In the Spirit of the Pulps, and Paying Even Less

A friend of mine drew my attention to the following link on the Locus magazine Web site sidebar:

Black Matrix Publishing seeks submissions for four new magazines “in the spirit of the pulp magazines of the last century”

So I clicked through and discovered that in addition to wanting to replicate the “spirit” of the pulp magazines, Black Matrix Publishing also wants to replicate its payment scale as well:

We pay one-fifth of a cent per word on acceptance. Payment is for First Serial Rights.

Yes, you’re reading that correctly: one fifth of a penny per word. That’s 500 words for a dollar, for those of you who don’t want to do the math, and 1/25th of the current SFWA qualifying rate of five cents a word.

For perspective on this, back in the 1920s, Hugo Gernsback, who was notorious for paying his authors poorly, was paying his science fiction writers a quarter of a penny a word. So these people at Black Matrix Publishing are paying 20% less for their fiction than an editor who famous for being cheap eighty years ago.

In the absence of knowing anything about these Black Matrix folks, I’m going to be charitable and assume that they’re not actually intending to be contemptuous of writers. But the fact is, as far as publishing goes, when it comes to paying authors badly, there’s cheap, there’s insultingly cheap, and then there’s just plain being an asshole. Black Matrix Publishing, with its one penny for five words rate, currently lies slightly beyond the “we’re assholes” frontier, in a zone of being typically reserved for tracksuited predators who park outside elementary schools, dangling lollipops from panel vans. Hopefully this will come as shock to them, and they will move forthwith to bump their payment to, say, a penny a word, which would at least point them in the right direction.

But, you may say, at least they’re paying something. Bah. A fifth of a penny a word is not something, it’s a rounding error. And more to the point, if as a publisher all you can pay writers is a fifth of a penny a word, you’re signaling to anyone who cares to look that you have no clue what you’re doing. Competent publishers would have factored the cost of reasonable compensation for writers into their business plan. They would have also researched into what rates qualify as “reasonable compensation.” Either the Black Matrix people don’t know what they’re paying sucks, which doesn’t speak particularly well of them as business people, or they do know, which doesn’t speak particularly well of them as human beings.

Either way, it’s ridiculous. If you’re a writer, avoid this market until such time as they start paying something within hailing distance of reasonable. If you’re a reader, avoid this publisher until it treats the people who are entertaining you with their words with something approaching respect.

This entry, by the way, is worth exactly one dollar to the Black Matrix folks. Oh, the irony.

159 Comments on “In the Spirit of the Pulps, and Paying Even Less”

  1. It’s even worse than a tenth of the SFWA qualifying rate. 0.2 cents vs. 5 cents. It’s *one twenty-fifth* of the qualifying rate. How magnificently generous.

  2. “Bah. A fifth of a penny a word is not something, it’s a rounding error.”


    (I wonder if Black Matrix is actually a vanity publisher?)

  3. Completely agree (disclaimer: I’m an author). It’s things like this that I think devalues authorship.

    Not to get into the whole ebooks thing, but when I see people screaming on forums that ebooks should be a buck, they’re saying they have no respect for the very hard work authors do (and spare me the “but a million people will buy your book for a dollar” argument.” It’s not true. Please read beyond the dictionary definition of supply and demand and get an understanding of market realities.)

    If someone “in the industry” values so little the work authors do , it’s no wonder other people don’t value books.

  4. As an editor for a low-paying market (20 bucks a story, up to 7K words), I see the plus side of providing semi and non-pro short story markets as a way for folks to start building a resume without waiting years to reach pro-rate markets, most of which fill up on stock within months. (I personally don’t, however, condone no-pay markets.) As for a business plan? Heh, I wish! We fund our magazine out of our own pockets, but our fiction is free to readers, we don’t clutter our site with advertising, and we only hold first world electronic rights for four months.

    And, incidentally, we have no shortage of slush, and GOOD slush, too. For instance, we’re featuring a Nebula award winner in our current issue. Even so, we’ve been doing this for four years and our dearest wish is to provide writers with the pay they deserve.

    But I agree the 1/5 of a cent is like a deliberate insult. Why not a flat rate? Or at least a penny a word, like you say.

  5. I remember seeing that Black Matrix thing a little bit ago and thinking “Wow, avoid at all costs.” It’s nice to see a published author voicing similar concerns.

    (Currently unpublished but working on it author)

  6. Many crime markets don’t pay and readily admit no one’s making any money but Hitchcock and Ellery Queen.

    Some do, but not much.

    Too many SF markets pay at least half of SFWA’s minimum for Black Matrix to get away with charging a fraction of a cent.

    I guess the appropriate thing to say to them is “Shit or get off the pot. Either pay something resembling a decent fee or admit you’re not a paying market.”

    Of course, if you want to make the short story profitable again outside of anthologies, there’s probably an app for that coming soon.

  7. For perspective on this, back in the 1920s, Hugo Gernsback, who was notorious for paying his authors poorly, was paying his science fiction writers a quarter of a penny a word. So these people at Black Matrix Publishing are paying 20% less for their fiction than an editor who famous for being cheap eighty years ago.

    That’s 80% less, surely?

  8. “And more to the point, if as a publisher all you can pay writers is a fifth of a penny a word, you’re signaling to anyone who cares to look that you have no clue what you’re doing.”

    Amen, brother. Amen.

  9. That’s far more insulting than offering no money at all, actually.

    Four whole dollars for a 2,000-word short story! Woohoo! Finally, my dream of a Mickey D’s dollar menu lunch will come true!

  10. “That’s 80% less, surely?”

    .20 is 20% less than .25, Warren.

    Alternately, .25 is 25% more than .20.

    Mind you, I’m not correcting for inflation, which makes what Black Matrix is paying even more ridiculous.

  11. $0.002/word? Jeez, there’s off-shored, out-sourced writers in the third world who won’t work for that. I’d love to be able to add ‘published author’ to the resume (since I don’t think the hundreds of thousands of words worth of ad copy and marketing dreck I’ve churned out counts, even though it is paid copy), but I ain’t that desperate.

  12. markdf@4, I don’t see many people clamoring for ebook prices to be a buck. What I do see are people who object to ebook prices which are higher than the corresponding dead tree edition, which a number of publishers seem to do.

    Back on topic though, it’s really a pity, because while I don’t read a whole lot of short fiction, a description like that would have probably caught my interest if I’d seen it.

  13. Hm, I have some fiction that’s probably worth about .2 cents a word, especially if I add in some typos.

  14. markdf, I think ebooks should be cheaper than paper books. I think authors should get paid the same, but it seems intuitive to me that the overhead on ebooks is less, since I’m providing the medium (which I–theoretically–paid an arm and a leg for, to boot!). Is my intuition wrong on this?

    John, how do you feel about aspiring writers publishing in markets that pay better than Black Matrix, but pay less than pro rates?

  15. JS@12 “Mind you, I’m not correcting for inflation, which makes what Black Matrix is paying even more ridiculous.”
    That was the first thing that jumped to my mind. A penny was actually worth something in 1920. Not much, but something.

  16. Joe Iriate:

    “John, how do you feel about aspiring writers publishing in markets that pay better than Black Matrix, but pay less than pro rates?”

    I think the better question would be how I felt about markets that pay better than Black Matrix, but pay less than pro rates. The answer is: I would like them to pay more.

  17. I think all Black Matrix is doing is ensuring that what they publish won’t exactly be good work, either because the author is desperate enough to just throw it out there for that much, or because they just had the story laying around and no one else would take it. Thats not just being asses to the authors, but GREAT quality control for their readers…

  18. Not to get into the whole ebooks thing, but when I see people screaming on forums that ebooks should be a buck, they’re saying they have no respect for the very hard work authors do (and spare me the “but a million people will buy your book for a dollar” argument.” It’s not true. — markdf

    Sorry, but it’s an opening to a question I’ve been pondering: How much should an ebook cost? I note, for comparison, that hardcovers cost $20-25 and paperbacks around $8. I suspect, but without evidence, that hardcovers pay the publisher’s cost to produce a book and that paperbacks are where most of the profit lies (assuming there is any). Something like a movie’s box-office vs. DVD sales.

    That back-of-the-envelope analysis indicates that the ebook should cost more than a traditional paperback. My ignorant guess is that an ebook should cost in the $10-12 range. There are a lot of smart, experienced people here, with diverse viewpoints on the publication business. I’d like to know what they think.

    My question isn’t exactly relevant to the OP. I regret that, but not enough to ignore the opportunity to ask it. I can’t think of anywhere else likely to produce a reasonable answer.

  19. Using the figures Scalzi gave: Gernsbach paying .25 cents a word, a period of 80 years, and assuming a 4 percent rate of inflation over the period (probably too high). Mr. Gernsbach would be paying 5.8 cents a word – pretty much the SFWA’s rate. Three percent interest over the same period would be 2.7cents.

    Wouldn’t any rate between 3 and 6 cents be more in the spirit of the early pulps? Allowing the authors SFWA qualification a five cents a word would be the right thing to do and pretty close to pulp rates – adjusted for inflation.

  20. $14 for a 7000 word short story? That’s about $2 an hour if you write 250 words every 15 minutes. Maybe I ought to go back to waiting tables?

  21. Oops, I completely missed the “a quarter of” phrase, more than once. And I can’t even blame lack of sleep, for once.

  22. Andrew Wheeler, with 20 years in book publishing, has something to say on the matter. There are some good links and discussions in the comments as well. Personally, I buy the e-version when I think the price is right and the paper version when I want it for my library.

  23. Er, that should have said “on the matter of E-Books”, which I belatedly realize is rather tangential to John’s post.

  24. It seems to me the only purpose is to fill a nebulous market for sophomoric people.

    For instance, a person who has a degree or a credential may be eligible for certain things, like particular jobs. Thus, being a ‘published, paid writer’ in this model might make the ‘published, paid writer’ eligible for certain categories of jobs or for more consideration. The problem is, as a vanity press is to diplomas I bought through the mail, so is this payment like an unaccredited diploma mill whose output is even less than the for-entertainment-only mail purchased diploma as it pretends to be real. And nobody really hires me because I have a fake diploma; they hire me because they like my product.

    Of course, if you are an experience person, then publishing at this rate could lead you to publish 30 stories. Now I am a multi-published author! I have had dozens of my stories accepted by paying journals! I HAVE MADE IT! Same problem.

    This all seems self-delusion to me. On the other hand, getting your work out there is important. If you just want people to read it, it seems like focused self-publishing or building a reputation on a fiction sharing site is far more useful, as the comments you will receive back can help you hone your craft.

  25. Eofhan@20

    I spend way too much money on ebooks and I don’t entirely agree with you. I think $10-12 (or even $12-15) is perfectly reasonable for an ebook edition of something that’s currently out in hardcover, but not for a book that’s readily available in paperback for $8. Once the paperback comes out, I’d consider the ebook to be worth up to $6-8.

    If they can make money on the paperback at $8 with both shipping and strip-cover returns factored in, they can make money on ebooks at the same price point. (Note that this only holds for books currently available in mass market paperback).

    As for Black Matrix – they’ve just guaranteed they will never see any of my pulp-style writing.

  26. This hurt my brain :(. Thank you for writing posts like this to help newbies see how ridiculous stuff like this can be! I could see people getting suckered into working for fifths of a penny simply because they don’t know the rates should be higher.

    The historical perspective makes it extra special :P!

  27. Eofhan@20, not to totally hijack the thread, but any publisher that insists on charging more for an ebook than the paperback version, once the paperback is out, is simply not interested in selling ebooks to anyone other than the very tiny part of the market that has to have an electronic edition and is not price-sensitive, and is completely uninterested in the portion of the market that wants an e-edition and is price-sensitive.

    Unfortunately, that includes a large number of publishers, including Tor. As the relative sizes of those two groups changes those publishers will hopefully adjust their pricing to be more sane.

    Now, as to how much an e-edition should cost when the hardback is out? That’s a different sort of question, and one that’s still pretty open. But from my standpoint the price needs to be reasonable, and I’d define reasonable as ‘within a couple of bucks of the eventual paperback price’. Why? Because let’s say I see a book from an author I’m not familiar with here on the Whatever, in a big ideas segment. It sounds interesting. It’s not something I would have, pre-Kindle, bought the hardback from, but if I’d noticed the eventual paperback release I might have picked it up then.

    So I go check the ebook price, and it’s $14, or roughly twice what I’d have ended up paying for it if I’d eventually bought a dead-tree edition. That’s a no-sale right now. And now sure, if I happen to notice it a year from now and remember it, I might pick it up then. But the difference is that I’m not going once a week to a dead-tree store to see the new releases like I did a couple of years ago, and the publisher’s PR machine is not currently set up to make me notice the paperback release and the corresponding ebook price drop.

    On the other hand, let’s say that it’s priced at the magical $9.99 amazon price point. That’s only a couple of bucks more than the eventual paperback release MSRP, and I’ll probably buy it and throw it into the queue to be read.

    That’s exactly what happened with several books I ran across here in Big Idea segments – I bought, for example, Lev Grossman’s ‘The Magicians’, but there have been several I didn’t buy because of the pricing. What were they? I don’t recall, which is the whole point. With my purchasing style and the current PR strategies, they’re not losing a hardback sale with the associated margin, they’re deciding whether or not they want the eventual paperback sale to happen now, with a slightly larger margin, or never.

  28. I don’t think this will be a popular opinion here, but ebooks are worth significantly less than even a paperback book. Most importantly, I can’t give them away, either to the library or friends, when I’m done with them. I have to maintain moderately expensive and fragile electronics to read them. Because of DRM, the probability that I can read something in 3 years that I buy today is, in my estimation, very low. Further, like i would guess most people, I don’t have to have a book this very second; I’m busy and I have plenty of stuff to read and so when I see a new book I want, there’s no problem adding it to the queue on amazon which I purchase every couple of weeks. Thus the single biggest advantage of ebooks, instant gratification, is not particularly important to me.

    So basically ebooks are a disposable single-use product. I’d put their value at about $3 for convenience.

    I do wonder what percentage of the cost of a book is in the physical production. I’ve read a couple posts by authors describing how their print runs were larger than the quantity purchased. It seems like in a digital world the primary limiting factor to book production from a publisher’s perspective is editorial: how much good content you can find, because your brand name is a recommendation and hopefully a signifier of quality, and how much editing you can provide. I don’t understand why the economics don’t seem to work this way. :shrug:

  29. Also — John provides one of the most important services of the future; since there is more content than I can possibly consume, pointing me to content I’ll like is very valuable. I’d even be interested in a list of books John read and liked, perhaps ranked in some fashion.

  30. it’s really hard to believe anybody could be more of a skinflint than the pulp publishers.

    as for e-books – an earlier poster said the most important part for me: the author should receive exactly the same royalties (i do realize that some royalties are based on a percentage of the cover price, but there are norms). What publishers have not figured out is how to properly value what they add to the writer’s output. They know how to price out that value when there’s printing and shipping and storage and returns. But none of that applies to an e-book. Publishers are providing editorial, promotion and distribution for an e-book author, as i see it. these are important parts of the whole process, but they do not require the same pricing. Heck, let the publishers keep the same “profit” per volume that they make on the paper version, add it to the author’s royalties and set the price from there. cut out the additional part of the price that was compensating for the physical production element of traditional publishing.

    Then again, I was an English and history major, not economics or business, so I’m sure there’s reasons that I’m missing. I will not accept, “that’s just the way we’ve always priced it” as a reason, however.

  31. There was a time when a writer could make most of a living writing short fiction (provided they could churn ’em out, like Silverberg did when he was writing over a million words a year under several pseudonyms). Those days are long gone, as short fiction seems to have fallen out of favor and a novel just isn’t considered a novel unless it runs at least 600 pages. So if you write short fiction, your options are limited. Unless you’re getting printed in Boy’s Life (which pays something like $1/word last I looked) or Playboy, $.05/word is what the going rate seems to be for unknown writers in anything even remotely considered pro.

    Web-only publication can get away with paying less, but they’re generally buying far more limited rights and not reserving reprint or anthology options, to my understanding. But most small magazines and journals and the web world are published out of people’s pockets, and are usually labors of love rather than genuine profit-making ventures. Still, they should be paying the writers better.

  32. If they’re going to pay that little, they’d be better off joining the ranks of many SF/F zines that don’t offer payment, only exposure (and maybe contributor’s copies if they’re print). A pay rate that low is not only laughable, it’s downright insulting.

  33. Huh. I’m of two minds here.

    a) Yeah, Black Matrix would do better to publish one magazine and pay more standard semipro rates. As a general rule, you ought to be able to buy an issue of the magazine with your, um, honorarium.

    b) I dearly love (both as a writer and a reader) several semipro zines that pay ~$15 a story. Which isn’t so much more, really.

    The rub, I guess, is that if you’re going to pay token rates and you want to be in business a year down the line, you need to make certain that you offer some kind of compensatory incentive to your pool of potential writers, whether that’s a home for unusual, difficult-to-place work, a degree of meaningful prestige, a particular brand of community, or whatever. I’m not offended by Black Matrix, I’m just not going to sub there. And if they really offer nothing of value to writers, they won’t be around for too long, so oh well.

  34. As long as there are young and hungry authors, unwilling to take the time to educate themselves about the business side of the craft, but willing to sacrifice their time and energy for the paltry pay just to say, “ZOMG I’m a published author,” there will continue to be publishers like this offering less than peanuts (peanut shells?).

    500 words. 500 good words. How long does that take you to write? An hour? 30 mins? With editing?

    …by all means, if you feel that 1 USD is reasonable compensation for an hour of your time, go ahead and submit.

  35. Published-shmublished, give me money.

    I suppose that’s sort of ironic given I work on a non-paying, free e-zine. Oh well.

    On the other hand, if I can throw some trunk work in for a buck or twelve, hey, I could use a pseudonym.

  36. I’m an aspiring SF writer with two sales (my first two) this year to markets which pay comparable or just marginally higher rates than Black Matrix, and I don’t see the big deal. I admit that I am not good enough yet to publish in the pro or even semi-pro markets. I see these two sales of mine as stepping stones in a career I hope is just starting and looking upwards from here.

    When I mention to my friends that I have two short stories published, I make it clear that these are what I consider “amateur” sales. I know I should be getting paid more for my shorts eventually, but also know that my craft still has a ways to go before its marketable to the higher-paying gigs.

    In the meantime, I submit to token-pay markets as a means of getting practice in the field. When I started, I knew next to nothing about the business side of SF publishing. Now, after a few years of trial and error, I know just a smidgen more than I used to. But at least I see the progression in my knowledge.

    For me, outfits like Black Matrix are essential for the fledgling writer to gain confidence and valuable exposure to submitting to all markets. I submit my stories to pro-scale mags first; followed by semi-pro; and finally token markets when all else fails. The fact that all but two of my works have failed on all fronts only makes me redouble my efforts, while at the same time allowing me just a tiny measure of pride at having been paid *something* for my trouble.

    To this day my rule of thumb is to never submit to a non-paying market. That’s all. Everything else is fair game. My pair of “token” subs do not give me a big head. I don’t think I’ve “made it” now. On the contrary, I only feel I have to work even harder before I can make it to the higher-paying levels. And I’m fine with that. I willingly pay my dues.

    Honestly, I don’t see where’s the harm.

  37. To be clear, I presume the umbrage is here because the publication charges for their product but pays poorly. I also presume the unspoken acknowledgement is that that things are different for an outfit purporting to be a pro or semi-pro pub as opposed to the ‘zines. If that’s the case, well and good. We all can’t be the Big Three (although I wouldn’t mind being Clarkesworld).

    We run a space opera ‘zine for which we charge nothing and pay poorly, a token $15. You’d be surprised at how many writers will submit stories to a ‘zine paying $15 per story as opposed to ‘zines which are strictly for-the-love-of-it affairs. We realize we’re not getting the cream of the current crop, but we also realize we may be finding some of the future, uh, cream. Everyone has to start somewhere.

    There is a need for places where up-and-coming authors can learn their chops, and we specialize in providing constructive mentoring to our submitters. The entire idea is to promote our genre, not make a profit. If some of our authors go on to bigger and better things, and earn higher writing awards, we hope they will look back fondly at their experience with our publication.

    I was amused at the cover art at BMP. I imagine outfits that pay just a little for their cover art get, well, what they pay for. Ironically, we have stellar cover art because we don’t pay anything for it at all. Instead of cash payment, we offer exposure, and lots of it, and in perpetuity. I’ve noticed that artists, like authors, really want to show off their work, and a gift freely given now may put their work in front of thousands of science fiction fans and earn themselves more lucrative opportunities down the road. (John, I believe you’ve already met our own Tomislav Tikulin, who has been featured on two of our Christmas issues.)

  38. David J. Batista:

    “I don’t see where’s the harm.”

    And as long as you don’t, there will be more than enough people who are willing to take advantage of you.

    If your work is good enough to buy, it’s good enough to be paid more than a fifth of cent per word for.

  39. I think it is a great truism that one gets what one pays for. If Black Matrix is happy accepting stories from writers who cannot command better pay, fine. But their expectations of long term profits from publishing such drivel should be equal to the rates they are paying for said drivel. In short, I don’t think we need to worry too much about them, as they will wither and die all on their own.

  40. I agree with you, John. My problem is I’m super critical of my work and truly believe that I have a lot more to learn before I am capable of selling to higher-paying markets. Doesn’t stop me from trying, though.

    But in the meantime, I’m very thankful for the token ‘zines that allow me some measure of credit to guage my progress by. I do want to be paid more for my writing, and will endeavor to make it so. For now, though, I take what I can get.

  41. David J. Batista:

    Plenty of us kept sending our stories to pro-paying markets until the pro-paying markets started buying them. I had no desire to screw around in the bush leagues when I was starting out. I didn’t just want to get published, I wanted people to actually READ what I published…

    Some of my first dozen published stories appeared in Weird Tales, Realms of Fantasy, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress.

    To quote Miles Vorkosigan: “Aim high. You may miss the target but you won’t shoot your foot off.”

  42. Ok, the thing that caught my attention was “First Serial Rights”. Does this mean it has to be unpublished material? And that the author retains all the other rights to the material (and thus all rights once it has been published the first time)?

    Is this standard for this kind of publishing?

    And if the author retains all the rights to the material, how is he hurt by this transaction? Is it somehow less likely the same thing will be republished in the future (and I’m assuming reprint rights are not included in the FSR)?

    It really seems like a no-lose situation, except for the insultingly low money. But if you have lots of short stories just taking up hard-drive space, and any aspiring writer should, why not take the paycheck?

  43. Berimon, the author is hurt by the transaction because selling those first serial rights eliminates a huge number of potential markets (like just about SFWA-rate one, for example), as they also want first rights. So yes, it’s most definitely less likely that the same thing will be republished in the future.

  44. Carrie @ #45:

    Like I stated, I do submit to the big pro markets. I just don’t make it past the slush pile. Which is fine. I mentioned I’m willing to pay my dues, and learning to keep coming back for more until I’m good enough to get in is just part of the learning process.

    However, when a story does not sell with the big boys, I have no compunction whatsoever to trying elsewhere. So long as I get paid something at least. I have to start somewhere, right?

    The minute I sell that one story to a pro or even semi-pro market, that will begin my “true” resume.

    In the meantime, I’m already moving on to bigger and better stories. I keep writing no matter what, improving with each step. So far token markets have bought what I’ve written. Hopefully in the future, I’ll get to where you are. But I’m not there yet.

  45. The whole thing of not paying writers isn’t just a problem in the brave new world of online magazines and what-have-you. It’s an age-old crisis that has faced pretty much all working artists from time immemorial. I used to work professionally as a cartoonist and illustrator, and I can pretty much tell you, everybody wants free pitchurs. And they think they’re flattering you by uttering what is in fact the ultimate insult, one which, when uttered, pretty much ensures that you’re dealing with a member of Homo Scumbaggus: “It’ll give you lots of exposure!

    The expectation of free work is affecting journalists too, I’ve noted. An article in the Austin Chronicle a while back talked about the freefall of print media, and the way in which “specialized” news websites and blogs — which purport to do the hard work and bring you the news the “mainstream” media won’t — are rushing in to fill this gap. And yet, so many of these newb sites have the same teensy weensy problem: they don’t want to pay writers, and gleefully offer the “exposure” line as justification for it. I mean, here we are in a situation with print media in which, essentially, an entire livelihood — hard-hitting news writing — is going extinct, and these webmasters seem to think they’re doing experienced, often award-winning journalists a favor by offering them a chance to give away their hard-earned skills. One Austin writer with a most impressive résumé was approached by one of these sites and given the “exposure” line, to which she (perhaps impolitely) responded that if she needed exposure she could just stand at the corner of 6th & Congress downtown and flash oncoming cars. The webn00bs genuinely seemed bewildered at her response.

    So yes, it’s a shame, but not a new one, that non-writers and non-artists all have this idea that writing and art aren’t really work, you know, like they do, and their fixation on the romantic notion of the “starving artist” has convinced them of this ideal (to which they’d never hold themselves) that working for nothing is noble, and all offers of work a charity. Hey, van Gogh died penniless! You think you’re better than him?

  46. Thomas, that’s quite true. Have you seen the Harlan Ellison response to that sort of line? Cusses a lot, but it ‘so funny.

  47. Johne Cook:

    “Ask ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh about the quality and value of his experience in the bush league before ascending to the bigs.”

    Leaving aside the fact that “Nuke” is a fictional character and thus not at all a good example for real world situations, it should be noted that as a hot prospect he’s probably already signed a contract which has given him a significant signing bonus — which is why he’s driving a Porsche (a fact noted in one of his thought-bubble asides). So even in the “bush league” he’s being compensated well.

  48. 50. Thomas M Wagner

    In an earlier post, John wrote about those who don’t pay for works.

    They are people who won’t pay for things (i.e., dickheads), or they’re people who can’t pay for things (i.e., cash-strapped college students and others).

    As one who indeed trades exposure for the one-time use of existing artwork to promote our favorite genre, in this scenario, I fall into the category of ‘other.’ We charge nothing but still pay a token for stories (we prefer original works but take reprints if the reprinted story furthers the genre we embrace). We have a negative cashflow as it is. We get by with occasional donations and by digging into our own pockets. We do this for the love of the genre and for the purpose of mentoring young talent on the way up. This is a hobby for us, a shared passion, not a business.

    In the same article, John writes about the virtue of cultivating readers, people who think of books as a legitimate form of entertainment. We’re doing the same thing, exposing new readers to a venerable genre and providing a starting place to join in on the game. Furthermore, we serve as a nexus, matching new space opera fans with artists and artwork that they wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. We feature multipage interviews with the artists and link to places where people can find and purchase their art. If we charged anything at all for our publication, we’d pay our authors more and our artists something. As it is, we’re losing a little money on this venture to get the publication out to as many interested parties as possible without the gateway of a price tag. We consider the genre worth the effort, and the exposure worth the time.

    Our publication has a reputation for quality cover art. If we put together a glossy coffee table book of art from our stable of noted cover artists, our artists will earn a pretty penny at that time. Until then, they’ve willingly been part of creating something good on a shoestring.

  49. I’m saying there are intangibles which are sometimes more valuable than just the money, especially for somebody new to the writing game and on the way up.

    U2 didn’t become the biggest band in the world overnight. They played their share of coffee shops and dingy pubs and birthday parties and county fairs on the way up and honed their chops. Everyone has to start somewhere.

    Smaller publications can serve as indispensable stepping stones on the way to bigger and better sales.

    Getting back to my original point, I’m wondering if the difference between being a hero to up-and-coming writers or Homo Scumbaggus is how much the publication charges and what their return ratio is to the authors who make their publication possible.

  50. Johne Cook:

    You know what, not a single goddamned excuse in the world justifies paying a writer today a rate that would have been pathetic during the Depression.

    Also, the “dues paying” rationalization for paying people complete shit is bunk. I’ve never been paid less than the SFWA pro rate for fiction, in part because I decided that being paid less than five cents a word was a waste of my time. Didn’t hurt me any coming up.

  51. Money does not make you a published writer. They could as easily be a free publication online and give writers essentially the same stepping stone. The free e-zine I work with does the same thing, except we don’t pretend we’re actually paying you like a pro mag would. A free mag paying you nothing is “exposure”. Black Matrix is a commercial venture, good intentions or not.

  52. atsiko:

    “Money does not make you a published writer.”

    Well, actually, it does; generally speaking there’s a real-world demarcation between paying and non-paying markets. Speaking as someone who has been both a professional writer and a professional editor, there’s a manifest difference between saying you’ve been published in a paying market and saying you’ve been published on a non-paying Web site; it’s the difference between “amateur” and “professional.”

    Also more to the point, if a site is holding itself out a being a professional-level publication rather than a site that is explicitly amateur by design (using the word “amateur” in its “doing it for the love” sense), then payment of the writers of the site should be expected, and lack of the same is a real problem.

  53. 57. atsiko:

    As David Batista observed, many writers won’t submit to non-paying markets. Providing a token-paying outlet may be only one step above free publications, but it is a step up, one of many before reaching the Pros. There is a clear and definable journey from amateur to journeyman to pro. If it takes a million words of dreck to become consistently salable, it’s nice to be able to have had places to send some of those earlier words and earn some praise and criticism along the way. And some of those places pay a pittance. Perhaps the fact that they only earn a pittance has something to do with it.

    At our ‘zine, it’s clear we’re in it at the stage we are out of passion and not greed. Personally, I think paying something while charging nothing is not completely reprehensible.

  54. John Scalzi:
    Aha. So there is a difference in your opinion between amateur and pro when it comes to payment and how much? I’ve assumed so since the beginning of this thread, but it is helpful to be clear on that distinction.

  55. John Cooke @ 53: This is a hobby for us, a shared passion, not a business.

    Well, that’s the diff. You state that up front, so there’s no deception about your motives. These alt-news websites and other startups that want free writing and art and everything else do think of themselves as businesses and identify as such, not as labors of love, and yet still want free work from us noble starving artist types. And while giving the “exposure” line to a total n00b who just wants a little of that may be one thing (though not something I’d approve of, still), I suspect you’d get a firm but polite no-thank-you if you tried making your offer of trading “exposure for the one-time use of existing artwork” to Stephan Martiniere or Michael Whelan. And that’s kind of what these idiotic sites I mentioned are doing when they approach experienced, award-winning journalists with offers that treat them like they’re wide-eyed 19-year-olds fresh off the college paper.

    And frak, even my college paper paid me for my cartooning and writing.

  56. I make their first magazine around 96 pages, with 150 words/page (plus or minus epsilon, counted enough of one page to extrapolate), so a total of 14,400 words. That works out to $29 or so total writer payments for the whole magazine.

    It doesn’t look like layout or editing were all that complicated. So presumably not much overhead. But… $29 worth of writer payments, to 13 writers? Writing the checks to pay for it will take more time and money than the amount of the checks…

    I can see writers submitting stuff there if they can’t sell it elsewhere. That makes sense – some paid distribution is better than none, if you already wrote the piece and it hasn’t sold to any other venue.

    But the business model of the magazine seems to not make sense to me.

  57. Hold it. Let’s put some figures on this. Strange Horizons is considered by SFWA a pro market. They pay 5 cents per word. The current story by Alan De Niro is 2559 words according to Word. That’s $77.95. Now, let’s say you want to publish 4 stories an issue… that’s, oh hell, let’s round up… $315. For over 10,000 words of good SF.

    Any magazine that can’t afford $315 per issue for fiction should not even bother.

  58. I hesitate to put words in our esteemed host’s mouth, but I felt his citing of the SFWA Pro Rate seemed to indicate pretty much where he felt the dividing line between pro and amateur was.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, John. It’s not as if it would be the first time I’ve been there.

  59. $64/1000 question –

    If you’re an aspiring writer, you’ve written a short fiction piece, and nobody else buys it… are you better off submitting and selling to these people, to get the story in print and out there and at least get a Dollar Menu meal out of it, or submit it somewhere that pays literally nothing but will get it out visible, or not submitting it anywhere at all that won’t pay market rate?

    I think John’s opinion is valuable – as someone who probably tends to write to a paid contract, and does it professionally – but the not-yet-published writer who’s writing on spec is a different beast. And certainly not our esteemed, well paid host.

    But new writers need the PR more than the money, probably.

    Will this publishing house’s magazines be better publicity than a nonpaying venue? Or just posting a story on your own site?

  60. 63. rick:

    Hold it. ;) If you’re referring to pro magazines, fine, I agree with you. There is (or should be) a mutual expectation of quality fiction for a fair pro payment.

    But if you’re saying that the same financial criteria should apply to amateur mags as well, hell, I haven’t taken in 315 cents over three and a half years, much less 315 dollars. Despite that, we’ve fielded a pretty polished little project that does credit to our favorite genre and helps introduce new readers to the kind of stories we admired growing up. We deliberately removed requiring payment for the issues as a gate keeping new readers out just so we could arouse their interest. Think of it as a loss-leader to get new readers into the door and expose them to the wider world of science fiction. And by mentoring new writers in our favorite genre and then paying them a token on top of that, we’re also not only creating new readers for our genre, we’re creating new writers, as well.

  61. George @ 65: But new writers need the PR more than the money, probably.

    Oh, trust me on this one: everyone needs money, and new writers more than most. What they also need is respectable and fair professional treatment when a publishing opportunity rears its head, not to have their eagerness and inexperience taken advantage of by cheapskates with demeaning and predatory business practices.

  62. First off, math error on my part… 127.95 is the right figure.

    Johne, I’m referring to a magazine that charges for its issues with a view to making money (breakeven or not). Basically, if you are doing a magazine as a business then factor in all of the costs of doing business and that should include paying for the writing. If the editors and others involved in product are willing to donate their time, cool – but the writing is the very core of the product… it’s like not paying bakers to bake bread but saying you’re running a for profit bakery.

    @GWH… I wonder, though, if the aspiring writer who can’t get pro outlets to buy their work would be better to ‘publish’ it on their own site and to do other things to build their own audience (blog, be active on Facebook , Twitter, etc). Now, most won’t turn into Scalzi with 30 or 40 thousand readers… but getting a few hundred is probably doable. Is that better than an online magazine that doesn’t pay (or pays a low fixed rate)? I don’t know… I suspect this goes under the category of audience development… what’s more likely to get your fiction read? What’s more likely to lead to it being paid for? Does publishing fiction in these outlets or on your own site help or hurt you? Is this changing as the whole publishing industry adapts to online and electronic distribution? If so, how?

  63. This kind of crap doesn’t surprise me at all. You should see what some actual high-profile “reputable, professional” comic book publishers are paying their artists and writers these days.

    You know, the people without whom they’d have nothing to sell.

    I’m not talking about first-time artists or unknown quantities here, I’m talking about 15- to 25-year professionals with dozens of books, thousands of pages to their credit.

    I know of one artist in particular who’s been drawing and writing a book starring world-famous licensed characters owned by one of the biggest media companies in the US who is getting about $65 a page total for finished art, with no royalties paid whatsoever. The publisher is making a whole lot of profit off the trade paperback collections of these comics being sold in the bookstores, and this person (and their other artists, excuse me, victims) are seeing squat.

    A well-drawn comic book page takes between 8 and 10 hours for most artists, so we’re going below burger-flipping wages here, maybe in some cases below US minimum wage.

    Still, that’s probably a lot better than $0.002 per word.

    This stuff makes me want to puke, and it’s happening everywhere.

  64. IMO, what SFWA and other orgs consider a professional rate is low. We’re a small press, fer chrissake, and I don’t think we’ve ever paid so little for fiction, either for the website, or in the books we publish.


  65. I don’t get the exposure idea. If my stories aren’t good enough for the professional markets, I don’t want to introduce my name to readers.

    If my stories are good enough to be published, they’re good enough to be paid for.

    I’ll just keep submitting until I get there.

  66. Just fyi:

    70 years ago, Startling Stories hit the news stands with 132 pages for 15 cents a copy (90 cents for an annual subscription).

    Today you get, what, 160 pages for $7.99?

    Startling probably paid a quarter to a half a cent a word back then (commensurate with most of the rest of the market).

    So, while they were paying market rates to writers, they were only charging readers .0011 cents per page of content, whereas today the digests are paying SFWA market rates and charging the reader almost 5 cents per page of content.

  67. IMO, what SFWA and other orgs consider a professional rate is low. We’re a small press, fer chrissake, and I don’t think we’ve ever paid so little for fiction, either for the website, or in the books we publish.


    As a reader, I love your magazine. But, correct me if I’m wrong–please!–Subterranean Online doesn’t generally accept unsolicited submissions, does it? So for an unknown like me, it may as well not exist, as far as markets are concerned.

    So let’s supposed I wrote an 8,000 word dark fantasy story. As far as I can tell, there are three or four pro markets–and that’s counting Writer’s of the Future as a market–that would be willing to take a look at it. If I were to try them all and none of them bit, what then? If there were a lot of markets, I could see following the advice of those who say, “Put it away and try to write something better next time.” But I’m not inclined to take four rejections as any kind of definitive statement on the worth of a story.

    Now it’s a long way from pro rates to ridiculous rates like a fifth of a penny per word. I think there are at least a dozen markets–maybe a couple dozen–I could try before I’d hit that low. One or two dozen rejections I might be more willing to accept as a verdict on the story.

  68. Joe @#73

    You’re correct that Subterranean doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions. However, we are open to finding new writers (such as Livia Llewellyn, Rachel Swirsky, and others) so we do pay attention to what’s being published elsewhere.

    If we notice your work, or very occasionally, your work comes recommended by someone we trust, you don’t need to be a large name to be solicited by us.


  69. Yes, I think they’ve reached into the “we’re such assholes we too stupid to understand what assholes we are” realm.

    Worse is any idiot who takes that offer. It’s one thing to be a colossal asshole with a colossally asshole-ish offer. It’s quite another to be moronic enough to think it’s a good deal.

  70. Deary me. Anyone who’s actually falling for the “it’s a step on the ladder” line for this one boggles my mind. Aside from being an insult rather than a level of compensation for work, it seems to foster a slack attitude. “Oh, well – I’m not good enough to actually get published profesionally, but I’ve made enough for a cheeseburger”. If you’ve got enough story that you’re submitting it and getting rejected, surely it makes more sense to work on your story and improve it until it *does* get picked up professionally? Or to learn from the duffer you’ve crafted and write something better?

    Far from “helping writers on their way” this generates a false comfort-zone where you get to think “I’m published!” without actually acheiving anything of worth – just like paying to have your book printed without an editor buying the story. What you’ve acheived is to bend over and accept the shaft. Sorry to be blunt, proponents of this.

    I’ve seen the same thing time an again in the art world, and always steered well clear – arrangements like this are basically scams, and you’d be well advised to treat it as such.

    Finally, consider how many authors went from “I want to write” to “I’m wading through rejection slips” to “I’m a professional full-time writer” without having the “I’m taking it roughly from behind” stage that this represents. Such a grossly deflated market is no market at all, as it actively devalue that in which it deals.


  71. @76(MarkHB)

    Amen. There is no “working your way up the ladder.” Credits in sub-pro or “4tehlurv” markets don’t do a writer with professional aspirations any good. The reason is that many of these markets have either a miniscule readership or they go under within a year or three. An editor will look at these and go “Who?”

    If a work doesn’t make it to the pro-paying markets, it means you need to take another look at it — maybe even trunk it — and figure out why it kept getting rejected. Then you keep submitting work to those markets again and again. Persist, and never be content with second best.

  72. I’m coming from the crime fiction community and I suspect it may be a very different beast, but I’ve benefitted greatly by being published in zines where I didn’t receive any payment. There are a couple of things at play here.

    First, there are really only two genre specific magazines that pay what would be considered pro rates: Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines which pay in the 5 to 8 cent range per word. So I could send it to both of these places and have it rejected, but, like John I., two rejections is a bit thin for me to consider the story a failure. I’m also at a bigger disadvantage because I write dark crime fiction that is mostly frowned upon by the two pro zines.

    That leaves us with a whole bunch of zines that pay nothing or, at most, $25. Taking pay out of the picture though, other ways have developed to discern between the good free zines and the bad free zines. The easiest of these is the quality of the writing. Now, many of you say, if it’s that’s good, you should be paid for it. So let me tell you a tale of a couple of my stories.

    The first was published in one of the top two hardboiled web zines, Thuglit. Even though it doesn’t pay, it still attracts top talent and many of it’s contributors have been contacted by legitimate, high-profile agents after their stories appeared, me being one of them. The editor leveraged that quality to an anthology deal with Kensington books for a Best Of collection. My best story published in the zine was selected for the first anthology and I was paid a pro rate for it.

    The second story was published in one of the other highly regarded zines of the time and went on to be selected for a Best Mystery Stories of the Year anthology for which, again, I was paid a healthy pro rate. These were two good stories (justified by them being paid for eventually) that didn’t have anywhere willing to publish them except for free.

    The editors of these zines worry just as much about the quality of the writing and their reputation as the pro markets even though they are unable to pay a fee. I would rather have these markets around paying nothing than have them go away because they don’t have the money to pay.

    And my story is not unique. A guy named Scott Wolven published such good stuff online he was selected for Best American Mystery Stories seven years in a row. He leveraged that into a book deal for a short story collection, all of which were published online first.

  73. Mike Brendan @77: Credits in sub-pro or “4tehlurv” markets don’t do a writer with professional aspirations any good.

    Well, that depends entirely on the market. Escape Pod and its cousins are technically sub-pro, but any stories you get published there will be heard by a lot of people.

    The question to ask is “Which would be better: selling my story to these guys, or slapping it on my blog and setting up a Paypal tip jar?” Some non-pro markets blow past that test with ease. Others fail. Hard.

  74. I’m looking at a copy of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. They’ve published Ursula K. Le Guin, John Kessel, Ted Chiang, and Karen Joy Fowler, among others. (They also published the first story I ever sold, so, you know, close to the heart.) They pay pretty typical semipro rates — better than Black Matrix, certainly, but by #63’s reckoning they probably shouldn’t bother. And, well, that’s silly. They pay what they can afford to pay, produce a consistent and well-respected product that their readers love, and maintain extraordinarily strong relationships with writers both new and established. As I’ve worked my way up to pro rates, multiple editors have mentioned the LCRW sale, either because they’d read my story there or because they particularly enjoyed the zine, so the sale clearly served me as a writer. And honestly, sharing a TOC with Le Guin is one of those treasured writerly moments that lasts a hell of a lot longer than a three digit check.

    Nowadays I tend to shoot for the check. And none of this is to defend Black Matrix — their payscale is bizarre, their business model is wonky, and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone send their work there. But, contra some of the comments here, worthwhile non-monetary incentives exist. The onus is on writers to figure out which markets offer such incentives, and whether those markets are right for them.

  75. While I agree that what Black Matrix is offering is insulting I do relate to the desire to publish in other locations than the pros.

    I think one of the main reasons to submit to semi-pro sites is not exposure, it is to engage an editor.

    The problem is most rejections are generic and don’t help you understand how to improve (whether your writing just sucks, or your close, or your story is good but not a fit, or they just had something better to choose from), and thus help you write a better story next time.

    It seems that by stepping down to the semi-pro level you are more likely to get the attention of an editor and be able to actually get the kind of feedback that will help you improve your writing.

    What would be telling for me on this subject is the viewpoint of an editor. Do semi-pro sales (vs. no sales) make a difference when you are looking at an new author?

    Do any editors care to comment? Bill from SubPress, any others?

  76. Eric @ 80 “(LCRW) produce a consistent and well-respected product that their readers love, and maintain extraordinarily strong relationships with writers both new and established.”

    And that’s the difference. If BM is able to garner a loyal audience and reputation for good editing and publishing quality material, they’ll survive. They’ll move into that realm of “building brand” and get the submissions. However, I don’t think they have a Kelly Link or Gavin Grant level of player that can pull that off.

    Given that they say, “We throw (any and every genre permutation) in the mix, shake well, and see what exotic brew emerges in every issue,” I doubt their business plan will lead them to that level.

  77. John,

    I’m wondering if Black Matrix had merely said they would pay a flat $10 or $20 per story, rather than the odd sounding one fifth of a cent, if you would have been inspired to write an article denouncing them? I ask this because for years now there have been many zines offering these token payments and you’ve never taken them to task. Are you against all such zines or just this particular one. I hope not.

    I for one am glad that these entry level pubs exist. As a new writer, new to fiction at least, the once cent or less publications have been a great place to get started. I first subbed to the pro markets only to get form letter rejections. If I had continued to only sub to the pros, I’d have given up. I next subbed to a nonpaying market and I can tell you just that acceptance was a very encouraging experience. It spurred me on to sub to paying markets which began accepting my stories. The growing acceptance of my work, has helped me grow as a writer and also increased my confidence.

    In my particular case, I found a zine (Raygun Revival) that accepted a couple of space opera stories I’d written and expressed interest when I indicated I could write a couple more to extend the storyline. They graciously accepted my idea and soon an 85,000 word serial developed.

    The serial has now been rewritten, and revised and is about to be published as a novel. Whether the novel is good or not will be for readers and critics to decide, but if it were not for places like Raygun Revival and other such zines that pay little but charge the readers nothing and give newcomers a place to start and grow, there wouldn’t be any book.

    So I hope you’re not telling all your fans and readers to avoid such venues. It could result in nipping budding talent in the–er– bud.

  78. Stephen @ 82:

    Oh, I totally agree. I mean, benefit of the doubt, I guess, but the four magazine plan doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, and I’m honestly kind of surprised that Locus picked up their call for subs. I just don’t want to dismiss all non-pro markets in the rush to condemn this one.

  79. As a reader, I have a whole world of material available for my perusing pleasure. So much, in fact, that I have to exercise a great deal of discretion as to what I will buy/ acquire and actually read. Publications that provide substandard quality writing (such as these dues-paying, less than pro or semi-pro outfits) as their modus operandi will not earn my business. I will expect their product to be lesser quality than the “pros” and will not buy it or pick it up if it is free. By the same token, if I see a byline by an author I have associated with these “starter” magazines, then I will not read their work at a later point either. So, a lose/lose situation.

    As a stepping stone, perhaps a writer should consider publication in a “pro” venue as a sign of progress as a writer.

  80. Pete Butler @79 Very true. There’s always exceptions, but the writer needs to research the markets. Escape Pod’s an example of a sub-pro market that has a good sized audience and professional production to it, but markets like that are not all that common.

  81. I suggest that anyone who believes the ‘it’s a token payment which proves I’m worth paying’ thesis should wander over to and devote a few days to reading the never ending thread on PublishAmerica.

    They pay their authors a whole dollar, just to prove they’re real publishers paying real authors…

  82. I think the point about the low number of people paying actual pro-rates is good. But there’s still the question of which non-pro-raters are worth your time. If it’s a start-up, how can you tell?

    I’d also note that $29 to 13 writers while they’re charging $9.95 an issue seems a bit off. I can’t speculate on their production costs, but how high can they be? Anybody have info on how many issues they’d have to sell to break even?

  83. At the other end of the scale, I just submitted my entry to the Sunday Times/EFG Private Bank short story competition, open to writers previously published in the UK or Ireland (deadline this last Monday).

    The prize for the winner is £25,000, which is about $41,600, or very nearly $6 per word if you do the max number of words (7000). OK, that’s a one-off prize and not a regular publication. But still! Conceivably someone could win with, I dunno, a 2500 word story at almost $17 a word.

    Even the five runners up (with £500) will be on 11 cents a word if the do the max number of words.

    As an irrelevant coincidental aside, I went to see the movie An Education last night, starring Oscar-buzzy young actress Carey Mulligan (who I first noticed as Sally Sparrow in Dr Who episode Blink a couple of years ago). It was adapted from a Lynn Barber memoir by novelist Nick Hornby – and both those people are judges on this prize. Odd.

  84. escape pod and its sister podcasts take reprints and pay the same, so really, one could pub a story in a pro paying mag and then make extra on the audio rights to escape pod, which is a little different than just being a semi-pro market.

    Also, the semi-pro markets with big names? Many of those big names got paid pro rates to be in them, since often mags will pay a ‘name’ author more to attract readership. Not everyone makes the same rates for every market…

  85. Eric @80 – If they’re trying to run the sites as a business and can’t pay the people who are providing the content they’re doing something wrong. If they’re as well read and respected as you say, I can’t see why they couldn’t monetize that to enough of a degree to make $500-$1000 per month and pay the author a bit of money (and it really is ‘a bit’, see the math above). If they choose not to make money on the site that’s OK, but not what I’m talking about – my comment was specifically about magazines (print, electronic, both) that are being run as businesses.

    There’s also a difference between Some New ‘Zine not paying and promising exposure and something like Byron in @78 outlines, a site that can point to authors who’ve been helped materially by appearing in it. If an author has a real chance to be read by a critical mass of people esp by some who have influence in the industry that has value. And that’s what we’re really talking about – the story has value, how is the author being compensated for that value? The easiest to measure way is money.

  86. Writers shouldn’t publish “for the exposure” or with the idea that people starting out should start out in the non-pro markets. First of all, some credits are not worth listing; not only do they not impress, but they actually make you look like a bad writer–as in: “This is the level they’re at?”

    Better to have no credits than lame ones.

    Second, the exposure is not all that great. A writer looking at a site with [Vaguely SFnal Term] Magazine at the top thinks Magazine, but they might have a much smaller reach than, say, a popular blog. Frankly, I think a writer is better off trunking a story rather than sending it 4theluv. Or publishing it on their blog.

    I’m tempted to start a LiveJournal Community called “thiswasrejected_thefools!” that would let people publish their work “for the exposure.” Comments enabled, ‘natch.

    Finally, as a reader, I don’t bother with non-paying or might-as-well-be markets, because my reading time is limited and why should I invest in a story when the publisher wasn’t willing?

  87. Eric@80:
    They pay pretty typical semipro rates — better than Black Matrix, certainly, but by #63’s reckoning they probably shouldn’t bother. And, well, that’s silly.

    Of course it’s silly, but then again I’ve not noticed anyone making the argument. If my first novel gets accepted by Small Beer Press (whose founders also publish and edit Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet), I wouldn’t expect to get a Stephen King/Joanne Rowling sized advance cheque by return post. But I think it’s also entirely reasonable that every writer not be expected to be grateful for being date-raped.

    It’s a truism in publishing that short fiction is always going to be a hard sell, no matter how often folks like Alice Munro, Clive Barker (whose career started out with not one but six volumes of stories), Kelly Link, Joe Hill and Ted Chiang prove otherwise. Despite the difficulties, magazines of all size are a vital part of a vbrant genre fiction scene.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m going to support naked exploitation, nor do I think writers like Scalzi should STFU and be grateful for what they get.

  88. rick @ 94:

    I’m talking about a print zine which is a business in the sense that it’s sold and for-profit, yes, but which is also a more or less break-even labor of love. The Washington Post calls LCRW “tiny but celebrated,” and that’s exactly what it is — it’s developed a devoted, niche audience which might not support the cost of producing a pro-zine but nonetheless includes a goodly number of passionate readers, writers, editors, etc. You could say the same for Sybil’s Garage and (Hugo Award winning!) Electric Velocipede.

    And yes, as I think I made abundantly clear, there’s certainly a difference between an established market and a dubious upstart like Black Matrix. That’s kind of my point. There’s middle ground between PublishAmerica and, yes?

    izanobu @ 93:

    Also, the semi-pro markets with big names? Many of those big names got paid pro rates

    Sure, sometimes. Perhaps less often than you might think. Flip open one of the most recent issues of Electric Velocipede — you’re going to see an awful lot of familiar names. It’s not like they’re all raking in special, above-list-price fees. They’re there for a whole pile of reasons. Jay Lake isn’t publishing in EV and Shimmer because he doesn’t know any better.

  89. “And frak, even my college paper paid me for my cartooning and writing.”

    Mine too. $7.50 a piece, a decade+ ago. And pizza on Wednesday (which is also when I got most of my assignments.) I learned to draw very, very fast because of that job, which made my hourly better.

    The upshot is that those were token, bargain-basement rates and the work often showed it. A college newspaper really is for experience. There is never, NEVER any point after that when you should be paid at those rates.

    And on a related note, I had a professor who told us, again and again, that we should never accept an unpaid internship. “If they want you, make them hire you.” I think that same idea applies here. Writing is something you learn by doing— the only way to get experience is to write more. Getting published at sub-par rates only means you get experience at getting screwed.

  90. Thomas @67 writes:
    _Oh, trust me on this one: everyone needs money, and new writers more than most._

    I’ve sold some stuff, some at pro rates. On my best day, the thing I’d written paid me about 1/4 of what my day job paid that day, at the time, which was a small fraction of what I make now.

    I can always use more money – but $50 for a story is literally not worth me taking the time to go to the bank (I’d deposit the check if I was going there anyways, but I’d lose more billable work earnings on the drive and ATM time than the check would cover otherwise). I’ll take the payment – if it was a SFWA accepted publication, I’d sort of like to get a membership some day. But it would functionally not be any better for me other than membership eligibility; I’d be willing to do it for free for a suitable publication, if these people would get better PR / visibility I’d to it there. The $50 is not worthful to me.

    _What they also need is respectable and fair professional treatment when a publishing opportunity rears its head, not to have their eagerness and inexperience taken advantage of by cheapskates with demeaning and predatory business practices._

    This is true. But if this is a labor-of-love literally mom and pop publisher, trying to at least pay something rather than nothing, then they may just be a slightly better paying free venue rather than an attempt at a pro venue.

    A number of people have posted about their projects which aren’t paying anything. I’d write for those, if I had more time. Why shouldn’t I write for these people, assuming they can edit worth a damn and people will read it?

    It’s not Asimov’s – but so what?

    If they’re trying to be credible pros and they’re being cheap – they’re doing wrong. But nothing I’ve seen indicates that they have any such pretentions or are misleading people.

  91. Eric@98:
    Sure, sometimes. Perhaps less often than you might think.

    Sure, I’d be very surprised if Le Guin asked for — let alone received — the same rate from LCRW that she’d get from The New Yorker (pretty much the only “mainstream” magazine that still prints fiction on a regular basis). If my memory serves, Stephen King effective gave away some stories to Cemetery Dance magazine precisely because he thought his name on the cover might attract some readers to a good (but financially marginal) magazine.

    But as far as I’m aware, neither Kelly Link nor Richard Chizmar offer anyone one fifth of a penny per word.

  92. eric – is it a business or a labor of love? A business has a plan to be self-sustaining and provide value to everyone involved including the people who provide the writing. That value is most directly expressed as money but can be exposure to people influential in the genre (see Byron’s post above) but if it’s the latter the magazine should be able to demonstrate that. If I open a bakery I need to pay the bakers, the people who provide the flour, etc. Doesn’t matter if my opening a bakery is out of a cold desire for money or because I love baking. If it’s a business, I need to pay people.

    John really said it most succinctly in the followup post – “Your bad business planning does not justify screwing writers.”

  93. Wow, to think, I’m the cause of all this!

    Yep, I confess. Me – Lou Antonelli – sitting here in Mount Pleasant, in Deepest Darkest East Texas – Land of Lansdale. I’m the guy!

    You see, that first issue of the first magazine put out by Black Matrix features a story by yours truly and Ed Morris – “Stairway to Heaven”. I’m the guy who dropped a blink suggestion into the Locus email in-box.

    Had no damn idea anybody was gonna go off like a mousetrap loaded with dynamite. Calm the hell down, John! Here’s the way I look at things, goombah.

    First, I’m not a professional sf writer, and I don’ try to be. I’m a newspaper editor. I get up in the morning and check the AP newswire to see if World War III broke out overnight (believe me, it would take weeks for us to hear here in East Texas), and the obits to see if I died overnight. If neither is the case, I get out a paper that day.

    I like my job. I have no aspirations of being a big shot egotistical author. I don’t give a flip about the money I make writing fiction. I write fiction in my free time because it’s fun.

    Back in 2003, I got a news release at the paper I worked at about a convention in Dallas, and I went to see what an s-f convention was. During one panel, Jayme Blaschke – the editor of Revolution SF – talked about how hard it was to get quality fiction for an ezine that didn’t pay. But he also said that he knew important editors still read it. Later, I offered to write a story for him, just for grins. This was his intro:

    “New writer Lou Antonelli isn’t really a new writer at all. A longtime newspaper editor and reporter with multiple awards from Texas Press Association in editorial, column, and feature writing, Antonelli has recently turned his hand to science fiction with impressive results, as evidenced by the following story.”

    Great encouragement. Total payment – not one red cent. In August, he published another one. No payment, neither. He was right about editors paying attention, Gardner Dozois put it in the list of honorable mentions at the back of his anthology the next year. By that time, Dozois had bought a story from me.

    Was I happy? Sure. Did I care about the money, or lack thereof? Hey, lots of authors don’t have a realistic evaluation of their talents. I’m a good author, with flashes of greatness – but I really don’t think I’m good enough to command the big bucks like the greats. I’m just not in that league.

    One thing Jayme paid me with that I found was invaluable, was feedback. I have never minded submitting to a free market if I got some feedback, whether the story was accepted or not. I don’t live in area where I have the benefit of clubs or critique groups to help me hone my writing.

    I’ve had stories published for nothing – and got fabulous reviews. I waived payment on a story called “Avatar” that was published by a UK zine called Darker Matter, and got fantastic reviews. Shit, I couldn’t have paid for that.

    I’ve gotten up to eight cents a word for stories in pro publications. You know what? I’m just as proud of those free little fun stories that were published in the little ‘zines because:
    1. I enjoyed writing them.
    2. People enjoyed reading them.

    Ed Morris, my collaborator on “Stairway to Heaven” in Encounters – the Black Matrix magazine that set off this whole discussion – has been published in Interzone twice, among many other respectable places, and was a BSFA nominee one time. We are not a couple of wannabe schmucks.

    But we both do this because we love it, and we still have a big sense of wonder and apparently much smaller egos than a lot of other writers. “Stairway” was shopped around, none of the big boys wanted it, so – what the heck – let’s help out the little startup mag and offer it them and their readers – give them something enjoyable and fun to read.

    I think the biggest mistake Black Matrix did was post a silly pay rate. None would have been better, or maybe a small fixed rate. It just shows their inexperience. That’s no reason to jump down their throat like an anvil dropped by a Pecos twister.

    It’s time for the altar call.

  94. Craig @ 97 and 101:

    Rick @ 63 said that if you can’t pay $300-an-issue for your fiction (SFWA pro rates for four shortish stories), then don’t bother publishing a magazine. Which is what I was calling silly. I’m not taking issue with the criticism of Black Matrix — they seem kinda sketch — so much as the more absolutist notions advanced here in comments (“There is NEVER any point at which you should be paid subpro rates”), that sub-pro rates are fundamentally wrong or suspect, that low-paying/semipro magazines are never worth a writer’s while, etc. LCRW and EV pay in the $15-30 range — which, when it comes right down to it, ain’t all that much more than a fifth of a penny, and for a novelette might even be less. And they nonetheless attract many strong, savvy, well-known writers, who I’d contend are not dumb.

    rick @ 102:

    I’m not quite sure what you’re saying here. The magazines I’ve cited have all sustained themselves for years now (quite a few years, in LCRW and EV’s cases). They’re small-scale businesses and labors of love, and they demonstrate the value they offer to writers by general acclaim, awards, the quality of their product, etc. I’d agree that BM’s business planning seems lacking, but not because it’s small scale — it looks like they’re trying to do too much with too little, putting out four magazines when they ought to focus their funds on one (and indeed, push content-creators higher on the priority list). But you can’t generalize from that specific error to other semipros.

  95. Lou Antonelli:

    “I think the biggest mistake Black Matrix did was post a silly pay rate.”

    Well, no. The biggest mistake Black Matrix did was offer a silly pay rate. If you want to accept such a crappy amount for your work, Lou, that’s your business. But that’s neither here nor there to the fact Black Matrix’s pay rate sucks and that they deserve ridicule for it.

  96. (*Lou, just BTW and FYI, I was nominated for the 2010 Stoker and the 2009 Rhysling as well.)

    I knew what Black Matrix paid before I submitted “Stairway” to them. We couldn’t home it anywhere else, so I went to what I thought was one of those ‘For The Love’ type markets (as Ralan Conley lists them.)

    Then I get the magazine, and it’s this slick, glossy, very well-bound and wonderfully put together publication (albeit with several dozen typos in our story alone). A single issue of Encounters costs more than what Lou and I were paid, together, for the story.

    So I agree with both of you. Wrap your heads around that… :)

  97. What John S. doesn’t seem to realize is that there is what I’ve been calling for the last couple of years a Neo-Pulp Electronic Revolution going on. There are a lot of low paying magazines on the Internet mostly, and a few in print, devoted to the revival of pulp fiction. It’s the kind of fiction I like to write and read.

    The pro markets haven’t caught on yet to what’s going on in the Underground. You cannot sell this kind of story to the big magazines. They are still hung up on stories that have a pseudo-literary veneer on the surface but that essentially have no real substance. It seems to be the kind of story that a lot of the posters here seem to like to read—the kind that have snob appeal.

    That’s fine. Keep reading them and avoid the real excitement that’s goin on. Eventually the big boys will catch on, and just maybe then those of us toiling away in the Underground for coolie wages will get some recognition. Until then, I’m like Lou. I don’t give a damn. I’m having a ball getting my stuff published on line or in print.

    If someone doesn’t want to read it because it doesn’t have a pedigree, that’s your tough luck.

  98. Eric:

    Thanks for the clarification, though the fault in not totally getting your point was mine not yours.

  99. Hugo’s payment rate was NOT low for the times. However, there were complaints that sometimes he published something without any payment at all. However, when I worked for him in the 50’s I know he would occassionally get a letter from an old author who had not received a payment, and he IMMEDIATELY mailed him a check — ususally for far more than was originally offered.

    For more information on Hugo Gernsback check out a new biography available on Amazon.

    The document was found by me when we closed down Gernsback Publications in 2003. It was an old ms that I edited and produced as a book.

    Follow the link and you can go to the book and thanks to Amazon’s “look inside” feature, you can even get an idea of what it covers.

    Hope you find it interesting.

    For more information feel free to contact me, Larry Steckler, at

  100. So, basically, all we’ve learned is that the snobbery goes both ways, eh, John? I’ll admit to not being alive in the 40s and 50s when the pulp mags were runnin’ strong, so I’m not able to make such comparisons. But I think “all snob, no substance” is a pretty arrogant criticism to be leveling at someone, whether you feel you’ve been unfariyl dealt with or not.

  101. Atsiko,

    No one’s treating me unfairly. Like I said, I’m having a blast. But I find those who say, “Oh, dear me, goodness no, I would never read anything written by someone who once wrote for one of those ‘one-fifth of a penny dreadfuls'” a bit of a bore. And a snob.

  102. At least they’re paying something, John. They could be totally 4-the-luv, you know.

    It might come as a slight shock to you, but not everyone can afford to pay the SFWA rates.

  103. Crystalwizard:

    “At least they’re paying something, John.”

    You didn’t actually read the entry, did you, Crystalwizard? Otherwise you’d’ve noticed this particular objection was already addressed in it.

  104. The most important thing, I think, is the acknowledgment that there is a substantive difference between amateur and pro, and we should all determine to do right by the people who we publish at every point in the journey from rank amateur to seasoned pro.

  105. @112

    John, I was paraphrasing a bit on your comment about how the big mags wouldn’t accept certain stories due to a “literary” bias. It seems I misunderstood.

    Personally, I don’t care *where* someone has published, but only if their work was any good. A crap-paying junk mag is no more likely to reject a high-quality piece of work than a pro-rater. They’re just going to have more crap in general. Business inexperience is not my issue. Seems a dumb way to pick work. Now, I’m not some big fancy editor, I’m just a reader, so YMMV.

  106. @ 115: Johne

    Why should rank amateur writing get published at all? If it’s crap, it goes in the trunk or the trash, and that choice is up to the writer. Nothing wrong with giving editorial feedback, but accepting shit is stupid.

    Now, I’m simplifying the issue a bit, since there is a large gray area between “crap” and “pro”, and the judgement is subjective anyway.

  107. Shimmer and EV are paying 5 times what Black Matrix is, for one…

    There are very good semi-pro rate markets out there and a few I submit to. When I hear people willing to publish for the love, fine, that’s your choice. For me, I’m trying to sell my writing and do it for a living, which means that I can’t really afford 4tehlove.
    Some of us write not just because we love it, but also because it’s our business, and as such, we have to make business decisions about our writing.

    Frankly, I think paying a flat rate would be less insulting, though again, charging for a zine and then not turning those profits around to fair pay for the writers who make the profits possible seems underhanded to me. But it’s their business, and alas, there are thousands of aspiring writers out there who will give away their work.

  108. >You didn’t actually read the entry, did you, Crystalwizard? Otherwise you’d’ve noticed this particular objection was already addressed in it.

    Yes, John, actually I DID read the entry and my comment wasn’t an objection, it was an observation.

    My actual objection is that a certain chunk of the publishing industry seems to feel that the only good publishers are the ones that can afford to pay the rates that SFWA uses to determine membership, and looks down their noses at anyone that pays less.

  109. Slightly OT, but I find the concept of paying tribute to the pulps with a slick, well-bound glossy magazine a touch ironic. They were called pulps for reason. And one of those reasons was that the content was more important than the wrapper. Seems like Black Matrix has that backward, too. Pay your writers and use cheap paper, not the other way around.

  110. CW, if they’re paying 0.002/word, then they’re basically not paying. I don’t think anyone would be complaining if they paid $0.01/word, even, although that’s pretty cheap still. At least then you’d make something. $100 for a novel is basically nothing, as far as I’m concerned [and of course they’re not paying for novels, but you get the idea].

    They are basically running a non-profit, except for the ‘non’ part… anyone willing to write for $5/story or whatever is not a professional writer, or even close; you certainly can’t work for a week and make $5. Anything put out at that rate is either a) written by a monkey, or b) written by someone who’s just desperate to be published, and should be taught about the wonderful tool that is called ‘wordpress’, or ‘blogspot’, or any of the thousands of ways you can disseminate mediocre quality writing on the internet.

    The problem is that these folks are trying to *make a profit* off of this, which not only devalues writing in general, but specifically takes advantage of people who are desperate for approval … which is pretty darn sad.

  111. Eric – again, is it a business ? If it’s a business RUN IT LIKE ONE. That includes figuring out how you’re going to make enough money to pay your costs at the least. Revenue is CORE to running a business whatever your product is… is that really so odd an idea?

    I don’t see what’s confusing – if the writing has value to the magazine, compensate the writer for that value. You can compensate by money, by exposure or by some combination. However, a new venture can’t demonstrate that they’re being read so the most straightforward way to compensate the writer is with cash.

    I’ll stand by my comment @63 – $300 per issue is NOTHING. Hell, $500 gets you 10,000 words of fiction per issue. If you really can’t afford that you need to consider whether you’re actually running a business if the core product you’re putting out can’t generate $6,000 per year. But hey, maybe you’re not sure and you can’t afford to pay pro rates… fine, pay half of pro rates.. 2.5 cents a word. That’s $3000 per year.

    Now, come on… if you can’t afford to pay even $3000 per year you have no business publishing a magazine *as a business*. None. You need to start off with some capital and be willing to invest that while you grow revenues and you need to work not just on reading cool fiction but at the revenue side too. That’s part of doing it as a business. I get that creative folks like to shunt all that nasty money stuff off to the side, but guess what? No revenue, no business.

    If you don’t want to mess with revenue etc, then just own up to the fact that what you really want to do is read and publish cool fiction in some niche and either pay some small fee as a token or pay nothing and be honest that this isn’t a business in any way. Try to get people read, try to get them exposure, and do it as… a labor of love.

    Oh and before anyone says “but can’t a labor of love be a business?” yes of course it can. But then you need to be willing to run it like one, not like a hobby.

  112. rick @ 122:

    I suspect we’re misreading each other, at least on some points. If we’re simply talking about Black Matrix in particular, then yes, their financial priorities seem to be rather skewed — enough so to cast doubt on even the small-scale viability of their publication. Unlike the semipros I’ve mentioned, they can’t really offer any meaningful exposure or other incentives to writers to compensate for the low pay-rate, and are for these reasons a poor market for more or less any writer. Black Matrix self-describes as an LLC, and that seems not only silly but dubious. Agreed.

    But if we’re talking about semipros in general, I’m still confused by your argument, which seems to be that if a magazine’s revenue is so low that it can’t pay pro rates, it should not publish on a for-profit basis. Where on earth does this imperative come from? If an endeavor is sustainably earning out like the examples I’ve cited, if it’s selling to the best of its ability and its readers and writers and editors are happy, where exactly is the problem? Just because a venture is ultimately for-profit doesn’t mean it can’t (or shouldn’t, whatever that would mean) function on what is essentially a hobby scale, and doesn’t mean its prime directive shouldn’t be publishing cool fiction in a niche rather than revenue streams with a certain number of figures.

    It’s like saying, “If a music festival organizer can’t pay her bands Warped Tour rates, then they have no business organizing concerts.” Well, no. Every festival, thank God, doesn’t have to be the Warped Tour. Local festivals are going to pay bands a hell of a lot less — maybe even token rates. And of course those festivals are a wonderful thing for both fans and musicians, places where a band can profit enormously (or not at all).

  113. @ 117 atsiko:

    Why should rank amateur writing get published at all? If it’s crap, it goes in the trunk or the trash, and that choice is up to the writer.

    We have a whole spectrum of sporting leagues, from little league to the bigs. Why don’t we just tell the talented but unpolished athletes to keep practicing until they get picked up by a pro team?

    I can’t speak for the other ‘zines, but we publish amateur and journeyman writing because there are a lot of decent titles there, and it’s worth providing a venue for them to share their work as they progress in craftsmanship and artistry. Saying something isn’t yet pro quality does not automatically make it crap. It’s arrogant to say that because some journeymen don’t want to submit their work to non-Pro markets doesn’t mean that others are lesser writers or people because they do.

    Let’s say an optimistic writer submits to a non-Pro ‘zine and is turned down. They know where they stand. If they’re accepted, they also know where they stand. Let’s say they move up the difficulty and try a semi-Pro ‘zine and are rejected. They keep trying until they make it at that level. And so on until they’ve consistently and successfully broken through to the Pro markets, or discover that they’re not likely to make it out of the Amateur ‘zines, or the semi-Pro ‘zines.

    Furthermore, this discussion misses out on one critical thing — the simple pleasure of sharing one’s work with others. As Lou wrote, receiving or not receiving payment isn’t the only reason to write. Sometimes, you just want to noodle with an idea, and have a feel for its relative worth. If you’ve got a story that won’t make it at the Pro level, instead of completely deep-sixing it, maybe there’s still enough worth in placing it with a lesser publication on an essentially pro-bono basis. Maybe you’re doing them a favor. Maybe they’ve done you one. But the decision is yours and no-one else’s.

    With that said, if one is running a Pro publication, there are certain expectations for that enterprise, and John Scalzi is right to remind folks about the basic parameters that Pro writers and publications should expect.

  114. I agree that all magazines should try to pay writers more. I am a writer, after all, so why wouldn’t I think that?

    But I reject the notion that I’m somehow an idiot being used by predators if I give a story away. I know what I’m doing. Some stories will go to the pros, and some will go to magazines I like.

    It’s my choice to seek publication in any magazine I choose (except Subterranean Press, obviously). Here’s something to chew on: Black Matrix at least allows unsolicated submissions, and so I respect them far more than a magazine that won’t even look at my work. I wouldn’t purchase a cheap back issue of a magazine that ignores my writing. Talk about screwing writers over! Not letting writers in in the first place is the ultimate screw job.

    Do I think there’s a big difference between $20 dollars and nothing? No, I don’t. The pay is still poor regardless. So with magazines that give token payments, I’m more inclined to judge them on quality.

    Yes, magazines should aspire to pay more. Yes, even tiny presses can provide boosts to a writer’s career. The issue is not black and white. So I agree with both sides to some extent.

  115. Rob:

    “Black Matrix at least allows unsolicited submissions”

    Well, given their per-word rate, it’s not like they could pull off being invite-only, now, could they. I find this particular rationalization deeply uncompelling.

    Likewise, while I wouldn’t try to stop you from doing whatever you want with your own work, that’s neither here nor there to the point that a fifth of a cent per word payment rate is flatly appalling, and I’m embarrassed for Mr. Kenyon that he doesn’t have the good sense to be embarrassed at the amount of pay he’s offering.

  116. I see a lot of agnst here.
    I write because I enjoy writing.
    I submit to both paying and non paying markets because I choose to.
    No one’s forcing me to do so.
    I suspect that’s true for the majority of people who submit to non pro rate magazines and ezines.
    So Black Matrix is paying a pittance?
    So what?
    Plenty of them pay a pittance and plenty more pay nothing.
    The writer is aware of that before he or she submits the story.
    Dragging one zine into the limelight seems a tad unfair. Insulting them and calling them names ain’t real cool either.
    Plenty of non pro writers producing excellent stories for various zines, payment rate isn’t an indication of quality.
    I’m wondering, John, that as you obviously feel so strongly about the amount that Black Matrix is paying…did you email them and offer them your thoughts before you started slagging them off in public?
    And as there are so many other zines paying nothing at all why pick on one that is at least paying something?
    And don’t say that the amount they are offering is not something because that is not the case.
    They are offering to pay something, even though it is a pittance. Something is always better than nothing.
    I’m not a pro author, so I don’t have to worry about how much I get paid, I suspect that only pro authors and people who aspire to be pro authors really worry about it.
    Sure I do like to get pro rates, who doesn’t?
    But it’s not the end of the world if I don’t and I don’t have to submit to any zine I don’t want to.
    So you don’t like the rates Black Matrix are offering…so don’t submit to them.
    You’ve certainly given Black Matrix a lot of free publicity by blogging about them here…maybe you’ve earned that dollar from them?

  117. Jaq:

    “Dragging one zine into the limelight seems a tad unfair. Insulting them and calling them names ain’t real cool either.”

    You’re clearly not aware of my policy on “unfair.” Likewise, I don’t feel at all bad about saying things you think are mean about Black Matrix because, by paying its contributors a fifth of a cent a word, it’s earned it.

    As to why pick on Black Matrix: Why not pick on it? It offers appalling rates to writers and to artists and its publisher seems perfectly unapologetic about doing so. It’s not some innocent little ‘zine — the people running it are clearly running a for-profit business and are doing it in part by paying exploitative rates to the people without whom they do not have a product. Pointing out their possibly ignorant rapaciousness makes for a nice object lesson for others.

    Your implication here appears to be that Black Matrix is somehow the victim in this. If so, I find the implication deeply amusing, and also stupid.

    “You’ve certainly given Black Matrix a lot of free publicity”

    I certainly have, but contrary to the rumors, there is such a thing as bad publicity.

  118. @Johne 117

    We have lesser teams to allow people the chance to practice and grow. In writing we have places for that called “critique groups” and “writing forums”. Looking at the non-paying and token, semi-pro mags handing out form rejections with no editorial advice… what does that teach? Nothing. What does getting accepted gain you? Well, for the semi-pros at least you know you don’t suck, but the rest is just confidence. Misplaced, mostly. There’s no point in showcasing crap. Get some feedback on it. Sppend time practicing. Take your rejections and keep on chugging. If I write something, and no one semi-pro or above will touch it, that says something to me: “This needs work.” I don’t take it to the lower levels for $20 bucks or some “exposure”. Noy everything is fit to be displayed. Them’s the facts, and there’s a lot of writers out there who need to suck it up.

    That’s different than John offering a freebie to a mag he enjoys, to get them some readers.

  119. John, I agree that paying sorry rates from a for-profit magazine is low class unless the exposure is significant. I don’t think Black Matrix can offer significant exposure. Few magazines actually can. Typically, the exposure pitch to writers and artists is bulls**t. Because of that, I would not submit there. But at least I have the choice.

    Invite-only magazines are ventures I do not contribute to, and that includes accepting invitations from them. Do I think they’re evil? Not at all. Do I think they’re good for the industry? Not at all. I don’t like the concept of them, and I hope it never catches on.

  120. #129 @ atsiko:

    Ok, so you have your own preference for a cut-off for a minimum standard of where you will submit. That’s great. Please don’t piss on those whose minimum cut-off is at a different arbitrary level than your arbitrary level. Saying it is not your preference is more honest than ‘there is no value whatsoever,’ an arrogant and snobbish statement.

    We’re all readers and writers and editors, here. There’s nothing to be gained by stomping on the fingers of those who do find value in measuring their worth at the not quite Semi-Pro level. The fact that anybody at all is still interested in both reading and writing is heartening to me. It’s hard enough to hone one’s chops as it is for some self-important journeyman to pile on. Up-and-coming writers need encouragement, constructive criticism, and experienced mentors, not one more boot in the face.

  121. I totally agree. It is just my personal preference.

    Now, I also believe that not all opinions are created equal. Which is a pain in the ass when there isn’t any way to judge all the opinions out there. I naturally assume my own opinion is better than many others, or I wouldn’t hold it. So, you know, I am going to give my opinion, and support my opinion, and argue for the superiority of my opinion. But next time, I will try to be more clear that it is only my opinion. Good? Good.

  122. John: “Your implication here appears to be that Black Matrix is somehow the victim in this. If so, I find the implication deeply amusing, and also stupid.”

    No, I don’t think Black Matrix is the victim here.
    And I’ve find your obvious loathing of Black Matrix amusing…it’s almost as though you’ve just discovered that some zines pay awful rates…a fact that those of us who write and sub to various small time zines discovered long ago.
    Perhaps you’re just catching up on stuff the rest of us take for granted?

    I think it’s a free country and there’s no law against them offering the rates they do and people will either submit to them and accept their rates or not, as the case may be.

    I do agree that there’s a lot of zines that offer terrible payment rates for stories…but no one is being forced to submit to those zines.

    That’s where I don’t get the angst…plenty of zines offer crap payment rates, I’m sure most of us are aware of that.
    Nothing we can do about it except don’t sub to them.
    On the other hand I’m heartened you’re standing up for something you see as wrong, good for you.
    I don’t see it will change anything but it’s the thought that counts.

  123. eric,

    we are misreading. Or rather I believe you’ve skipped over some of what I’ve said. To me, a business needs to provide the people who make it’s product (fiction in this case) with value for creating that product.

    If someone wants to run a ‘zine as a business* I think they need to consider how they provide the writers this value. The most obvious way of doing this is paying them and I’m suspicious of a business that can’t generate a few thousand dollars per year to pay authors once it’s established. However, I think it’s fine to say “we’re only going to pay 2 cents a word” and perhaps to augment what with demonstrated exposure either to a wide variety of people or to people within the industry whom the author might want to reach. It’s even fine to say “we’re new and can’t yet pay pro rates, but we’d like you to submit to us because…. and then tell them. Maybe the ‘zine offers an outlet for some very small, specialized niche or is trying to appeal to an audience that it feels is being underserved. The question ANY business has to answer is… why do they exist? What do they do that other businesses don’t? Why should anyone care? If a business provides value, it can monetize that value – by charging for subscriptions, by successfully soliciting donations, by taking ads, by getting sponsors.

    When I hear that someone is running a business as a labor of love I translate that to they feel that money is icky and somehow sullies their creative purity.

    *meaning at at least break even and ideally as a profit making venture

  124. I’m on the team that says if you can’t pay more than a fifth of a cent a word, stay home. A sale to that kind of market isn’t going to lead anywhere: It won’t impress anyone paying professional rates. It won’t give you more confidence unless you’re clueless. You won’t get a lot of feedback (if any), that will help you grow as a writer.

    I mean, really, the barriers to entry for markets paying professional rates are not that high. Read any issue of any magazine and you’ll find at least one story that elicits the thought: “Man, I can do better than that.” So do.

    But about those “professional” rates:

    Gernsback’s quarter of a cent a word in 1926 would be worth 3 cents today, FYI, according to one of the many inflation calculators available out there.

    The big SF magazines were paying 5 cents a word in 1976, when I sold my first story. They’d have to be paying 19 cents a word now, to have kept up with inflation. They’re still paying around 5 cents. But then, their circulations have gone through the floor.

    The publisher that paid me $3500 for my first novel in 1978 would have to be paying $11,400 now, to have kept up with inflation. But the average first novel still goes for around $3500, and average sales have also gone through the floor, from mid five figures to high four figures.

    Just sayin’.

  125. @ John Scalzi, 128:
    “I certainly have, but contrary to the rumors, there is such a thing as bad publicity.”

    I agree completely. I still can’t believe the number of people who don’t understand the concept that sentence was meant to convey. No publicity (meaning the lack of publicity) is bad publicity. Bad publicity is still bad, or at least a mixed bag.

    And, this being your site, you have the right to be as “unfair” as you want at any time. Good on ya.

  126. Mark @ 135:

    I’m on the team that says if you can’t pay more than a fifth of a cent a word, stay home. A sale to that kind of market isn’t going to lead anywhere: It won’t impress anyone paying professional rates. It won’t give you more confidence unless you’re clueless. You won’t get a lot of feedback (if any), that will help you grow as a writer.

    * A sale to an amateur or pre-Semipro publication isn’t worthless. You’ve established that you’re good enough for that level. Think of the family that marks the growth of a child on a wall somewhere. Each successive mark indicates growth. If you write a story for school that’s well-received, you get a mark. If you place a story in an amateur ‘zine, you get a mark. Granted, growth as a writer isn’t the same as growth of a human because the former gets harder as you get better, but that’s what we’re talking about here, isn’t it? The primary difference as I see it is that some only want to measure themselves against the highest mark, and withhold themselves from tracking until they break that barrier, and others don’t mind the incremental growth tracking along the way. Tomato, toMAto. Nobody’s saying that writers placing stories with pre-Pro publications should at any time rest on their laurels. The process is the same. Hard work, perserverance, read voraciously, seek out genuine constructive criticism. Fail, and try again. There is no harm in establishing a track record in the ‘zines and working your way up. Eugie Foster’s magazine sales runs the spectrum from pre-Semipro, Semipro, and Pro publications. She’s working her way up the foodchain, and is an inspiration to others who have the same dream of publication that she does.

    * Selling something to an amateur zine or pre-Semipro zine isn’t about impressing a Pro editor. It’s about gaining confidence, learning the ropes, establishing contacts, building a creative writing work ethic.

    * The Pro pubs are the ones who won’t likely give you feedback because of the crush of submissions. This is where the publications further down the foodchain can really shine. At our publication, we rarely simply decline a story. We have a staff of volunteer slushpile editors who love the genre, and offer their comments. When I decline a story or request resubmission, I anonymize those comments and share them with the author. We are trying to help create more interest in our favorite genre, and we work hard to help the authors willing to learn how to write in that genre. It’s good for the authors in question and it’s good for the genre.

  127. I hope I can at least somewhat debunk the whole “pro mags don’t give feedback” thing. In my experience, they sometimes do. I don’t submit to markets below semi-pro, and so far I’ve gotten good feedback (even if just a line about why in the end the story didn’t work for that particular editor) and encouragement from both pro and semi-pro markets. And the return times have been very reasonable.

    To paraphrase Heinlein’s Rules:
    Write. Finish what you write. Send it to someone who can pay you for it. Keep it in the mail until it sells. (I left out the never rewrite except to editorial demand, that’s up to the individual I think).

    I don’t think you have to “work your way up”. Start at the top and work down. You never know who will buy what and why give away your work for free if someone else would have paid you for it?

  128. I’ve been thinking about Heinlein, specifically because of something Scalzi himself wrote in 2007. I went back and found the post in our forums where I referenced that post referring to making Heinlein money then and now. (The link I have for that past seems to not resolve back to the post in question, but here it is if you’d like to play with it.)

    As I was reading this again I was curious as to what at penny in 1939 would rate out to here in 2007, so I used the Consumer Price Index Calculator from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis to find out. Turns out that to you’d need fifteen cents in today’s money, more or less, to equal the buying power of that 1939 penny. Dropping Heinlein’s $70 into the calculator, you find that it was the equivalent of $1,034.89 today. Which is, you know, fairly decent.

    It’s also entirely out of the reach of today’s beginning science fiction writers — and for most of the established writers as well. Analog, which is the current incarnation of Astounding, pays 6 to 8 cents a word for stories up to 7,500 words, and a beginning writer should expect to be on the low end of that pay scale. So a 7,000 word story — the length of “Life-Line,” Heinlein’s debut — will bring in $420. For those of you wondering, that’s $28.41 in 1939 dollars. One reasonably wonders if Heinlein would have bothered writing for a living if that were the sum he could have expected to get from the top magazine in the field.

    Even established science fiction writers are usually writing at a discount to Heinlein’s beginning rate.

    It’s easy to see why one would be alarmed at shrinking Pro pay rates, and speak up accordingly. I have a theory that one way to command Pro rates is to be a Pro-quality writer. The zines are one of many places to help up-and-coming writers flex their muscles and learn their craft.

  129. izanobu, I think you’re missing Johne Cook’s point. He’s not saying to start at the bottom. He’s saying start at the top and keep going down–to whatever extent you’re willing–until you get a buyer. That will let you know how close to the top you got. Next time, shoot for higher.

    As far as “keep it in the mail until it sells,” that’s not really an option if you limit yourself to pro mags. SFWA recognizes around 23 markets for short fiction as pro markets. Some of those are permanently closed markets, some are presently temporarily closed, some aren’t open to unsolicited submissions, at least one is a closed universe market, some accept fantasy or science fiction but not both, some only accept fiction for children, and at least one only accepts fiction by women. You’re doing pretty well if you can find a half dozen markets on that list that you can legitimately send a short story to. For one story I just placed in the mail–to a pro market, natch–there were four options. (And two of those were iffy.) I think these markets will frown on it if you keep sending them the same piece over and over again.

    (Just to be clear, I don’t disagree with John’s point about this specific market. Or agree with it for that matter. I found it intriguing and very much appreciated and enjoyed the history lesson. I’m inclined, though, to disagree with those who say you should never send anything to a semipro market, that stories published in semipro markets are crap, and/or that you should trunk stuff that doesn’t sell to the four or five pro markets you send it to. I find Johne Cook’s post @137 pretty compelling, actually. As a reader, I can tell you that Shimmer is a fantastic magazine pretty much from cover to cover–I consider it superior in story quality to at least one of the big three, which I will refrain from naming. ;) [But maybe I’m just in their target niche.] I seem to recall being pretty impressed with stories I read in G.U.D. and in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine as well. All of these are semipro markets.)

  130. well, you’ll note I said semi-pro as well. My story tracking sheet has about 30 markets on it, all of which pay at least 1 cent per word, and most pay at least 3 cents per word. All of the semi-pro markets on my list are proven high quality, reputable zines as well, which this new Black Matrix zine can’t even offer being, well, new. Nor does it pay even the token 1 cent per word. The only exception I make to the 1 cent per word is the different pod casts, which pay 100, but I also am waiting to submit there until I’ve exhausted pro markets because the pod casts generally accept reprints, so why not sell the first rights elsewhere.

    This of course is fixed markets, not even counting the many anthology calls that go out each month. Most anthology calls pay at least 2 cents per word and have a royalty structure on top of that. There’s no lack of reputable, paying markets. If your work is publishable, why allow someone to pay you nothing?

    I’ve only been submitting for 10 months and only have about 12 stories out making rounds right now, but I’ve not yet run out of places to submit for any one story either…

  131. Ah, so you did.

    If I go down as low as 1 cent, I haven’t run out of markets yet either. I was mostly just responding to the idea that not finding a pro buyer means the story is crap, which implies there are plenty of pro choices. I see you didn’t say that, but I seem to get the vibe from at least a couple of posts.

  132. Not to multi-post thread hijack here, but my submissions tracking sheet (I just checked it) has exactly 2 markets that pay 1 cent per word: Shimmer and Electric Velocipede. The rest pay at least 3 cents (though some have maximum ceilings, which I pay attention to when submitting story lengths to make sure my cents per word still works out to decent).

    I do wish there were more pro paying markets, but I don’t think we’re exactly in the land of scraping a barrel yet…

  133. I write mostly fantasy. Half the “pro” markets listed in duotrope are temp closed. There are a few which are anthology or contest. I think there are 18 zines that you could call open markets. Several of these are genre restricted. And not enormously common genres either. These include both print and electronic. Most on the list are classified “semi-pro to pro”. Didn’t look at sci-fi. You can’t deny it’s a thin field. (I only looked at short story markets.)

    Out of the semi-pros, half are temp closed, half are “token to semi-pro”, and many have specific areas of fantasy they want. Again it’s a thin field. *sighs* It’s a great time to be a short story writer, huh.

  134. Joe Iriarte said:

    “izanobu, I think you’re missing Johne Cook’s point. He’s not saying to start at the bottom. He’s saying start at the top and keep going down–to whatever extent you’re willing–until you get a buyer. That will let you know how close to the top you got. Next time, shoot for higher.”

    Exactly. I have followed this pattern with my stories. I have had many rejections at the pro, semi-pro and token levels while going top down. Along the way, I’ve learned what I’ve been doing wrong, and have corrected my craft. Two years ago, my first sale was to Johne’s excellent zine (and I will publish there again because I like the market, despite the pay level). Last year, my next sale was to a regional market for more money, but not yet pro level. This year I had a near miss with a pro level market, and the story has been revised and will return there soon.

    What bothers me a lot about this whole thread, is the attitude of tossing anything “no-pro” into the same bucket. I understand the umbrage at markets that charge for subscriptions and pay piddly. I do not understand directing the same angst at markets that charge nothing, pay what they can out of their own pockets, and give editorial support and feedback to the writers that sub there. But, maybe that’s just me.

  135. One more thing to consider is that some niche genres don’t /have/ a Pro market. I recently wrote a short Christian Sci-Fi story for a new amateur ‘zine called Digital Dragon magazine. My friend Tim Ambrose was just starting his ‘zine and was looking for submissions, so I sent him one. I wanted to show Christians they don’t have to write the same heavy-handed agenda-laden stuff, and to show them that what classic Sci-Fi looks like from a Christian perspective. (Read: No pulpit-pounding, no conversion stories, real characters in real situations. Let the story tell itself.)

    I don’t know of any places publishing Christian Sci-Fi paying Pro rates, so I’m free to try to place these stories with publications that will appreciate them. At this point, the respect of my peers, people with similar interests, trumps even the promise of payment.

    The story, ‘Blessed Are the Peacemakers,’ is an homage to Keith Laumer’s ‘Retief’ character.

    A former space marine is caught between his principles and his duty as he juggles working for an old enemy while trying to forge a crucial treaty with a ferocious alien race.

    He is a well-trained man of principle working in far-flung places where a little principle can get you killed.

    While I’d love to write more of these stories for paid publication, I know that this niche typically isn’t well received elsewhere, and my intended audience may not read the Pro pubs anyway. I make enough as a technical writer for my day job that I easily afford to write stories for love or respect in lieu of payment in order to reach my intended audience. There are many such niche genres and niche ‘zines which cater to them. It is not necessarily true that writers submitting to these magazines are all hacks or amateurs.

    The point is, writers should know what they’re getting into, and publishers shouldn’t be trying to take advantage of them. If a publisher sets themselves up as a Pro market, they should at least meet the established minimum payment rates. If they’re not, they should be clear what the author can expect from them.

  136. The problem, of course, is that as long as authors submit, magazine can offer very low, or no pay. And don’t get me wrong. I think they mean well. They mean to put out a good product and hope money flows in. I don’t blame the theory; I just don’t think it works.

    I’m a complete nobody author, but I decided early on that I’d start with the best paying mags and work my way down. I never submitted to the “no pay” or “exposure.” Why? Not because of my ego, but because I didn’t see the point. With no pay at all, and few readers, it would be the tiniest of blips on my “writing resume” and in some cases wouldn’t even be considered a real credit (I don’t decide these things, but those reading my queries do.)

    No pay means I can’t submit the story after publication to either. It can be submitted to some podcasts, but in that case, why not just submit to the paying podcasts first?

    There aren’t enough venues to submit to and there aren’t enough readers. But I never could see any advantage to “no pay.”


  137. I got an e-mail informing me of Black Matrix’s existence, but found their “pay” rate and decided it was too amateurish to bother listing as a market report on Your take on them at least gave me a laugh. Thanks for that.

  138. John,

    Where do magazines that offer little or no payment, but good exposure, fit in your argument? This is not a jibe but a sincere question. Do you believe that these, despite their poor or absent payment, are indeed worth being submitted to?

  139. Thanks for the posting. When back in the days I had a little more-or-less-vanity press I was proud of charging only 1/7 of what competitors took – and paying out royalties if the anthologies sold well. And of course financing the single title authors with the vanity anthologies.

    This Black Matrix scheme seems to be an offer which only works for those who desperately want to be a published author. In my country having sold texts is a prerequisite to entering a writers guild in the trade unions or to get under the umbrella of the government-sponsored social security for artists, so for some Germans this might even be worth considering.
    For everyone else, though, I agree: Paying nothing and not pretending authors were paid would be fair and square in comparison.


    As for the ebook-pricing discussed by others here: As a consumer, collector of books and as a reader I’m willing to pay for ebooks which fill ~all~ of the following three criteria:

    * Less than the current cheapest price for the dead-tree versions on amazon. If printed prices drop because of the availability of a paperback edition or because the book is going out of print and the rest of the printed stock is sold cheap to wholesalers, please drop ebook prices accordingly.

    * Less than 10$ or over here 10€ – more isn’t necessary to pay the author’s (and editor’s and/or translator’s) share and the overhead, if you don’t print. If that leaves you with some money, please pay a decent proofreader, thanks.

    * Free of any DRM nonsense. No limit to the number of my own devices I can transfer it to, no limit to resale rights if I delete my own copy.

    Give me that and I’ll buy it in any given ebook-reader format, epub, .lit, mobypocket or -preferably- PDF At home I’ll read it on my PC, on the road on my Blackberry smartphone or -probably- my Palm Tungsten.

  140. I think the question more to the point is either:
    “If a $0.005 market will publish it, maybe a larger market will too, so why shortchange yourself? (which you addressed)”
    “If you suck, why not get paid a little for sucking, instead of nothing at all?”

  141. TimWB @ 152

    I think the problem is that the writers are unlikely to get away with their token payment firmly in their wallets; the magazines need people to buy them, but BM has no apparent means of distributing them so that people can buy them.

    Of course, they do have a lot of writers who are really thrilled to see their work in print, and those really thrilled authors may well feel that they and their proud parents, relatives and friends need more than just the one free contributor’s copy to do justice to their achievement…

  142. Y’all are forgetting the niche ‘zines which don’t pay well, but which do provide a quality product for the fans of that niche. It’s not evil, wrong, or counterproductive to love a genre enough to write in that genre for the love of it.

  143. Not to beat a dead horse, here, but I agree with you. Furthermore, it is not wrong to get paid a pittance for it if you know that going in, and are ok with it because of the love for the genre, or the experience writing in that genre. This is especially true if it is one you are just starting out in – some of my favorite authors write outside the genre in which they are best known, and the 4theluvofit genre zines are a great place to learn the ropes specific to that genre.

  144. Heh. Instead of posting here and *asking* you your opinion on semi-pro markets, I could have posted an angry blog calling three different people names and disregarding explicit statements in the entries I was quoting, and been praised for sparking a helpful and productive discussion. :rolleyes:

  145. I’ve enjoyed the discussion and would like to note that I’ve been paid at about that rate for poems and stories in so-called “literary” journals. The difference is that the latter type of publication, usually, offers flat rates. As far as markets for speculative fiction go, there are many more offering less money (ie none at all) than Black Matrix. While I am for fair pay for work, I think there is room for a start-up “pulp” magazine. Let’s see where it’s at in another year or so.
    Of course, this publisher will not attract professional writers. But couldn’t it possibly help to form a new community of neophytes? I imagine that most contributors to Black Matrix are signing on a) in hopes of meeting a community; b) just to see their stories in print; c) because someone wants their stories; d) to get in on the ground floor of a potential new market.
    While I understand your misgivings and admire the way you are sticking up for young writers, there is no harm in giving a few stories to start-up market. As i stated, the literary journal scene is pretty much a charity operation.
    Keep up the good stuff.

  146. Anon:

    “there is no harm in giving a few stories to start-up market.”

    Sure there is, if that market is actively exploiting the writers, as Black Matrix is. Why the practices of other markets should be used to forgive or rationalize the bad practices of Black Matrix is not apparent to me, nor should new writers (or any other) be made to feel wasting time on ill-paying, shoddy markets is going to be a net benefit. And of course being a “start-up” is no excuse for screwing your writers, and I think any suggestion that it is, is odious. Giving work to people who don’t value it, and being trained to think this is a useful thing to do, is in fact pretty harmful in a career.

    “As i stated, the literary journal scene is pretty much a charity operation.”

    Bah. First off, Black Matrix isn’t a charity, it’s a for-profit organization, whose business model for profitability assumes paying writers next to nothing. Second, Here and here: 50 markets for science fiction and fantasy that pay three cents a word and up. Three cents a word is a lousy rate but it’s 15 times better than what Black Matrix is paying. Any writer would be better off sending their work to these markets, and if a story gets rejected from 50 different places, perhaps the answer is not publishing it with some jerk offering you a fifth of a cent a word, but tossing it into trunk and trying something else.