro publishers who work out of love. The intertubies make it easier for both artists and fans to get their work out. The barriers to entry are vanishingly small.

    There is a presumption that these folks are exploiting poor feckless writers. Do you have any evidence that they’re not what they say they are? I’ve never thought of myself as particularly gullible. But, I generally take people at their word, unless they’re proven to be lying.

    If anyone think they’re exploiting writers, then don’t submit your work to them.

    This is your platform and I love it. If you took subscriptions I’d subscribe as I do for Pournelle, LaPorte and others.

    Keep on fulminating!!

    Can’t imagine what’s coming next.

  32. Keep saying stuff like this: I wouldn’t have sent a damn thing to a publisher like Black Matrix, because I assume “my work deserves better than a market that values it that poorly”.

    You just might change my opinion. I do acknowledge that there are people who think writers shouldn’t recieve decent pay.

    I remember during the last writer strike of Hollywood, I was talking to a friend and she was mad because her favorite TV shows had come to a stop and it was the fault of the striking writers. I explained that they needed better pay, and she informed me that the writers did not need better pay.

    I don’t understand that way of thinking. Her husband works for an internet provider (ie, he sits on his ass all day too.) and if his company suddenly decided they couldn’t pay certain employees a fair wage, what’s he supposed to do? He’s got bills, a family. But apparently writing is not the same as working.

    But I really do feel that different writers write for different reasons, and sometimes it is just a hobby and I think publishers sometimes take up publishing for the same reason. I guess Black Matrix is taking a pretty big load for a hobby, but I don’t know what their real intentions are.

    I don’t quite see how these low paying markets are a threat to professionals. Someone said these guys make it so the professional markets are less likely to pay what they could. While I agree the pro markets are not all paying the best rates, I don’t see the pro markets dropping their pay rates or refusing to raise them because some other markets are paying even less.

  33. The thing I can’t understand about writers feeling that .2 cents per word is a fair rate because they’re just desperate to get published at all — there are any number of good quality nonprofit magazines (some of them even specifically SF magazines) that will pay you nothing or close to nothing. If merely getting published is the goal, or if the goal is to work up a portfolio of previous writing credits in order to lift yourself out of the slush pile, there are a lot better places to turn to than a fly by night outfit that is simply exploiting your work for their own profit.

    Hell, some of the little and literary magazines even manage to scrape together enough to pay their contributors – and those that do pay better than .2 cents a word. When I was in college at Cornell, I got a 3,000 word story published in the campus SF magazine, and they paid me $10 (back in 1988), which is more than the $6 Black Matrix would pay for a story of that length.

  34. Rick York:

    “Lousy, rotten compensation is the lot of probably 95% of all creative people.”

    Meh. A certain (and, yes, high) percentage of creative people will not make a lot of money doing what they like to do creatively. However, it does not then follow that they must then accept low payment from those buying their work in order to exploit it for their own profit. These are two separate issues.

    Personally speaking, I would rather sell one story at pro rates than sell a whole mess of stories at truly crappy rate. Also personally speaking, given the choice between selling at a rate I find low and not selling at all, I’d prefer not to sell at all — or, as it’s become more frequently the case online, showcase it myself and put up a tip jar to let people pay me if they like it. I don’t really have any doubt I could make more that way than one fifth of a cent a word.

    Rob Darnell:

    “But I really do feel that different writers write for different reasons, and sometimes it is just a hobby and I think publishers sometimes take up publishing for the same reason.”

    It does not then follow that people who write for a hobby who then propose to sell their work should have to settle for appallingly low rates; likewise, it does not follow that hobby publishers should pay those same appallingly low rates. That’s like saying someone who plays guitar for a hobby should get the string for his guitar at a 95% discount, just because he doesn’t plan to make any money out of playing them. You pay for your hobbies.

  35. Carrie V,

    I agree that not every sale is a good sale. But it is a large gray area. I recently had a story I could have set aside. I sold it for $1.00 instead. Now it’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

    I currently do have stories set aside and waiting for markets–those that I consider too good to send to anything less than a pro-rate market. Other stories may be sold for less, or nothing, just to draw a few readers back to my website. Or just because I damn well feel like it.

    I understand the rigid attitude–the value of it. Place high value on your work, don’t settle for less than what it’s worth. I get that. However, I’m quite capable of doing both. I don’t need a rigid attitude to “prompt” me to write professional quality stories. I can goof off and write a story for fun, or I can buckle in and really give ‘er a go. I can give a story away and not shed a tear that I didn’t get paid for it, and turn around and send 5 more to professional magazines. I trunk stories if I feel like it, and sell stories for $5.00 if I feel like it.

    I don’t have any set rules other than this: My stories always go to a pro-rate market first if I can find one that matches up. Sorry, but I won’t send sword and sorcery to Analog.

    Again, I agree with you. Not every sale is a good sale, and a writer should be aware of that. However, I would like you to be more specific in explaining how it devalues your work. I could submit to 100 straight non-paying ezines, and then turn around and submit to 100 straight professional markets. Was my work devalued by the 100 ezines? Not unless the professional magazine editor sees that and rejects my work because of an “anti-credit” rather than based on the strength of the story at hand. Is that what you mean when you say it devalues the work?

  36. Rick York @36: one of the big reasons that “reality tends to depart from that ideal” is that there are people who tell artists any exposure is good exposure, and the poor things should be grateful to receive a pittance from their work (which the buyer will then turn around and sell at a markup).

    You studiously ignore what happens after the poor desperate writer gets $20 for their work. Why is that?

  37. The only issue I have with this is I have a full-time job that’s busy and pets to run after while I am at home so Scalzi making ANOTHER post on this means I am just that further behind…I’m still reading the comments on the FIRST post! *wails despondently*

    But your post is right on. Writers SHOULD value their work enough to want to be paid pro rates for it, period.

  38. #36: <Is it really so hard to think that there are a lot of writers who would be happy to see even $20 or $50 for their work?

    Except they aren’t paying even that much. They’re paying $2 per thousand words. Which means you’d get exactly $10 for a 5,000 word short story.

    Sure, there are lots of writers whose main goal is to be published and have your work read by people other than your family members. And there are lots of nonprofit magazines they can submit to that will pay them nothing but contributor’s copies. And there are lots of places where you can volunteer your labour for a worthy cause and get paid nothing. There’s nothing wrong with that, if it’s non-profit, volunteer work.

    This Black Matrix outfit is explicitly a for-profit enterprise. Their paying .2 cents a word is like a corporate employer paying their workers 25 cents an hour. And there is something wrong with that.

  39. I hear what you are saying.

    I commented over at the Black Matrix site and was comment # 2 and 4; as of now there are precisely 10 comments.

    My second comment was in response to one of the “published” authors who was defensive about the reaction here. I suggested that given the number of comments, she is not getting exposure and that since the market won’t likely exist in six months she won’t get much credit.

    Her response was almost precisely what our esteemed host said it was (including the it’s none of my business).

    Why should I care; I am not a writer, nor will I ever be a writer.

    I care because whenever anyone gets exploited and says that it is O.K. to get exploited because it was their choice, all of us suffer, not just writers. We had a discussion here awhile back about unpaid interns; same variety of exploitation there and caused by the assumption that there are people who will put up with exploitation “for the experience”.

    The comments section enables sending the responses to g-mail. The ads on the side of the e-mail are telling at least half of them point to vanity publishers.

    Cheers
    Andrew

  40. Robert E. Keller:

    “I sold it for $1.00 instead. Now it’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.”

    Inasmuch as nominations for the Pushcart Prize come from the editors of the small magazines themselves and not from a jury, being nominated for a Pushcart Prize is not (sorry) as impressive an achievement as it’s sometimes made out to be; indeed it’s in a small presses interest to fill out their full slate of possible nominations each year.

    This is not to suggest your story is not of good quality, Mr. Keller, just a notation into the mechanics of the nomination process.

  41. mythago @ 33:

    Let us be careful, here. It is one thing to (rightly) chastise an apparent Pro publisher for paying far less than accepted Pro rates. It is quite another to (unfairly) chastise publishers who are anything less than a full Pro publication.

    Speaking in general here, have people considered that BMP might have better started as a Semipro publication until they grew their business to handle Pro rates, or until they arrived at a business plan solid enough to provide for that? It would perhaps have been more honest on their part, and certainly would have headed off questions like this, but if the litmus test for respectability is ‘Pro or nothing,’ can you completely blame them for trying to get their foot in the door of the only respectable game in town?

    Perhaps BMP should have started as a Semiprozine, but that assumes people agree there is nothing wrong with Semiprozines.

    There was recently a campaign to determine if the category of Hugo award for Semiprozines should be saved. Neal Clarke and others put up a website to examine that question. They were apparently successful. Somebody thought Semiprozines were valuable.

    I think they serve a great purpose and continue to improve as technology advances and more people become better writers. Furthermore, they provide more chances to be published.

    The Pro zines get how many submissions per month? Hundreds? Thousands? And publish how many? Half a dozen, more or less, depending on the ‘zine? So even if you’re good, even if you’re great, you are one of hundreds (or thousands) fighting for relatively few open slots.

    Semipro zines open up the possibilities and give more aspiring writers more places to get their work out there while trying to break into the Pros. There are some fantastic Semipro zines out there. Y’all might consider looking some of them up before writing all of them off.

  42. I want to clarify something. I don’t ever try to pass off a bad story on anyone, and I don’t believe I’ve published a single bad story to date (though others can decide for themselves). If I decided to sell a story for $5.00, it would be because I felt like it–for whatever reason. In my case, bad stories never get finished, let alone submitted. So I don’t write a crappy story and then try to sell it cheap. That would be an utter waste of time and would indeed devalue my work. I always strive to write the best fiction I can, and I get my fiction out to the professional markets.

    Any writer who thinks he or she deserves to be published should be sending to the highest paying magazines. That’s the bottom line. It’s not a rigid rule. Rather, it’s simple logic.

  43. “Allow me to suggest that amount be an integer when it comes to pennies per word.”

    I’d like to point out that negative numbers are integers. I’m guessing you’re not actually suggesting that writers be willing to pay per word?

  44. I’m a VERY new writer, just dipping my toe in the pool as it were, and this (and the previous Black Matrix rant) are examples of something I keep running into. Isn’t there ANY protection for writers, both new and old? I mean, if you work in say…a fast food joint, and they decide to pay you half of the minimum wage, you have every right to go straight to the authorities. Who will then proceed to make them pay you, and probably fine them or otherwise punish them as well. Because minimum wage is the law. Shouldn’t there be similar protection for writers? And protection from scam-agents/publishers as well?

    Anyway, I’ve very much enjoyed your posts Mr. Scalzi, and I thank you for that!

  45. Mr. Scalzi,

    I agree. But I’m still happy with it, and it makes me even more less inclined to regret the $1.00 sale.

    I’m all for the big sales. It’s completely in my best interests to be for them. Therefore, if I see a bunch of writers and editors talking about wanting better pay rates, well, great! I just haven’t done things in a completely rigid (pro only) fashion, and I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I’m happy with what I’ve done in the past year, however. But to be honest, my goal is always greater success (and money). I’m all for advancing the career and getting paid for it. I think that main focus is the bottom line, and it surprises me to see some writers talking in “tiny” terms of what they should be paid. I don’t reget what I’ve been paid, but I should be getting paid a lot more than I’m getting paid, and I’ll keep working toward that goal.

  46. Ruth Ellen:

    Excellent point. Fixed, and thanks.

    Bookewyrme:

    “Shouldn’t there be similar protection for writers? And protection from scam-agents/publishers as well?”

    If publishers/editors are doing something fraudulent, then they can be prosecuted under the law. Likewise writers who are directly employed for an organization have full recourse to the various labor laws in the country.

    I don’t at all wish to suggest the Black Matrix folks are doing anything illegal or fraudulent; they have posted their rates and it’s up to writers to submit to them or not. They’re just paying a really crappy rate. I don’t think the law needs to do anything to address that, as submission to the magazine is voluntary.

  47. #36, Rick

    I’m not a writer, but I’m honestly not sure that I’d be happy to get cut rate pay for any writing that I might do in the future. Oh, I might be a little excited at first, but after the glow wore off I’d be left with the realization that I was compensated 1/20 as much as most writers, presumably because my work was 1/20 as good. No offense to our esteemed host, but I aspire to be a little better than 1/20th as good as Scalzi.

    I’d much, much rather sell one story to Asimov’s than twenty stories to Amazing Bottom Feeders of Space, because Asimov’s has *standards*. I can get lots of dates with the meth-addicted senior citizen down the street, but I’ll pass, thank you very much.

    Oh, and anyone who tells you that they can’t pay you but you will get exposure is lying, lying, lying. If they aren’t big enough to pay you then there is absolutely no way that you will get any exposure of any kind worth having (on the bright side, you will be known as the dumbass who will work for a pat on the head and empty promises, so that’s something).

  48. Scalzi: “It does not then follow that people who write for a hobby who then propose to sell their work should have to settle for appallingly low rates; likewise, it does not follow that hobby publishers should pay those same appallingly low rates. That’s like saying someone who plays guitar for a hobby should get the string for his guitar at a 95% discount, just because he doesn’t plan to make any money out of playing them. You pay for your hobbies.”

    I agree, but I was thinking that because it’s a hobby and not a profession, he’s probably not going to dump all his money into it and writers don’t have to submit there.

    When someone goes into publishing with the intent of being a professional publisher, and if they know what they’re doing, they’ll pay pro rates from the start. If it’s just a hobby, just for fun, why do you need pour all your money into it, even if this guy does sell his product is he going to make that much? The writers can decide if it’s good enough for them. But I still don’t know what Black Matrix is all about.

    Quoting myself because a thought came to me while I was typing: “…even if this guy does sell his product is he going to make that much?”

    I guess I’m seeing two folds. Perhaps someone who commented on the previous entry was right, if you can’t afford to pay writers a fair rate perhaps publishing isn’t for you. But on the other hand, shouldn’t it be up to the authors of the work to decide if they think your rate is fair?

    I think the reason it matters to you, Scalzi, is that you want writers to know they can do better than that. If so, that’s cool.

  49. Back in the day at a Norweson, I remember Ellen Datlow was asked by an aspiring writer what was the first market he should try to sell a story to.
    Without missing a beat she replied, “The one that pays the most.”
    Good advice then, and good advice now.

  50. Scalzi, honey, there have been a lot worse names given out than yours. Alan could always name his kid “highchair”. There’s not a name out there you can’t make fun of in one way or the other.

    Anyway: Sure writers should get to decide how low they’ll go. But not everybody has the best Decisionmaster(TM) up in their noggin. If they read these kind of threads and *still* decide to publish there, best of luck. But _I_ won’t be reading that piece.

  51. Not totally parallel, but the situation of college adjunct professors is kind of in that Stockholm camp. We haven’t yet gotten the full-time job, so we’re willing to settle for adjuncting, which, once you math it out, amounts to less than minimum wage. The result of our willingness to settle is that there are fewer (and fewer all the time) full-time positions for us.

    I am my own scab. No wonder I wallow in self-loathing.

    But back to the point: The job market is terrible (partly) because some of us settle for substandard compensation for the work. If the Black Matrix business model succeeds, it could have the same desultory effect on sf publishing.

  52. One of the things I said on the earlier post was if what you’ve written isn’t worth the going rate perhaps it shouldn’t be published in the first place. As in, if your writing is resoundingly rejected by all the professional publishers, it doesn’t mean they’re all conspiring to keep you out of their clubhouse. It probably means your craft needs more work.

    So if you then send it off to the likes of BM, who may not have the same editorial standards as the publishers who rejected you, and they actually put your story in print, what have you gained (besides the paltry sum they paid you)? The satisfaction that your work is worth ‘something’? Is it better to have everything you write in print, or just that part of your work that meets a high enough standard to merit publication? Stephen King has a trunk-ful of stories he never submitted because he thought it was crap or needs work.

    And even if your precious tome is awesome and just not being appreciated, it’s still probably better to keep it in reserve than letting some less than professional outfit get their hands on it. Anyone who thinks otherwise should ask Cherie Priest about the nightmare she went through because she sold her first novel to a shitty publisher.

  53. Perhaps BMP should have started as a Semiprozine, but that assumes people agree there is nothing wrong with Semiprozines.

    There was recently a campaign to determine if the category of Hugo award for Semiprozines should be saved. Neal Clarke and others put up a website to examine that question. They were apparently successful. Somebody thought Semiprozines were valuable.

    I just want to point out that Neal Clarke’s Clarkesworld, which is classed as a semi-prozine, pays 10 cents a word.

    Since the discussion is about pay rates, and since 10 cents a word is higher than some of the pro markets (I believe semi and pro are distinguished by numbers of copies distributed, but I could be wrong, and am sure someone will correct me if I am), there is going to be no thrashing based on classification; Clarkesworld pays going rates. Or higher than going rates.

    I think you’ll find, if you do look at the submission guidelines for many of the better known semi-prozines in the field, that the pay is not abyssmal.

  54. Emily Dickinson kept the vast majority of her poems in a draw, and never published them. Why? She didn’t feel they were good enough. Very few people who would submit to BM are Emily Dickinson.

    Many published novelists have ten or 13 trunk novels. That’s a hell of a lot of short stories, if you convert. Not everything you write is worth publishing. Not even for .2 cents a word.

  55. I’m of two minds here. As an aspiring writer I’m of the opinion that if I can’t get pro rates for my work, then my work probably ought not be published yet. However (not to bring politics into this too much but…) this is an example of capitalism at work. The publisher is willing to pay a certain rate to have a product in it’s offerings. It then offers those products to subscribers/buyers at another rate. The entire enterprise should live and die by whether it can get work that people will pay for. I’m a firm believer that the market will eventually smack down a substandard start-up. Not that I actually know what I’m talking about, of course.

  56. This seems pretty straightforward to me. Publishers have the right to offer whatever rate they want for stories and writers have the right to accept whatever rate they want for their stories. If all writers never sold a single story to Black Matrix, they’d eventually go out of business. Furthermore, if only shitty writers sold their shitty stories to Black Matrix, they’d still likely go out of business for lack of readers. And, frankly, if great writers want to sell amazing stories for .01 cents per word, they are free to. I agree with all of your points except the last: it’s certainly your right to call out Black Matrix for paying their writers crap but if a writer chooses to sell them a story that’s none of your business. This doesn’t preclude you from demanding a professional rate for your high quality stories.

  57. And it’s not the anger at the publisher that I have a problem with. It’s the contempt for the writers who choose to publish with them.

  58. @Alan Orloff #54

    There are far worse things to call your child than *Scalzi* – my best friend is a teacher and my other friend’s mum is a (church) minister and some of the ones they have come across are worse than toe-curlingly bad. You would never believe me, so I won’t list those, but a neighbour’s new grandchild has just been named Jagger Hemingway *Lastname*. It’s a girl, just so you know.

    For all his good works, you could still name your next child after our most excellent host. John is a perfectly good name, after all!

    I have no qualification to speak on the whole publishing issue but I dislike seeing people taken advantage of and wholeheartedly approve of those in the know taking the time and effort to educate those who need it. Anyone who has *made it* doesn’t have to do so and it speaks to their character that they take that time and make that effort. Although, I’m sure there must be occasions when they wish they just hadn’t bothered ;-)

  59. There is a second reason why it is your business and it also relates to the fact that you’re a writer. Businesses like Black Matrix Publishing don’t just devalue the work of the writers they publish, they devalue the work of *all* writers.

    I’m a designer, not a writer, and there has been an explosion in the amount of spec work being asked for (and performed) in recent years that devalues my industry. You can google “why spec is bad” if you’re interested. The parallels are quite obvious.

    Obligatory peremptory apology: I didn’t read the comments and I apologize if I’m repeating something that has already been said.

  60. As an aspiring writer, I really like Scalzi’s argument. I have a short story I’ve been trying to sell for months and months now, submitting it to several places that pay pro rates and was thinking that, eventually, in order to ever get published at all I would have to settle for submitting the story for less money or, in some cases, little to no money at all just to get published in order to get a publishing credit. Scalzi makes a pretty good argument so I think I’ll continue submitting to places that pay pro rates. Or at the very least places whose pay rates don’t make me feel like I’m being robbed like BM.

  61. I’m also on the second go-round on the writing quest. First time I was in a completely dysfunctional writing group (as my older and wiser self now realizes).

    I was taking myself seriously and aiming for professional work, but staying semi-blocked. One of the guys in the group “sold” a screenplay to a local rich dude who wanted to become a movie producer. For $500. It was a piece of unreadable, unfilmable crap. Which said writer would hear no criticism of because he was now a professional writer, who we amateurs could learn a lot from. At least watching people take him seriously got me to leave the group. Thankfully, the film was never made.

    But last I heard, he is now running his own writing group, charging people for meetings, based on his qualifications as a professional screenwriter – with a sale!

    It’s so easy to get trapped into one of these shadow worlds, feeling like you are making progress towards your goals, when you are just picking up bad habits and losing the momentum needed to grow and flourish. Stockholm syndrome is a good term for it.

  62. @69

    That’s pretty dark, Mary. Someone needs to slap that idiot upside the head and save his poor victims. I could sell a novel to my uncle for $1000. That doesn’t qualify me to charge people for my “expertise.” I’m glad you got out of there. :)

    That’s one reason against non-pro mags. Not everyone is learned enough to know the difference between subbing to one because they feel like it, and actually gaining credibility from that acceptance itself.

    That’s not to slam mags and zines that don’t pay pro rates. Some of the are good. Some are fantastic. Some I wish I could could accepted into. But a lot of them are scams, or well meaning people who don’t realize their ignorance. Complications. What a pain.

  63. This whole thing sort of reminds me of the joke about vehicles with bad gas mileage. If you drop a few miles-per-gallon, it’s irksome or somesuch… but if you invert the units, to gallons-per-mile, you’re really in trouble.

    Same bit here… if you drop a penny or two per word, it sorta sucks, but meh. Invert the units, to words per cent…. yah, well past crappy, that.

  64. John,

    I must compliment you on doing an excellent job of promoting, for free, Black Matrix Press.

    I doubt most of the people who read your blog had ever heard of them. Now the entire internet knows about them.

    Now, if you’re still in the mindset to hand out free publicity, how about picking on some of the other unknown small press markets. We could all use your assistance to get the word out.

  65. >Furthermore, if only shitty writers sold their shitty stories to Black Matrix, they’d still likely go out of business for lack of readers.

    Not so. Plenty of readers out there that prefer that sort of content.

    Just take a look at the sky-high sales of gossip rags.

  66. Actually no one really knows what the distinction between “pro” and “semipro” is. That’s why there’s the whole debate about it. Some people argue that if you can’t draw a clear distinction then you should not have two categories.

    But I would like to put one myth to bed. For most semiprozines I have come across the rule is “we pay the writers first and ourselves second”. If Mythago was trying insinuate that semiprozines are a scam whereby editors line their own pockets at the expense of writers that’s deeply unfair.

  67. Johne Cook @46 wrote:

    Speaking in general here, have people considered that BMP might have better started as a Semipro publication until they grew their business to handle Pro rates, or until they arrived at a business plan solid enough to provide for that?

    “Pro” publication vs. “Semi-pro” publication I think is a logical fallacy. BMP is a business that intends to make a profit selling copies of authors’s creative works. If they can’t pay reasonable market rates for the creative works while selling the copies at market rates, their entire business plan is flawed from the get-go.

    Try opening a coal mine and telling the workers you can only pay them $1.00/hr because you’re a “small operation” when you’re buying mining equipment at market prices and selling the coal at the current market rate. You’d get a shovel rammed down your throat.

    Someone at BMP has the math for “cost of goods sold” wrong on their projections. Since it’s not really that hard to find the proper cost for that by looking at the actual existing market, they’re either incompetent or they’re deliberately taking advantage of some aspiring writers’s naivete.

    I give you one guess which one I think it is.

  68. @scalzi – how do you feel about places like Electric Velocipede? Klima seems like a good guy, they/he won the Hugo, but they pay a penny a word. 5x more than Black Matrix, 5x less than Strange Horizons. If I were a writer I can see the value of appearing in a well-regarded, but not pro ‘zine. Thoughts?

  69. I think I’ve finally pinpointed what really ticks me off about this level of payment. In the last decade or so, digital technology has gotten to the point where a lot of things formerly in the province of dedicated people who could afford expensive equipment are now available to the world at large.

    This is a good thing.

    One of the side effects, however, is the devaluing of certain skill sets that are still skill sets that take work and effort to achieve. This devaluing is an unfortunate spiral that starts with “well, this person can do it for cheaper,” which leads to “it can’t be worth that much,” to even cheaper offers and so on.

    I work for a professional photographer that photographs high schools— yearbook photos, sports, clubs, etc. Specifically, I do Photoshop work, and not your basic retouching either (zits, hair fly-aways, etc.) Stuff like undetectable braces removal. I may not currently be at ACE quality due to mostly being a stay-at-home mom these days, but when I was working I had to be perfect and I had to be fast.

    And yet… so very many times I’d hear from a parent, “Well, my kid can do Photoshop.” So could I, before I started this job, but I didn’t know things like how to color-correct without a color-calibrated monitor, or how to fix a shot that was three stops too low, or basically make a shot that anyone could take into a professional quality shot.

    Or we’d hear how absurdly high our prices are, when in fact they’re not nearly as high as you’d think, especially when you take things such as camera maintenance into account. (When your cameras are taking an average of 1500 shots a week, they need a little care.) Furthermore, our prices are only expensive per shot when compared to smaller pictures printed at the kiosks at Walmart or Costco, without color-correction, retouching, or the skill set our photographers bring to the party.

    Or our guarantee. Some of the things I’ve done in the name of making the client happy go into my mental folder of “Stalin would be proud.” Including taking forty years off of somebody’s face because “the lighting made her look old.” Mmm-hmmm.

    When you invest training and quality into a product and are told that a) you need to charge less and b) well, anyone could do that, it’s grit your teeth time. They’re basically telling you to your face that they’d rather pay you nothing because they don’t think your product is worth that much— but if they paid what they want, they’d get very little of what made the product good to begin with. And they think these things happen by magic.

    This *does* relate to writing. The pay is already abysmal, and writers are not highly valued. When it’s apparently acceptable for writers’ pay to circle the drain, the respect goes with it. Sometimes free is better than a pittance, because free is a gift, but a pittance is what you give a servant.

    Your time has value. Your time has great value because it is finite. Don’t allow somebody to value your life at a fraction of what it is truly worth, sunk cost or not.

    And keep this in mind: You get what you pay for. You are worth more than crap.

  70. @73

    “>Furthermore, if only shitty writers sold their shitty stories to Black Matrix, they’d still likely go out of business for lack of readers.

    Not so. Plenty of readers out there that prefer that sort of content.

    Just take a look at the sky-high sales of gossip rags.”

    And this argument proves what? Plenty people prefer to watch sex-shows instead of theater, does that make the strippers artists?

    Shitty writers can be made profitable too, just like any other sort of shitty artist, and pretty much like any sort of shit. And their promoters, like the publisher mentioned by Scalzi in the article, are responsible for deforming the audience. It’s not the other way around. Because discovering a real artist, a real value, someone able to entertain AND to affect, is hard. It requires a high cultural education, and gods know what else, but definitely more than what “just a few fans” can muster. So instead, they promote shitty writers in the hope that if there’s enough of them, they’ll convince the audience that they are real writers.

  71. Anyway, I was thinking, is publishing really profitable?

    Because I have some Capital – a lot more than what those guys pay. 1c for 5 words is like, easy. For example, for the last article posted on the blog, I treated my wife to a nice dinner. And the post didn’t have ANY words. It was a youtube video with a cat.

    I have several items in my house that I no longer use that I intend to use as payment for writers. A nicely hand-carved wooden … something, that will probably go to the first novel accepted. A candy wrapper from the fifties that still has a lingering smell. An unused susbscription to the Piatra Neamt swimming pool (which we can prolong to 12 months, Scalzi, if you’re interested in submitting).

    And royalties.

  72. When I was twenty-one, partly because I have very bad people sense and mostly because I still had a lot of the twenty-one year old giant douche-bag thing going on,* I wound up with this writing gig for a “company” on the internet.

    It had a legitimate fan base and there were several other writers affiliated with it that were respectable. Some were bestselling authors, some were d-list celebrities, and some were first timers like myself. So when I saw “25% of the gross ad revenue” and was told that the top site makes 10,000 dollars a month I thought “Wow, this could be decent gig.”

    One by one the other writers fell away and their sites went dead. I began to get a bad feeling. Since I was already in, and had a readership that kept wanting stories I kept producing until the lengthy period of time until my first check was to arrive. Basically, I had to wait six months to get paid. There’s more to it than that, or at least stuff happened where I could justify waiting to myself. It was a stupid move but I figured that while my check might not be as much as I hoped, surely it couldn’t be as little as I dreaded.

    To make the math simple I’ll round off the figures. I wrote about 50 short stories, at about 2k words a piece over the course of six months. WHILE being a full time student and WHILE doing volunteer work in a developmental biology lab. Although I didn’t think of it that way at the time since I enjoyed it, I was working my ass off. At the end of the six months when my first check came in (which I had to fight like hell to even get) It was for less than a hundred dollars. Or less than a tenth of a cent per word.

    When I asked how this could possibly be since I had one of the most popular sites in the entire network and was read by tens of thousands of people, I was told more or less that I should have had knee trembling gratitude to have even been considered a writer in the first place and was “let go.” I was kind of in a funk for a couple of days thinking “really? I mean…. really” while I waited for someone to tell me that April Fool’s had come late.

    Lesson learned.

    Do not EVER not EVER write something professionally and expect payment until someone tells you EXACTLY what you’re going to be paid in very EXPLICIT terms. Any wishy washy magical bullshit translated into dollars and cents is bound to buy as much as regular non-magical unwashed bullshit.

    Professionals don’t need to use wishy-washy magical bullshit and they don’t need to hide what they’re going to pay you because they know what their business is about. And they don’t balk when you EXPECT a respectable sum of money for your work. Because that’s what being professional means. It’s about the expectation of professional ethics and high standards.

    At the end of the day, I mostly blame myself. If I had done a little bit of digging from the onset I would have known that the whole operation was on the shady side. If I had cared about anything other than having “readers” I would have had enough money to pay for my next semester of college.

    Right now, I’ve still got a few thousand readers and will write the stories that I want to write until I consider them to be good enough for MY own standards and will then sell them for what I consider to be a fair price and not one penny less. In the mean time, I’m in charge of everything I make.

    Trust me people, your self-respect as a creator should not be negotiable.

    *I’m twenty-four now and now only a medium sized douche-bag. It is my hope that by thirty I may simply be repugnant.

  73. Yup yup yup. Agree with everything Scalzi said. I’ve been paid to write a play (a fair rate, an honest producer, paid half in advance). A good experience. Was subsequently asked to write a screenplay by a guy who, it emerged, wasn’t offering any money. He went on and on about “exposure” and “connections.” Turned him down flat. The project is dead. There’s a publication out here looking for people to write for it for free. Turned them down, too. As far as I can tell, the publication is now dead.

    Moral of the story: If you turn low-paying places down, some of them will in fact go out of business. As they should.

    (Regular reader, switching to anonymous for this post)

  74. And, for any AWSSS (Aspiring Writers Stockholm Syndrome Sufferers) who are still failing to see the light, you might care to take a look at the last bunch of slimeballs, sorry, vanity publishers, eviscerated by the cruel and heartless writer of this blog viz. Harlequin Ho, now known as DellArte Press.

    They love giving aspiring writers a break so much that:

    ‘Now through Dec. 18, 2009, purchase a Basic, Horizons, Aspirations or Marketing Plus package and upgrade to the next package for free. That means you could get exclusive service upgrades like marketing tools, editing, enhanced cover design, even a hardcover copy of your book all for free. If you’re ready to take your book to the next level, literally, you can’t afford to miss this great offer.’

    ‘literally’?

  75. I am quite happy for you to become flustered on behalf of aspiring writers. In my opinion there are far too many “just want to get published, don’t care how” writers out there willing to take low-end figures for their writing just to get their names in print.

    Like you I would hope that I write quality worthy of being printed in quality publications that pay a quality worthy fee.

    I do know that not all small press and magazine publishers are bloodsuckers, at least not on purpose. However, they are looking toward their own bottom-line more and the growth of their “hobby” (buisness) for their own benefit and less toward the promotion of excellent and stellar writing. This is one of the reasons I don’t read many magazines.

    Is it wrong to want to be paid a professional rate even if you’ve never published before? No! What’s the point of giving up your hard work and talent for nothing? I can’t live on my name in lights but I can live on a decent fee for my writing if it is paid to me. I don’t want to starve for my art.

  76. Trading one’s first publication rights in an exchange that doesn’t count as a pro sale… Benefit to the writer = 0.

    Writing a full length story in exchange for $10: Benefit to the writer = Congratulations, even if you cranked that out in less than half an hour, you’re still nowhere near a living wage, or even dinner for two at Applebee’s. Ahem. I mean, benefit to the writer = 0.

    Having the BM imprint on your fiction: Benefit to the writer = Somewhere in the negatives. Tor/Del Rey publish a crapload of stuff I wouldn’t poke with a stick, and they have editorial standards. (Not to mention the clout to actually get a book onto the shelf at Borders/B&N in the first place.)

    As a reader, I’m more likely to go for raw, unedited fiction posted by some random person than take a chance on some skeezy fly-by-night “look how indie we are!!” ‘publisher’.

    Authors whose work I’ve purchased as a direct result of reading free shorts/promo excerpts online: Scalzi, Kiernan, Bear, etc.

    Authors who are now semi-pro whose work I will purchase, when it is inevitably published, who I became aware of through online postings: Two have my rabid, froth-lipped allegiance, and there are plenty more whose names invoke a Pavlovian wallet-opening response.

    Authors whose e-pubbed-only books I would buy *right now* if I had a positive net worth: Plenty. And double that if I had access to an e-book reader.

    Authors whose work I’ve purchased after seeing it listed on the website of a publisher I’ve never heard of = 0.

    Writers, if your work can’t sell in prime-time, either sit on it for later revision, e-publish with a reputable e-pubber, or share it with friends/post it on your blog. BM isn’t going to get you pro status or exposure.

    And in the spirit of avoiding topic drift, I’m not going to bitch about the general state of trying to sell SF/F short fiction in the first place.

  77. I’ve been following these posts with interest, but what really surprises me is the fact that no one is complaining about how the pro magazines pay the “name” authors more than other contributors to an issue. If a newbie story and a “name” story are of equal enough quality to be printed side by side why should the name get more?

    And let’s face it, if a pro magazine has a “name” story and a newbie to choose from, we know who’s going to get the slot. The pro markets don’t play on a level field, they’re always going to go for the big name or the familiar contributor over the newbie when the story quality is equal. Because, big or small market, they’re all looking at their bottom line and a known name equals dollars in their pockets.

    After years of butting his head against that wall of “almost” a writer will either start looking for other markets or just stuff his stories in a trunk and get on with his life. And just because a writer goes with the smaller markets doesn’t mean they write crap. It might just mean that they’re sick of the stacked deck at the top of the publishing pile. Though the best of them won’t stop trying.

    And just a side note, you don’t climb a mountain from the top down. You struggle every inch of the way up.

  78. There is a similar problem in the art world, especially among new photographers. Many photographers are willing to sell their work for very small amounts of money through sites like Etsy: selling their work for so little that after they pay for ink, paper, shipping, and their time, they don’t even break even.

    They often use the same arguments as you outlined: “this is just a hobby”, “I’m new and have to pay my dues”, etc. But they don’t realize the harm that this is doing, to both their careers and the market in general. It establishes baseline price for their work, so if they do decide to go pro, their work will continue to be severely undervalued. It also jeopardizing the market for all other photographers. By being willing to accept so little for “fine art photography”, they drive prices down for everyone.

  79. Sandra:

    “but what really surprises me is the fact that no one is complaining about how the pro magazines pay the ‘name’ authors more than other contributors to an issue.”

    I’ll note when I edited an edition of Subterranean magazine a couple of years ago, I paid everyone in it the same rate, which was the top rate quoted (rather than the bottom rate). Likewise, all the contributors to METAtropolis, which I edited, were paid the same rate (even me), and we’ve split the book sale proceeds equally.

    That said, in a general sense, being a pro isn’t an even playing field, and the reason name authors can command more is because their presence confers benefit; i.e., more people are likely to pick up the magazine or anthology because it has writers who audiences know and whose work they may already like. This may benefit newer writers, because then readers brought in by a “name” writer may discover the new writer in the process.

    Likewise book advances are (generally) pretty logical — they’re pegged to the number of the author’s books a publisher expects to be able to sell. Dan Brown gets a higher advance than I do because his publisher is pretty confident that he’ll sell tons and tons of books, whereas mine thinks I will sell a comparatively fewer number. It’s not an exact science but there’s a method to it.

    I don’t think the question is whether all writers should be paid equally; it’s not going to happen. The question is whether all writers are paid fairly.

  80. Crystalwizard @72

    You’re missing the point. As Scalzi already said “there is such a thing as bad publicity.” I know I’d never submit to that market, and I have no intention of buying it either.

  81. Many good points, although I’m sure I skimmed past a few things that deserved more attention. I think my point is that money does not validate the product. You can give something away for free, or for below “market value” if that’s what you want to do. To this extent I think that making your own luck might require you to give as much as you are willing to take.

  82. @ sandra (85): The reason that magazine will pay a big name author more is because they know having that author’s name on the cover is going to sell a boatload more magazines than any of the less-known authors they are also publishing. And it’s not like they wouldn’t be willing to pay those known authors less — those authors aren’t going to accept less, nor should they.

    And it’s more than fair to that newbie because his story is in a magazine that is now going to reach far more readers than had that known author not been in the same issue.

  83. ’ve been following these posts with interest, but what really surprises me is the fact that no one is complaining about how the pro magazines pay the “name” authors more than other contributors to an issue. If a newbie story and a “name” story are of equal enough quality to be printed side by side why should the name get more?

    Why would they? When people scan Asimov’s or what have you, Stephen King or George R. R. Martin or Greg Bear or a host of big names are going to lead more directly to sales than an unknown. That’s just simple logic and business. When people see a movie poster, they’re going to be more likely to see a movie that features Daniel Craig than a poster featuring Rupert Everett. One of the reasons that some stars pull down seemingly ridiculous salaries (be they sports professionals, directors, actors, musicians or what have you) is the simple fact that they put asses in seats or money in pocket.

    People aren’t as concerned about highly successful writers getting ABOVE SFWA guidelines…only about anybody getting UNDER it.

  84. John, I understand that not all zines pay the names more, but as I check out markets I’m finding more and more submission guidelines saying they’ll negotiate the payment with the pro writers, everyone else get a penny a word. I get why they do that, it’s for sales. But, if a newbie’s story doesn’t make it in because they chose the name for sales reasons, it doesn’t do the newbie a bit of good because he’s not in the issue.

    And equal and fair? They both did the same work, they both made the cut. That’s like saying Cindi should be paid less than Frank because she’s a women, even though they’re doing the same job.

    And if I’m following all of the reasoning here, it’s okay for the big boy publishers to make money but not the little guys? Yeah, the pay is shit at the bottom of the heap, but when they’re not playing fair at the top why should you expect the bottom to be any different?

    Sniping at the bottom feeders isn’t going to change how business gets done on either end. The smart writers will avoid the crap pay and keep struggling to make the cut at the top, always hoping they get the right story in the right place at the right time.

  85. Sandra, publishing is not fair. It’s a business. Some people get hired. Others don’t. Both can do the work, probably as well, but they might not both draw in money for the business. So the business opts for the one who draws in more sales and is willing to expend a little more to make it attractive to that person. (And do note that even at higher rates, these magazines aren’t paying all that much.)

    It takes a long time to become a pro writer. That’s not because other pro writers are dumping on newbies. It’s because it takes a long time to really learn how to craft something a publisher wants. And then, once that point is reached, where the writing is good enough and the writer understands what’s marketable, it takes even more time to find the right editor to match what’s written — because people are making decisions about what to publish, and their tastes will affect the outcome of what’s published. Tossed in are business decisions like “You know, no one knows authors W, X, Y, Z whose stories I really love, so no one will be interested in this anthology. But they do know Name. And her story is pretty awesome. So let’s include that too. S**t. I have to leave someone out. Well at least I get to publish the other three stories.” And so name takes one of the slots, but at least three newbies get a shot they wouldn’t get at all if the anthology isn’t read.

  86. Sandra:

    “But, if a newbie’s story doesn’t make it in because they chose the name for sales reasons, it doesn’t do the newbie a bit of good because he’s not in the issue.”

    But there are lots of reasons stories don’t make the cut. When I edited the SubPress magazine, I had 30 stories (out of 600+ submitted) I wanted to publish, and I ended up with 16, because that’s the space I had to work with. So 14 stories that “made the cut,” as it were, still didn’t make it into the magazine, and didn’t get paid for, some of which were from new writers. That’s life. Now, I made sure to include 4 stories from new writers in the 16 I bought, because that was a priority for me, and I paid them what I paid the authors whose names went on the cover. But other editors have other priorities, depending on the needs of their magazines.

    I don’t think publishers owe it to writers to publish them. I do think that when they buy work from writers, that they owe it to the writers to pay fairly. Whether it’s fair some people get paid more than others is in fact a separate issue from whether the publishers are paying a fair rate at the bottom of their scale, and of the two I would suggest the latter is the more important argument.

  87. I’m of two minds here. On the one hand, I do broadly agree with the “writers should be paid fairly”/”don’t devalue the market” argument.

    On the other hand, when I was first gearing up to submit my work, I started out with lower-paying publications. There’s a limited number of markets that pay pro rates for SF/F fiction, and they have certain tastes and specialties that don’t line up with what I write. So I hit lower-paying markets, because they were a better fit for the stories I had.

    I don’t regret it. Those early acceptances, and reader responses to those stories, gave me enough confidence that I didn’t _completely_ suck that I kept going. At that stage, I needed that validation. YMMV, of course, and everyone walks their own road, but the big magazines were and are a poor fit for me, and I’m glad to have had a place to publish those two or three stories that found their two or three readers that kept me going.

    So my own personal experience has been positive. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to spend months writing novels if I hadn’t had the small boost of someone being willing to pay money (even token sums of money) for my short fiction first. And I really, truly do not think that would have happened if I’d limited myself to the pro-rates markets. Obviously it would have been nice to be paid more for those stories, but all in all, I’m pretty content with how things worked out.

  88. Hopefully this is on point but I completely agree with Scalzi on this.

    I for a long while did freelance design. Now, the similarity I assume between design and writing is that both deliver a creative product that really, has no standard compensation model as you’re doing something that’s not as cut and dry as other services in terms of what the final deliverable is.

    What I learned, and learned quickly, was that I’m who dictates the rate of pay I deserve. It was incredibly easy at first to simply take on any business I could find no matter the hourly rate but what I found out was that if someone is willing to work for dirt, there are plenty of people willing to pay in dirt.

    I think the illusion I had was that I wasn’t “good enough yet” to charge what I knew I needed to charge so I could make a reasonable living.

    After two projects where I lost money, I decided that I was basically paying my clients to let me work for them and that if I say “my rate is X” the worst that can happen is they say “you’re too expensive”.

    I ended up working on less projects but making a profit versus working on several projects and losing money.

    I think its a hard lesson to learn that making $X doesn’t mean you earned $X in profit.

  89. When I write professionally, I expect to be paid a professional rate. When I write for a fanzine, I am making a conscious choice to do something I enjoy without expectation of payment. Black Matrix seems to want the best of both worlds for themselves, at the expense of its writers.

    If it really is a shoestring operation, why not run BM as a co-operative, with both publisher and author receiving an agreed share of the profits?

  90. @sandra,

    The “business plan math” thing works both ways. If you’ve done your research into the professional market that you’re trying to break into, you should know roughly what the pay rate for newbs is and have some idea how much work you’re likely to get during your early stages. Even if you’re very talented and capable of “top level author” work, you’re still going to have to prove that, as well as that you are consistent in your talent, professionalism and quality of work to start climbing the pay scale.

    This is (ostensibly, please apply Loving Mallet if I’m wrong) why Scalzi’s Guidelines say to not quit your day job until you’re consistently making enough money to take care of yourself (I believe the Guidelines actually say making more than your day job pays you, but everyone has a different threshold of needed funds).

    You have to make your own business plan too, becoming a professional freelance creator is, in fact, starting a business. So when trying to get Aspiring Creator Stockholm Syndrome Sufferers to value their work, we’re saying “this is part of being a professional, and you have to know that before you try to become one.”

  91. For the defense:

    1. I am not an aspiring writer trapped in Stockholm Syndrome. Everything I’ve sold, which is about as many pieces as I have fingers, sold at market rates in the markets in question. I got stiffed by a publisher who went bankrupt once, but that wasn’t their fault – their market went away, and they did their best to partially compensate everyone involved.

    I don’t do that full time because I’m not as good a writer as the Hugo-grade speculative fiction writers who make as much on writing or more than I do doing what I do full time. In that sense, ANY writing I did was at net loss for me – I will earn far more at my day job than if I take time off for writing. That would not be true if I were good enough to command good hardcover advance rates or sell stories at $0.25/word all the time – but even Scalzi admits in next thread that he doesn’t do that all the time. So most of the time I wrote fiction I just threw it out there for free, because it was a hobby.

    If I thought Black Matrix would get me publicity I’d consider publishing through them, because I don’t lose any more than I’d lose putting it out there for free, either just on the Web or Usenet, or in a free Zine.

    In my current opinion they’re not better PR for me than just free postings, but that’s a business analysis decision, not a value judgment on their payment scale. I don’t loathe them for being an ineffective PR venue; they just haven’t arrived yet, and their business model seems to make it unlikely that they’ll succeed and do so.

    2. Why would Black Matrix be a LLC? Because LLCs cost about $200-300, and if you’re going to do anything which will have more money than that flowing through it, you really should incorporate it. Really. Even if it’s an S-corp. Even if there are only 2 shareholders. And get it separate bank accounts, etc etc.

    Come on, people. Small Business 101. And this applies to not-for-profit and many hobbyist activities. Put a legal safety box around it. That $2-300 is some of the best money you can spend, and helps avoid things like business creditors coming after your cars and house if your tiny print press goes bust.

    If there are any zines which pay anything that haven’t incorporated, get your heads out of your nether regions and do so. Think of it as insurance for the people doing the work. If you can’t afford the insurance, you REALLY can’t afford to be doing the project…

    In my opinions – if Black Matrix pulls in $100k/year and pays $2,500 of that to writers, they’re a scam operation by normal speculative fiction standards and deserve to be scorned. If they pull in $10k/year and $2,500 of that goes to writers, the two principals would seem to be making an hourly rate somewhat less than they are paying their writers, given the volume they’re indicating they want to publish. In which case it’s either a labor of love, or an insane business model. I suspect they’re going to be down near the bottom of that.

    If they start there and evolve upwards, I would hope and expect that over time they’d pay better. If they start there and don’t sell enough to grow then they are way too aggressive.

    Fundamentally they seem, from a business perspective, undercapitalized, and from an editorial perspective, overloaded and overreaching.

    But I’ve in the past been involved in a lot of fandom activities including cons and publishers, where those descriptions were entirely true. Some of which are pretty darn big.

    The big company doing many (most?) of the Renaissance Pleasure Faires lost serious money every year for its first 20-ish years of existence and charges most of the performers tent rental and pays them nothing. I don’t know of any cons in my area with any paid employees; a handful of people get con-paid hotel rooms for the weekend, that’s it. I’ve known publishers whose capital and business inventory amounted to one computer and a by-the-hour Kinkos laser printer to generate the masters for offset printing. I know of speculative fiction websites whose owners put in 500 hours or more a year and get nothing out, though google ads changed that somewhat.

    If someone can convince me that Black Matrix is in fact a cash cow, and that the proprietors are making far more than the artists, then I’ll scoff at them for being unethical. But the info out there so far makes it look like they’re making less than their writers at the moment. In which case, my response is “Aim high, maybe you’ll succeed. Don’t put so much effort in that you burn out or get divorced.”

  92. I just want to say that these Black Matrix posts have been a great discussion and absolute feast of food for thought.

    I have been only submitting to pro mags so far (and had a few close calls), and have been considering bumping some of my stories down to semi-pro.

    This discussion has helped me get clarity on doing that and what the proper reasons and expectations are.

    For me less than pro rates has to be decided per publication. Shimmer is a fine magazine that I would be proud to be in (and in it I recently read one of my favorite pieces of the last few months). Black Matrix, on the other hand, not so much.

    Thanks everyone!

  93. GWH:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: A bad business plan (and apparently bad business sense) does not excuse screwing writers. Moreover, if they have a bad business plan now, the chances of them surviving to do better is low. If they do survive, what is their impetus for raising rates? They’ve already shown they can thrive offering writers next to nothing. And finally, of course, acting unethically toward writers and making almost no money while doing doesn’t actually excuse acting unethically toward writers.

    And no, I’m not at all convinced that these people see it as a hobby, despite your comments that it makes sense to corporatize one’s hobbies. It may indeed, but look: single ‘zine is a hobby. Four magazines and two book lines is a business. It makes sense for them to hide under the “hobby” defense, but their own ambitions belie that.

  94. I don’t know their reasoning or thoughts behind corporatizing a hobby, but if it involves the IRS, it would be a very bad idea.

    See, a hobby is something you do because you want to and because you’d do it even if you didn’t make any money at it. Writing can be a hobby if you get an idea, write the story, maybe even try to sell it.

    But if you’re planning four magazines and two book lines, that’s not a hobby, unless if, on your own, you’ve spent pleasant weekends negotiating with printers, unpacking boxes of books, designing marketing campaigns and shafting your writers.

    And if you intend to write this hobby off, the IRS takes a very dim view, and their hobby is to send a passel of stiff-suited agents to your door with warrants and adding machines, bend you over a chair, and perform what they call an “audit.”

    IRS case law is full of schmart guyz who go to the Carribbean, write a manuscript, waste publishers times in rejecting it, and trying to write off the expenses.

    One other point to add: I’ve listened to a lot of advice given to freelancers, particularly artists and tech writers, and one of the most common problems among them is that they don’t ask for enough money.

    Writers and artists consistently undervalue their work. They lock themselves into believing that because the guy hiring them says no, that they can’t ask for more.

    When they finally worked up the nerve to ask for more, most of the time they got it. The money was there after all.

    Sure, they lost business, but they also gained business, and since the cheapskates took themselves out of the running, the freelancers had more time to service businesses that were willing to pay more.

    And now that there’s the internet, writers have a way of marketing their work that guarantees an access to an audience. Blogs are free. If you’re an original, compelling voice, you’ll draw an audience (hell, if you’re not but you deliver the goods regularly, chances are you still will draw a crowd).

    You could end up reaching more readers this way than someone’s “hobby” business that doesn’t pay enough to make it worth sending a manuscript. And I’ll bet you’d have a lot more fun this way, too.

  95. I submit to markets paying highest first. I never heard of Black Matrix before and no disrespect intended but it’s a free market. If they publish quality material that people want to read, then that’s the market price for that level of quality. There are a limited number of places to sell for higher rates. Limited number of slots. High quality work may not find a home at $0.25/word or $0.05/word. The free market makes it possible for a story to find its worth. If readers are satisfied with mediocre stories then that is how it is. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The long tail effect is often praised for increasing the range of work available.

    If good stories are only worth $0.001/word then that is a shame but it is real. If they publish bad stories then readers will not read them on their site and the publisher will fail.

    Maybe the bottom value is even $0. Some authors have given their work away for free online. Like the Creative Commons. Reasons for giving it away free may be different but they all contribute toward setting the market value lower.

    With all due respect it is as if you feel it dilutes your own readership space and profit opportunity if other people’s readable stories get an audience at low pay levels. In that light your posting could be viewed as personally protectionist.

  96. John: They aren’t screwing writers unless they’re making a lot of money, and not paying a reasonable proportion of it down to the writers.

    You’re assuming or asserting that they’re making or should make that money. There’s no evidence of that.

    If they start making that money, and still pay that rate, then they deserve scorn. But that’s a ways down the line.

    What’s wrong in transactions is one party getting an unfair proportion of the benefits. If the benefits are very low – a free website, a story that wasn’t good enough to sell to any five cent a word venues, a few hundred people regularly reading the website and no more than that much publicity going out – then it can still be an equal or fair distribution even though the absolute amounts involved are very low.

    You’re saying “You shouldn’t work for that little.” I agree that that’s not a way to make a living. But the vast majority of speculative fiction fans, and fandom participants, don’t make a living at it. Cons that pay nobody on staff anything still collect $20, 30, 50, sometimes over $100 per participant – which pays for the hotel, publications, logistics, at least the airfare and in many cases fees for the speakers / guests, etc. I’ve known people who invested well over a thousand hours a year in con work – time away from family and having a real social life outside work. Were they mistreated by the con organization somehow? There was money changing hands. But the Con wasn’t “profiting”.

    I know websites and zines and a few print magazines which aren’t functionally any different than that. These people don’t seem to be any different than that. I don’t have access to their financials, so I don’t know, but the evidence at hand doesn’t indicate otherwise to me.

    Even if they’re paying themselves a salary, there’s no sign it’s where most of the money is going. At their apparent size range and volume of publications, they have to be putting most of the money into paper, not paid staff time.

    You got your start (in this industry, at least) by throwing a novel up on your website, for free. Plenty of people do that. Plenty of people do that with free zines, or ones which pay little to nothing. I don’t know of any small zine publishers who can really afford it as a decent day job.

    The details here are a little different – but again, there’s no evidence that these people are going to get rich doing this, and if they are and still aren’t paying decent writers rates THEN I will stand beside you and fart in their general direction. Until then – there’s no functional difference between what they’re doing and how you got your start in this industry.

    The quantity of money which would seem to be changing hands doesn’t seem to justify the charges that they’re doing something unfair. The lack of business sense doesn’t justify the charges that they’re doing something unfair. It’s foolish – but on their own heads.

    The key question is how many copies of what they sell in six months, or a year, and what their rates are at the end of that. If the portion of the net (less publishing and distribution costs and business overhead) going to writers is low and they’re selling well then that’s a problem. If they’re not selling well, they’re another functionally free venue, plus pocket change, and need to be judged in those terms.

  97. GWH:

    “They aren’t screwing writers unless they’re making a lot of money, and not paying a reasonable proportion of it down to the writers.”

    Wrong. Flatly, utterly completely wrong. Whether or not they are screwing writers is independent of whether they themselves are making any sort of money. They’re screwing writers by a) not offering a reasonable sum of payment, and b) building a business plan which assumes an appallingly low compensation rate for writers. Whether the publishers make any sort of money is immaterial to the writer as regards compensation; the writer and the publisher are not in the same line of work in that regard.

    A smart business plan take into consideration all reasonable start-up costs for a reasonable amount of time until their business can begin producing revenue, and does not bake “here’s a group of people we’re going to screw” into the business recipe. If these people can’t run their business without screwing the writers, they shouldn’t be in business. I have absolutely not a shred of patience or sympathy for them in this matter.

  98. You seem to be explicitly in that tarring all the free zines, and websites, and posting your story uncompensated to your own website. Which is what you did to get started in the field. You admitted, as I recall, that you didn’t expect posting it to get it published, at the time.

    I’m just saying.

  99. Also:

    the writer and the publisher are not in the same line of work in that regard.

    This is not a venue for people in the line of work of being professional writers.

    It is not alone in that regard.

  100. GWH:

    I’m really not seeing any sort of parallel at all between my choosing to post my own work online because I couldn’t be bothered to shop it, and someone planning to build a mini-media empire of four magazines and two book lines with a business plan predicated on no advances for the books and one-fifth of a penny a word for the magazine pieces.

    “This is not a venue for people in the line of work of being professional writers.”

    Fixed that for you.

    Also, bah. Black Matrix Publishing is clearly a for-profit business, the fellow’s ass-covering back-pedal bleating to the otherwise notwithstanding. He’d’ve been delighted to get pro-level work, presuming someone at that level bothered to give him the time of day.

  101. We’re going to have to agree to disagree. But in calling it a mini-media-empire you’re ascribing to them attributes I think that at best they aspire to in their wildest dreams, not ones that accurately represent what they are.

    They’re not a real professional writer venue. I don’t see them trying to be. Nor should they have to be, any more than many many many other free, semipro, web-only sites and zines and so forth are.

    You should get over that.

  102. Please tell us, Mr. Herbert, exactly how the prospective paying sales market for BMP’s publications differs from the prospective paying sales market for publications containing works by “professional writers,” so that we may know that there are two different venues on both ends of the equation?

  103. Sure, they’re for profit. But there’s a difference between “for profit” and “successful and professional”

    There are plenty of zines whose editors would, if they could charge or got enough ad revenue, gladly make a profit. And share with the writers. Their business models – or hobbist model, as it were – is to fit into the niche where you can’t charge much more than press plus shipping, or put google ads on your website.

  104. GWH:

    “But in calling it a mini-media-empire you’re ascribing to them attributes I think that at best they aspire to in their wildest dreams”

    I’m ascribing to them what they explicitly intend to do, George. It’s right there on their web site. Your attempts at handwaving away this little inconvenient fact are a bit silly.

    I agree it’s not a “professional writer venue,” but that’s neither here nor there as regards whether it’s screwing the writer with its rates. It is. I find your willingness to excuse writer-screwing so long as the business is not a “professional writer venue” curious, and quite obviously not something I agree with.

    “Sure, they’re for profit. But there’s a difference between ‘for profit’ and ‘successful and professional.”

    Really, no. Out in the real world, if someone’s intending to make money off the writer, the writer should be reasonably compensated first whether or not the publisher makes any sort of money at all. Like any other person offering services that publisher needs to be successful. Unless you want to argue that printers and distributors and everyone else shouldn’t bother to be reasonably compensated until and unless the publisher is successful, your argument that writers should just bend over doesn’t fly.

  105. Jeff -

    They admit to not stocking at bookstores. They appear not to have much effective PR. They don’t seem to have any capital backing, to get those things or to pay writers enough to get current pro writers writing for them. Those are the differentiators.

    They could crawl up out of the muck, if they find yet-unpublished writers who are gems in the rough and succeed at publishing compelling stories which readers find out about via word of mouth.

    If they do crawl out of the muck and still pay that rate, then that’s a problem.

  106. John:

    Again, what you’re saying, that venues should not exist unless they pay pro rates, is wildly inconsistent with the reality of the wide base of fandom and very low volume publishing, zines, and websites.

    They are out there, and in many cases people compete hard to get stories in venues that offer them only exposure, because the writers consider that exposure to be a valid worthwhile exchange.

    This is insanely elitist. There’s a whole industry down there – and people are happy on all sides to participate. They don’t need your validation to exist.

  107. GWH:

    “Again, what you’re saying, that venues should not exist unless they pay pro rates”

    I don’t recall saying such a thing in the discussion of Black Matrix Publishing. Find for me where I’ve said such a thing, please. If you cannot, and I suspect you won’t, please adjust your brain accordingly, and continue the discussion based on what I have actually said, rather than what you appear to have assumed I have said.

    I do recall saying one fifth of a cent per word is an appalling rate. It is.

  108. “Sure, they’re for profit. But there’s a difference between “for profit” and “successful and professional””

    I don’t think so. Profit is not something shared with the writers. Profit is something that is either put back into the business or split up among investors. Paying the writer is part of the cost of operations of putting a magazine together. What BM is doing is shirking on the costs, and shafting the writer in the process.

    Without being professional — and paying a professional rate — this operation will be a far cry from successful. Nor will it truly profit.

  109. John writes:

    Unless you want to argue that printers and distributors and everyone else shouldn’t bother to be reasonably compensated until and unless the publisher is successful, your argument that writers should just bend over doesn’t fly.

    And all the websites which host fiction, and charge nothing for readership (some of which make some back on google ads, but many of which existed with their operators paying the web hosting bill out of pocket for a long time before Google was there)?

    And the people who are only the barest step above printing and distribution costs, where the POD cost is essentially all that the market will bear for the final product? (This category is where I feel these Black Matrix people fall, at the moment)

    If you cannot afford to pay the printer and distributor you don’t get a printed book or magazine. Plenty of people are distributing on PDF instead.

    These people are going far enough to kill trees. But that’s not factual evidence that they have enough sales to support a real profit margin per se.

    Again – there’s a whole industry down at the bottom in which writer and artist compensation is next to nothing. Plenty of people are comfortable with that. They’re not making a living at it, and don’t expect to. If they’re good then the PR is the benefit they get out of it, and if they’re good and get PR then they can get paying gigs and move on up to professional rates and making a living at it. Which I’m happy to have them do. Really.

  110. The way I see it, if you’re bringing out a slick magazine with a $10 cover price while paying your writers 20 mills/word, what you’re demonstrating is that you value the services of your printer more than you value the services of your writers, since I’m sure the printer is charging full pop for a short run on clay coated stock.

  111. GWH:

    “These people are going far enough to kill trees. But that’s not factual evidence that they have enough sales to support a real profit margin per se.”

    George, I don’t know how many times I have to say this for it to sink into your head, so I’ll just be blunt about it: Your argument that Black Matrix Publishing’s apparent inability to make money mitigates or excuses paying its writers one fifth of a cent per word is really fucking stupid. They’re running a business, they intend to profit from it, and part of their business plan is paying writers shit. This is absolutely unacceptable, regardless of whether or not they ever actually make money off of it.

    If you actually and genuinely believe that it’s acceptable to screw the writers as long as one’s business remains unprofitable, then you’ve been added onto my list of people not to do business with.

    Re: my quote “If these people can’t run their business without screwing the writers, they shouldn’t be in business” — Well, I’m delighted to see you admit that they are screwing writers (whoops, inaccurate, never mind). However, I asked you to show where I said that venues should not exist unless they pay pro rates, which this does not say. Again: Show me where I said what you said I said. If you can’t (which you won’t), then please stop basing your arguments to me on what the imaginary version of me in your head is saying, and make them based on what the real live me outside your head has said.

  112. GVDub –

    what you’re demonstrating is that you value the services of your printer more than you value the services of your writers

    Based on magazine and book printing economics, for everything other than hardbacks, I believe that to actually be the case in nearly the entire publishing world. I can’t recall hearing of anyone who made more author royalties off a paperback than what the paperback printers charge. The bookstores and distributors take another big chunk, perhaps more than those other two costs.

    Paper’s not cheap.

    I suspect and assume that Black Matrix are POD not offset print runs, which makes that equation far worse.

  113. mythago@41

    If only it were true that the exploiters tell artists any exposure is good. Most artists will do whatever it takes to get the public to pay attention. The exploiters just take advantage of the artist’s own inclinations.

    And, not being too cynical, most of the public just doesn’t care. They take whatever’s spoon fed to them by Clear Channel.

    As for what happens to them after they get their $20, who knows? I sure don’t. But, I’d be willing to bet that some day we’ll hear more from one, or more, of the $20 types.

  114. Bravo, John! I’ve been forwarding your article to my friends in the creative arts — the same kinds of “business models” are being pursued in photography, illustration, design, etc.

    We are all in this together…

  115. John:

    George, I don’t know how many times I have to say this for it to sink into your head, so I’ll just be blunt about it: Your argument that Black Matrix Publishing’s apparent inability to make money mitigates or excuses paying its writers one fifth of a cent per word is really fucking stupid. They’re running a business, they intend to profit from it, and part of their business plan is paying writers shit. This is absolutely unacceptable, regardless of whether or not they ever actually make money off of it.

    By point -

    They’re running a business

    …of sorts. Revenue stream does not equal profitability or useful paid salaries, if costs are high. See fandom cons, etc.

    they intend to profit from it

    …and have said that if/when they can they’ll pay more (albeit in response to your attacks, and not preemptively). I see no reason to disbelieve them – most of the free/semipro zine people I know aspire to being good enough editors and publishers to push enough copies out to be able to pay writers and create a new, successful, for profit business. They realistically know that they aren’t by and large going to get there.

    These two are taking a long leap of faith and shooting for the moon. I don’t think you or I have a fundamental disagreement on their odds of success with that. But I don’t think they’re unethical for trying, as long as they’re being honest about it.

    and part of their business plan is paying writers shit

    …as opposed to the business plans that pay writers nothing, other than exposure?

    Their business plan seems to be “We have no money, so you’re taking a risk that the exposure of being published comes out as worth it to you. We’re taking a risk that your writing will sell enough for us to sell enough to be successful. You’re taking a risk that we’ll pay better if we’re successful publishing you.”

    I doubt it will succeed. But it’s not unethical.

    If you actually and genuinely believe that it’s acceptable to screw the writers as long as one’s business remains unprofitable, then you’ve been added onto my list of people not to do business with.

    I am not in the business of publishing low / zero margin speculative fiction. I would not get into that business, as I could not make money at it. If I were going to start a literary publishing project, assuming I had the proper skills and inclination – first, I would have to lose my mind, as the business state of publishing at the moment seems like an economic black hole, but second, I would come up with enough capital to hire the right writers and editors and publication/distribution venues, or I wouldn’t start. I would be afraid of losing all the capital anyways – but I couldn’t personally economically justify the venture without enough capital to make a real go of it.

    I’ve toyed with the idea of a POD based low capital no advances publisher, where the publisher provides editorial services and PR and distribution, and the author and publisher split all net (net production/distribution cost) revenue from book 1 at a pre-fixed percentage (say, 50:50), for the sake of argument). It might be economically viable. But see “I have no inclination to wade through slush piles”, and I have no background doing professional editing or publishing, and even with lower publisher capital investments it’s still fairly risky.

    I might conceivably as a hobbyist – not expecting any income out of the venture – start a free ‘zine – I realistically have no time and little interest in wading through slush piles, but I know people who do that, and it’s something which I respect.

    I know people who publish magazines where the cost of the magazine to consumers is printing cost plus shipping cost, plus perhaps enough to cover laser printer toner and office supplies and electricity expended doing the layout. They’re “in business” – they charge for product – but aren’t taking anything home.

    I know some who charge epsilon above the printing plus distribution plus office costs, and end up making oh, I don’t know, around a dollar an hour doing it when all is said and done. I don’t mind the epsilon there, and if you spread half that dollar out across the writers you’d get rates that look like what Black Matrix pays. They didn’t bother trying to spread it out, and their writers knew that, and submitted anyways.

    The pay-for-publish services are quite scummy. But there’s a large market out there which seems to include Black Matrix, which are merely uneconomical, not scummy. It’s not disrespecting authors to say “I can publish you, but my business model is that I pay nothing or next to nothing. Is it worth it to you to be published by me?”. For some people the answer is still yes. The ethical compact is that publishers in that range aren’t making much if any money either. If Black Matrix starts making serious profits and doesn’t move up to paying appropriately, that’s a different ballgame.

    But where they are now is fine by me. I wouldn’t submit anything to them, because I don’t think they’re going to sell enough copies of anything for it to be an effective PR channel for my work, and because I’m afraid they’ll go out of business. But that’s a business, not ethical, judgement.

  116. darn it, teach me to not preview. John, if you want to edit my post and insert the missing blockquote end, feel free. otherwise i will sit in the formatting corner of shame, with the italic cap on my head.

  117. GWH:

    “…of sorts.”

    Well, no. As I’ve said before, I do note BMP is now running back to the “oh, we’re just fans,” rationalization, but before the shit hit the fan, there really was no evidence that these folks were doing anything other than positioning themselves as a business, doing business. Thus I find this latter-day conversion to fan-level initiative rather less than compelling at best and manipulative at worst, in that it’s an attempt to defend an abysmal business practice and get other people to defend it as well.

    Re: Formatting: No worries.

    Also, we’re about to head out for dinner, so don’t expect an immediate response to any subsequent comment.

  118. What Mike Brendan @119 said deserves to be repeated:

    Profit is not something shared with the writers. Profit is something that is either put back into the business or split up among investors. Paying the writer is part of the cost of operations of putting a magazine together.

    Real businesses don’t pay “cost of goods sold” out of profits.

    “Hey, lumber company, we’re building a house, we need all this wood. We’ll pay you for the wood after we’ve sold the house, assuming we make any profit on it.”

    Yeah, no, that oesn’t fly.

  119. If you have evidence that they have capital and sufficient income stream to be not-just-fans then I will reconsider.

    Part of the problem here is that creating a professional looking web presence is too easy.

    It used to be that professional looking publications – not obviously typewriter written layout, but actual printing with good fonts and professional layout – was a serious business with serious money invested in software and hardware.

    Then Quark and the proliferation of desktop laser printers meant that you could do semi-professional or professional looking layout, as long as you knew what you were doing, for not much more than the cost of the PC you were going to buy anyways.

    The web reached that stage about ten years ago. I was involved in the web industry from that time and am acutely aware of how easy it is for the web front to look much bigger and more professional than the actual back end. I have consciously not made overly advanced websites for my own projects to avoid projecting any more air of credibility than the actual business justified.

    I never make that assumption about others’ sites. I looked around to see who they were publishing and where you could find it – and concluded they were fan publishers based on writers and apparent distribution.

    That could be wrong though. I call it like I see it, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right call.

  120. GWH @131

    “If you have evidence that they have capital and sufficient income stream to be not-just-fans then I will reconsider.”

    You seem to ignore the fact that BM is starting up four magazines and two book lines. That’s not a “for the love” or fandom operation. That’s a full blown press and business.

  121. Mike – I’ve seen plenty of fan groups attempting something that big.

    Mostly, they fail and implode, usually due to lack of sleep and income.

    I’ve never seen a new publisher who were serious who jumped off like this. It has all the hallmarks of a fan group. Pros who are launching a pocket press do the whole business side better.

    Again – I could be wrong, but that’s not an argument which is convincing me. If anything, its evidence for my point…

  122. GWH @127

    ‘These two are taking a long leap of faith and shooting for the moon.’

    I think DellArte Press would love to meet you.

    Literally.

  123. I think they are just fans. Ambitious fans whose reach clearly is further than their grasp, but just fans nonetheless. Not that it matters what they really are. Most likely BMP will be gone before the end of 2010, forgotten save as an object lesson.

  124. Oh come on people. Fans don’t start up 4 magazines and 2 book lines as a hobby. They MIGHT do that as a business. But to say ‘hey, we’re starting four magazines and 2 book imprints, but it’s just a hobby’ is not believable. And AGAIN do the math – 1 penny per word for a 5000 word story is $50. Print 4 of those in a monthly issue and you’re spending $200 per month. A penny a word is what Electric Velocipede (2009 Hugo winner in the Fanzine category) pays and it’s FIVE TIMES what BM pays. BM wants to pay $40 for 20,000 words of fiction. That’s insulting and if the $160 per month is even remotely material to them they shouldn’t have even started this, fanzine or business.

  125. “I’ve seen plenty of fan groups attempting something that big.”

    Since you haven’t provide evidence or named such groups I’m disinclined to believe the validity of that statement.

    Fact is: BM is a business.

  126. Wait, wasn’t there something about there being 70,000 words in the magazine? They want to pay a total of $140 for all of the content?

    So they make their money back for the content selling 14 copies. FOURTEEN. COPIES.

    They’d make back that money even if they printed 50 copies of this thing at home on a laser printer and sold them at small regional conventions.

    How many hundreds or thousands of copies, exactly, are they planning on printing? While I understand the desire to have a high-quality printed book, does it really make sense for a purported fan publication to spend a ton of money on clay-coat stock when they’d probably cut their print cost by 1/3 or maybe even 1/2 if they went with the upper-end newsprint? I doubt many of the target audience would mind a “pulp” book being printed on “pulp-like” paper; the whole point of the pulps was that they were cheap to produce, thus generating more net revenue.

    Are they soliciting advertising in this book? Are they charging 1/25 of the usual rate for ads, too?

  127. Jeff, not quite right there.

    They seem to be using CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand service. Using those details and the tools on this or this page they should be looking at a basic royalty of $4.30 per book, with zero overhead. So if they sold 33 of them at the basic rate they would have paid off all the authors.

    It would make more sense to pay the extra $39 to upgrade to pro, making an extra $1.51 per book sold, along with other benefits. Then they would have made the $140 profit after 31.

    Of course, from what was said before it looks like they have more expenses, and there are plenty of ways that Amazon can take a deeper cut. I wouldn’t be surprised if they went this route mostly because they can get pretty cheep copies of the book printed themselves; pro rates for that are $2.15 per book, plus S&H. If they can sell themselves at the same rate as online that’s a pretty solid margin.

    Maybe there is something to this PoD stuff after all…

  128. GWH at 124

    Choosing slick glossy for your publication is a very expensive proposition. My point is that they could have printed on newsprint (thus paying proper tribute to the pulps, btw) with thinner cover stock and saved more than enough to pay the writers a much higher, possibly even pro, rate. Even granted that they may be working with limited resources, that fact that they chose to go with the most expensive printing option they had, while paying the writers shit, would indicate that they, in fact, have very little respect for the writers.

  129. What’s appalling is that I’ve now been able to observe this market trend in two separate careers…

    The Black Matrix and Harlequin scams are reminiscent of the underhanded deals that regional airlines offered aspiring pilots twenty-odd years ago. Fly right-seat for free, and in many cases actually *pay* for the job by funding your own training. The idea was that new pilots were desperate to build time in multi-engine turbines: get the experience and hopefully move onward and upward. There were just enough suckers out there to keep that screw-job going for a few years.

    Just now getting my foot in the door as a writer, this looks like the same idea: take advantage of the newbie’s desperation to improve your bottom line.

    Sorry, I choose not to participate. If that means my work languishes a bit longer, so be it.

    I’ve had some success at magazine writing and am hitting about 80% in turning pitches to sales.

    Wish the same could be said for the novel I’m pitching to agents. Everyone warned me that this is the agonizing part: they were correct.
    The key is to not take things personally and treat publishing like the business it is. That’s exceedingly hard because fiction work is so intensely personal, but it’s the only way to stay sane.

  130. GWH@124:
    “Based on magazine and book printing economics, for everything other than hardbacks, I believe that to actually be the case in nearly the entire publishing world. I can’t recall hearing of anyone who made more author royalties off a paperback than what the paperback printers charge. The bookstores and distributors take another big chunk, perhaps more than those other two costs.

    Paper’s not cheap.”

    I can assure you this is most assuredly not so. We focus primarily on hardcovers, but in our trade paperback line, our authors regularly make more than the printing cost in royalties.

    Bill
    SubPress

  131. I’m a little late to this hoedown, but I’ll wade into the fray all the same, subjecting myself to the inevitable plaudits and barbs. I’ve been writing for about 20 years and have been a very small-time publisher for almost one year. I started a niche publication in early 2009 devoted solely to the fine art of dark/black humor. Nuttin’ else. If you’re trying to get your humorous prose or verse published, you’ll soon realize that there aren’t all that many good outlets for this sort of thing – unless I’m missing something.

    We publish online only, with a new work of short (982 words or less) fiction or poetry coming out three or four weeks out of each month. Content is freely available to all comers and any income we have at this point comes from a few affiliate ads. These generate a laughable sum of money that makes BM’s pay rates seem downright princely.

    In spite of our modest means, I intend to be in this for the long haul and have chosen to pursue a policy of slow growth, getting out the word whenever and wherever I can and hoping that things eventually build to a critical mass – or whatever. In the meantime, and from the very start, I’ve made sure that we pay something to our writers, without whom there wouldn’t be much of a publication. It’s a dinky sum ($10 flat fee), for sure, but as my saintly great-grandmother used to say, it’s better than a sizzling hot fireplace poker rammed up your rectum.

    Because we publish short pieces this works out to a little over a penny a word for the longest submissions. The lucky contestant who turned in a brief piece of verse was paid at the almost decent rate of 14.7 cents per word. Unfortunately for her, there were only 68 of them.

    As for the quality of submissions, some are quite good and some not so much, but we get enough of the former that I don’t feel that we’ve ever had to publish something second-rate (if it came to that, we’d just throw in the towel).

    Of course, I’d like to pay contributors more and I’m thinking of upping the rate a bit, even though it’s all coming out my pocket now, for the most part. I’m also wracking my brain, trying to figure out how to bring in a little bit of income. But I’m realistic enough to know that if big guns like Baen Books couldn’t bring in enough bucks to keep their e-pub going, it’ll be really tough for us small guys.

    As for BM, I’m not going to weigh in much, except to say that if they are planning to charge $10 per issue, as was mentioned in one of these threads, then maybe they could find a way to carve out a little more of that income for the people who are going to make the publication possible.

  132. Lest people think Mr. Scalzi is out of line, let’s look at some numbers:

    A 15000 word story at .0020 is $30.

    A 10000 word stories is $20

    A 3000 word story is $6.

    And the article Mr. Scalzi wrote just now?

    $2.04.

    To earn minimum wage rates in the US, at this rate, you’d have to write 7,450,000 words.

    How would this EVER encourage a writer to do anything other than get a job at McDonalds?

  133. As usual, late to the party on this Scalzi thread.

    My thoughts….

    People will pay you precisely what you teach them you can be paid, just as people will treat you how you teach them to treat you.

    Teach someone they can treat you like shit — and get away with it — and they will treat you like shit. Then get confused or angry if ever you stand up for yourself and tell them to bug off or change their behavior.

    I say, don’t dip below established SFWA word rate unless you have a very, very, very good reason to do so — charity, or a tiny toss-off for a convention (aka: publicity for you!) or some other, very similar thing.

    0.2¢ per word is just terrible, no matter how you slice it. And yes, small and tiny presses/magazines have a rough time of it, but really, if a starting-out press or magazine can’t manage SFWA rates, how will being published in such a manner in any way help a writer? It’s not like a press or magazine at that level isn’t sort of self-incriminating, in the Bona Fide department.

    Ergo, “Hey, we’re so pathetically small-time, we’re going to pay accordingly!”

    No thanks. I’d rather sell less — and make more per word — than sell a lot, and make almost nothing for it.

  134. Bill @142 -

    I was hoping you’d contribute to the thread.

    I would like to bring your publications catalog in as Defense Exhibit 1.

    http://www.subterraneanpress.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv

    You have something slightly less than 150 items listed.

    Of those – Excluding magazine issues –

    Two are $10
    Two are $12
    One is $14
    Two are $14.95
    One is $15
    Three are $18

    The other 130-odd pieces are presumably mostly hardbacks.

    I think you just won the paper cost argument for me. Your press is the exception – but in doing so, your prices on paperbacks are about 2x what everyone else can charge.

    You’re choosy in selecting authors and works that can support that in small press runs. That would seem not to scale to industrywide.

    Exceptions often prove the (general) rule….

  135. I think I see one of the fundamental problems. Writers see themselves as the customer and the publishers as the merchant vendor in the relationship. Which is the exact opposite of what it really is. The writer is the merchant vendor and the publisher is the paying customer. You, the author, are selling to the publisher your goods(prose) and services(writing). We know what eventually happens to merchants who give in to skinflint customers and undersell their products at less than cost or what they are worth. BMP wants to treat you as the Walmart of authors.

    The author is the seller; the publisher is the buyer. Cross stitch that over your mantle.
    This seeing the relationship backwards also explains vanity press.

  136. gwh@147

    ‘Exceptions often prove the (general) rule….’

    No, they don’t.

    I appreciate that you are desperate, but if your fall back position is to mutilate a perfectly innocent mathematical concept which never did you any harm, in the hope that people may not notice that you are talking gibberish, then you really need to get a grip.

    I will concede that my personal tolerance levels for someone capable of perpretating a sentence like:

    ‘‘These two are taking a long leap of faith and shooting for the moon.’

    are so low that I think I may be leaping for jow weapons mysef. Only so

  137. Stevie -

    Do I need to resort to math and sample numbers?

    $1.00/ book for 10k print run and up, plus or minus epsilon. That will be roughly $1.25/book for 5k, $2/book for $2500, $3/book for a thousand, etc. More for significantly larger, full color cover, etc. Someone at Tor or Bill could fill in more specific numbers, but probably won’t.

    $0.05/word for 100,000 words is $5,000 advance. 8% of cover price of $7.99 is about $0.64/book author royalty.

    Even if we assume selling tens and tens of thousands of copies of the book – very successful by paperback standards, but short of NY times bestseller lists – and a 10% royalty on the book, that’s a marginal $0.80 for the author and $1 for the paper for late print run stuff.

    Speculative fiction seems to demand full color covers and seems to tend to 125,000 pp books, which are slightly more expensive. By the time all is said and done, authors are going to be needing to make about twice what the going paperback royalty rate is, and sell well, to equal the paper costs.

    That’s not mentioning what the costs are for books which ultimately get pulped rather than sold. Those still have to be produced, remember… For many books, that’s half the total printed or more. Oops. So roughly double those paper prices. Which already still exceed the notional lucky (but not bestselling) author payments.

  138. GWH @150 said:

    ‘Do I need to resort to math and sample numbers?’

    No, although that hasn’t stopped you from doing so.

    Strive to bear in mind the fact that the people you encounter on the web may have professional qualifications in the fields you are pontificating about. Admittedly the numbers I used to deal with had a lot more noughts on the end, but the general principles haven’t changed since the dawn of time; as Dickens put it:

    ‘Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.’*

    Our host takes the eminently reasonable view that inflicting the misery on the writers is a bad idea; you, on the other hand, seem to think that if you keep typing for long enough people will forget the inconvenient existence of the misery altogether and rally to support whatever version of BM’s story is currently on offer.

    We won’t.

    Of course our brains may become permanently scarred by your prose but that’s another matter.

    * which may be mitigated somewhat by loss relief claims depending on the fiscal entity but still doesn’t amount to happiness…

  139. “Exceptions often prove the (general) rule….”

    Definition #2 of the word exception, from dictionary.com is:

    “something excepted; an instance or case not conforming to the general rule.”

    So, no it does not prove the general rule. If you wish to consider yourself a writer (as a hobbyist or professional), pleasure make sure you use the proper words to express your opinion.

    You’ve also proven yourself very ignorant of the publishing industry in general (especially when a publisher tells you you’re wrong, and you say “you’re proving my point”), and the arena of the professional writer in general.

    Novel advances are not made “by the word.” The median advance (according to an informal survey by a professional writer) was $5000 in 2005. Now that may or may not have changed over the years, but that’s for a novel, regardless of its word count.

    I would rather see the “math and sample numbers” from an actual publisher than your speculation. Try doing some research next time.

  140. I used numbers from actual writers and publishers in preparing that. Not numbers from the last 12 months, but from the last few years, and nobody’s mentioned rates going up a lot or paper getting noticeably cheaper.

    I did round a bit for simplicity. With the best numbers I have available the results are within about 2%, but I’d have to wave an excel spreadsheet of statistical analysis of varying publishing cost quotes at you to justify that.

    If a currently active publisher wants to put more cards on the table with more detailed numbers, including actual press runs and costs, percentage of stuff that got pulped, etc., that would be better. Those are real numbers from real sources – but numbers from someone who actually does it for a living full time are much more credible than independent business analysis by someone in other fields.

    Bill @Subterranean is a great source and a great publisher. But as I pointed out, he’s charging 2x market rates for his product, and selling in ways that reduce his pulpage rate. Which would seem to make him a poor example of what the market norms are. If you have better information on what he’s printing or his costs – or he wants to post them – facts are facts.

    But I am not pulling this out of my ass. I’ve looked into becoming a publisher before, out of fancy in speculative fiction and actively in other fields, and the numbers I’m using aren’t fantasy. Paper is expensive. The way it’s used in paperbacks – where something like half of it gets shredded eventually – even moreso.

    To Steveie @151 -

    I have no objection to the proposition that nobody can make a living, much less a decent one, off BM rates.

    I object to the idea that there’s something morally wrong with the vast field of non-professional writing venues and fan activities, where people are doing it for love of the field, and not for pay. The attack on BM could just as easily have been launched by one of the pro Cons against all of volunteer fandom cons. The logic is the same – the people doing it aren’t paid, or aren’t paid anything worth noting (3-4 nights of a $75/night hotel room in exchange for 1,000 plus hours of volunteer effort, works out to $0.33/hr or so.)

    IF – and this is not proven – Black Matrix are breaking the implied social contract here, which is that they are making a lot of money and their writers are not – then I have nothing but scorn for them. If you have evidence their sales are high enough to be in that category then please present it.

  141. GWH:

    “I object to the idea that there’s something morally wrong with the vast field of non-professional writing venues and fan activities”

    Well, I object that you’re buying this defense from Black Matrix Publishing, which pulled the “we’re doing this for the love” nonsense out of its ass only after it got called on its exploitative rates. It’s public business plan had nothing to do with fandom until such time as it was convenient for the principals to push that particular button.

    Black Matrix Publishing had no “implied social contract,” prior to you trying to rationalize one into existence here. It’s a business and it was publishing with the hope and expectation of profit — and still is, by all evidence. To which the only question is: Why aren’t they paying their writers more?

    Stop making excuses for a bad business. It looks silly.

  142. It’s a terrible business. They seem highly overcommitted, the product costs are very high, they don’t seem to have nailed down viable distribution channels, etc.

    None of which is relevant to the question of whether it’s fundamentally an exercise in applied fandom or fundamentally a for-profit exercise to be judged by “business standards”.

    I’ve been assuming its the latter because I went and looked at their online product samples, website, blog, etc. And it matches up with “applied fandom”.

  143. GWH:

    “None of which is relevant to the question of whether it’s fundamentally an exercise in applied fandom or fundamentally a for-profit exercise to be judged by ‘business standards’.”

    You know what, when a group sets up an LLC and publicly sets out an ambitious business plan, including several lines of product, I think it’s entirely safe to assume that it’s actually intended to be a business.

    Counterwise, it appears that lot of your predication of it being “applied fandom” appears to be that they’re not actually competent with their business, which to be honest doesn’t square with most fan activity I know; the folks who run the local cons I go to, at the very least, appear to know what they’re doing.

    Also, and this is actually not a trivial point, most of the fan-run conventions I’m aware of are actually non-profit organizations, up to and including Worldcon. Your “applied fandom” argument would go rather a lot further if BMP were registered as a non-profit and not as an LLC.

    So: Registered as an LLC; many if not most “fan” organizations are non-profits. I suspect that is relevant, although at this point I don’t also doubt that you’ll come up with some reason as to why it’s not.

  144. GWH @ 155

    No, it doesn’t look like fandom.

    It does look a lot like PublishAmerica, which I suspect is where BM got their business model from…

  145. Fandom cons which aren’t run by competent people implode – either lack of returning staff or lack of customers kill them very quickly.

    Some Fandom cons are not nonprofit – some are not-for-profit, which is different. One locally here was set up to benefit the local PBS station that ran Dr Who etc; the longer running one puts any excess proceeds into a different related charity each year.

    Fan publishers with no business sense can last longer now, as print-on-demand type services have enabled rather than inhibited them. I know of several that literally just charge printing cost, not taking a dime themselves for the editing or content. As the setup can be all electronic, and since everyone now has computers good enough to do layout on anyways, the capital buy in costs dropped to negligible. At this point, many amateur publishers are purely a “time available volunteer basis”, quality not a factor anymore.

    Not that I consider this an improvement.

    I’ve already addressed the LLC thing. If you’re doing anything vaguely businesslike – work for hire or writing piecework are exceptions – you should have a LLC / corporation of some sort. This is the one business thing they did right over at BM. All of the Cons I know of are some form of incorporated (now – one was not in the late 80s/early 90s, and that helped kill it…). Many fanzines are, even volunteer/free ones.

    It’s not a sign of evil corporate domination. It’s a sign that somewhere in the brain, a slight amount of business sense perked. That doesn’t matter if you’re doing it to make a living or not. People who are volunteers or working not-for-profit can be sued by those they do business with and can lose houses and livelyhoods. If you’re doing it and it involves money, and it’s not clearly purely a hobby, or it could damage someone somehow, or there are intellectual property rights floating around, LLC.

    It makes it easier to do business, it protects you from a lot of stuff, and makes accounting of the project more straightforwards. Even if the project is functionally an advanced hobby.

  146. GWH:

    “I’ve already addressed the LLC thing.”

    Yes you have, and someone else earlier in the thread addressed your point of why having an LLC for your hobbies isn’t actually as good an idea as you appear to think it is. Which, in fact, they were correct about, from a taxation point of view. Regardless, in point of fact, if you set yourself up legally as a business, guess what? You’re a business. Act like one, and don’t hide behind a ridiculous veil of fannish justification bullshit.

    George, your problem is that no matter how often it’s pointed out to you that this thing is a business, you’ll find some way to maintain it’s not really enough of a business to satisfy you. I strongly suspect at this point that if the Black Matrix Publisher folks just came out and said “yes, we actually are a business and we planned to make money at it from the start,” you’d find a way of still rationalizing that they’re not.

    Anyway, it’s clear you’re not going to change your mind on the point, regardless of how many people point out the holes in your argument. Fine. You don’t think it’s a real business. Move on now.

  147. Perhaps my hobbies are more potentially dangerous to life or liability than yours.

    I’ve never seen anyone who lost a business or quality of life due to the costs of incorporation. The opposite is not true.

    I’ve said what my criteria were for judging BM a “real enough” business or not from the beginning; if anyone has sales figures, I’d be open to being shown to be incorrect. Did anyone bother to ask them? They probably won’t answer (I didn’t try) but who knows…

  148. My wife, Linda Formichelli, has been a freelance writer for mainstream and trade pubs full-time since 1997, and she still hears arguments similar to what Scalzi quotes in his piece: “I want to get my foot in the door.” “I want to build up clips.” And so on.

    She wrote an article in Nov. 2009 called “On Writing for Peanuts” that covers this topic in the field of non-fiction. Lots of gullible wannabe writers out there…

  149. I’m the wife Eric talks about in the post above. My post, On Writing for Peanuts, gave counterarguments to all the reasons new freelancers put forth for writing for pennies. You can find the post here: http://therenegadewriter.com/2009/11/29/on-writing-for-peanuts/. It’s gotten a lot of positive response.

    I’ve been a freelance writer since 1997, and my *very first* sale paid me $500; from just about that moment on, I supported my family through my income as a freelancer. Now, new writers are fainting with pleasure that some content mill is willing to pay them $10 per article.

  150. Thanks so much for this post – it applies to so much more than SF writing, too. I’m forwarding this to a bunch of aspiring comic book artists. (You won’t believe the page rates some publishers offer… well, actually, you probably would.)

  151. Liane Merciel @97
    I did the same thing and received a lot of validation (and lessons) from the early acceptances and reader responses. Having said that, I made an active decision to submit to places where readers were encouraged to comment and authors were asked to take part in discussions. So for me, it wasn’t about the pay (or simply being “published”) but a progression from the message board where I’d been posting my stuff previously.

    The editor of the website made it clear that authors were expected to move up and move on. He didn’t imply that they were a top market and he was very clear that the payment was token *because authors should expect to be paid* but that he enjoyed the broadrange of stories he was receiving for discussion.

    I submitted there for a year, effectively getting the hang of what I wanted to write and whom for. But I knew what I was doing and I recognised the payment as *token* and certainly not for services rendered.

    In the same way, I know someone who has published short stories in extremely specialist publications for little or no compensation. Each one is an excerpt from her novel and she’s spreading them all over the U.S. – for her, it’s a part of a publicising campaign where she’s getting interest from a very specific group. I understand that and respect that she’s made that choice.

    But there has to be a clear reason to take that route (“No one else would take it” is one, I suppose) . I take Scalzi’s point that the people who are counting on this attitude and collecting words at lesser rates because they know they can are suspect.

  152. what I wanted to write and whom for

    Yeah, you got that right. I want to write for people who use whom correctly but don’t mind ending a sentence in a preposition.

    *mutter*

  153. A GOOD, healthy, exciting fiction/horror/sci-fi/whatever market would be one in which there is a whole range of guys… from those who pay us NOTHING to those who pay us WELL. I want the full range. Are you arguing that all the small shops should dry up and shut down? Uhh… no thanks. I want a chance to get started. I want motivation to keep writing and trying new things, improving my craft, and I want a full range of exposure possibilities.

    And, well–it’s a competitive market. Every publication will juggle around what they pay and how they operate, and the winning models will endure, the poor ones will fail.

    I also want to be able to say, in my cover letter, that I’ve published X and Y. Being able to say that makes it at least slightly more likely that the next place to which I submit will at least glance at my first page and give me a chance to hook them with my writing. Which is the whole point, after all.

    Another Example: I like making funny videos and putting them on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWUxoumYQxA). No one is paying me ANYTHING. I enjoy the audience I get, for what I get, and that motivates me to keep making funny videos. And if I get really good at it in the process, maybe I’ll make a buck someday. (As it happens, I am now paid to make instructional software videos, and the practice I get making silly videos improves my craft).

    Publication, like marriage, is not some kind of finish line. It is part of the ongoing process, the growth, the journey.

    Oh, but yeah– .002 a word is horrible. :-)

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