There are some people urging me to weigh in on John Scalzi’s recent posts about a new magazine that will be paying authors poorly. In the course of that discussion, there were a few things said about semiprozines that some people assumed would set me off. It appears that my efforts to save the Best Semiprozine Hugo have put me in some sort of unofficial role as the crazy poster child for semiprozine rights. Some people forget, however, that there is a difference between what writers and their organizations call semi-professional and what the Hugos do. The Hugos don’t care what authors are paid. Some Hugo semiprozines, like my own, are paying professional rates and seen by SFWA as qualifying and by Ralan.com as professional. Many others aren’t.
The thing is, John is on the right track. Authors should be paid for their work. Running a magazine might be a fine hobby or small business for you to have, but that doesn’t absolve you from some responsibility to do right by your authors. Yes, of course, there are some publications that have author-benefiting prestige to them, but they are the exception and not the norm. You can’t hold up Interzone, Lady Churchill’s or Electric Velocipede and use them as the example that unravels John’s argument, nor can you just assume that you’re new magazine will join their ranks. It’s good to have goals and aspirations, but don’t sell your authors statistically-unlikely promises.
That said, I’m not as hard-line about the SFWA’s suggested professional pay rate as John appears to be. I posted about this issue quite some time ago and my position is relatively unchanged. I still discourage no-pay markets (I’ve done so twice in the last week and used John’s posts to help illustrate my point) and believe that there are legitimate semiprofessional-paying magazines that benefit writers.