Writing Short Fiction: What I Think When a Market Doesn’t List What it Pays Contributors

sw_CashAndPencil_cs2014-03-28I think you don’t like me very much, that’s what I think.


Let me elaborate.


Look, I get it. Or, I think I get it; I’ve run across quite a few venues that don’t specify whether or not they pay contributors. Most have been mainstream or literary markets, but a few have been the speculative fiction genre haunts I frequent most often as well.


You figure you want work from writers who write for the love of writing, not from mercenary types.


Or your market, like so many, is cash-starved and you can’t afford to pay contributors — and you find that fact a bit embarrassing. You’d rather not have to talk about it.


Perhaps you feel you’re a bit elite, and you want work from the equally elite. And of course, if you’re elite like that, you wouldn’t have to worry about money. In this case, it’s likely your market offers a significant stipend to those it publishes. Much like shopping in an elite shopping destination, however, if you have to ask about money you don’t qualify to belong.


It may, alternately, have simply slipped the mind of whoever wrote the submissions page. We literary types are notoriously frazzlebrained.


My temptation, as an excitable sort, is to settle on the explanation of elitism and curse your name. I have a feeling these four possibilities are all in play in various places, and possibly a fifth or sixth I haven’t thought of. In a broad and diverse marketplace there are bound to be multiple circumstances.


What it feels like to me when I encounter a set of guidelines that don’t mention whether or not your magazine or journal or anthology or webzine or fill-in-the-blank pays: I’m not welcome.


Look, I don’t have a lot of money. I mean, I really don’t have a lot of money. In my household, every buck counts and it’s not unusual to have to call service provider X and ask if they can’t extend a due date a couple of weeks so that we can pay service provider Y. I’m not dirt poor; I have a roof over my head, I don’t freeze in the winter, I’m on the internet right now. But I don’t have money to spare and I’d like to know if I’ll stand to make a little more if you like my story enough to print it. Speaking of that, I also want to see my stories in print, aside from self-publishing (look over to the right sidebar, at the top. I’ve got lots out there). I’ve talked one venue into publishing a story of mine a while back (Carniphobe), and recently another (forthcoming, I’ll mention the venue when it comes out and you’d better believe I’ll write about it here). I’ve been making a push to get more work out there, and I’ve built my ‘actively submitting’ stable to more than 20 stories. Quite frankly, I’d like to be paid for my work. The money would come in handy; even small sums make a significant difference in my household. It also feels good to be paid for what I do. Hey, somebody liked what I did enough to pay REAL MONEY for it. I’m a Generation X-er. Stereotypically, we love validation. I’m a bit of a stereotype in that regard. If you don’t mention that you pay, or don’t, it’s really difficult to guess at it. And I won’t. After all, it would be nothing more than a guess.


I also value professionalism. Bottom line, I expect to conduct myself professionally when I submit work. And, whatever the reasons, it feels unprofessional when a publisher does not specify their rates, or lack of rates, up front before work is submitted.


Another bone to pick, from my point of view, are the 2 and 3 buck submission fees that are becoming common, especially in mainstream and literary venues. My budget is tight and I’m shopping more than just a couple of stories around; if I paid those routinely they’d have a noticeable impact on my family’s activities — and I’d prefer to spend that 3 bucks buying my toddlers a couple of toys from the thrift store. In fact, I have yet to pay a submission fee. But that’s something to complain about at length in another post (I’ve already complained about it just now, though, so that may never appear).



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