Dear Writers: For God’s Sake, Don’t Assume You’ll Get Paid

An interesting and frankly alarming thing in the comment thread of the last post. I noted in the last post that a major issue I saw with the proposed F&SF online writing workshop, which offers the chance that work in the workshop could get published in the magazine, is that there was no indication that those chosen stories would then be paid for. To which several people in the comment thread said something along the lines of “oh, well, that wasn’t a problem for me, because I just assumed there would be payment.”

Jesus, people.

Never assume as a writer that you’re going to get paid. Ever. There are too many people who assume writing shouldn’t have to be paid for — and too many writers willing to be paid little or nothing for their work — that your default assumption when there is no mention of payment for your work is that there will be none. Commensurately, your very first question when you see that there is no mention of payment for your work should be “What are you paying for the work?” If you’re worried that this being the first question out of your mouth will offend someone, then you’re not ready to be a working writer. If people who want your work are offended that this is your first question, they’re not serious about wanting your work.

To be clear, someone not mentioning payment right off does not mean the writer won’t get paid. In the case of F&SF and its workshop, I’m fairly certain the intention is to pay for those workshop stories. But in my case “fairly certain” is followed immediately by “so, you are paying for those stories, right?” Because, you know, I was fairly certain LeBron James was going to the NBA finals this year, too, and I was also fairly certain earlier in the year that right now I would be working on a project that fell through. “Fairly certain” by definition leaves room for a fair amount of uncertainty. A working writer learns to zero in on uncertainty, especially when it comes to him or her being paid. It never hurts to be absolutely certain you’re going to get paid, and to know how much. And when!

This is, incidentally, why this post by John Green arguing against advances is not a brilliant thing from the point of view of an author (a point which appears has already been mentioned to him by other authors, given the number of backpedaling updates he’s added). Green argues for higher royalties rather than higher advances, which is a fine idea if a) you have an independent source of income and/or b) are already raking in the bucks from your book sales and you have infinite faith that c) your publisher will always be there to send you royalties on a regular basis and/or d) won’t try to screw you on contractual details that allow them to hold on to your money for as long as humanly possible. As most authors don’t fulfill conditions a) or b) and should never assume c) or d), most authors are better off getting a large, upfront chunk of cash into their hands asap — that is, they should have an advance. Anything other is assuming you’re going to get paid, and fraught with danger.

So: Know that you’ll get paid. Know how much you’re getting paid. Know when you are going to get paid. Don’t assume any of it. Know. That is all.

81 Comments on “Dear Writers: For God’s Sake, Don’t Assume You’ll Get Paid”

  1. I think there’s an over-reaction to writers assuming payment in regard to the workshop selections.

    I wouldn’t submit to the workshop until that became clear – just as I wouldn’t submit until I knew the cost and just what was included in the entire workshop.

    At this point, it could just be topless pictures of Gardner taped to your printed manuscript with a bubble quote saying “too much dialogue, not enough detail”

    Which I would pay for, but, only so much…

    I read the workshop announcement in an editorial as creating buzz. Am I interested to know more? Yep. Am I assuming payment if selected? Yep, because of the source.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with assuming payment prior to reading and signing the contract. At that point though, know what you are getting paid.

    And I had the same reaction to John Green’s posts.

  2. Assuming that you’ll get paid for your work in a writing workshop is like assuming that you’ll get laid for your work in chatting up an attractive stranger in a bar.

    When you fail to get paid or get laid, don’t say: “I had fun anyway, and maybe I’m just not good enough.”

    A multiple book contract, by this logic, is like a loving marriage.

    Do writers with multiple book contracts decide: “Getting published and paid is not very important. I think I’ll go Walk the Appalachian Trail”?

  3. Patrick M:

    “I think there’s an over-reaction to writers assuming payment in regard to the workshop selections.”

    I don’t. Any time anyone else stands to benefit from the work of a writer, the writer needs to ask what’s in it for him or her, and the answer to that should be clear and unambiguous.

    GvG in his announcement points out that stories can be published in the magazine: There’s a clear benefit for the magazine, in finding new good content.

    What’s not evident is the benefit to the writer, mainly payment.

    It’s not an overreaction to point out that GvG has listed a benefit to one party in the transaction but not the other.

    As for creating buzz, well, it certainly has done that, although not the same sort of buzz it would have created if the benefit to the writer had been made more explicit.

    “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with assuming payment prior to reading and signing the contract.”

    Sure there is, when payment has not been either explicitly or implictly promised. It has not been here so far. Assuming payment is bad business.

  4. Assuming payment is bad business when submitting material for publication.

    It’s not really a big deal when musing over the content of a published editorial. Lots of magazines outside of the SF hothouse, as you know, don’t go into public detail about pay rates for freelancers.

  5. This rule is also important for contract software programmers. (I learned that the hard way.)

    I helped pay for college by writing computer books. There is no way in hell I could have done that without advances. I needed money *right*now* not two years down the road. Plus, as a dirt-poor kid trying to squeeze labor between the learning and the parties, there’s no way in hell I would have been able to justify the effort without a rock-solid guarantee of the minimum pay-out.

    If you want to see what it would look like with no advances, take a gander at the music industry. I don’t think many authors want to go there…

  6. Hmmm, well, I don’t know that, actually, since by and large most of them have basic rates information available via Writers Digest and other places. But it is true enough that the rates info is not often on the magazine sites, etc.

    In this particular case, though, the reason it pops out at me is that a workshop is not part of the standard editorial process, so I do think it does raise questions of how material will be handled, and what the payment rates will be and indeed if there will be payment.

  7. Um, just a corollary: If you’re an editor-for-hire, don’t ever simply assume that you’re going to get paid, either.

    However, I’m a professional and so is our host, and if you’re a professional, naturally you’re going to value your own worth to a given enterprise sufficiently that you’ll only agree to job X if you have compensation Y down in writing, signed by both parties.

    The present discussion is, I think, primarily about amateur writers who are hoping to enjoy professional status (at least momentarily) via publication of a story.

    The proposed F&SF workshop is somewhat analogous to piano competitions for amateurs, such as the one held annually by the Washington (DC) International Piano Arts Council. WIPAC is a nonprofit; it charges $135 to enter the competition, and the winner receives a modest cash prize relative to the preparation time ($1000) plus a recital at a local embassy or equivalent venue. No doubt there are dozens of competitors who are happy just to have the chance to play for a jury and receive some minimal feedback even if they don’t reach the finals. This is well worth the $135 to them.

  8. Hmm. Not a writer, so I don’t have a direct interest here, but it’s curious that no one from F&SF has clarified this point. Perhaps, since they don’t accept electronic submissions, they’re commenting via paper letter? Check the mail, John! No, not the email… that other kind. :)

  9. gottacook@8: Speaking as a reader, the idea that someone may end up taking a spot in F&SF because they “won a contest” rather than because the editor thought they wrote the best overall story for the spot does not make me think they are concerned with keeping standards up.

    Speaking as a reader, I would really hope that the number of stories from this workshop that get published is based entirely on their quality and not at all on some promise that a participant will get published.

  10. The wording GvG uses suggests that Dozois may select work he deems of sufficient quality but is not required to select anything he does not. So I’m not too worried about that, actually.

  11. I’m a professional animation writer by trade. Years ago I was working at a show on Cartoon Network where they brought the writers in to gush about an “exciting” new outlet for our talent — webisodes! In addition to the scripts we were already being paid to write, we’d have the opportunity to write numerous 15-30 sec shorts that people could play on their phones, etc. Won’t that be cool? Aren’t you lucky?

    I asked what the writing budget was for these shorts (there sure as hell was a budget for everyone else involved) and watched the gush instantly vanish. “There isn’t one,” came the narrow-eyed response.

    What John is saying is spot on and it’s up to professional writers and those who want to be professional writers to protect themselves and their careers against the “many people who assume writing shouldn’t have to be paid for”.

  12. If FSF wanted to publish my story, the LAST thing I would be thinking about is the cents per word. I’d be like, “Just email me an image of the book cover (front/spine/back), so I can frame it, hang it on the wall of my den next to my canine buddies of old and my new Seepferdchen hoverbike. Thanks.”

  13. @Ron: I agree, HOWEVER I have no intention of trying to make a living as a writer (that’s what the law degree is going to be for, har har). If I were trying to put food on my family, I don’t think a framed cover would get us very far.

  14. Whoa, easy there tiger. I’m going to go right ahead assuming that there will be payment if a story is selected, and I am completely safe and correct making that assumption. You know why? Because if they offer to publish my story, they will send a contract, and in the contract will be very clear language explaining what the payment is for that story. If they payment is “NOTHING,” then I thank Gardner for his critique and offer the story to Sheila, Stan, or someone else who might pay me my full 6 cents/word or whatever.

    Is it a problem that the contract arrangements have not been fully clarified in the informal blog posts regarding the new workshop? Maybe a minor one, but it is likely to be corrected now that someone has pointed it out. I would recommend that anyone considering the workshop should think of their fee as payment for a quality critique and workshop experience with Gardner Dozois, and not as paying for a shot at publication. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with paying to participate in workshops, and there are many, many workshops out there from which editors often pull stories for magazines. I think it’s a nice idea.

  15. Ron,

    Then you don’t want to be a *working* writer. And, frankly, it’s that attitude that depresses prices for writing. With all respect to the big three, they’re nothing without the writers. I get the thrill of seeing your name ‘in lights’ so to speak, but that attitude does nothing but hurt writer rates.

  16. Meaning, I’ll likely get my dream bike before getting anything published with FSF, Asimov, Analog. I actually handled my rejections like Stephen King wrote in On Writing. I kept impaling the rejection slips on a nail in my “writing room” back in the early 00s. It wasn’t until the sheer weight of paper and gravity brought the cheap drywall down on my head that I realized what fate had in store for me. A swell lifelong ride as an elementary school teacher in a developing country. I was reading Old Man’s War at the time, I believe. Go figure . . .

  17. Ron McIsaac:

    “If FSF wanted to publish my story, the LAST thing I would be thinking about is the cents per word.”

    While I know where you’re coming from, We’ll have to disagree philosophically. I would have wanted to get paid even if it were a first sale.

    Catherine Shaffer:

    “Because if they offer to publish my story, they will send a contract, and in the contract will be very clear language explaining what the payment is for that story. If they payment is “NOTHING,” then I thank Gardner for his critique and offer the story to Sheila, Stan, or someone else who might pay me my full 6 cents/word or whatever.”

    However, per Mr. McIsaac, not everyone will feel the same way, and there are some people who would want to get paid who would still accept no pay, because then at least they’d be published. I think it’s better to have that information upfront than as an afterthought.

  18. Steve Burnap @13: In the now-gone days when record companies could profitably produce and sell new piano recordings, they likely wouldn’t have done so for the winner of an amateur piano contest, and if they had, their commitment to keeping up standards would have been questionable too. In the F&SF case, if indeed Dozois has not promised to select X number of “winners” for publication, I think this lets the workshop off the hook.

  19. And the second most important question should be what rights you are giving up that might affect future pay and other avenues of publication for the same story. I think some of this is the failure of authors to recognize and accept writing as a business. I think most authors would agree that the business side is the least appealing part of writing, but something all authors should take more seriously if they intend to make a career of it.

    Regardless of what comes of this workshop, I’m sure some authors will justify the opportunity to bybass a slush editor and get a pro publishing credit worth the cost, even without payment of publication, if that’s the case. With the number of submissions the “Big Three” get every month, with nothing more than a form letter as a rejection, I’m also sure some authors will consider the opportunity worthwhile just to get some personal feedback from GVG in the hopes it would lead to future publication, if not a pro publishing credit.

    So some authors will see value in this workshop even if it doesn’t pay anything for a published story, while others will side with John and believe that you should get paid in money for everything. Personally, I side with John, but I can see how others could see value from it in other ways. The worth of something is in what the owner gets out of it. Sometimes it can be a very personal and fuzzy thing.

  20. Both of my parents were writers. My dad wrote non-fiction for (mainly) Harper & Row, and my mom wrote a series of novels for a Dutch publisher (KOK, for those who know that market). Both wrote bazillions of newspaper and magazine articles.

    What you are saying is exactly what they said, over and over again. There was no doubt in their minds that part of writing is getting paid, and if you aren’t getting paid “you’re doing it wrong”.

  21. From my standpoint, for a fledgling writer, the publication of the story is payment enough. I mean, doesn’t it make landing an agent and/or editor than much easier. That’s all I’m saying. It’s a springboard to other pools . . . seas . . . Maybe I have self esteem issues, base my publishing philosophy on Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them,” the unpublished wildebeests and the published lions. Perhaps fledgling writers have to be more aggressive with all facets their writings nowadays. Not just the creative side of things. How does that saying go, “Nothing dies of old age on the Serengeti.” (eat or be eaten)

  22. Chang:

    I sent you notes months ago! Seriously, I did. Did you not get them?

    Short form: Good. Happy with it. You did your assignment well.

    Check your mail and if it’s not there I’ll see if I can dig out the comments again.

    Ron McIsaac:

    “From my standpoint, for a fledgling writer, the publication of the story is payment enough.”

    And there are lots of “publishers” who would be delighted to know that fact, Ron. What’s more, they’ll continue to be happy to pay you via publication rather than money for as long as you let them.

    That said, in my experience it’s only marginally more difficult to get published by people who pay, so why not do that instead.

  23. Some amateur writers might consider simply being professionally published as sufficient compensation; it always goes over well if you have a few of those credits to your name when you go after a paying gig. OTOH, there is nothing wrong in asking for pay for your work. If it’s good enough to be published, it’s good enough to earn a check.

  24. Six cents a word? I had no idea. Wowsers, that’s a hobby, not a market. Time to break out the McEnroe.

    Not that I write F or SF, but still. No wonder even Gene Wolfe kept his day job.

  25. “A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.”

    The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

    Oddly enough, this seems to apply to writing in any guise. I had two short reviews published in a book years ago and received peanuts; I truly could have framed the check instead of cashing it with no real difference to my bank account. And I was supposed to get paid for an article in Metro Santa Cruz several years ago, but never did get paid (you know, it’s time to follow-up on that once again). Still, the thrill of seeing my name in print was incredible.

    Now, back to work on the stories that will get my name on the cover of F&SF, and the memoir that will get my name on the spine of a book…

  26. Man, I can’t believe aspiring writers are actually questioning you wanting to wake them up that they need to ask these questions in clear tones and not feel badly about it. As a blogger with the hopes of earning a living from writing fiction someday, this is a REAL issue.

    For those that somehow can’t grasp these issues (explained rather well I thought by John), then do yourselves a favor and read “Adventures in the Screen Trade” by William Goldman or watch this excellent interview on writers getting paid by Harlan Ellison (pure gold):

  27. I am not what you would call a professional writer, by any standards. But I did have two articles published in a computer hobbyist magazine back when there were about 40 of them on the market. True, it was a thrill to see my name on the cover. It was also a thrill to see my name on the check they sent me.

  28. 15. Roger E.: “I asked what the writing budget was for these shorts (there sure as hell was a budget for everyone else involved) and watched the gush instantly vanish. “There isn’t one,” came the narrow-eyed response.”

    That makes me cringe. I think people think we just crave a readership so bad that making a living isn’t the important thing.

  29. LOL – It’s a freakin’ blurb – not a contract. You can’t submit yet, so you can’t make a bad decision yet. The assumption is fair. If there was a click here to register or submit a story (without knowing the cost or the potential payment) then there is concern about said assumption.

    Absolutely check the contract before submitting. Know what rights your are offering.

    If Ellen Datlow said that she was going to be opening up an online mag soon, but that is all she said, I would assume that there is going to be payment there as well. I’d wait to see what it is before I submit, but I would still assume she would start a legitimate endeavour.

  30. Patrick M. @39 –

    You should never, ever, ever simply assume you’ll get paid just because of the source. That’s just naive in any kind of business, from freelance writing and on upwards.

    The assumption is a dangerous habit to get into, even if it’s all just “on spec”. Especially in the world of writing, where payment is hazy in the first place.

  31. What’s the difference between a magazine (or a book) and wooden chair? Not much. Both are manufactured goods, made of wood, and sold for a profit. I wouldn’t expected a furniture maker to work for free, for the privilege of having the manufacturer sell their chair. Still can’t get why people will write for free and let someone else collect the money. Working cheap at the beginning, that makes at least some sense as a way to build clips. But not for free.

  32. Patrick M:

    “LOL – It’s a freakin’ blurb – not a contract.”

    It’s not a blurb. It’s six paragraphs and half an editorial, and GvG does into detail on a number of things about the workshop, including who is running it and that stories may be funneled into the magazine. He provides more than enough details to wonder why the issue of payment is conspicuous by omission.

    Likewise, this isn’t a magazine, it’s a workshop, which people generally pay for rather than get paid. It is not in the least inappropriate to ask what happens to the work that is selected when it goes from something the author pays to have seen into a realm where one is supposed to get paid for getting published.

    You keep asserting “the assumption is fair.” Your continuing to assert it does not in fact make it any more correct.

  33. You guys don’t know how good you have it. When I send in a manuscript to a scientific journal (which is *required*, both for career advancement and NSF regulatory purposes), I have to pay them, and sign over copyright. Usually, a paper will cost me somewhere between 1000-3000 dollars, plus 500-750 dollars per color figure.

    And writing those takes a hell of a lot of work.

  34. I’m not assuming I’ll be paid. I’m assuming that it will be a paying market. I could be wrong, but I can’t verify and can’t submit. I don’t submit if it is ambiguous.

    The blurb in question states more information will be available. It isn’t yet. Because an offline thing became online sooner than expected and it is a holiday weekend.

    If TOR announced a relationship to a workshop and that one novel would be selected for publication – I would think that is legitimate as well. I would assume payment involved, but wouldn’t submit until I considered the terms. Likely TOR would go forward with a full announcement, I’m sure, but if someone twittered “TOR Workshop coming, one novel to be selected for publication from workshop” I’d assume TOR is going to have payment involved.

    I guess I am horribly naive.

  35. The only time I’ve ever heard any professional say it’s OK to break the rule, “Money always flows to the author,” is when they’re discussing continuing education. Ergo, Clarion, Clarion West, workshops at cons, independent workshops, etc. I recently paid $300 plus travel expenses to attend a workshop run by two award-winning, best-selling pros. Probably the best money I’ve ever spent, for writing education. Best part is, I can write it off on taxes.

    I think JS has a very good point: unless payment is explicitly mentioned, don’t just assume there will be payment. Yes, GVG and F&SF are reputable in the industry and it’s hard to figure how or why GVG wouldn’t pay for stories accepted into the magazine via the workshop, but until GVG issues an official clarification about payment, AAYOR! (Assume At Your Own Risk)

    I’ve gotten more rejections from GVG over the last 12 years than I care to admit. In many ways F&SF seems like the toughest of all the short markets to crack, as an aspirant. I’d be curious to see how the F&SF workshop process works, and if it could teach me anything about what GVG is looking for, beyond me just reading the magazine for market research & homework purposes, which I do.

    Thanks for the info, JS.

  36. Incidentally, last post is @ 40.

    Ok, so it’s 6 paragraphs.

    It also ends with “You can find the membership prices and other information at” and went from offline to online on a Holiday weekend – not at the choosing of the editor.

    I agree that it is an oversite on his part. That goes with my assessment of his internet savvy.

    I’m not saying that it is unfair to ask. I think it is imperative to ask. Shortly after you ask the price of the workshop. Which you can find here – Well, you can’t. You can sign up to get an email though…

    I give them credit for having the email registration.

  37. Patrick M:

    “The blurb in question states more information will be available.”

    Again: It’s not a blurb. Blurbs do not run for 250 words and several paragraphs. Use the word correctly or don’t use it, please.

    “I guess I am horribly naive.”

    No, you just don’t want to listen to a number of people who are telling you from personal and considerable professional experience that your assumptions are wrong.

  38. Just to clarify what J. Chimpo @43 wrote: Not every scientific journal requires payment for publication. At the weekly Science, for example (published by the nonprofit AAAS), authors whose peer-reviewed papers are accepted for publication pay only for color figures and reprints, which are both optional.

  39. GVG probably shouldn’t have mentioned the possibility of publication and probably shouldn’t have even made the announcement until the site for this thing was ready. Because now people are concerned with whether this is some kind of scam and whenever this workshop is ready to go, he’s going to have to ask people to look at the site again and some people might not be interested anymore.

    But everyone makes mistakes. He might well have been excited about this idea and was eager to announce it.

    Shit happens.

  40. 43, 48: And it’s a good bet that any person who is aiming for those publications has an institutional home, which pays the bills and most likely also pays the pub fees.

    Academic publishing is a different sort of racket, and suffering from its own problems, not least of which is the rise of alternatives to institutions paying for subscriptions and then turning around and paying for submissions (in addition to paying people to do peer review, among their other duties).

  41. An additional note from my experiences: it’s not uncommon to get screwed in the tech industry even if you’re a programmer.

    Ask anybody who went to work for a start-up without ever having made sure that they would ever get paid. At all. There were start-ups who assumed you’d work for stock options and nothing else. There actually still are, even after the bust. And start-ups are things you walk into with friends and previous co-workers.

    Ask anybody who works as a contractor. Even if you work for the big guns, the medium guns, or the small guys, never, ever assume that you’re just gonna get paid fairly.

    Sometimes it doesn’t even take maleficence on the part of your clients/the people you work for. Bureaucracy happens. Companies going under happen. Companies with incompetent billing systems exist. Companies run on the ill-thought-out dreams of venture capitalists exist, briefly.

  42. Absolutely check the contract before submitting. Know what rights your are offering.

    I have never seen a publication’s contract before submitting, only after acceptance. I nearly always know payment details from reading guidelines, though, and in the cases where guidelines don’t make it clear, I always get that information before I accept what my kids call “a satisfaction letter.” And I never submit to publications that say nothing about pay, or say they pay in exposure or copies.

    But I do agree, it’s important to read the contract, and to know what a typical contract looks like, and what rights publications typically buy.

    I was one of the folks in the other thread who said I’d assumed Gordon would pay. That was because I’ve met Gordon, not because I don’t think it’s important to get paid. Scalzi is a hundred percent right, here.

    On my desk in my office–well, packed in a box right now while my office gets actual walls–is a framed scan of the check I got for my first sale. Its very motivational. (It’s also got your autograph, Scalzi! )

  43. Arachne Jericho @52: Word. I freelance. For some reason, some companies don’t think it’s important to pay the freelancers on time. When your electric bill comes, it’s net 15. Your rent is due the first of the month. Employees get a regular check.

    My electric bill is also net 15. My mortgage is due the first of the month. Why is the net 15 (or 30, whatever we worked out) on my invoice not taken seriously? Do you think I’ll just forget?

    I’ve had to stay on some clients for six frakkin’ months to get paid. One of mine went under owing me money.

    There’s no guarantee of a paycheck.

  44. Johnny Chimpo @43: Having also been in an academic career involving writing scientific papers of that sort, I think you’re missing a key point. You’ve got this nice thing called an “income” that pays for the time you spent writing that paper. I assume the “NSF regulatory purposes” means this is part of an NSF-funded research contract, which means that the NSF is explicitly paying you to write that paper. If it’s not, you’ve still got this career that you’re advancing, and that implies that you’ve got an academic job of some sort that’s paying your salary.

    Besides which, that “career advancement” you mention? For you, that translates directly into better pay from your academic institution. Because of that, the scientific journal is providing you a financially valuable service in publishing your paper with a “this has been peer-reviewed” stamp of approval. I repeat: financially valuable. You get more money because they’ve published it, in a fairly clear way. Getting a story published in F&SF, has, by itself, no financial value outside what one is paid directly for the publication.

    Oh, and the third thing: That 1000-3000 per article, plus extra for color figure? Unless you’re doing this all wrong, that’s not coming out of your personal pockets. It ought to be coming out of your research budget, which again is coming from your research sponsors, or the university or corporation at which you work.

    So, as you say, “you don’t know how good you have it.”

  45. Ann Leckie – “I never submit to publications that say nothing about pay, or say they pay in exposure or copies.”

    That’s what I meant. If the workshop was a contest or giving up rights, there would be a contract/agreement upfront stating their rights of publication that you are agreeing to. What ever you call that. Read it before you submit to the workshop. If they don’t have it up front, you have the right to refuse free publication.

    It would be different than submitting for consideration.

  46. #55 –

    Yes, i am aware of all that – did you really think you were making a point I was unaware of? I was just making a joke about the differences in publishing, and was amused about Scalzi’s vehemance about not paying for publication – a sentiment I heartily agree with, but can’t do anything about.

    That being said, journals need to die as quickly as humanly possible.

  47. Johnny Chimpo @57: I missed the fact that you were making a joke, as this is something I’ve … well, either I’ve heard large parts of that argument made far more seriously, or I have missed quite a lot of jokes over the years. And so, yeah, I thought you had missed the importance of the points I was making in 55, or at least your comment was not addressing them. It’s a very different sort of “pay-for-publication”, and while it may have similar problems on the publisher’s end, it does not have the same problems on the writer’s end.

    I also disagree with you very strongly about scientific journals, but this is not the place for that debate. (Comment #6 on has a decent approximation to my opinions on why the journals are valuable, if you’re interested. Well, that, and my wife is employed by a non-profit scientific journal publisher that is honestly attempting to benefit the cause of science, so I have obvious biases.)

  48. There are, in fact, some publishing scenarios in which not getting an advance makes sense. In my case, I have published several ebooks with TidBITS Publishing–they produce a line of low-cost, high-quality ebooks on technical subjects ( Their deal is no advance, but they instead offer a 50/50 royalty split with the author (minus the e-commerce charges). This works because TidBITS pays royalties monthly: within 60 days of publishing a Take Control book, I get my first royalty check, and from then on I get a royalty payment every month. I also get an email each and every time one of my books is purchased, and a monthly email summary of sales as well.

    In this case, I don’t mind the lack of advance because I get paid very quickly and I know exactly how much money I should be getting. If, on the other hand, they produced paper books, and waited six months or more before paying royalties, and only paid quarterly, it wouldn’t be worth my time. But these folk have managed the process well–heck, I get royalties faster from them than I have gotten final advance payments from the paper book publishers with whom I’ve worked.

  49. Oh, no problem. It was a very little joke. And if you or your wife are involved in PLOS or something, more power to you.

    In all honesty, though, I’d prefer to see bio (my field) publishing move more to a (moderated) arxiv format. As currently formatted, peer-review is a highly sub-optimal process.

    I don’t agree that journals provide an assurance of quality, however. Many, many times I see articles that have no business ever seeing the light of day, and hte retraction rates at Cell/nature/Science support my position, I think.

    I’d prefer a move to fewer, longer, and more substantive monographs, actually, but that ship has sailed.

  50. I really wish I had read this when I was twenty-one.

    It would have saved me sooo much trouble. You have no idea.

  51. John, with all due respect, this Chicken Little routine is asinine. And from Gordon’s post at the F&SF Forum:

    “Assuming the workshop gets off the ground, we will pay beginner’s rates for any stories from the workshop that Gardner selects for publication. It never occurred to me to do otherwise and I’m sorry no one asked me earlier.”

    Gordon is an exemplar of professionalism. You should consider exhibiting a bit of courtesy.

  52. Laird:

    It’s nice that GVG got around to mentioning that in fact he’ll pay workshop authors two days after it was posted that he’ll be happy to take their stories from them. Would that he had mentioned it at the time, which, to me, would have been an exemplar of professionalism, not to mention courtesy.

    As for the idea that pointing out that writers should never assume payment and should always ask if they’re going to get paid is asinine, well, Laird. Sounds like one of us writes for a living and one of us does not.

  53. Actually I changed it back to the original because you commented in the interim. I changed it because, yeah, it was a bit dickheaded, and I wanted to soften it before you saw it. But when you responded to the original, I was obliged to keep it (and change it back). Curse you and your quick fingers, Laird!

    Also, for my comment edit policy, see here.

  54. Okay. Thanks (sincerely) for the thought. But I wasn’t crying into my pillow. When one of the screenplays of my stories gets picked up by Paramount you’ll be in line to become a fan on my Facebook page. ;)

  55. Same goes for translation, which is my main industry. All too often I get queries for translation projects to which I send my standard info mail with the subject fields I specialize in, average word count per day, and, of course, my rates for translation, proofreading, editing, DTP etc.

    All too often I receive a “Oh we can’t pay you, there’s no budget for that. But this is a great opportunity, you will get lots of experience”. Yeah, thanks. Then it’s ok with you that I give priority to all my paying clients and get your work done by, say, never? Is never good for you? Good.

    I’m suddenly reminded of “contests” where your reward is you get to buy your own prize! :D yay!

  56. Um, yeah, this all pretty much goes for any “creatives”. I have a friend who’s a big-time artist, shows in L.A., Berlin, New York, etc. who’s always raising eyebrows because he doesn’t let the business end of the art business slip. Frankly, it’s one of the reasons I like him. He makes great art but he can pay for lunch half the time, too.

  57. Uh . . . about your point a. Why shouldn’t we want a bigger percentage of the royalties? I mean, considering that no one just breaks into authoring novels in a few months, shouldn’t it be assumed that all new writers have jobs that have supported them for the intervening decade?

    And it’s rarely the first book that allows someone to quit their job. Isn’t it usually a few books later?

    So, why not want a bigger chunk of the change? If you sell a few books and they sell, that will get you to the point of living off your books faster than if you get advances.

    And speaking of which, wasn’t that sort of what you did?

  58. Spherical Time:

    “shouldn’t it be assumed that all new writers have jobs that have supported them for the intervening decade?”

    No. Lots of new writers quit their jobs to write full time, or go part time to have more time to write, lowering their income/benefits level substantially.

    It’s also to the point that many writers who do have full-time jobs don’t have full-time jobs that pay well enough for them to comfortably put off a sure amount of income now for a larger slice of a potential pie a year or more down the road (which is when royalty income would start coming in).

    Finally, there is this recession thing going on. Lots of writers might have had jobs before and don’t have them now.

    “If you sell a few books and they sell, that will get you to the point of living off your books faster than if you get advances.”

    No, you don’t. If you sell a few books and you sell, your advances should commensurately go up, and advances, almost by the very definition of the world, get to author quicker.

    Note that advances are not generally offered by plucking a random number out of the air; they’re calculated by the publisher considering how many of your books they’re likely to sell over the life of the book, applied to the royalty rate. Basically you get paid in an advance what your publisher thinks you’d make anyway, stretched out over years. In which case, better to have the money up front in most cases.

  59. better to have the money up front in most cases.

    This is a general rule, called the “time value of money” rule. But it’s especially true in publishing, where royalty checks are notoriously slow in coming, or even uncertain. (Not as bad as in the recording industry, where if your album doesn’t sell well enough you can actually get a BILL from the godsdamned giant ripoff organization recording company!)

  60. Sometimes I think people underestimate the haphazardness of accounting systems in publishing when it comes to royalty checks.

    Think of their systems as being like the worse cable billing system in the world, except in reverse. Meanwhile, wolves are drinking tea in the living room and making crude remarks about the wallpaper.

    Do a Google search for “late royalties” and you will find some nice horror stories (such as: numbers didn’t add up, AND the royalties were later than they usually are by three months).

    I have no idea if it’s malevolence (keep writers underpaid so the publishing company survives) or incompetence, but it definitely exists.

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