Posts Tagged ‘magazine pay rates’

Why is it, when you go into a Starbucks (it’s not always Starbucks, but they seem to attract the species, like flytraps) in LA (I’m assuming it’s only in LA, but I could be wrong–enlighten me) that you see all these guys (and yes, it’s always guys!) writing screenplays on their laptops, an empty cup beside them like their ticket on the train? (“Look, Mr. Conductor/Barista! I paid to be here!”)

No, I’m not asking why everyone goes to Starbucks to write. I’ve written in coffee houses myself, and found it works a lot better than I expected. I guess if it was good enough for J.K. Rowling, etc., etc. It’s not the writing in coffee houses that I don’t understand, it’s writing screenplays.

Look, writing fiction is a crapshoot. Let’s take science fiction, because that’s the field I know. When I was a “kid,” there were those who (I’m sure from an overabundance of caring) made no secret of the fact that your chances of ever getting a story published were 1000-to-1. Even today, with dozens of markets available for short SF, the odds are about the same. It’s not pretty, but it’s true. (Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!)

But screenplays? I have no numbers to go by (and I’m too lazy to look), but I have to figure that your chances of selling a screenplay are about 1/10th as good as selling a short story. Yes, the rewards are vastly higher, but so’s a winning lottery ticket. So why write screenplays when your chances of succeeding at straight fiction are ten times better? I made more on my last sale than most of those coffee-jockeys will make on whatever they’re writing, if they push it from now until they die. (And believe me, what I make isn’t a lot to brag about. The pro rate for magazines as defined by SFWA has about doubled since the 1960s.)

I guess it’s the same mentality that plays the lotto. And I play the lottery, too, occasionally, though I stay with the small tickets. I guess I’d rather win a little every so often rather than play for the big pay-off that may (probably will) never come.

If you’re the other kind, and you hit it big, good for you. Go back to Starbucks and buy a round for the house.



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Once upon a time, writers were known for their stories–and from their stories. In this benighted past, there was no Internet (yes, well may you shudder, children). There were no blogs, no e-books, no online magazines, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook…there wasn’t even any e-mail. And the people toiled through snail mail and telephones that did not take pictures and did not even know that they were technologically poverty-stricken. For only in comic books were their portable telephones with vliewscreens, and only in stories did men and women communicate by computer.

So how the heck did a writer ever make a name for himself? It wasn’t easy. (Not that it’s easy now. But back then it was harder to become famous just for being famous.) Ironically, like today, there were many magazines available as markets, but back then, so many people read them that you could actually become famous that way. Astonishingly, you could even make a living selling to magazines. Like much of history, it was full of inconsistencies.

Flash forward to now, when all you need to become world-famous is a blog. (Assuming that your definition of “world-famous” is that your work is available all over the world.) And every writer’s marketing plan–heck, every writer’s publisher–is in his own hands. So if fame (or notoriety) is so easy to grasp, why isn’t every writer famous? Why is true fame still as elusive as ever?

It used to be, even with the plethora of markets, that you had to have a modicum of talent to sell to a (magazine or book) publisher. That isn’t true now, because you can publish yourself. Yet self-publishing success is at least as difficult as traditional publishing success, because there is so much competition, and so much (to be honest) garbage out there. Collecting fans is a full-time job. (So in that sense, a robust social media presence is necessary. It’s the only way to stand out from the crowd. But for some, it isn’t that easy–if you’re over 50, particularly.)

Traditional publishing can accomplish the marketing for you. But look at the field now: With e-publishing, short fiction venues have exploded, but like self-publishing, it suffers from two problems: (1) the quality varies. There are markets you almost have to try not to get published in, but who’s going to read them? (2) Declining readership. More venues and fewer readers means even the top-flight markets suffer from “genre fatigue.”

It is no longer possible to make a living writing short fiction. It simply can’t be done. (The minimum professional rate established by SFWA is six cents per word. An average short story may run around 5,000 words. Do the math.) But it is possible to build a career by publishing short stories, even if you don’t have any other publicity machine. You just have to hit the biggest markets, consistently.

Can your social media profile help you climb the ladder toward fame and success? Doubtless it can, particularly if you understand that every rung is an accomplishment, and not everybody can climb high. Can simply writing great stories get you there, without the social aspect? Sure; there have been lots of reclusive writers, and I don’t see that changing. Writers are weird.

So how important is social media to a writer’s career? I don’t know–how long is a piece of string?


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It will come as no surprise to pretty much anyone that writers think of their stories as their children. I have discussed this metaphor myself; I would find it hard to believe that any writer doesn’t feel that way. (If you’re a writer and you don’t feel that way, please let me know in the comments, because I’d love to have that conversation.)

And as we all know, parents want their children to do as well in life as they can. In people terms, it means a good job, or placing your child in the best college. In writer terms, this means placing your story in the best venue. “Best” may mean most highly regarded, most visible for awards, or highest-paying. In SFF circles, these priorities overlap until they are almost the same. Whether this is a good thing is open to debate, but it is undeniably true.

Personally,  I aim for the high-paying markets that accept stories somewhere in the neighborhood of what I’ve written, which is pretty easy because most magazines have open guidelines. In other words, besides maybe only accepting SF or fantasy, they’re pretty receptive to however you interpret the genre (short of some rather horrific line-crossing exceptions that I won’t go into). I also like markets that respond relatively quickly (but then again, who doesn’t?).

Now, there are two kinds of markets I submit to (except in special circumstances), and they are defined by pay rates: “pro” and “semi-pro.” “Pro” markets are those paying $0.06/word and above (this being the minimum rate set for qualification by SFWA). “Semi-pro” markets pay $0.01 – $0.03/word.* I typically do not submit to markets paying less.

I start, of course, with the pro venues. But what happens when you can’t sell a story, and you run out of pro venues? Do you move on to the semi-pro markets? Therein lies the problem…

Writers can get very attached to their stories, and unlike with children (we hope), writers have favorites. And every writer can tell you about “my favorite story that I just can’t sell.”  I have one, but it’s in submission right now (I believe for the 46th time), so I can’t tell you which it is. I used to have a second favorite, but it sold (to a pro market) after 35 rejections. I could sell my favorite story any time I wanted, but I refuse to sell it for less than pro rates. I will not send my baby to anything but an Ivy League college.

Nowadays, new markets pop up all the time, some paying pro rates, so I can keep sending this story out with hope in my heart. But I can’t do it with all of my stories, and some I’m not that attached to. But when you’re selling to semi-pro markets, and you’re talking about one that pays 2 1/2 cents per word versus another that pays 3, you have to weigh other considerations. Is one better known in the field? Paper versus electronic? How quickly does the editor get back with rejections? (Once you’ve had a story sitting at a market for a year without a word, you get wary.)

Since I am unfortunately not in a position to sell everything to pro magazines, this is a frequent argument in my head. Depending on the story, the state of various markets (some are only open part-time), and how long it’s been since I’ve made a sale, the argument ends differently every time. Sometimes I even change my mind after a few submissions, adjusting my expectations up or down.

There are those children who will never leave the house, and you just have to put them away. (And by that I mean stories, not real children!) But even they can surprise you. I have sold stories that I thought were out of options.

And you know what? I’m proud of them too.

*When Asimov got his start in the 1940s, he was making up to $0.01/word.


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