Two SFWA-Related Links

Because, you know, SFWA.

First, Cory Doctorow praises the SFWA Grievance Committee (“Griefcom”) for helping him get paid for work. The details of the story are over there, but this is a relevant quote:

Many people ask what the point of SFWA is; I’m guilty of wondering this at times myself. But here is something that SFWA does really well: back up individual writers with the collective might of the organization and the tenacity of its volunteers. I can’t thank Michael [Capobianoco] and John [E Johnson III] and Griefcom enough.

Hey, it’s no small thing helping people get paid.

Speaking of getting paid for one’s work, here’s an interesting interview with M.E. Ray, the editor of Redstone Science Fiction, an upcoming online magazine. During the course of the interview Ray discusses why he made sure that his upcoming magazine paid SFWA-recognized professional rates from the get go — basically, because he and his co-founder wanted to be taken seriously as a venue and to attract the best work.

This is of course thinking I approve of highly, and not only for the sake of the writers involved. The fact is that if you’re serious about your work and your success, you invest and you make choices for the long-term. I hope it pays off for them.

41 Comments on “Two SFWA-Related Links”

  1. I hope it works out for Redstone Science Fiction as well. It helps that their promotional copies aren’t physically printed and mailed (ugh… what was I thinking) but I know a bit first-hand now that it’s hard (possible? unsure.) to recoup even minimal SFWA rates. I hope they get a lot of traffic to pitch to advertisers, and enough donations/t-shirt sales/etc. to help keep the lights on and motivated. And I’m very much looking forward to their first published stories in June. They have a nice-looking website, I love their banner art and tagline (“We want to live forever. Get us off this rock.”) and hey, new science fiction! Hooray!

    On the other topic, it’s almost hard to imagine someone trying to stiff Cory Doctorow. And if they’ll try to stiff *him* what might they try to do to the little guy? Yipes.

  2. They’re closed for submissions at the moment, but their guidelines say:

    : We will publish science fiction,
    : anything from post-cyberpunk to
    : new space opera.
    : We do not want supernatural horror, urban
    : or heroic fantasy.
    : No vampires, sparkly or otherwise.

    So, I get the sparkly reference. I hate all the damn teen vampire stuff filling up my airwaves.

    But why the hate towards “urban” scifi?

    Kids these days listen to lousy music and watch lousy SF. But when I was growing up, not only did we have to change channels with a remote control facing up hill, both ways (up or down channels), but we listened to good music and watched good SF. I mean, it was so good they only play it on “classic” radio stations. And how much better can you get than “classy” music? Kids these days don’t listen to anything classy.

    Or maybe it’s one of those “you keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means” issues. I always thought urban sf was “present day plus”. Usually plus magic, but maybe plus tech.

    For example, I think of “Questionable Content” as urban sci-fi, because it looks pretty much like our world now, except there’s anthro-PC’s running around on occaission: little annoying robots smart enough to pass any Turing test you could come up with.

    Ok, Ok, I happen to have a few stories in the drawer, and one of them is something I generally referred to as “urban sf”, so maybe I got a dog in this fight, but I don’t think my story should be disregarded to the SF ghetto just because of one little label.

    Oh, wait, they ahve a 4,000 word limit too. My story is too long anyway. Dangit.

  3. Greg @2: If you re-read the quote you pasted carefully, you’ll find that they said they don’t want “urban or heroic fantasy.” [emphasis mine]

    My reading of that (and I should note that I’ve only read your pasted quote, not the full guidelines) is that urban science fiction should be OK. It’s urban fantasy they don’t want.

  4. : We do not want supernatural horror, urban
    : or heroic fantasy.

    Greg, I read that it’s urban Fantasy they don’t want. Not urban Science Fiction.

  5. That’s what I get for finding the Redstone site and reading their guidelines. Hugh57 gets in there first! ;)

  6. Greg@2: I don’t see any mention of SF in “We do not want supernatural horror, urban or heroic fantasy.” Urban fantasy is its own genre, and it’s well represented elsewhere.

  7. ULTRAGOTHA, yea, I was too lazy to look up the full guidelines. :) I did go to the link John provided with the M.E. Ray interview. I was glad to see that the Redstone name came from the arsenal near Huntsville, AL where M.E. Ray lives. My first thought was that this was a Viacom project, and that naming it Redstone was Ray’s way of sucking up to Sumner Redstone (owner of Viacom, National Amusements, etc.)

  8. Curses! Foiled by my evil nemesis, the Serial Comma Ambiguity!

    I read it as “supernatural horror, urban(,) or heroic fantasy”

    Yeah, that makes more sense now.

  9. Thanks for posting a link in our direction!

    For anyone who was interested in this interview, we have another that might be of particular interest. A couple weeks ago we interviewed Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, the editor of new pro-paying SF publication Bull Spec. Like Redstone, Bull Spec is on track to get themselves on the SFWA “professional market” list.

  10. So John, whatever happened to that site you slammed for the paltry pittance they were paying?

  11. Serious question:

    What is the difference between fantasy and fiction? Superpowers vs. technology?

  12. I was afraid for a moment that I might be guilty to some extent of doing (or potentially doing) to a writer precisely what happened to Cory here, which is a bit scary to me. I publish my magazine’s PDF under a Creative Commons license for the file, and while this is pretty much all over my guidelines (and in the eventual contract) at the end of the day, some writers aren’t comfortable with that and end up surprised. But the key detail in Cory’s tale here for me is that he wrote the story *on spec* from the get-go and that the rights/indemnities asked of him were way off in la-la land. (If somebody sues us in Kazakhstan, you pay!)

    As a publisher this informs me that I should be VERY up front with the rights/indemnities I might ask for BEFORE any spec work gets done. Because this is a little bit scary for me, say I get a writer to put an essay together for me, and then after it’s written and well done, it turns out they’re not at all comfortable with the publication being CC-licensed? Would I be a bad guy for withholding payment for something I can’t publish? Am I in la-la land for asking? Who decides and how?

  13. Paul and I can mark another goal off the list:
    Get mentioned on ‘Whatever’.
    We want to do things the right way at Redstone and we want to produce a quality science fiction magazine.
    We also want to thank David Steffen for the interview and John Scalzi for the mention.
    Now everyone, go write us a good story. We’ve got work to do.

  14. Sam,

    I’m not a writer, but you should spell out any terms that are out of the ordinary up front. Yes, you’d be wrong to withhold payment if you sprung the CC license thing on them at the last moment – it’s YOUR responsibility to let them know you want a different licensing arrangement from the standard one, it’s not their responsibility to ask.

    As Cory points out, the contracts are usually pretty stock, so in the absence of you saying anything I’d imagine most writers will assume you’re like other outlets.

    Also, be aware that if your choice of a CC license limits their ability to resell that story in the future (say, to an anthology), they’re probably going to want more cash. At least they should. Buying a story for a mag doesn’t usually mean you own the story in perpetuity, it’s usually (IIRC) first pub rights for a limited time (a year?).

    Finally… um… please don’t take this wrong, but shouldn’t you know this if you’re running a pro-rate pub?

  15. Farley @ 13

    Serious question:

    What is the difference between fantasy and [science] fiction?


  16. What is the difference between fantasy and (science) fiction? Superpowers vs. technology

    yeah, I think that about sums it up. or magic versus technology.

    Fantasy: “Buffy”, “Twilight”, “Constantine”, “Blade” (I think these all qualify as urban fantasy too btw)

    Science Fiction: “The Fly”, “Iron Man”, “Jurrasic Park”, “Back to the Future”. (urban or contemporary SF or whatever you call it)

    Those are all examples that are well within the nice clean boundaries of the two genres. It starts getting a little fuzzy when you get closer to the border between the two concepts. Then it’s usually a matter of which one, tech or magic, is more central to the story.

    “Star Trek” has “superpowers” like mental telepathy and other things commonly considered “fantasy”, but the story is almost always resolved technically, usually involving modulating the frequencies of the shields, the warp drive, the transporter, or all three at once.

    “X-Men” has invisible super jets that can take off and land vertically, but the central theme is all the superpowers of the characters, so it’s “fantasy”.

  17. “Buying a story for a mag doesn’t usually mean you own the story in perpetuity,”

    If a story is bought under creative commons, that does not mean that the author doesn’t own it anymore, it means that THAT representation of the story is fair game. So, if Magazine A provides a PDF that includes Story X, that means that the PDF is free to circulate the web, but only in that exact form. No one else can charge for it and no one else can alter it. In that way it’s not really different from sharing a link to an HTML-posted story. If someone else cut and pasted the story out of the PDF and put it up on their blog, that’s violating the creative commons because it’s not in its original form, and would be copyright infringement.

    There are some magazines which actually insist on buying your copyright. Highlights magazine for children does this. They tempt you with a quarter a word rates, but I don’t submit to them because I don’t think it’s right to buy the copyright. That is a completely different thing than creative commons.

  18. David @21 – Creative Commons license can include or exclude all kinds of rights and permissions and transformative works, including the right to alter the work, so best to be very careful about what the CC license in question contains. Whether and to what degree CC permissions have actually been tested in court is something I don’t know and defer to lawyers who specialize in that area.

  19. > Finally… um… please don’t take this wrong, but shouldn’t you know this if you’re running a pro-rate pub?

    $0.05/word isn’t a lot of money, and much e-ink has been spilled enough (on this blog, even) about that so I won’t go into that. Mainly, like Redstone, when I launched my magazine last November I decided to try to do the right thing in terms of an at least minimal payment, and I think it’s minimal to the point that calling it a “pro rate publication” is close to being out of proportion. (Though that doesn’t stop me from doing it on occasion, I suppose.) I agree that it is my responsibility to be very noisy about this “non-standard” bit, but I believe it is a good thing rather than an albatross and that I’m sufficiently noisy about it that a writer shouldn’t be surprised. (In fact I hope it is one reason that a writer might come looking for me in the first place.)

    If it turns out that it is an encumbrance for being considered in anthologies then I think this is unfair on enough levels that I don’t want to side-track discussion here on it too much. In short: many of the anthologized stories are freely available in HTML (, Clarkesworld, etc.) so a story being available in a CC-licensed PDF doesn’t seem to be on unfavorable terms in terms of availability.

  20. Sam,

    Assume, for a more extreme example, that you are putting the works under CC-BY.

    CC-BY allows anyone to do anything with a work, including changing it anyway they want, publishing it, selling it, giving it away for free, and so on. All that’s required is that you provide attribution to the original work.

    If you sold a story to a magazine and they distributed it under CC-BY, then no other magazine needs to pay you to publish your work. They could just reprint it, or even hire someoen else to rewrite it and reprint that.

    There are uses for some of the more liberal CC licenses, but I think it would not be expected for a magazine to buy a work and then distribute it under, say, CC-BY, and pretty much mean that the author has no way to enforce payment for reprints.

    Different CC licenses may cause different reactions from various authors. If you publish teh work CC-NC (non commercial), then that’s less of a deviation from the norm, and it still gives the author a way to get money for reprints. But it’s still a bit of a deviation, and some authors aren’t comfortable with anything CC at all.

    But, yeah, springing that on an author after they wrote something on spec might be a bit disconcerting to the author.

  21. mythago–Good point. My experience with Creative Commons is limited to my sale to Pseudopod, which is Creative Commons Non-Commercial No-Derivative 3.0. You can’t change it, you can’t sell it, but you can share it freely, and all other rights remain with the author (I have sold it for reprints once already).

    I wasn’t familiar with the other variations, so thanks for pointing that out.

  22. Yup, mythago, Greg:

    The PDF magazine is published under CC-BY-NC-ND, as David mentions this is much like the MP3 licensing used by Pseudopod, etc.

    In my publishing agreement, the author (and the author alone) has the decision to select a license for their story text, and of course all rights reserved is an option and the default option. (The publishing agreement PDF itself is licensed CC-BY-SA.) One reason (among others) that I give the author a choice is because it is not possible to publish the story text under all rights reserved in some cases — for example when writing in a shared world (e.g. Aether Age) the resulting story must be published as CC-BY-SA.

  23. for whatever it’s worth, CC-BY-NC-ND is sort of the minimal CC license you can get. It allows people to distribute verbatim copies of the original work, so long as they aren’t doing it primarily for money.

    It’s sort of like letting people swap tapes or what not.

    There is a bit of an ambiguity as to what, exactly, the Non-Commercial means in a strict legal sense, and how much it can be bent. A lot of websites have advertising and if they distribute CC-NC works for free, but make a lot of money on advertising, and the reason they’re making that money is because of all the CC-NC works, then it may, or may not, violate CC-NC.

    There’s been some long discussions on the Creative Commons discussion lists about it way back when. I don’t know if it’s ever been really resolved with perfect legal (is there such a thing) certainty.

    The BY means all copies passed around must provide attribution to the original work, at least for whatever information is provided for attribution. If no info is provided, no attribution is required.

    But if you were going to pick a CC license that (CC-BY-NC-ND) would be the minimal one.

    The next step up would be something like CC-BY-NC-SA. Basically it would allow noncommercial fan-fiction of the original work to be made and distributed, but not distributed for money. And the SA means that anyone who makes a derivative has to allow anyone else to make a derivative. So fans can then expand on other fan’s works. But no one can sell it, at least to whatever degree the “NonCommecial” says so.

    From there, you start getting into more “open source” type licenses, like CC-BY-SA, which allows people to modify the work, but requires that anyone be able to modify the modifications, and anyone can sell the original or any modified version.

    And then at the most open ended end of the spectrum is something like CC-BY, which allows anyone to do anything, even make derivatives that they can own the copyright on and no one else can make derivatives from, so long as they attribute the original work.

    So, which CC license you use will make a huge difference as to what sort of author reaction you get.

  24. I didn’t mean to be snarky, Sam, but if I were publishing fiction I’d want to understand the standard contract terms that people usually expect (and if there even is such a thing) and I’d surely want to do that before proposing a new license. For myself, I guess I wonder why you want to offer license choices, etc vs simply having a fairly standard contract with terms that authors will be used to seeing from other venues.

    As I said above, any terms that deviate materially from what people expect should be disclosed up front. Since you let people choose froma variety of licences, I’m not sure wha would cause an author to balk except for the very fact that you’re now asking them to make a legal judgement and they might be tossed ‘Wait, what?? – you don’t use the contract terms other people do?’ mode.

  25. I started writing #27 before Sam posted #26, so I didn’t see that Sam had chosen CC-BY-NC-ND for his magazine.

    As far as licences go, that’s a fairly bland one. I don’t think as many authors will balk at that one.

    Thus far, if a market offers works under CC-NC-something, I’ve yet to see a competitor somehow leverage the license against the original market.

    For example, Magnatune offers all their music under CC-BY-NC-SA. That’s basically what I call the “fan-fiction” license.

    Whether Magnatune is making money or not, as far as I can tell it’s NOT because someone else is offering the same music for free. I think Magnatune makes their money from subscriptions and from selling licenses to their music for commercial purposes. The NC part means they and the artist have a monopoly on commercial licensing. So, the most a competitor could do is give the same music away for free, which has little incentive for doing that, because the attribution clause requires that the competitor tell everyone where the music came from, essentially forcing teh competitor to advertise for Magnatune. So, as far as I can see, no one does it.

    The way ND works means that in Sam’s situation, an author published in Sam’s magazine still has the exclusive right to sell reprints of the original story to another market, or option the story into a movie, or merchandise, or whatever.

  26. Rick, I didn’t think you were being snarky, and if my reply sounded like I did it was probably because I thought you had made a very good point and I wanted to very quickly respond to it.

    That said, if every publisher only did what was standard and that which came before, we wouldn’t be here celebrating a new online market like Redstone Science Fiction. “What?” an author some years ago may have asked. “You want the right to reproduce my story an unlimited number of times, on this ‘Internet’ thing?” And we wouldn’t have awesome audio podcasts like PseudoPod and PodCastle and EscapePod and on and on. “What? Audio rights? For a short story?”

    It has been many, many long discussions explaining things as I’ve gotten started. Hopefully those get easier and less common as slowly DRM-free CC-BY-NC-ND becomes pretty much a standard license, at least for digital download files.

    (And don’t get me started on how it has been explaining “pay what you want, yes, even on print, above cost” to bookstores… But slowly it has gotten through, and my magazine is in a dozen+ stores and growing. Though none (yet?) offer it to the end customer directly at pay what you want, they are starting to get what I’m doing.)

  27. @20
    Science Fiction: … “Iron Man”

    “X-Men” has invisible super jets that can take off and land vertically, but the central theme is all the superpowers of the characters, so it’s “fantasy”.

    As they’re in the same universe, how can one be science fiction and one fantasy?

  28. i was happy to learn that the sfwa has a grievance committee and that it actually does something. i’ve seen too many organizations have something along those lines, in writing, but they either can’t or won’t follow through with the stated goal.

    it’s nice to see an organization that has a grievance committee and brings it to bear when necessary. kudos to cory doctorow for being willing to share his experience and thanks to scalzi for linking it here.


  29. Cory Doctorow is thanking the SFWA for helping him retain copyright on his work and even recover a fee for someone’s purely hypothetical use of that copyright. It must be opposites day!

  30. Ask me again when they’re in the same movie.

    Why? We’re not talking about the movies.

  31. Alan, I think again the key here for me is that this wasn’t just a purely hypothetical potential use of a copyright but that this was specifically work which Cory did on spec — a story he would not have taken the time to sit and write if he had not been specifically commissioned to do so.

  32. We’re not talking about the movies.

    It’s an interesting experience to be the one who brought up IronMan and XMen in the first place and then be told what media version we were talking about.

    It’s kind of like reverse deja vu.

  33. Re Greg @20:
    I wouldn’t necessarily equate Mental Telepathy to fantasy. If the powers are based in magic, yes. But if the powers are based on a “higher” or more sophisticated understanding of the mind (Anne McCaffery’s Tower and Hive series) or on mutations (X-Men) I’d put it on the Science Fiction side of the ledger

    The whole basis of X-men is the X gene mutation. Genetic mutation sounds like Science Fiction to *me*.

  34. meh. Anytime someone casts fireballs or lightning bolts from their hands, it’s at least part fantasy. Whether magic or invoking the gods or however they do it, it has the feel of old myth. Part god, part human, walking the earth. Just cause they surround it with nuts and bolts doesn’t change that.

    If the character has the exact same power, but its fireballs in a flamethrower or lightning in a taser, then the character is not mythological in any personal way. He isn’t the offspring of a god. he just has some cool gadgets.

    Anyway, Xmen is clearly a mix of SF and fantasy. Gadgets and demigods. If you want to say it’s more SF than fantasy, it’s just a matter of degree.

    But just because they explain it as “genetic mutations” doesn’t mean it suddenly switches to SF. Star Wars is at least part fantasy as far as the Force is concerned. Just because Lucas bolted on some explanation about “midichlorians” in one of the prequels, doesn’t mean it’s suddenly pure SF.

  35. As they’re in the same universe,

    Ask me again when they’re in the same movie.
    As it happens, X-Men was referenced in the Iron Man movie (Tony Stark saw a reference to the Blackbird, aka the X-Jet).

    This should not be surprising. The Marvel properties are from the same universe and if you watch one of those movies it is choke full of references to other comic books (e.g. I just saw Iron Man 2 and it had shout-outs and crossovers to 3 other comics). Not to repeat myself but that’s because it’s the same universe in the comic books and Marvel wants the same for the movies.

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