In Summary: The Value of Short Fiction

20 12 2009

As you might have guessed by my recent string of polls on LiveJournal, I have been contemplating the value of short fiction in response to John Scalzi’s blog post about Black Matrix Publishing (http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/12/01/in-the-spirit-of-the-pulps-and-paying-even-less/) and the resulting “Rate Fail” argument (hopefully the last great “Fail” discussion of 2009 — a year chock full of “Fail”). I had an outline for this article, one I was thinking about writing up and submitting to some market or another, but during my research I came across this post on a post on Jeff VanderMeer’s blog. It says everything I wanted to say: http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2009/12/15/professional-rates/#comment-28410. Thanks, Mr. Vandermeer! That saves me a little bit of time and effort that I can now spend working on my current work-in-progress (oh, the acid western novel is moving along nicely, it’s around 20,000 words right now, thanks for asking).

While I won’t write the full article today, I will give you a brief run down and analysis of the results of my polls (http://southernweirdo.livejournal.com/tag/polls):

Poll #1: How much is a Short Story Worth?

Surprise, surprise. Most people would like to be paid for their work. Who’da thunk it? Most of the writers in a similar place to me (numerous small press sales, often a handful of professional sales) expect a penny per word and up (80% of responders). There were a couple of writers who would only take pro rates, notably Scalzi himself who noted he required $.07 per word and up. Nothing too unexpected, and hey, if I were in Scalzi’s shoes with his level of name recognition, I’d only take pro rates as well. However, I do feel that there are some great semi-professional markets out there (notably Shimmer, Weird Tales, and quite a few others including several podcast zines) that get enough exposure to make them more desirable in some ways than the professional markets. Besides, the smaller presses are often the best markets for less mainstream stories or stories by unknown (or barely known) authors.

Poll #2: How much do you pay for short fiction?

The majority of responders are writers, of course, so this skewers the results somewhat. A little under 40% purchase 3 or more subscriptions a year. This was tied up with the percentage of responders who buy occasional zines here or there from a magazine rack. The other 20% or so pay nothing or will donate every now and then if they have the spare cash. So, on the bright side, most writers do take steps to support short fiction markets. On the downside, there’s 20% or so who only donate on occasion or do not pay anything at all.

Poll #3: Honestly, do you know any readers who purchase short fiction magazines and/or donate to fiction websites who do not write short stories themselves?

This poll made me a little more hopeful, because honestly I expected a different answer from most writers. Maybe this is because of my geographic location, circle of friends, or family, but I honestly do not know that many people who read short fiction (with two excpetions: those who read an occasional “Best of” anthology or those who are buying something simply because I’m in the table of contents) that do not write themselves. It appears, based on this admittedly limited poll data, that there actually are more readers than writers out there in the short fiction field, and this is very encouraging.

So, in summary: Writers want to get paid for writing, most writers support their favorite zines, and there actually are readers who do not write themselves. This is groundbreaking stuff, I know. You’re welcome 😉

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