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Author Topic: Standard Noob Writer Questions  (Read 4193 times)
thebroken
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« on: March 05, 2015, 12:30:09 AM »

Hi,

I'm sure this has all been asked before, but this time the question is mine, and I haven't seen anything which exactly tells me what I would like to know.

I'm a fan of fiction, including science fiction, and I'm an Escape Pod listener. I have two half-written stories which I have started putting together for my own enjoyment. I'm finding it a hard slog with no feedback along the way for if I'm actually likely to catch anyone's interest. I don't really know if I need to sharpen up, get serious, and make a plan to finish these, or if I should just keeping on a-writing, you know, from the heart.

Question One: What do other authors do when mid-stream? Do they form writing groups, or post blog posts with chapter outlines, or write tangent short stories in the same universe to gauge interest? Do people write stories as mini-series posts, or just sit down and Write The Damn Book?

I haven't really go a clue what today's publishing model is, and whether trying to make money out of writing is a waste of time or not. There's always the option of just posting content to a blog, or a forum, or whatever without charging anything at all. It looks like there are still indy publishers, and more traditional publishers, and magazines, and podcasts who all might pay directly (up-front or royalty) for content. On the other hand, there's the option of just creating a blog for the story, revealing the content over time, and making any money from ads and deals.

Question Two: WTF? I don't understand ANYTHING about actually publishing things. Everything I've ever read on the topic just leads me to more questions like "Yeah. So what does that actually mean for what I should do about it?"

I think I have two interesting stories. I think I have okay to good characters, and good plot. Does that mean anything these days? I'm not really interested in trying to quit my day job, or driving hype through extensive online engagement models (although I'm not actually against talking to people). I just want to share my ideas in some kind of story form through some kind of appropriate channel where it will actually get put in front of eyeballs.

My coherent thoughts end there. Responses of all kinds appreciated.

p.s. Hi! I'm new! Nice to meet you all...


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Varda
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« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2015, 06:31:34 PM »

Hiya, TheBroken, and welcome to the forums! Smiley

I'm a writer. There is soooooo much to explain re: new writer stuff. One of the best, most accurate, and most concise resources I'd recommend is the resource center of SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which is the major trade association for SFF authors). Pay special attention to the first three links, since those'll contain loads of info for people just dipping in a toe to the world of pro writing for fun and profit. Smiley

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Question One: What do other authors do when mid-stream? Do they form writing groups, or post blog posts with chapter outlines, or write tangent short stories in the same universe to gauge interest? Do people write stories as mini-series posts, or just sit down and Write The Damn Book?

Write LOTS, and be prepared for it largely to be terrible, and perhaps unsalvageable at first. It's like learning to play the saxophone--you have to go get through those hours and weeks of squawking before it starts to sound like jazz to everyone else. Thanks to my forays into NaNoWriMo, I trunked hundreds of thousands of words before I sold my first story. But those were my Rocky training montage, so I don't regret it at all. Smiley And yes, it's helpful to find someone to read your stuff, preferably someone who's willing to give you blunt, honest, helpful feedback. Also: practice the art of receiving honest feedback and learning to use it, because that can be really difficult at first. Treat your crit buddies well, because they're offering you a gift.

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I haven't really go a clue what today's publishing model is, and whether trying to make money out of writing is a waste of time or not. There's always the option of just posting content to a blog, or a forum, or whatever without charging anything at all. It looks like there are still indy publishers, and more traditional publishers, and magazines, and podcasts who all might pay directly (up-front or royalty) for content. On the other hand, there's the option of just creating a blog for the story, revealing the content over time, and making any money from ads and deals.

Pro SFF writing does pay. The rule of thumb is Yog's Law: money flows *toward* the author. Even complete beginners should expect to get paid for their work. I advise avoiding nonpaying zines and markets until you've worked your way through everyone else who pays first.

Also, there's a difference between "copyright" and "First Rights". Copyright is the thing that means your story is your intellectual property. But zines actually pay you to license your story under a series of different types of rights. The most valuable is "First Rights", which is the right to be the first place in the world your story appears. Once First Rights have been exercised, you don't get them back, and from that point forward, you can only sell Reprint Rights (which still pay, but a lot less). So here's the thing: if you publish your story on your own blog, that constitutes exercising First Rights. Even if you take the story down again, the very fact it appeared there means you can no longer sell First Rights. So if you go the blog option, just keep that in mind.

Now for short stories, "pro rate" pay is considered $.06/word for First Rights. A few markets pay more, but are therefore more competitive. A lot of markets pay less, and are of various qualities (some are excellent, and some I personally wouldn't do business with). If you think you can make more in self-publishing or ad revenue, then it might be worth losing First Rights to pub on your blog (or wherever). I don't have any experience with that, since all my sales have come through traditional routes.

As for whether this is profitable, refer back to $.06/word. Even if you have a great year, you're probably looking at a couple thousand dollars pre-tax, which isn't a lot considering the effort. I do it mainly for the fun and the love, although the pocket change is certainly nice. I hear novel-writing is a bit more lucrative, but I'm not a novelist, so I can't speak to that.

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Question Two: WTF? I don't understand ANYTHING about actually publishing things. Everything I've ever read on the topic just leads me to more questions like "Yeah. So what does that actually mean for what I should do about it?"

For short stories, do this:

1. Write the story.
2. Get people to critique it.
3. Revise it until you've polished it to a bright glow.
3b. Put your finished manuscript into Standard Manuscript Format.
4. Open a free account with the Submissions Grinder, and use it to match your story to markets based on genre and length.
5. Submit from "top to bottom" - start with pro-paying markets, then semipro, then token. (For the most part, you'll submit to one market at a time, and wait until you get a response before moving to the next one.)
5b. Make sure your cover letter is bland and to the point - this is a great model to use. And yes, it really, REALLY should be that bland. A lot of newbies worry about not having publication credentials to list in their cover letters, but I can tell you as someone who's on the other side of the table, we really don't mind or hold it against you. Brief is the way to go.
6. While you're waiting to hear back, start writing your next story.
7. When you get a rejection (emphasis on the "when"--even if you're Tim Pratt or Ken Liu, you will get A LOT of rejections), go to the next market on your list and resubmit your story.
8. Keep writing in the meantime, revising, and adding them to your submission queue.
9. Persevere. It's really common for it to take a few years from the time you start writing and subbing in earnest, and when your first sale happens.
10. When you get your first acceptance, loudly brag about it to anyone who will listen, because it's the best feeling in the world. Smiley
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thebroken
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« Reply #2 on: March 11, 2015, 04:51:21 PM »

Hi! Thanks for the *awesome* response! Pure gold.

I would have replied earlier, but I was expecting a notification of replies via email, so I didn't think anyone had replied to my post. I just checked the forum manually, and voila!

I will write a "real" reply later, but I just wanted to say thanks before any more time had elapsed.

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thebroken
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« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2015, 05:36:54 AM »

Hiya, TheBroken, and welcome to the forums! Smiley

I'm a writer. There is soooooo much to explain re: new writer stuff. One of the best, most accurate, and most concise resources I'd recommend is the resource center of SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which is the major trade association for SFF authors). Pay special attention to the first three links, since those'll contain loads of info for people just dipping in a toe to the world of pro writing for fun and profit. Smiley

Thanks very much. I will read through that as time permits, while balancing against actually writing.

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Pro SFF writing does pay. The rule of thumb is Yog's Law: money flows *toward* the author. Even complete beginners should expect to get paid for their work. I advise avoiding nonpaying zines and markets until you've worked your way through everyone else who pays first.

That's very interesting. I'm not especially motivated by money (I have a job) although obviously it would be nice. However, I would gravitate towards trying to get published somewhere "serious" that has some integrity. It's nice to hear that it's at least conceivable I could aim for publication somewhere that will pay.

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Also, there's a difference between "copyright" and "First Rights". Copyright is the thing that means your story is your intellectual property. But zines actually pay you to license your story under a series of different types of rights. The most valuable is "First Rights", which is the right to be the first place in the world your story appears. Once First Rights have been exercised, you don't get them back, and from that point forward, you can only sell Reprint Rights (which still pay, but a lot less).

Makes sense. Is there scope for sharing the work with a crit group and still retaining first rights? Is there any particular trick to not accidentally crossing the line?

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As for whether this is profitable, refer back to $.06/word. Even if you have a great year, you're probably looking at a couple thousand dollars pre-tax, which isn't a lot considering the effort. I do it mainly for the fun and the love, although the pocket change is certainly nice. I hear novel-writing is a bit more lucrative, but I'm not a novelist, so I can't speak to that.

I'm not looking to quit my day job, and for me anything greater than zero would be good. I believe that the way to quality is through quantity, so I'm happy with the concept that the first n attempts will involve a lot of back-and-forward and not so much wild success. I'd like to make my first efforts at least have something interesting, differentiated and of real value to the reader however.

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For short stories, do this:
[/quote/

I have things which I think want to be longer than short stories. I am happy to try to write short stories for the exercise, or to break up a larger work into a serial of short stories. I don't think I'll know for sure how long the work wants to be until it's written. I think at the moment what I need is a crit group?

I really, really appreciate your post. It was incredibly logical and well laid-out, and it really gave me a good framework for understanding the process. Thank you.
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SpareInch
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« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2015, 09:50:29 AM »

First off, I hope you're getting forum notifications now. They seemed to stop for a couple of days there. If not, wiggle the notification settings on your account. Failing that, you'll need to hunt out the IT bod.

Anyway...

I wouldn't stress about publishing until you have something to publish. As for sharing without losing first pub rights, if you share on a password protected forum, such as the crit group here, then only your crit buddies can see it, so it ISN'T publication. Your First Pub rights should be fine, just as if you'd let your friends read it off your iPad in the pub.

And good luck Smiley
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Aaronvlek
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« Reply #5 on: April 07, 2015, 11:00:45 PM »

An interesting thread for that new writer would be some sort of listing of what others have found in the below-pro paying market that are still respected and it's worth it to be included in their magazines or collections. The ease with which just about anybody can throw a website together these days can be confusing for those new to submission. Is The Vlekinator ( for example) a great magazine with serious readers and a large fan base? Or is it a week old, run out of her bedroom at the folks' house and have a readership of five?
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SpareInch
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« Reply #6 on: April 09, 2015, 04:25:22 AM »

Actually, there is a thread a little bit like that in the Crit Group.
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« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2015, 11:25:53 PM »

Resources like The Submissions Grinder (http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/) and Duotrope (https://duotrope.com/) may help answer questions about markets as well.
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« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2015, 08:45:21 AM »

Pro SFF writing does pay. The rule of thumb is Yog's Law: money flows *toward* the author. Even complete beginners should expect to get paid for their work. I advise avoiding nonpaying zines and markets until you've worked your way through everyone else who pays first.

Personally I just avoid non-paying markets altogether unless they are bringing something to the table.  I might submit to a non-paying anthology that gives its profits to charity.  Or I might submit to a non-paying but non-profit radio station that broadcasts the story because that's just cool.  Even then I'd probably never do it for a story's first publication because then I'd be burning the valuable First Publication Rights that are my most valuable asset.

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If you think you can make more in self-publishing or ad revenue, then it might be worth losing First Rights to pub on your blog (or wherever). I don't have any experience with that, since all my sales have come through traditional routes.

Making money in ad revenue is very unlikely for a beginner, because you can't demonstrate your traffic levels and ads that require clickthroughs to be paid have such low yield as to be pretty much useless.  If you want to selfpub, I'd recommend producing ebooks or collecitons and selling them through venues like Amazon.  You might also consider using something like Patreon and posting to your blog.  But any of these things require traffic, and that's not a trivial thing to generate.

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As for whether this is profitable, refer back to $.06/word. Even if you have a great year, you're probably looking at a couple thousand dollars pre-tax, which isn't a lot considering the effort. I do it mainly for the fun and the love, although the pocket change is certainly nice. I hear novel-writing is a bit more lucrative, but I'm not a novelist, so I can't speak to that.

If you want to quit your day job to be a writer, becoming a successful novelist is probably the way, but it only works, again, if you have an audience paying for it.    If you can sell a book to a major publishign house, that goes a long way toward getting your audience because readers will trust the publishing house's decisions based on their past decisions, but selling to publishing houses is incredibly hard--many of them require agents, for starters, and to get an agent is another major obstacle. 

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3. Revise it until you've polished it to a bright glow.

Keep in mind that you do have to define this stopping point.  It's easy, especially as a beginning, to rearrange, redo a scene, shuffle things around a little bit, and keep revising to the end of forever,  and revise the heart and soul out of the story.  At some point you have to decide to stop.

Personally, the way that I learned the best to write was not writing itself (though that's a vital step), it was in critically evaluating other people's work.  If you join a critique forum, early on you gain more by critiquing other people's work, and then you need to learn to use the same kind of critical eye on your own work (after you've written it, using the critical eye while writing it initially can be paralyzing).  Consider writing up critiques of published works just to get a real sense of what you value and don't value.  Consider doing a slushreading stint.


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9. Persevere. It's really common for it to take a few years from the time you start writing and subbing in earnest, and when your first sale happens.

Can't emphasize this enough.   I was submitting for a year and a half before my first sale after I started submitting, which took 125 rejections to get to.  I've now been submitting for almost 7 years, and I've written 1 novel, 76 short stories, and 1 poem, gathered just shy of 1700 rejections and 63 acceptances of 32 stories.

It's to your advantage to develop a thick skin to rejections.  They're not personal.  Editors don't love shooting down your hopes and dreams, they are just people trying to make tough decisions to serve in their role as arbiter of taste. One editor's taste does not equate with another editor's taste so if you get a rejection it doesn't mean the story is bad. 

I find it helps to develop a thick skin if i just try to keep as many stories in submission at once as possible.  When you have only one submission, it hurts horribly bad when it gets rejected.  If you have 30 submissions out (as I usually do), a rejection is just a drop in the bucket, just a routine thing with a pre-set reaction--send the story to a different market and send a different story that market, and then move on with the day.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2015, 08:49:24 AM »

Resources like The Submissions Grinder (http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/) and Duotrope (https://duotrope.com/) may help answer questions about markets as well.

Certain questions, at least.  Maybe not that particular question because "respect" is not a thing that is easily quantifiable.
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« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2015, 09:00:12 AM »

That's very interesting. I'm not especially motivated by money (I have a job) although obviously it would be nice. However, I would gravitate towards trying to get published somewhere "serious" that has some integrity. It's nice to hear that it's at least conceivable I could aim for publication somewhere that will pay.

I'm not looking to quit my day job, and for me anything greater than zero would be good. I believe that the way to quality is through quantity, so I'm happy with the concept that the first n attempts will involve a lot of back-and-forward and not so much wild success. I'd like to make my first efforts at least have something interesting, differentiated and of real value to the reader however.


I'm not looking to quit my day job either, and even "pro" rates are laughably low.  I don't say that to mock the editors or magazines--I run one myself and I pay 6 cents/word.  I say that because you'd have to sell a helluva lot of stories very consistently at that rate to be able to make a living.  It's also very hard to make money as a publisher of short stories, so from that point of view 6 cents/word is very generous rate.

To me the point of the money isn't about quitting the day job.  It's about value.  You are trying to provide something of value in your stories, and so if an editor wants to publish those stories, they should offer you something of value in return.  If an editor claims that they are offering you "exposure" as value, just walk away, unless they're a venue that you truly believe can provide some level of exposure worth more than money (I've submitted to non-paying NPR contests for instance because NPR's listenership is huge).  In this Internet age you can get exposure easily enough by posting wherever you please.  If an editor pays you money, that means that they consider your story to be worth it, and it is that valuation that is the most important, to me. 

Also, if I can make some money on the side, the thing I'm most excited about with the money is to show the transaction to my wife, maybe take her out to dinner (probably at Taco Bell, with most of the writing paychecks I've gotten).  Bottom line, I write because I love to write, I love SF fandom and writing for publication is a way to interact with fandom, and being able to show money to my family as some result of my labor helps justify the time I spend on it.

And the amount of money, again, is relevant to valuation, as well as audience gathering.  If an editor pays more, they'll get more submissions, and so your story has to be better to pass that threshold--if you can pass that threshold, then that is a major accomplishment.  And, of course, the higher the pay rate, the more chance it will pay enough to actually provide some tangible value--I've gotten a few writing paychecks that were enough to equal a car payment or some other bill, and so that has a real value to the household (as opposed to the Taco Bell level paychecks)
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« Reply #11 on: April 29, 2015, 11:47:06 AM »

Quote
An interesting thread for that new writer would be some sort of listing of what others have found in the below-pro paying market that are still respected and it's worth it to be included in their magazines or collections.

The problem is that "worth it" is so subjective. It's different for everyone. Some people honestly feel no market below-pro paying is worth it.

Every Day Fiction is a good example. They pay I think $3 (and encourage you to donate it back to them!), so some people don't want to submit because of that. However, my stories there have gotten a lot of traffic and a lot of comments. I know "normies" (i.e. people who don't normally read spec fic) who do read EDF. I know people who have gotten contacted by text books to use a story they saw in EDF. So for me, EDF is "worth it", despite the token pay. However, it's hard to make that judgement call for someone else.

Pro-rates are not the end all, be all either. Some people refuse to submit to markets based on politics, or editor behavior, or because their website looks crappy, or because they don't have a proven track record, despite the rate.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of noob questions that can only be answered by experience, and I think this is one of them. Only by hanging around for years do you come to find out the "reputation" of various markets, and whether or not you personally would want to be published there.
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« Reply #12 on: April 29, 2015, 11:48:43 AM »

I should add, though, that pay-rate is a reasonable stand-in for market reputation until you know better. It's not perfect, but if you have nothing else to go on, it's not the worst indicator you could find.
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« Reply #13 on: April 29, 2015, 12:23:55 PM »

I should add, though, that pay-rate is a reasonable stand-in for market reputation until you know better. It's not perfect, but if you have nothing else to go on, it's not the worst indicator you could find.

And at the end of the day, at least you've gotten something out of the transaction (as long as they follow through with their end).

When brand new unproven paying markets show up I tend to send them submissions the moment I hear of them, in the hope that they will buy my story before they know better.  Sometimes this has panned out.  Sometimes the market collapses in a flash before they've published or after they've published just one or two issues.  I had a story in the one and only issue of Specutopia, for instance--they did pay me and it did get published, then they went dead, and eventually the website stopped working entirely.
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escapeartist
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« Reply #14 on: February 27, 2016, 08:31:15 AM »

This is useful stuff for us noobs!

I'm just wondering, what if my fiction isn't good enough to be accepted by the paying places, but it's good enough to be accepted by the non-paying ones listed on duotrope as having a 10% or 15% acceptance rate. Is it worth publishing there, or should I just not publish my stuff at all?
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Not-a-Robot
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« Reply #15 on: February 27, 2016, 10:31:11 AM »

This is useful stuff for us noobs!

I'm just wondering, what if my fiction isn't good enough to be accepted by the paying places, but it's good enough to be accepted by the non-paying ones listed on duotrope as having a 10% or 15% acceptance rate. Is it worth publishing there, or should I just not publish my stuff at all?

How do you know that it's not good enough to be accepted by paying places?  I say send it in to places where you think it fit well based on subject matter, genre, plot/character driven writing and see if it is acceptable.  Non paying and low paying places aren't necessarily bad markets.  What I do is read some stories first.  Some places have obvious typos or stories that make me cringe (I've also seen paying markets whosr stories make me cring), so I don't send my stories there.  I sent some photos to a nonpaying market (Buffalo Almanak) because I liked the photography there and though my pics fit well (they also have good stories).  Ping, I got my first acceptance.  I'm proud of it. The magazine layout it visually top and the editors were helpful and friendly.  They even let me write a little blurb about the pictures too.  So, hey, I got to publish my writing too.  Bonus.

You can also join a crit group (we have one here) if you are under confident about your writing/stories, and members can help you and discuss your in private.
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SpareInch
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« Reply #16 on: February 27, 2016, 10:51:20 AM »

This is useful stuff for us noobs!

I'm just wondering, what if my fiction isn't good enough to be accepted by the paying places, but it's good enough to be accepted by the non-paying ones listed on duotrope as having a 10% or 15% acceptance rate. Is it worth publishing there, or should I just not publish my stuff at all?

How do you know that it's not good enough to be accepted by paying places?  I saw send it in to places where you think it fit well based on subject matter, genre, plot/character driven writing and see if it is acceptable.  Non paying and low paying places aren't necessarily bad markets.  What I do is read some stories first.  Some places have obvious typos or stories that make me cringe, so I don't send my stories there.  I send some photos to a nonpaying market (Buffalo Almanak) because I liked the photography there and though my pics fit well (they also have good stories).  Ping, I got my first acceptance.  I'm proud of it.

You can also join a crit group (we have one here) if you are under confident about your writing/stories, and members can help you and discuss your in private.

I'll agree with that. Don't reject your own work. That's why they have editors and slush readers. It's kind of a trade union job demarkation thing. Wink

My basic advice would be to try the pro paying markets that don't accept reprints first, to preserve as many reprint markets as possible in the event of a sale, then the pro markets that do take reprints, then the semi-pro, nominal paying, and non paying markets. In each case, apply first to the places you think your story would best fit and that you think are the shiniest, for whatever reason, and if there is anywhere that is an obvious no-no, because of style, subject matter, explicit content, or you just don't like the market, then of course, just don't submit there.

Not-a-Robot has a very good point about non paying markets often having high quality standards. Remember, Starship Sofa became the first podcast ever to win a Hugo without ever paying for a story.

And remember that if an author needs 50 stories, and has 500 in the slush pile, they will buy 10%, but if the pile is 5,000, they will only buy 1%. That doesn't preclude the possibility that the extra 4,500 stories in the slush pile might all be worse than anything you have to offer.
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« Reply #17 on: February 27, 2016, 11:28:26 AM »

This is useful stuff for us noobs!

I'm just wondering, what if my fiction isn't good enough to be accepted by the paying places, but it's good enough to be accepted by the non-paying ones listed on duotrope as having a 10% or 15% acceptance rate. Is it worth publishing there, or should I just not publish my stuff at all?

There are a couple ways to approach this question, and the answer that's right for you will depend on your personal short-term and long-term goals. If your goal is to eventually have a full-blown pro-level writing career, I'll make the bold statement that when you level up enough to get to that point, you might actually *not* want to have your pre-level-up work published online. I'm thinking about some stories in my trunk that got roundly rejected by a bunch of pro and semipro magazines, and how grateful I am now that those don't have to be attached to my name for as long as the internet exists. Editors act as gatekeepers and filters. A really great editor can suss out the line between "great", "good", and "not there yet". A great editor knows her genre and her audience. Anyone can open a non-paying zine, slap up a website, and take submissions by email, but not just anyone can do this in a way that attracts actual readers. That's why pay is a really great basic gatekeeping mechanism for *editors* and *zines*. By putting up money, they are staking something tangible on the health and success of their zine, and by extension, the way they handle you and your story. They have something to lose, and therefore they have something to gain by putting together the best damn zine they can.

There are of course a handful of notable exceptions, and a few nonpaying zines have great reputations. But for me at least, a great zine neglecting to pay authors doesn't get that counted as a mark in their favor, but rather a big mark against their reputation. If you're that good, WHY aren't you paying your authors even a token payment? A free t-shirt? A coupon to McDonald's? My hope is the nonpaying zines that succeed will use their success to begin paying authors, even if they didn't in the past. That would be a mark of fairness and good faith toward the people who actually provide your content, because otherwise it's a bit predatory, like continuing to live for free in your retired fixed-income parents' basement when you're now a lawyer making 6 figures. (See also: that dude at HuffPo who BRAGGED about how they don't pay their writers recently).

So my question for anyone considering the nonpaying markets is: what's your goal? If your goal is to get published somewhere other than your own website, then by all means knock yourselves out. If you like the zine's layout and presentation, or if you like its mission (for example, a charity's magazine), then go for it! But if your goal is to have a writing career in a long-term sense, if you're looking to earn money or get reviewed or find a huge audience or get critical acclaim, then submit from top to bottom. Be patient. You might surprise yourself and make some money! And if one particular story can't sell at any of the hundreds of paying markets out there, take that as a consensus vote from the gatekeepers who really know their stuff that maybe that piece needs some more consideration and polish before it's ready, and start the process over again with another piece. It takes time and patience and dedication to level up, and this is just part of the process.
« Last Edit: February 27, 2016, 11:33:18 AM by Varda » Logged

Medical Microfiction: Stories About Science
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