Note to aspiring fantasy writers out there: avoid Dragon magazine, which has apparently re-opened to fiction submissions. The pay is on the low side of adequate for the genre (three to six cents a word), but the kicker is that for that royal sum, you are expected to give up all rights to your work. Says so right there on the submissions page — in fact, it says it twice, in rapid succession: “In the event we buy your manuscript, you must assign your rights to us. That means that once your contract is signed, we’ll own all rights in your submission.”
These aren’t submission guidelines, they’re a stupidity test, as in, “are you actually stupid enough to give up all the rights to your work for three to six cents a word?” And if you are, what other stupid things are you willing to do for a mere pittance? I ask only because I have this gallon of latex paint here, and seventy-eight cents in my pocket. And I’m willing to pay every penny of that seventy-eight cents to see someone drink that paint. Because, man, that would be a hoot. That’s 9.75 cents a pint! What a rate!
Quick definition: When you write something and you give up all the rights to it, you’re doing “work for hire.” Some writers have a philosophical problem doing work for hire, but I don’t — provided that the upfront fee for the work is good, among other factors. For example, when I worked for a newspaper, the paper owned my work. On the other hand, I got a salary, a 401(k), health and dental, and someplace to get out of the rain on a daily basis. Fair trade. Likewise, many of you know I occasionally contribute pieces to the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series of books. That’s work for hire, but I also get paid a really excellent rate; I got paid more for contributing articles to the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into the Universe book, actually, than I got as an advance for my own astronomy book. The point is, when you do work for hire, you should be compensated fairly for walking away from future gains from your work.
Three to six cents a word is not even close to a fair rate to give up all rights to your work. Hell, three to six cents a word is hardly a fair rate for publishing anything, if you want to get right down to it, and most genre editors know it, or should. Those rates are barely adequate for first North American serial rights (i.e., the right to publish the story once). A 3 to 6 cents rate is on the lowish end of what pro genre publications pay, so Dragon is not only offering no premium to authors for their work for hire, it’s actually paying less than some magazines who buy fewer rights. Which brings us back ’round to the “stupidity test” aspect of submitting one’s work to Dragon.
Why not submit to Fantasy & Science Fiction? It offers 6-9 cents/word for first North American and foreign serial rights and an option on anthology rights. How about Weird Tales? It offers 3-4 cents/word for first North American serial rights, with an anthology option. All other rights stay with the author, who also retains copyright. Realms of Fantasy? A nickel a word up to 7,500 words. The site doesn’t offer information on the rights it buys, but I would be deeply surprised if it tries to vacuum up all rights. Strange Horizons: five cents a word for a two-month exclusive window (NB: They’re closed to submissions through the end of the 2007, however). All of these places will treat you better than Dragon. Indeed, I would personally suggest that pretty much any paying market that does not presume to suck up all your rights is better than Dragon, because you’ll have the chance to make more with your work later, and you definitely won’t have that with Dragon.
It’s stuff like this that shoves your face into the fact that writing, whatever else it is, is also a business. From a purely economic point of view, the Dragon set-up is terrible for a writer: No premium to the writer for work-for-hire, and no potential benefit for the writer on the back end. It’s a lose-lose situation. Mind you, it’s win-win for Dragon, and its various corporate owners (Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro), since they’re getting viable intellectual property for very literally next to nothing with no risk of having to share revenues later. Brilliant! Somewhere an Hasbro IP lawyer has gotten his wings. Good for him. Bad for the writer.
To sum up: Submitting your work to Dragon = dumb. Giving up all rights to your work for pennies a word = dumb. Supporting a magazine happy to bend you over a desk, violate your rights and then slap down a couple of grimy bills for your time = dumb. Not remembering writing is a business = dumb.
If after all this you still kinda want to send something in to Dragon, well, you go right ahead. But when you’re done, be sure to drop by my place. This gallon of paint ain’t gonna drink itself.