Award-Winning Editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, Forever Magazine, The Best Science Fiction of the Year, and More

Semiprozines, John Scalzi, and Doing Right

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 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.


December 2009 Issue of Clarkesworld Magazine


A short period of downtime…


  1. I find it to be an interesting discussion. I’m a committee member of the Australia Horror Writer’s Associtation and Midnight Echo (our fiction mag which I co-edited) pays 1 cent a word (Aussie cents that is). We’d like to pay more and we’ve discussed the idea of paying more but at the moment we can’t.

    Scalzi’s argument indicates that we should pack up shop until we’re able to pay more because otherwise we’re insulting writers. And maybe he’s right. But in publishing Midnight Echo, we are promoting the work of Australian horror writers.

    I should also point out that Australian spec fic publication have never (in my moemory) paid pro-rates. And the includes publications like Eidolon which, in the day, published works from some major writers.

    Maybe it’s a matter of scale. But Scalzi doesn’t differentiate.

    • It is admirable that you want to pay your authors more and hopefully that discussion led to some plans that will help you reach that goal. Best of luck!

      • Oh and you are absolutely right, the issues change a bit when you look outside the US. I’ve been working under the assumption that a pay rate in US dollars is specifically geared towards US markets. I’m not involved in the SFWA, so I have no idea if they have ever discussed the concept of regional markets as part of their qualifying markets rules.

  2. It’s funny, but, I find the 1/5 of a cent per word more of a problem than a flat dollar amount per story.

    Crossed Genres only pays $10 per story. Which means, if you sell a 2000 word story to them, you’re getting paid a half cent per word. Yet, somehow that upfront “this is what we can pay per story” doesn’t bother me from them. And, with Crossed Genres in particular, I know they started as a payment in copies, moved to a small payment, and would like to continue to grow. Whereas a “per word” payment is something I expect more from pro or close to pro magazines.

    I realize that either way, I’m not getting paid reasonable rates. But one comes off as smarmy, while the other just strikes me as “still working to establish their business.”

    • Yes, it all gets painted very differently when you see someone who is actively (and obviously) working to do right by their authors.

  3. I posted my own take on this after seeing your post and dropping by Scalzi’s blog to read up.

    I agree with . The 1/5 of a cent per word is just TOO low. It’s one thing to cut costs, it’s another to say “even for a full novel, we wouldn’t pay enough to cover your electricity bill for a month”. That’s …. AH! I have it.

    That is, to me, the equivalent of leaving a one-penny tip after a restaurant meal.

  4. Thanks for the link.

  5. I may sound silly, but for the life of me, I can’t see the difference between a pay rate of a flat $10 per story and a pay rate of $0.002 per word. Most stories have a minimum length of 2000 words anyway. A $10 payment is just as much of an ‘insult’ as a $0.0002 cent per word one.

    Yes, the pay is too low. Yes, authors ‘should’ be paid more. But I think we’re barking up the wrong tree. We should be encouraging sales and donations that allow these magazines to pay more. To start off, all those who complain should be donating and subscribing. BTW – I know Joe at least puts his money where his mouth is.

    A magazine can only pay according to the magazine’s income. All the rest is bunk.

    • crap. That should have been John.

    • Exactly. *nods*

    • >> We should be encouraging sales and donations that allow these magazines to pay more.<<

      I know several editors who made increasing pay rates a priority during a subscription drive or donation period, but none of them launched with a sub-penny rate. Some of them are still around and a couple are even paying pro rates now.

      >>A magazine can only pay according to the magazine’s income. All the rest is bunk.<<

      That’s a bit too simplistic for me. Makes sense if you are working for a business and the economy requires a pay cut. Happens a lot. However, if someone launches a new business, we tend to have higher expectations than extremely low-to-no pay. John’s post is about a business launching four print magazines and paying very sub-standard rates. Not quite bunk in my book.

  6. Anonymous

    I agree with you

    I agree with everything that was said in this post. I also agree with “mondyboy” when he said “Maybe it’s a matter of scale. But Scalzi doesn’t differentiate.” I supposed that’s what set me off. Maybe it’s my personality to fire from the hip when I see a perceived injustice. I just felt that somebody should say something before the wrong perception of the semi-pros sent in. Not all semi-pro, token, non-paying markets are built alike and should not all be lumped together. Maybe that wasn’t the intent of Scalzi’s and others posts, but to many that’s what it was sounding like.

    Timidly commenting,

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