Presumably Final Notes on Rates, Markets and Blah Blah Blah

The discussion of speculative fiction writers, their markets and what the latter should be paying the former is now getting around in the SF/F geekosphere, which I think is all to the good; it’s one of those things we should talk about and often don’t, so I’m glad to have helped instigate the recent round. I have a couple of what I expect are closing thoughts on the matter, so here they are in bulletpoint form.

* First, my public thumping on Black Matrix Publishing for its ridiculous pay rate seems to have had an interesting effect on certain aspiring folks, along the lines of That arrogant bastard! How dare he tell me who I can and can’t submit to! I’m going to submit to pathetically-paying markets whether he likes it or not! News flash to such folks: Hey, I’m not your dad. Do whatever you want to do. I’m not going to stop you. I don’t think you’re generally helping yourself any, but it’s your karma, not mine. I’ve done my part by explaining why I think it’s a bad deal; you may agree or not depending on your own point of view. Fine with me. That said, later, when you come to me and say “wow, you were right, that was a bad idea,” I reserve the right to say “told you so.” Because I’m a dick that way, you see.

* One side effect of this discussion is that some folks seem to be under the impression that I’m of the opinion that every fiction outlet paying less than the SFWA pro rate should be wiped off the face of the Earth and that what is best in life is to crush these low-paying markets, drive them before you, and hear the lamentations of their editors. Well, no. The sf/f market is what it is. If you can’t place your work in the relatively few fiction markets that pay pro rates, then it’s time to look at the ones that pay less and see if they are worth your time.

But for God’s sake, people, show some discrimination. Writers are supposed to be smart, or at least clever. Use those meaty brains of yours and apply them to the business end of this problem. A market that might pay less than the pro rate but which is widely read and edited by professionals of long-standing reputation? Could be worth it. A “for the love” market of specific, limited scope, edited by knowledgeable enthusiasts, in which no one is making a penny off of anyone else (or planning to), but everyone’s having a good time? Might have its benefits. A for-profit market planning four magazines and two book lines, paying its contributors a fraction of a cent per word? Unmitigated fail. That’s pretty simple. Between those extremes, of course, is a lot of gray area.

Which is the thing. A market paying pro rates doesn’t really need to find some other way to justify itself; it pays pro rates (this in itself opens another can of worms, like those markets standing pat for years at the same very low “pro” rates, but never mind that for now). Every other market has to come in offering something else to make it worth the writer’s time, and I strongly feel that the dropoff on things like “exposure” and “sales credit” is pretty damn steep the further down the payscale you go. The money you get isn’t just about the money you get; there are a lot of intangibles that stick to that cash as well. After a certain point just having the “publishing credit” isn’t going to do it for you — I refer you to a comment on the matter by Hugo-winning editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden if you don’t want to believe me on this.

I get that some aspiring folks think this is all about writers who have “made it” being snobs and forgetting what it was like to be toiling away in the newbie writer salt mines. Well, leaving aside the fact that a “pro” rate of five cents a word means that even long-standing pros aren’t out of the salt mines, they’re just standing nearer to the fresh air, the reason the pros yammer on about this is because we do remember what it’s like to be newbies and to believe that any publication is better than no publication. But it wasn’t true then, it isn’t true now, and it won’t be true in the future, either. It’s tough to hear, but it’s the truth. So make sure you’re getting something for the nothing (or next-to-nothing) you’re getting paid. If you’re not, hold on to your work until you can get something, or, alternately, recognize that if the only market you can get interested in your work is one that hardly exists, maybe the best thing you can do for the work in question is hit it with a shovel and bury it by the river.

* One argument I hear from folks about placing their work in crap markets is that they’re not writing for the money anyway, so what does it matter if a market wants to pay a fraction of a penny a word? The answer is that these two things are not related at all: The reason one writes is utterly independent of whether someone else pays a fair rate for that work.

Hard as it may be to believe for some folks, I occasionally write something because I just feel like it, rather than because I need a check. But it doesn’t then follow that just because I wrote it for fun, that I should sell it, if I sell it, for less than my standard rates. The market doesn’t need to know why I wrote it; that’s not the market’s business. The market’s business is buying my work (or not) on the basis of the quality of the work itself.

Which is to say, don’t match your markets to your motivations; match your markets to the worth of the work itself. Because while writing for fun is fun, getting paid well for something you’ve written for fun is even more fun. Trust me, I know.

64 Comments on “Presumably Final Notes on Rates, Markets and Blah Blah Blah”

  1. Regarding your last point about the difference between why you do something and how much you get paid for it:

    I do origami to amuse myself. It also amuses me to give them to other people, and to leave them sitting around tastefully in homes and restaurants. This is fine.

    Sometimes, people see my origami, and say, “Hey, those are pretty cool! You should sell them!” This is also fine.

    Then I ask them, “So, if I were to sell you *this* (holding up, say, an origami dragon that it took me about 15-20 minutes to make), how much would you pay?” and they say something like “a quarter” or “50 cents”. So, this would mean that if I made them for money, working flat-out as fast as I could, and not having to spend any time actually marketing the things, I could maybe clear $1 an hour. That is *not* OK. That is not anything resembling fair payment for my time. I could, literally, make more money scanning the streets for spare change and returnable soda cans. Offering such a small amount is basically saying that my time and effort is worth practically nothing.

    So, I never sell origami, or accept money for one. They are gifts, pure and simple. A sincere “Oh, that’s cute, thanks!” is much more pleasant and worthwhile than a downright insulting “here’s 25 cents for you”.

  2. Well, the market’s business is actually developing a readership by publishing a quality of material that speaks to those readers which the market tries to keep as regulars whom they then can deliver to advertisers who (in normal markets) pay the freight of production for access to that readership from which the market’s editors should be willing to impart some of that filthy lucre back to the authors whom they try to bring in to expand their readership.

    In that model, the market should pay you a good percentage because you bring an audience/readership to the table that is somewhat quantifiable.

    But that’s for certain values of “normal markets” and some business models may vary.

  3. I love how straightforward you are about all of this :). Thank you for your other post showing what you sold things for when you were a newb like us–VERY helpful information and perspective.

    Also, thank you for not coddling us. Holy crap, I’d much prefer to know this now than have to figure it out the hard way :(.

  4. You’d think that a bunch of professional writers, many of whom are making a living at the gig, saying, “No, really, this is the right way to do it. That other way doesn’t work,” would mean something…

  5. Well, Carrie, see, the thing is that everything is different now. Anything we might have to say is completely outdated. So there. And I must admit that I in particular know almost next to nothing about using the Internets to develop a writing career. Really, I’m totally lost on that one.

    I think I’ll go shake my cane now.

  6. John, don’t you think this is a self-correcting problem? Authors will be paid what they are worth. Good authors more, poor ones less. This fellow seems to price himself at or near the bottom of the talent scale. Poor stories will result in low readership, and his business will be unsustainable. Why get worked up about it? He’ll be gone soon enough.

  7. Buzz:

    “Authors will be paid what they are worth. Good authors more, poor ones less.”

    There are plenty of crap authors making a ton of cash, and plenty of excellent authors just barely scraping by, Buzz. Also, if any markets are horribly inefficient, in the Chicago School of Economics sense of “efficient,” they would be the ones featuring creative endeavors.

    So, no, it’s not really a self-correcting problem at all. Indeed, it’s a self-perpetuating problem, as new, less-knowledgeable writers — regardless of their storytelling abilities — enter the marketplace every year and are preyed upon. So it really is incumbent on the established folks to be be loud and possibly obnoxious about the matter.

  8. Buzz, it’s a nice theory about Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand,” unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. By offering such a pittance, and “getting away” with it (one hopes not, but then there’s a reason hope spring eternal) they “bend the curve.”

    The argument can also be made meta to discuss wages. As I’m involved in wage setting (for my night job) we often look at “comparables” to check and see if we’re in line with what other municipalities of our size and region pay for similar positions. While that normally would mean a rush to average, what it really ends up doing is a rush to the bottom. This is because everybody else is doing the same thing, which tends to lop off the top end of the pay scales (as it’s rarely used in the context of “Holy crap, we aren’t paying these people enough”).

    So how do some markets justify paying 3 or 5 cents a word for genre fiction? Because “everybody else pay that, and some markets pay even less.” (And here we make a standing-O for those markets who have taken the bold step of paying more, like Clarkesword, Subterranean, and a few others). In the other threads you see there are plenty of writers who don’t question the low rates and are probably ignorant of the fact that in other markets paying less than $.10 a word is considered an insult.

    So by offering this rate, BM is giving cover to all the other markets. And it’s all too easy to dismiss the failures of other people’s business plans by saying “they must not have been doing something right,” while embracing parts of those business plans as “right thinking.”

    At least that’s IMHO.

  9. Putting aside the question of ego, there’s something to be said for placing value on one’s work.

    Put differently…

    Unless good stories reflexively sweat out of your pores and your technique happens to be extraordinary — which is phenomenally rare in my experience — then five cents a word nets roughly the same as the wages they pay to the line cook who makes your omelette at the IHOP.

    …In places with a comparatively low cost of living. He’s getting paid more in most places, but you aren’t.

    …And unlike that guy, you still need to sell the work in order to get the pay, most of the time.

    I do concede that you probably like your job a lot more than he likes his, however.

    Finally, it’s been my experience that (all other factors being equal) the higher my bill rate, the less crap I’m forced to put up with. High rates require customers who don’t think of your work product as a commodity, but on the other hand those prospects won’t take you seriously unless you put a higher value on your work.

    …You might be willing to work for food because you love what you do, but with a slight attitude adjustment (and incrementally more effort into sales) you can do so much better. If I’m following properly, that’s one of the messages that John’s trying to propagate every time the subject of money is raised on this blog.

  10. Just to stir the pot, given that you, Jim C. Hines and Catherynne Valente have all posted on this topic, I suggested late last night to the ConFusion lit track programming person about a panel on Rate Fail, seeing as we’ll all likely to be in Troy MI in mid-January. (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  11. The things is of course, aspiring writers don’t really have a feeling of how good their work is. Or let me put it more precisely: hello, I’m an aspiring writer and I don’t know. I know I write better than most of my friends, who are D&D geeks so that may come as no surprise. But I really don’t know how a publisher looks at my work, whether it’s marketable, whether I have a personal style, or even the slightest skill in coming up with plot or a story arch. I think what I write is the best I can do right now, but is it as good as the work of established writers? Will something I wrote ever become popular? I dunno. So how am I supposed to know what is decent pay for my work? Your piece here helps. Jim Hines’ opinion helped. But I’m still at the mercy of publishers telling me yes or no. And I just don’t know these things.

  12. John @11 regarding Buzz @9-

    Where ‘good’ and ‘poor’ reflect what the market will buy (not what the market ‘wants’, which can be completely different), rather than some measurement of quality. Twilight books sell a LOT, obviously, YourFavoriteAuthorHere comparatively very little.

    For the publishers, a book that sells a LOT is their definition of ‘good’. I suppose it depends on what you define as the ‘market’ when people talk about a self-correcting market. I don’t think it’s the consumers, but the sellers. But I guess that’s just the liberal commie in me speaking. Comrade.

  13. Troy MI in mid January? DAY-YAM! Take more than a fith of a cent a word to get me to go there at that time of year!
    Tim Eisele @2 There are masters getting five grand and more for their origami. The fact that someone thinks your work is worth a quarter doesn’t mean it is worth a quarter to you. I am with you, nobody will give me five grand for my origami, so I would also rather get a smile and a thank you for my origami.
    RAH had a nice bit on value in Starship Troopers.

  14. Apologies if I took anything you said the wrong way. I was under the impression that you thought all markets paying below the pro rate needed to be wiped out. My bad.

  15. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a list of “Scalzi Approved” publishing outfits, or at least a list of “these guys don’t suck” editors and stuff and things?

    -Roy, who is not a writer and does not particularly enjoy writing.

  16. John, I think your last point is one of the most relevant to the discussion, since it addresses the main argument that keeps popping up in favor of places like BM:

    Why sell to a market that pays you crap? “It’s not about the money. I write for fun.” If you write for fun, why are you selling? “To have readers.” If it’s to have readers, why are you selling to a start-up (or free under-read zine, whatever) with _no_ reader base? “Because _I can’t get into zines_ with a big reader base.” There’s a lesson here, I know there is…

    (It may–occasionally–be because your content doesn’t fit with those well-read zines. That’s what your blog is for.)

  17. @ 13 benwithalink

    Unless good stories reflexively sweat out of your pores and your technique happens to be extraordinary — which is phenomenally rare in my experience — then five cents a word nets roughly the same as the wages they pay to the line cook who makes your omelette at the IHOP.

    Almost certainly less, actually.

    I do concede that you probably like your job a lot more than he likes his, however.

    Met many line cooks? I know quite a few who are excellent at their work and take pride in doing a good job. It’s true they don’t make their own hours, and definitely true that your feet hurt at the end of a long shift, even with a mat on the floor and expensive shoes, but if you’re the sort of person who’s gotten a job making omelettes at the local IHOP, you probably enjoy cooking and like the feeling you get when you hand over that perfect one to the server and know the customer is going to enjoy it.

    I wonder if that isn’t part of the problem. Art is viewed as…something that’s fun, something enjoyable. Tell someone you’re a musician or a writer and like as not they’ll think you’re not doing “real work.” And art is so often considered to be separate from real life–something only Creative People do. But you know, what makes your line cook’s omelettes anything other than art? Do you know anyone who isn’t actually creative? I mean, who’s still breathing? I don’t think I do.

    Real Work is obviously deserving of fair pay, but Art, you know, that’s not Real Work…

    I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m just going off on a tangent your example suggested.

  18. Reading all the reactions reminds me of something Nick Mamatas wrote on his LJ at some point. It seems the model a lot of writers have in mind is “job applicant” when the model they should have in mind is “door to door salesman.”
    (i.e., we’re not applying for the job of writer. We’re trying to sell what we’ve written.)

    It would certainly explain the obsession for credits. (i.e., proof that they’ve done the job before.) Never mind that the editor can see whether or not they’ve written a story she’d be a fool to pass up by, you know, reading the story.

  19. Your work has to have value. Otherwise no one will respect it, including, eventually, you. The way that value is measured can be fungible–money, fame, eternal gratitude, chickens… whatever. But there has to be an exchange, where the purchaser of your work indicates that yes, they really like it and they think it’s worth something. Otherwise, well, there’s a chance they don’t really like it and they don’t think it’s worth much, but they do think that maybe they can pawn it off on the masses and make a buck.

    Besides, can you imagine sending to a market like that and getting rejected? Finding out that at a 1/5 of a cent per word, they don’t think that you’re worth it? Writing’s hard enough on the ego. Who needs that kind of kick to the groin?

  20. To reiterate (only as a devil’s advocate), but… but… but…

    No, seriously, I’d love to hear the response. Sure, it’s fun to watch someone splutter (especially in a political “debate”), but isn’t it more fun to have a comeback to it?

  21. I do think it’s hard for writers to figure out which semi-pro zines are interesting and worth submitting to. I think some writers sort of pick up that info by osmosis, from hanging out at cons with other writers and listening to the conversations. I remember when I first realized that _Talebones_ was a semi-pro with a really good reputation; it was at a convention, talking with other folks whose judgement I respected.

    It’s actually a much harder problem in mainstream fiction, as there are hundreds and hundreds of magazines, zines, print and online, and it’s not at all easy figuring out which ones to submit to. Many respectable ones don’t pay at all. So again, you get some of it by osmosis (if you go to conventions, or hang out in online forums, or go to grad school). And you get some of it by researching — seeing which magazines have stories picked for _Best American Short Stories_ regularly, for example.

    You could do something similar for SF/F — look at the various _Year’s Bests_ anthologies and see where they’re drawing their selections from. But it also probably wouldn’t hurt for pro writers and editors to suggest a few of their favorite not-necessarily-pro markets in this thread for the benefit of the newbies. Magazines or small presses, actually, for those with book-length manuscripts.

    I’ll put _Talebones_ out there for the magazines, if it’s still going (it’s been a while since I had time to read zines, sadly), and anything by Small Beer Press. (They may pay pro rates on everything, I’m not sure, but their editorial/publishing work is so good I don’t care. I’d be delighted to have them publish something of mine.) Quality work, beautifully presented.

    Any others?

  22. As someone who’s kept body and soul together – sometimes just barely, sometimes with the riotous living and pants-on-head crazy success – by doing creative work and getting paid for it I have to roar “VERY FRAKKIN’ HELL YEAH!” at the last paragraph.

    And wear my pants on my head. That’s just how I roll.

  23. I recently sent a story to an editor I know, so he could take a look at it. I already had a market in mind, but he offered to buy it straightaway if that didn’t pan out. Here’s the kicker: he told me to submit it to bigger pro markets first, and to use his name with those editors, so as to increase my readership.

    This is how you know people respect you and want the best for you.

    I’ve released stories for free. Lots of ’em. But I knew they were free. I submitted them knowing that. In each case, I got great feedback and support. The editors treated me courteously. The illustrations were lovely. In situations like these, Eleanor Roosevelt’s words hold true: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” People might not always be able to pay you cash, but they can always pay you respect.

    …Unrelated, but the first time I noticed the John-shaped watermark in the comments, it totally creeped me out. It’s like a Whatever vs. Magic Eye mashup. Kudos. :)

  24. I should note that at one point I put together a tiered list of mainstream magazines, to try to address this problem. It’s been years since I’ve had time to update it, so it’s sadly out of date. I keep meaning to switch it over to some sort of wiki format, so others can help edit it, but that’s a project for another day (and runs into the difficult question of how you keep interested parties from artificially boosting their ‘zines ratings, which I still haven’t figured out). But in case an out-of-date mainstream lit. mag market list is useful to any of the writers here, here’s the link:

  25. I need to thank Mr. Scalzi and all of the other authors who have commented on this subject – I was on the verge of sending a story to a “contest” that was triggering several of my alarm bells, and reading all this commentary made me decide that I’d rather not sacrifice the first rights to this piece for the *chance* at a small lump sum payment. (Further digging into the “publisher” just solidified that decision – I’d get better exposure posting the story on my own blog.)

  26. Because while writing for fun is fun, getting paid well for something you’ve written for fun is even more fun. Trust me, I know.

    One could come at it with the proposition that time spent writing is for fun, but time spent submitting to publications and so forth trying to sell the work is necessarily a business proposition.

    For a short story, I start losing money on the time spent resubmitting after the first rejection, by that criterion. Which is why I just threw stuff up on Usenet for the most part. It just wasn’t worth pursuing as a business. For someone making US median income or less that might be more worth pursuing.

    If one is past the point that one’s success has attracted an agent, then that’s sort of a moot point – selling is their fulltime job, and they’re much more in tune and aware of that and much more efficient at it.

    As a part time job … selling my fiction is a huge money loser. It’s a fun hobby. But it’s not a way to make money.

  27. Find me a robot with proper shredding attachments that isn’t Maximillian and I shall joyfully transplant your head, Mr. S. As it is, the only other “shredding” option was Shredder from TMNT, and that franchise was too debased from it’s original comic-book form for me to look at these days.

  28. Have I mentioned how annoying the “The industry is changing and we have to change with it, change change, blah blah blah” argument has been annoying me? Did anyone read the Harlequin response to getting de-listed by the MWA?

    Publishing models are changing and Harlequin needs to experiment within those models


    In the wake of these changes, self-publishing has emerged as a new force in the publishing industry, providing a forum for thousands of authors who would not secure a contract with traditional publishers. According to Bowker reports, 285,000 new titles and editions were self-published in the US last year, a number that exceeds the 275,000 titles published by traditional houses. Harlequin sees the rapid growth in self-published titles, up 132% since 2007, as validation that writers perceive self-publishing as a viable path to literary fulfillment.

    He’s not even *taking* about authors making money on it. It’s all about “fulfillment”. Well, if a manuscript is all you need to feel fulfilled, neither a vanity press nor a poorly paying zine is what you need. Just put up a web page somewhere with the text of your masterpiece. It’s *free*.

    A response to a changing marketplace is not to rip people off, either by charging them money, or by paying them a pittance.

  29. Tim @#2…

    Oh my word yes. I have had almost that exact same conversation with multiple people, except that it’s about hand-knit stuff (usually socks since that’s my normal “in public” knitting). Just to clear the cost of the yarn for a pair of socks I’d have to charge at least 6 or 7 bucks (on the cheap end) up to $20 or $30 for the more expensive stuff.

    Add in the 12-15 hours of my time… not a viable cashflow idea. And that’s just for socks! Something like a shawl or sweater is usually multiple weeks/months worth of time.

    Therefore they are presents.

    On the bigger subject… a similar conversation comes up in the on-line knitting world now and then. The whole idea that designers should be paid what their work is worth. The word “writer” could be replaced with “knit designer” and it would be an identical discussion. Excepting that it isn’t quite as easy to quantify knitting money since there isn’t a cent per word equivalent.

  30. John @30 – ‘evil’? I think that’s an unwarranted value judgment. He wasn’t bad, he was just programmed that way. Plus you gotta admit – those were pretty annoying humans and trashcan robots in there, too – I can’t blame him all that much. Everybody has a bad now now and then.

  31. “Find me a robot with proper shredding attachments that isn’t Maximillian and I shall joyfully transplant your head”

    Well, I could say General Grievous but 1.) Grievous is technically a droid, which is not really a robot, and 2.) he’s the Jar Jar Binks of the Dark Side.

    So using General Grievous would be just WRONG!

  32. No, Doug, it’s a good professional fiction rate. Pro writers get paid that much for short fiction. Authors who make a living off of being a writer, and nothing but, even.

    What you might be missing is that, unlike document writing, marketing writing, journalism or scientific writing, that’s the price for something you get paid more than once for if it gets re-printed, and one under which the rights revert back to you under common circumstances.

  33. I’ve never been published. May never be published, but…

    I always figured that if I was going to be rejected, I might as well be rejected by the best. Then I would rethink my project and go from there, rework, try again, whatever it took. Shoot for the top, not the bottom. Nothing to lose by shooting for the top and missing, you’re still not at the bottom. I don’t see any way to improve if you shoot for the bottom. It seems like a waste of time to me.

    Sorry, sounds like a football pep rally doesn’t it. I just don’t get the argument for starting at the lowest point and staying there.

    And by the way, my dad talked like that too…

  34. General Grievous is a cyborg, not a droid. Sheesh. Kids, today.

    And you leave poor V.I.N.C.E.N.T. alone! Any robot voiced by Roddy McDowall beats stupid Maxmillian any old day. :P

  35. Which is to say, don’t match your markets to your motivations; match your markets to the worth of the work itself.

    –>This needs to be said again and again, perhaps tattooed on the inside of eyelids.

    It’s a truth that is universally applicable. I once turned down a job at a very good company that had a lot to offer, because they simply weren’t offering anything close to the salary that the position should have been paid. (They were offering about 75% of the appropriate figure. It would still have been a raise and promotion for me.)

    It’s fundamentally a measure of self-worth. I didn’t take that job, because dammit, that job pays more at other, similar companies. It was an insult. They tried very hard to convince me to change my mind, and I really did like the company and the staff, but if they–a large commercial publisher who was having excellent profits–couldn’t afford to pay more, that wasn’t my problem.

    No one should devalue themselves. The market will never offer to overpay you–you have to fight for what you’re worth.

  36. Have you ever considered putting all your posts for new writers, and any other posts on breaking into the writing business and publishing them in a book?

  37. Two main things we learned in 2009:

    1. George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

    2. John Scalzi is not your dad (unless your name is Athena Scalzi).


    I would pay at least 12 cents per word* over cost of item production for an actual approved Scalzi coffee mug, via Cafe Press or whatever. I was half thinking of just throwing one into CP, but I’m not sure our esteemed host would appreciate doing that without asking first.

    * (12 cents, 3 words, $0.36)

  39. And as a small contribution to the festive spirit perhaps we can provide some much-needed exposure for ‘Advent Tour’ by P.E. Snyder who is, drumroll, apparently the first author published by BM.

    I say apparently because according to Amazon CreateSpace has that honour, but then we all know that Amazon has difficulty keeping a straight face when presented with the opportunity to market a 200 page paperback by an unknown author with a pricetag of $13.95.

    BM says that it published it ‘by arrangement with the author’, which would look distinctly odd for a real publisher but probably par for the course with a vanity press.

    Presumably they’re hoping that the intended readership of young adults won’t realise that it’s extortionately overpriced, which is almost as optimistic as expecting people not to notice that BM is following in PublishAmerica’s footprints…

  40. [Deleted because it was completely unrelated to the topic of the entry. Emily, wait for an appropriate topic — JS]

  41. I think the market is changing so quickly that what we think of as a good price to pay writers is only going to go down. Cheap cars, cheap clothes, cheap food, cheap books…We are a country of “give me more for less.”

  42. LOL.

    I’m waiting for the day (which will never come) when someone gets a rejection slip from a pathetically bad-paying market that says:

    “Scalzi TOLD you not to submit to us.”

  43. 41: Fair enough on the possibility of reprints. What percentage of stories sold at those rates are actually reprinted, though? I haven’t the faintest idea, but it would be an important part of the calculation. And a good way to tell whether income from re-sales is more notional than real.

    Good NYC writers (business journalism for trade and corporate publications, some PR) that I used to try to commission wouldn’t touch things for under $2-per-word. That’s rarefied company, and it was generally too rich for my clients’ budgets, but you’re looking at a story needing to be re-sold more than 20 times to reach comparable earnings at the same length.

    I don’t doubt that some people make a living from what looks like a hobby. On the other hand, a typical pay scale that it is one-tenth to one-twentieth of the pay for relatively similar work is not what I would call “good.”

  44. Business journalism isn’t really all that similar work, and anyway the issue is the demand for the material, not either the physical element of production (typing) or mental elements (which are quite different anyway).

    Anyway, indeed nobody is making a full-time living writing short stories these days, but who is also spending forty hours a week writing short stories? Short story writing is a part-time sideline; one can generate a few thousand a year and get other gigs teaching, editing etc. based partially on one’s record of publication.

  45. If nine cents a word qualifies as a hobby, I need to find new hobbies.

    If you write five hundred words an hour, that’s forty five bucks an hour. This is by no means a pittance. I average a hundred an hour for most of my writing work, so I’m fairly happy with my hobby rates.

    The kind of projects that you can get paid dollars per word for are, generally, projects that require of a great deal of non writing work in research and leg work.

    Oddly enough, my highest pay per word actually was for fiction, and that amounted to seven dollars a word, although I wasn’t actually being paid by the word.

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