John Scalzi is a great writer and a great advocate for new writers. He uses the large audience of his blog to help expose new writers to a wide readership and he helps expose scams that aim to take advantage of writers. But one subject he pushes that I don’t always agree with is that writers should always get paid for their work. In theory this is a great idea and for novels and movie scripts and such I totally agree. When it comes to short stories though, I don’t really agree with him. Today he takes a new publisher to task regarding their pay rate (which would qualify as decent for the crime fiction field). I posted the following comment regarding my thoughts on the issue:
I’m coming from the crime fiction community and I suspect it may be a very different beast, but I’ve benefitted greatly by being published in zines where I didn’t receive any payment. There are a couple of things at play here.
First, there are really only two genre specific magazines that pay what would be considered pro rates: Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines which pay in the 5 to 8 cent range per word. So I could send it to both of these places and have it rejected, but, like John I., two rejections is a bit thin for me to consider the story a failure. I’m also at a bigger disadvantage because I write dark crime fiction that is mostly frowned upon by the two pro zines.
That leaves us with a whole bunch of zines that pay nothing or, at most, $25. Taking pay out of the picture though, other ways have developed to discern between the good free zines and the bad free zines. The easiest of these is the quality of the writing. Now, many of you say, if it’s that’s good, you should be paid for it. So let me tell you a tale of a couple of my stories.
The first was published in one of the top two hardboiled web zines, Thuglit. Even though it doesn’t pay, it still attracts top talent and many of it’s contributors have been contacted by legitimate, high-profile agents after their stories appeared, me being one of them. The editor leveraged that quality to an anthology deal with Kensington books for a Best Of collection. My best story published in the zine was selected for the first anthology and I was paid a pro rate for it.
The second story was published in one of the other highly regarded zines of the time and went on to be selected for a Best Mystery Stories of the Year anthology for which, again, I was paid a healthy pro rate. These were two good stories (justified by them being paid for eventually) that didn’t have anywhere willing to publish them except for free.
The editors of these zines worry just as much about the quality of the writing and their reputation as the pro markets even though they are unable to pay a fee. I would rather have these markets around paying nothing than have them go away because they don’t have the money to pay.
And my story is not unique. A guy named Scott Wolven published such good stuff online he was selected for Best American Mystery Stories seven years in a row. He leveraged that into a book deal for a short story collection, all of which were published online first.
I encourage crime writers to go over to Scalzi’s blog today and chime in with your thoughts and how it relates to the crime field versus the science fiction and fantasy field.