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08 December 2009 @ 05:39 pm
[writing] Writing For Pay is all about What I (or You) Want  
There's been a rush of posting about pay rates in short fiction, spurred on by John Scalzi taking Black Matrix to task for stating that their pay rate is 0.002/word (that's one-fifth of a cent per word, ie a 5K-word sale earns $10).


Here's a quick list of postings:
- Scalzi's original post about Black Matrix: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/12/01/in-the-spirit-of-the-pulps-and-paying-even-less/
- Scalzi followup One: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/12/02/black-matrix-publishing-responds/
Two: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/12/03/aspiring-writer-stockholm-syndrome/
Three: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/12/04/my-short-fiction-rates/
Four: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/12/08/presumably-final-notes-on-rates-markets-and-blah-blah-blah/
- Rachel Swirsky at Ecstatic Days: http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2009/12/07/bad-credits-wont-help-publish/
- Ann Leckie, One: http://ann-leckie.livejournal.com/141692.html
Two: http://ann-leckie.livejournal.com/141905.html (on "writing better")
- Tobias Buckell: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2009/12/07/writing-neepery-short-story-pay/
- Sarah Monette: http://truepenny.livejournal.com/697323.html
- Cat Valente: http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/548772.html
- Jim Hines: http://jimhines.livejournal.com/479488.html
- Cat Rambo on finding markets, and there's a nice comment from her at the end about what makes a slush reader keep going in a story: http://catrambo.livejournal.com/251628.html
- Nick Mamatas: http://nihilistic-kid.livejournal.com/1407128.html


As a writer of short fiction, I've been very interested in these discussions especially as they relate to the writerly attitude when writing and submitting stories. Reading these over the last couple days has caused me to do some thinking about my own personal model for submitting stories. While I've fallen off the submission management recently, I'm getting back to it. And in doing so, I'm continuing with the philosophy of "start at the top and work my way down". So the questions that come out of that are: What *is* "the top" and is there a bottom?

For me, the answer to those questions are really tied up in the answer to two other questions related to my writing and what I want out of my writing:
- Is this a dream or a goal?
- Is this a business or a hobby? (question form taken from Tobias Buckell's post).


To me, a "dream" is something that would be nice, that would be fun, that you think about when stuck in traffic or waiting in line. Wouldn't it be neat to be a SF writer? Gosh, it would be cool to be published and famous and go to conventions and all that nifty stuff. A dream. You think about it, you wonder about it. But you don't work towards it.

A goal is something you work on. You start figuring out the steps it will take to get to your goal and you consistently and relentlessly work on those steps. You are never content with your status. You always try to get as good as you can.

Four years ago, writing SF became a goal for me instead of a dream. I started writing, produced new work regularly, joined critique groups, went to workshops at cons, and eventually applied to Viable Paradise (and was accepted). After VP, writing SF at a professional level became my new goal. I started submitting, started figuring out what in my writing needed improvement, and worked on trying to get better at it. That's where I am today.


My goal is to write and sell short speculative fiction at a professional level. I'm not there yet. I will keep working at it and hopefully I will get there.

The issue of what I think I should get paid also relates to where writing is, for me, on the business versus hobby spectrum. Again, do I want out of my writing?


I used to think of writing SF as a hobby, something I dabbled in now and then. When I finally got serious about writing, I did put more time into it but I still had the "hobby" mindset. After VP, the realization came that writing SF had meaning for me, and brought me personal fulfillment. I became serious enough about it that it was more than just a hobby.

But it will never be a business for me. Short fiction just doesn't pay enough for it to be my primary income, definitely nowhere near what software development pays. Thus it will be a secondary thing, essentially a part-time job. This allows me to be a bit more flexible in terms of what kind of pay I expect to receive for my work.

However, it is my goal to be a professional SF writer and to write, submit, and sell to the top markets.

The top is very well defined. It's the top markets that everyone names when they think of SF/F markets: places that pay well (5 cents/word) and have a strong reputation.

But where's the bottom?

I'm happy to say that I've only made one submission to a place that didn't pay cash. I did it because it was a site run by several known names, and the submission was a flash story that was written for a specific contest/subject, then not accepted, and which had been through the rounds of all other markets.

Beyond that, I've submitted only to paying markets. I've made 9 sales so far. Looking at my pay rates, they have been (in cents/word): 5+, 1.5, 1, 3, 0.675, 0.38, 5, 5, 0.91.

The sales that paid <1 cent/word were special exceptions. I would have submitted to two of them no matter what. One was an anthology invite from an editor and publisher with a very strong reputation. The other was a site whose stories and editor I liked. The lowest pay rate (0.38) was me burning off a flash story that had been through >10 other places. Note that in every case I knew what the pay rate was before I submitted the story.

The sales that paid 1-2 cents/word were also special cases: a podcast reprint sale and an anthology whose theme, publisher and editor I liked.

The "5+" is a sale to a site that also took "tips". I received a couple tips that upped what the site paid me (5 cents/word) to a higher rate (that I don't remember right now).

So, moving forward I'll say that my minimum is 1 cent/word (barring special exceptions). If I have a couple more sales in the 3-5 cents/word range I'll move to a 2 cent/word minimum.


No, writing short speculative fiction is not my business (short speculative fiction can't be anyone's main business any more). But I want to be paid fairly for my work. That's something I realized from reading the above postings and going through the "pay rate" exercise.

It's an interesting exercise, one that had some real value for me. Now I know what I think my work is curently worth, and that helps me target my submissions. It also helps me target my writing, in that I need to write to a level that justifies that pay rate.

And on that note, it's time to get back to work!