Saturday, December 12, 2009

Short Story Markets - Noise Made

Current Reading: Myths of the North American Indians, by Lewis Spence

Inspirational Quote: ""To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there." -- Kofi Annan

There are several differences between myself and John Scalzi. In fact there are so many differences that, were you to contrast us, you'd save yourself a great deal of time by concentrating on the similarities. There aren't many: we're both married heterosexual males, we both write, and the amount of hair on our heads is not increasing as a function of time.

Other than that, though, we're not much alike. Another difference: when I question the return on sales to short story markets, the world takes no notice. When he does it, the world goes bananas.

Mr. Scalzi's point, as I understood it, was that he disapproved of a new short story market: a publisher putting out four magazines paying $.0020 a word for material. His opinion is expressed and clarified in the following blog posts:

In the spirit of the pulps and paying even less.
Black Matrix Publishing responds.
Aspiring writer Stockholm Syndrome.
My short fiction rates.
Presumably final notes on rates, markets and blah-blah-blah.
Addendum 3

Within his posts are links to those who debate him by saying, essentially, "Money isn't everything." His response is, "No, but publishing is a business, and someone's making money. If it's not you, then are you sure what you're getting is worth your work?" I think he's got a point.

I've also tracked down the following professional, semi-professional, amateur and etc. posts that deal with the fallout (most linked to by SF Signal).

Black Matrix Publishing.
Wheatland Press.
Jennifer Brissett.
Rachael Swirsky.
Douglas Cohen.
Nick Mamatas.
Cat Rambo.
Jim Hines.
Ann Leckie.
Neil Clarke.
Sarah Monette/Katherine Addison.
Clint Harris.

My two cents, after considerable thought:

1) Supply and demand. The problem that publishing has which most businesses do not is that the supply of written work exceeds demand by a considerable factor. Authors want to be read. Readers want good stories. Unfortunately, especially since the rise of the Internet, readers suffer from a breadth of choice that terrifies, and much of it (although poor) is free. If readers don't pay, publishers don't make money. If publishers don't make money, writers don't get paid. Too many writers, too few paying readers, and the price per word becomes so depressed that the word "laughable" can be used.

Retail businesses base their price on production cost plus profit. Were writers to demand a better monetary reward for their production, magazines would be forced to increase their prices, which would drive many readers away. Those few magazines which survived would be paying good rates. Writers won't demand this, however. The last thing we want is a smaller market for our work. It's hard enough getting published as is. That, and getting the universe of writers to agree to such a thing would require a miracle of the "air into gold" variety (the quote is from Watchmen). If it has not been said before, I'm saying it now: you can't organize crazy people (and anyone who's glanced through a slush pile knows how many nuts are in THAT bag of trail mix).

2) What are writers in this for? Money? Prestige? Building an audience of readers? You've got a "being published" fetish? Depending on the answer, submitting to markets that pay nothing, or close to it, may make sense. However, research your markets and make sure you know whether your chosen target can actually deliver the payback you're seeking. Then ask yourself if what you're getting in return for the six weeks of heart-rending effort you put into your work is worth what you've given up for it.


Susan Quinn said...

I just posted an (internal) blog about this to my writing group. I think the most important thing you can do in this business is to know why you're in it.

The glory of "publication"? And what exactly do you mean by that?

Do you write for the love of the story, the written word, the catharsis of telling your story?

Do you write to make money?

The options above aren't mutually exclusive, but if you pursue one, while really craving something else, you'll end up unhappy. And if you keep waiting for happiness(. . . if I just get published, then I'll be happy), well, that's a lot of unhappiness spent in the waiting room.

Ulysses said...

Yes, exactly. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has talked about that in her Freelancer's Survival Guide, which inspired my posts here and here.

Reader's Digest Condensed Version: you have to define success before you start measuring your achievement of it.

Susan Quinn said...

OK, you're Canadian? I knew there was a reason I liked you.

Thanks for the link to the Survival Guide - I'm going to have to wade through that one. Here's a post that is specific to fiction, if you haven't seen it.

Have you seen 2012? It's an end-of-world movie, obviously. Less obvious subplot: a writer who ruins his marriage and relationship with his children by obsessively writing his book - which gets published, but only sells 522 copies. Yet, the book inspires the guy who ends up saving the world, and lots of people, including . . . the author. A nice synopsis of every writer's greatest fear and hope.

Somewhere in between is where I hope to tread . . .

Susan Quinn said...

Ulysses - I gave you a blogger award on my blog Ink Spells today.

Ulysses said...

Well, thank-you, Susan.

"He pretends not to be funny?!?" Really? I think most people who hang around these parts would more likely agree that I pretend to be funny...

Susan Quinn said...

Which is precisely what I meant.

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