*Update 4/30/09 This market is now paying pro-rates, so disregard everything below.
Something else aspiring writers often say to me is: “I want my writing to be taken seriously. I’m tired of submitting stories to magazines, only to watch them fold before my story ever sees publication. Is there any way to spot markets that are in danger of having this happen, so that I can save myself some headaches?”
Yes. Yes there is. In fact, there’s a very good example occurring on Shocklines right now. Ken Wood, publisher of a forthcoming horror fiction magazine called Shock Totem, posted the following:
“I’m baffled at the animosity directed toward the publications that don’t pay pro rates. It’s arrogant. If money is the most important thing to an author, don’t submit to markets paying less than pro rates, but don’t shit on them for that simple reason… Shock Totem pays 1 cent a word. When issue #1 comes out, I’ll have worked on it for over a year. The artwork alone is being done by a very famous artist, and will cost upwards of $1,000. There is a marketing goal behind this, of course.”
Read that again. Let’s examine it in detail. He’s paying pro rates to the artist, and spending a lot of time and money on marketing, design, etc. but he’s not willing to spend the same on the writers. By his own admission, the writers aren’t worth the same consideration, even though it is their work that will make up 80% of the magazine’s content. And then he has the audacity to say that he’s a professional and should be treated as such.
This is a fine example of a market that will ultimately fail. There are hundreds of these — amateur presses that call themselves small presses, without having even a basic understanding of what the small press is or how it works or who it’s target audience is. I don’t know Mr. Wood. Maybe he’s a good guy. Maybe his heart is in the right place. But the fact remains, if he was serious about this, then he’d be serious about conducting this endeavor professionally. He’d have a serious business plan that includes treating his writers professionally, as they deserve.
There is nothing wrong with amateur presses. Amateur presses are great for amateur writers. But if you’re going to be an amateur press, then fucking say it and embrace it. Don’t bitch about how you can’t pay your fucking writers what they deserve, and then have the fucking audacity to demand that you be treated as a professional. Cemetery Dance pays pro rates. So does Subterranean. Delirium. Bloodletting. Necro. Earthling. Borderlands. Gauntlet. And dozens of others. They are small presses, not amateur presses, and they all started out, FROM DAY ONE, conducting their business in a professional manner. A lot of others didn’t, and the ones that didn’t aren’t around anymore.
And that, kids, is how you tell the difference. If you want to be a professional, then submit to the professionals, no matter how big or small they are. If the publisher is treating his endeavor in a professional manner, then his chances of succeeding are good. If they are a hobbyist who decided, “Hey, I bet it would be fun to start my own press even though I don’t know shit about it” then chances are good that they will fail. Maybe they will learn something from that failure. Maybe not. But there’s no sense in letting their failure impact you, as well.
If you view your writing as nothing more than a hobby, and you just want to have fun, then by all means, you shouldn’t feel bad about submitting to a market like this, and no one should chastise you for doing so. There is nothing wrong with amateur writers submitting to amateur publications. However, if you’re serious about writing, if you want to become a professional and have your work viewed professionally by your readers and your peers, then avoid markets such as this one like they were diseased, rabid weevils. If you want your work to be taken seriously, don’t submit it to a publisher who, by his own admission, doesn’t think the fiction is as important as the cover art (because apparently, readers don’t buy fiction magazines for the stories—they buy them for the cover art).
Simply put, if they don’t think you’re worth it, then they aren’t worth your time and effort. Send your story elsewhere. In the long run, your writing will be better for it.
“But Brian,” somebody is shouting from the back row. “You started off submitting to zines that paid in copies!”
Yes, I did. So did Tim Lebbon and JF Gonzalez and Michael Laimo and Simon Clark and many more of my friends. And while I won’t speak for my friends, I will say that my early writing suffered greatly as a result (and if you get them drunk at a con, they’ll probably say the same about their own early work). Submitting to an amateur market leads to amateur feedback which leads to more amateur writing. Submitting to a professional market leads to professional feedback which leads to professional writing.
It really is that simple.
If you take your writing seriously, so will others.
UPDATE: Ken has been good enough to come here and expand on his original statements and explain why he thinks my comments are unfair. Kudos to him for that. I have responded, and look forward to a continuing discussion. You can read the conversation in the comments. I’d ask all of you to be polite. Comments of nothing more than vitriolic nonsense will not make it past Big Joe. This is not Shocklines.