How Aspiring Pro-Writers Can Avoid Submitting To Bad Markets

*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.

28 thoughts on “How Aspiring Pro-Writers Can Avoid Submitting To Bad Markets

  1. Dathar

    Hey Brian,

    I want to say thank you for this blog… i’m at a point now were i have a couple pieces, good but not great, and i don’t quite know what to do with them. So this advice helps out, i’m hesitant of were to submit. So thanks… some of your previous blogs are responisble for kicking me in the ass and giving me a shot of confidence to try and get published… so i want to say thank you. Joining the FUKU board has been a turning point for me… i could go into further detail but this isn’t the place.

    So again Thank YOU! Seriously.


  2. Gorebeast

    Everything Dathar said above applies to me as well. I don’t even have anything to add since he summed it up so nicely.

  3. Jeff

    I’m a little unclear about the conclusion is over a professional market. Do you mean pay a professional rate or conduct itself in a professional manner (such as being aware of its limitations)?

  4. Richard Eline

    I’m a gentleman writer-an amateur in the old sense of the word.

    Getting paid would be nice, of course, money is such a sincere expression of gratitude!

    But writers have always been treated like field hands-most never get a real break. And now, with the internet, it’s so easy for scads of people to get considered and published, the value of a writer’s work has taken a power dive.

    I send my stuff to “Fantastic Horror”, they publish it, and I get quality feedback in the process-the people there are quite proficient, stories do get rejected, too.

    It’s enough for me. Of course, if I wasn’t retired with a pension I can live on, and decent bennies, it would be a much different situation.

    I get to try things I’d never be able to do in another venue, and people actually read what I write.

    But your advice is spot on for the young fictioneer, just starting out.

    If you don’t value your work, no one else will, either.

  5. Kody Boye

    Also, another good thing to point out is to RESEARCH the markets if they’re new or you’re worried about them. Another point new writers should take is this; if the publisher isn’t stating his/her name, WHO are they?… and WHY are they hiding their name?

  6. ZombiFox

    As a reader, I’ll cross this one off my list. If they can’t be bothered to attract writers that I want to read, then I can’t be bothered to read his magazine.

  7. James A. Moore

    Well said as always, Brian.

    I started a little differently: First thing I ever sold was to Marvel Comics. After that, I made sure I stuck ALMOST exclusively to paying markets, for all of the reasons you listed above.
    And I will continue dealing with markets that offer to pay me a reasonable wage for my efforts. It’s part of being a professional.

    Jim Moore

  8. Ken


    I’m a bit dismayed that my comments on Shocklines have made it to your blog. Especially since those comments are a bit out of context. Never did I say we value our artist more than our authors and it’s unfortunate that you read it that way. You word carries a lot of weight, and as such it’s very damaging. But you’re wrong about me and Shock Totem. Maybe that’ll have to be proven, but your interpretation of my words are off base. That could be my fault, due to the way I wrote them, but the fact is it’s not accurate.

    We will publish something that not only looks good but has great fiction. We are spending quite a bit of money on every aspect, not just artwork. We’re not disrespecting the authors in any manner. If you feel that not paying pro rates is disrespectful, then I have no argument against that opinion. But back to the artwork issue; I said we’re paying upwards of $1,000 for the artwork. Meaning that the artist starts there and we negotiate. He hasn’t yet done the work so the price is not set in stone. He’s basing the artwork on a story, which he is currently reading. It will cost us a good amount of money, but that is necessary.

    We’re still paying our authors, however, and we intend to pay pro rates to at least one name author. Yes, we cannot pay every author pro rates. Maybe some feel that is reason enough for us to not even start a publication, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t think our authors are worth it. That is a false inference on your part. I know countless new publications insist that the ultimate goal is to pay pro rates and it must be annoying to any author. Despite those historical false promises, it is also our intent to do so within a year of issue one coming out. You scoff, I know. But what can I do to convince you otherwise besides prove it? Unfortunately, we cannot do it now. If I had the money to do so I would. Even if I didn’t pay a dime for the artwork, I could NOT afford to pay pro rates. It’s that simple.

    I know we don’t know each other, and I understand the frustrations serious professional authors have with fly-by-night publications. They’re a joke. We all know this. But Shock Totem is not going to be such a joke, even if the likes of you imply we will be. (Not saying you did, but you definitely made some pretty bold statements.) All I can ask is that people make up their minds about Shock Totem after reading issue #1. If we fail to impress you, then by all means, tell the world that we suck. But until then, please give us the benefit of doubt. If anyone wishes to discuss our publication with me, please send me an e-mail. I am no expert here, not yet, so I am willing to accept any knowledge one wishes to part with.

    I am very open about Shock Totem and want to make it a great publication. I’m sure we will make mistakes, but for someone of Keene’s stature to announce that we will ultimately fail, eight months prior to our launch, is a powerful statement. But to that, I insist that we will not fail. This I assure you.

    Stay well,

  9. Brian

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks for responding. I’ll try to address your points one at a time.

    >I’m a bit dismayed that my comments on Shocklines have made it to your blog.>

    To be fair, I would have posted this there, where my response could have been part of the conversation and exchange of ideas. Sadly, I am unable to post at Shocklines, and every time someone posts on my behalf, the become unable to post there any longer, as well.

    >Never did I say we value our artist more than our authors and it’s unfortunate that you read it that way.>

    Ah, but you did. You’re paying the author $1,000. You’re paying the writers a penny a word, for stories up to 5,000 words (as per your guidelines, posted here: ) So, the very maximum you’ll pay an author is $50.

    You’ll pay the artist $1,000.
    You’ll pay the writer a maximum of $50.

    Clearly, you value the work of the artist much more than you do the work of the authors. You repeat this assertion later in the thread, when Nate Southard challenges you on this very thing. Your response was, quote: “Shock Totem is a publication of fiction, of course, but the face of it all is arguably more important when trying to get people interested. People judge books by their covers. It’s a simple truth. If you’re trying to imply that the money spent on artwork could be spent on paying pro rates, there is some truth to that.” End quote

    >You word carries a lot of weight, and as such it’s very damaging.>

    I think you give me far too much credit. I stated my opinion. There are far more people who will disagree with my opinion than agree with it. Trust me on this.

    >But you’re wrong about me and Shock Totem. Maybe that’ll have to be proven,>

    Well, if I’m wrong, then I’ll happily admit it. But, as you say, that will have to remain to be seen, right? Believe me, nobody would like to see you make a go of it more than me. The genre can always use another pro outlet for short fiction.

    But based on your statements, and based on the business model that you’ve shared with the public via message board posts and your website and Blog, all I see is a guy whose heart is in the right place, making the same exact mistakes that a hundred other people have made before him.

    And that’s a shame. It’s a shame for you. it’s a shame for your potential customers. And it’s a shame for writers for whom your publication might be their first publishing credit.

    >but your interpretation of my words are off base. That could be my fault, due to the way I wrote them, but the fact is it’s not accurate.>

    Well, all we, the public, have to go on are your words. Now I’m sorry if you feel that we are misreading them because of the way you wrote them, but we can’t be held responsible for that. And since communication is such an important part of both writing and publishing, perhaps it’s something that you should should step back for a moment and consider. If a large number of people are misconstruing what you said, then perhaps the miscommunication doesn’t lie with the masses, but with the messenger.

    >We are spending quite a bit of money on every aspect, not just artwork. We’re not disrespecting the authors in any manner.>

    I’m really not trying to shit on you here, Ken. Honestly, I’m not. But how can you NOT see the fallacy in that statement?

    Let me put it in another context:

    Let’s say you manage a rock band. And let’s say the band goes out on tour. And you spend a bazillion dollars on pyrotechnics and a stage set that would make Iron Maiden drool with envy. And you pay the roadies union wages. And you pay the concert promoters handsomely. And you pay the kids managing the merchandise booths and the bus drivers and the animal trainers and the guitar techs and the lawyers and everyone else. But then you tell the band — the guys that everyone paid their money to see — that you can’t pay them as much as you’re paying the kids running the merchandise stand. Would the band not be justified in calling bullshit on that?

    >I said we’re paying upwards of $1,000 for the artwork. Meaning that the artist starts there and we negotiate.>

    Great! Why not do the same thing with your writers?

    >Yes, we cannot pay every author pro rates.>

    Then I would humbly suggest you reexamine your three-year business plan. You’ve stated elsewhere that you hope to have a presence at cons. That costs money. You’re investing in artwork. That costs money. You’re investing in marketing and advertising and print costs and distribution and all sorts of other things that cost money.

    >Maybe some feel that is reason enough for us to not even start a publication>

    No one has said that, including me. My points here were as follows:

    1. Based on a plethora of historical data, your start-up venture will probably not succeed, because you are repeating the same mistakes that were made by countless others. To avoid those mistakes, I’d suggest reevaluating your overall structure and perhaps contacting some folks like Richard Chizmar or Bill Schaffer and asking for their input.

    2. That if you’re paying amateur rates, then you’re an amateur market. And there is no shame in being an amateur market. But writers who may be potentially submitting to you need to have reasonable expectations.

    >Even if I didn’t pay a dime for the artwork, I could NOT afford to pay pro rates. It’s that simple.>

    But you just said you’ll be paying one author each issue pro rates? So which is it? And whatever the case may be—whether it’s an amateur market paying less than pro rates (which again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with) or a magazine paying the artist and one author pro-rates and everyone else less than pro rates — your contributors have a right to know that. And until now, to the best of my knowledge, they haven’t. Authors need to be able to make an informed decision on whether or not to submit to a specific market. It’s your responsibility to be forthright and put that information out there.

    Again, I’m not bashing all 4 the luv zines. I’m not bashing all amateur zines. I am a big fan os Shroud Magazine, which, to the best of my knowledge, has a negotiable pay scale based upon the writer. I understand that financially, that’s how they have to operate. But you don’t see Tim Deal puffing his chest out and calling the writers who choose not to submit to his magazine “arrogant”.

    You did. Maybe it wasn’t what you actually meant. Maybe we’re all misconstruing your intent again, but that’s how it came off. To me. And to a whole bunch of other people, as well (some of whom you’ve heard from and some of whom you won’t).

    There’s nothing arrogant about feeding your family and making the mortgage payment. Although I won’t get into specifics, I managed a little over $58,000 last year. No, that’s not a lot of money, but for the area we live in, I can feed my family on it and we have a comfortable and safe roof over our heads. And I do that by insisting that I get paid for my work. That’s not arrogance, Ken, anymore than it would be arrogance if I expected the foundry or the loading docks to give me my check at the end of the week when I held those occupations for a living instead.

    Apex Digest asked me for a story before they were paying pro-rates. I told them no. When they started paying pro rates, I sold them a story. Jason at Apex has my utmost respect and I like him very much, as both an editor and as a peer (and he’s fun to drink with at cons). But Jason didn’t get all bent out of shape when I asked for pro-rates, nor did he call me arrogant. Jason knows that this is a professional business, and he conducted himself in such a manner.

    What he didn’t do was go to Shocklines and say, “You know, that fucking Keene is an arrogant fuck. He has animosity towards all 4 the luv publications because we can’t pay him what he needs.” (Now, to be fair, your comments weren’t quite that extreme, but can you see an echo of the sentiment in there, and understand why a number of pros would take offense at that?)

    >All I can ask is that people make up their minds about Shock Totem after reading issue #1. If we fail to impress you, then by all means, tell the world that we suck. But until then, please give us the benefit of doubt.

    Well, I sincerely wish you luck. And I mean that. If it turns out that I’m wrong, come back here and call me on it and I’ll be the first one to admit it.

    Best wishes,


  10. Brian

    One other note, Ken — as I said in the initial post, your statements were simply a current example of an ongoing issue. You are not the only person to have made them (as noted above). But your’s are an immediate example that I can point to in order to illustrate my assertion. It has nothing to do with you as a person or human being or fan. We are only examining markets that help a writer develop versus markets that don’t.

  11. Jamie Eyberg

    I am a writer, thus far an amateur writer. I would like to work my way up to a professional writer but I know my writing is not quite there, yet. I am willing to take chances on people who have a respect for the writing, even if they cannot afford to pay me for it.

    I understand that, at this point in the game, some (if not most) of my stuff isn’t worth paying a lot for anyway. I am working on changing that with every word I choose. I am also doing more editing and choosing the professional markets over the easier ones. I have found them to be more rewarding, even in their rejections.

  12. Brian

    Jamie—that’s perfectly commendable. I was there once too, and I remember it well.

    It occurs to me that maybe I should write a few essays dealing with when and where to submit, and how to set goals when you do. Would you guys find that helpful? If so, let me know.

  13. Ken

    You’re right, Brian. Put in that context, much of my words contradict.

    Part of the reason I am on these forums speaking openly about Shock Totem is because I don’t want to make the same mistakes others have. It’s why I’m launching the publication in July of 2009. I started this process earlier this year, and the reason I’m taking so long is because I want to do it right. My goal is to be a professional publication, and if I have to take my lumps and say I was wrong about some things along the way, I will do so.

    One thing I have to discuss is the arrogant statement. My comments were not directed at any author that does not want to submit to pro paying markets. My statement was defending against the notion that all non-pro paying markets are worthless. That’s it. I do feel that a comment like that is arrogant. As you pointed out with Apex, they’re an an outstanding publication, one that only recently began paying the pro rate. What other people were suggesting, what I was against, is that Apex was not respectable before paying pro rates. I constantly reiterated one thing: if you don’t want to submit to non-pro paying publications, then simply don’t. But don’t shit on them for that reason alone. That was it. There is no arrogance in wanting to make a decent amount of money for your work, but it is arrogant to suggest any publication not paying a pro rate is worthless. I stand by that opinion.

    We will reevaluate things. I see where we may have been going astray. I don’t agree with everything you’ve suggested here, but I do see how my own words can appear misleading (which is why I disagree). That was not the intent. We are a work in progress, and I’ve never made secret of this. I think if nothing changed between now and July, we’d still have a great product, but I would hate for that to be at the expense of those authors we’re trying to support. So I take your words with respect, and we’ll push to get the wheels back on the track.


  14. Mike Brendan

    Even though I’m in a different genre, I’d find such advice helpful. So would a bunch of colleagues that gather in SW to roll up their sleeves and learn about the business.

  15. Brian

    Not a problem, Ken. I’m glad we could have a discussion. I’m always happy to discuss things, and don’t mind being proven wrong. And again, I want to stress — I’m not saying don’t submit. All I’m saying is that authors who are serious about reaching a professional level with their fiction and earning a living from it, need to consider the markets they submit to. That’s all.

  16. dathar

    I’d like to know the where and when to submit brian… I’m still figuring this out… all advice is useful. Thanks.

  17. Chris Ringler

    I was lead here by the SHOCKLINES thread (a board I do like, but which can get a bit, er, passionate, as all boards can) and it’s been interesting reading the back and forth.
    It is better to read your words, Mr. Keene (we don’t know one another and I won’t address people casually unless I know them) here, within context and healthier for the subject to have the open discussion. I know for me, to varying degrees, I submit to places that seem interested in the sort of work I write. There are precious few markets for dark fiction of any variety so it’s hard to know where to ship work off to. The hell of it for me is I have never gotten any comments other than – thanks for the submission, just not for us, good luck – or any of a number of variations. All I want, as a writer, is to find an audience and get the chance to not have to publish my own stuff. Everything else is just gravy in the boat.
    And for what it is worth, I think that advice would be pretty great, because you have been there, and can, if nothing else, give anecdotal stories that, if they aid one writer, will be valuable beyond words.
    ~ Chris Arrrr

  18. efrobert

    Brian, I would love to read what you have to say about submitting to the various markets, as well as setting goals. I’m still at the point where seeing my work in print is a novelty. I’m sure that novelty wears off quickly when you’re writing to pay the bills though.


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