The discussion of speculative fiction writers, their markets and what the latter should be paying the former is now getting around in the SF/F geekosphere, which I think is all to the good; it’s one of those things we should talk about and often don’t, so I’m glad to have helped instigate the recent round. I have a couple of what I expect are closing thoughts on the matter, so here they are in bulletpoint form.
* First, my public thumping on Black Matrix Publishing for its ridiculous pay rate seems to have had an interesting effect on certain aspiring folks, along the lines of That arrogant bastard! How dare he tell me who I can and can’t submit to! I’m going to submit to pathetically-paying markets whether he likes it or not! News flash to such folks: Hey, I’m not your dad. Do whatever you want to do. I’m not going to stop you. I don’t think you’re generally helping yourself any, but it’s your karma, not mine. I’ve done my part by explaining why I think it’s a bad deal; you may agree or not depending on your own point of view. Fine with me. That said, later, when you come to me and say “wow, you were right, that was a bad idea,” I reserve the right to say “told you so.” Because I’m a dick that way, you see.
* One side effect of this discussion is that some folks seem to be under the impression that I’m of the opinion that every fiction outlet paying less than the SFWA pro rate should be wiped off the face of the Earth and that what is best in life is to crush these low-paying markets, drive them before you, and hear the lamentations of their editors. Well, no. The sf/f market is what it is. If you can’t place your work in the relatively few fiction markets that pay pro rates, then it’s time to look at the ones that pay less and see if they are worth your time.
But for God’s sake, people, show some discrimination. Writers are supposed to be smart, or at least clever. Use those meaty brains of yours and apply them to the business end of this problem. A market that might pay less than the pro rate but which is widely read and edited by professionals of long-standing reputation? Could be worth it. A “for the love” market of specific, limited scope, edited by knowledgeable enthusiasts, in which no one is making a penny off of anyone else (or planning to), but everyone’s having a good time? Might have its benefits. A for-profit market planning four magazines and two book lines, paying its contributors a fraction of a cent per word? Unmitigated fail. That’s pretty simple. Between those extremes, of course, is a lot of gray area.
Which is the thing. A market paying pro rates doesn’t really need to find some other way to justify itself; it pays pro rates (this in itself opens another can of worms, like those markets standing pat for years at the same very low “pro” rates, but never mind that for now). Every other market has to come in offering something else to make it worth the writer’s time, and I strongly feel that the dropoff on things like “exposure” and “sales credit” is pretty damn steep the further down the payscale you go. The money you get isn’t just about the money you get; there are a lot of intangibles that stick to that cash as well. After a certain point just having the “publishing credit” isn’t going to do it for you — I refer you to a comment on the matter by Hugo-winning editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden if you don’t want to believe me on this.
I get that some aspiring folks think this is all about writers who have “made it” being snobs and forgetting what it was like to be toiling away in the newbie writer salt mines. Well, leaving aside the fact that a “pro” rate of five cents a word means that even long-standing pros aren’t out of the salt mines, they’re just standing nearer to the fresh air, the reason the pros yammer on about this is because we do remember what it’s like to be newbies and to believe that any publication is better than no publication. But it wasn’t true then, it isn’t true now, and it won’t be true in the future, either. It’s tough to hear, but it’s the truth. So make sure you’re getting something for the nothing (or next-to-nothing) you’re getting paid. If you’re not, hold on to your work until you can get something, or, alternately, recognize that if the only market you can get interested in your work is one that hardly exists, maybe the best thing you can do for the work in question is hit it with a shovel and bury it by the river.
* One argument I hear from folks about placing their work in crap markets is that they’re not writing for the money anyway, so what does it matter if a market wants to pay a fraction of a penny a word? The answer is that these two things are not related at all: The reason one writes is utterly independent of whether someone else pays a fair rate for that work.
Hard as it may be to believe for some folks, I occasionally write something because I just feel like it, rather than because I need a check. But it doesn’t then follow that just because I wrote it for fun, that I should sell it, if I sell it, for less than my standard rates. The market doesn’t need to know why I wrote it; that’s not the market’s business. The market’s business is buying my work (or not) on the basis of the quality of the work itself.
Which is to say, don’t match your markets to your motivations; match your markets to the worth of the work itself. Because while writing for fun is fun, getting paid well for something you’ve written for fun is even more fun. Trust me, I know.