Had a great time last night at the SFWA Reception in NYC. It was my first event since the heart attack and I was very touched by the volume of people who wished me well or had other kind words. I was often left with an inability to find the right words. Thanks to all of you and SFWA for a wonderful (and very welcoming) evening!
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.
At the end of Simon Owen’s recent piece on finding a profitable model for genre ezines, he made a point of ending with the number of dead markets listed on Ralan.com. That number of 649 has since moved up to 650.
A bug started buzzing in my head. His article was specifically about online markets, but that number actually combines print and online markets. A quick bit of research identified 269 print markets and 320 online markets. The remaining 61 didn’t contain enough information to tell.
Ok, 320 dead online markets. It’s a big number, but it in no way demonstrates that the online magazines have cornered the market on failure. Still, I wanted to get a better understanding of what had gone wrong with these online markets, so I looked at pay rates. A stunning 157 (nearly half) of these markets paid $10 or less per story. That’s just wrong on so many levels. What were they thinking? Let me spell this out more clearly:
IF YOU ARE GOING TO START ANY KIND OF MAGAZINE, PAY YOUR AUTHORS SOMETHING REASONABLE.
The SFWA defines pro-rate as 5 cents or more. It’s an arbitrary baseline and probably long overdue for a change, but it is still something officially recognized in the field. A number of magazines pay in the 2-4 cent range. Not great, but at least they are making an effort.
PAY PER WORD, NOT WITH HOLLOW PROMISES.
I was shocked by the number of markets that stated they wanted to pay on royalties from subscriptions, donations, or shares of the advertising. Let’s be fair here. Tell them exactly how much they’ll be paid (in US dollars, not Monopoly money) before you print the story. If you can’t, think twice before you start your magazine.
Yes, I am aware of a few good zines that fly in the face of what I’m suggesting, but believe me, they are the exception, not the norm. You need to ask yourself, why anyone would sell me a story for that rate when there are other markets that pay better. If you can answer that question with an honest positive for the author, I’d love to hear it.
When I looked at the “failed” online markets, I found three zines that occasionally paid pro rates and only ten that would qualify as pro-markets. The ten were: Dark Matter, Feral Fiction, Future Orbits, Getting It (erotic), Infinite Edge, Lenox Ave, SciFiction, Suck, Trabuco Road and Would that it Were (historical/ghost). These publications paid their authors well, but couldn’t, or decided not to, make a run of it. It seems to me that they represent a good group of people to ask about the potential pitfalls.
I know… Learning from the mistakes of others is simply crazy talk. But maybe I’ll do it anyway.
Back in August, I announced that Clarkesworld Magazine had become a SFWA qualifying market. At least, that’s what I had been told the committee minutes reflected. Somehow, somewhere along the line, we never became part of the official list. It seems that closing my bookstore confused the committee, suspended the process, and left us sitting in review. I’m sure this could have been resolved with a quick email, but since we were never contacted about it, it took a few months for us to notice that something was wrong. It looks like things may be back on track. The website hasn’t been updated (since August), but the Market Report in the current SFWA Bulletin says:
“Clarkesworld Magazine (http://www.clarkesworld.com/magazine/submissions.html) has qualified as a pro market by SFWA rules. Writers may not submit another story for a period of seven days after receiving a rejection.”
I know some of our authors had been counting on their Clarkesworld stories to help them qualify for SFWA membership, so I’m glad to see this resolved. Thanks go to all the people who had something to do with fixing this!