Tuesday, April 29, 2014

WRITE FOR EXPOSURE! (I'll expose you to my back as I walk away.)

I've been reading submission guidelines for short stories and thought I'd just make up one of my own here for your entertainment. It is a mash-up of all the guidelines I keep seeing. "Flash fiction length to novel length. We don't pay. We crowdfund/give you a copy/make you famous/think you should be happy we even read you. We only want the best. The best of the best. It better be the goddamned Best or don't even bother sending it, okay? If you don't write as well as today's bestselling authors, don't bother. I'm serious now. You better be writing at the top of the heap because we don't play. We will keep all your rights for a year. Or five. We're thinking that part over yet. We expect you to have your manuscript professionally edited and ready to go. If we have to actually edit it, we may have to break your legs. If you go one word over the suggested length, your mother may get a knock on her door late at night. If you think you've got what it takes, take your best shot. Oh, and we don't pay. Or maybe we'll pay you to take out the trash from the office. We might pay for that."

 I suppose there's a need for all kinds of markets, but goodness, some of these aren't for the serious writer. I don't know who they're for, but not the serious writer. Harlan Ellison, of course, said it first and best, "Fuck you, pay me." Also, don't expect to keep the author's rights on a short story for an inordinate amount of time. Because you don't need it and you certainly aren't paying enough for it and we don't have to give it to you. That is the truth you need to see.

I don't want to go around browbeating publications, but I see so much of this kind of thing that it's gotten under my skin. Like a virus or a bug or a worm that's five feet long. It's like saying, "We don't really respect you or the writing you do. We want to see it and judge it and if we like it, we can take it for nothing, meaning you are nothing and this antho/mag/zine is nothing and the whole project is nothing, but we want you to work on something for a long time, edit it about ten times, and we want you to give it to us for twelve months or more so you can't use it in a collection of your own that year, you can't have it reprinted, you can't do bunkus with it, and all this so we can try to make lunch money off it. Also, we give you 'exposure. That's more precious than gold.'" 

That, in a nutshell, is what they're saying. And I find that disrespectful to all writers everywhere.

But then I'm a curmudgeon and I often say what I think. Probably not the best way to be, but some things just tick me off. And using writers for whipping posts and lunch money is one of those things. If a publication cannot afford to pay a pro-rate, I understand that. But on top of not offering enough money to buy a quarter tank of gas, if you also think you can ask for all rights for a year, then you must be delusional. 

No wonder so many writers turn to self-publishing. It's a real alternative to these sorts of offers. I heard people say but yeah, there are so many markets for fiction! Sure there are. And three-fourths of them are ridiculous and I suppose some writers flock to them, I don't know why. The few who pay good rates and don't try to tie up all the rights are as crowded with submissions and as competitive as a bar with free beer on a Friday night. The response time on your work? Long time. Long, long time. That's the rule. Some might be faster, but who can expect the better markets to wade through thousands of refugees from the No Pay-Only Exposure-Keeping Your Rights' bin? So you send a story and wait a year. That's always a barrel of fun.

I have no solution. I just have complaints. Well, I do have a solution. Don't treat writers like morons. Don't take advantage of them. Don't believe serious writers want to publish with you. Don't delude yourself into thinking you're doing a good thing by disrespecting writers. They're your lifeblood. If you can get it cheaper, or for free, that's what you're getting--cheap and free. Good luck with that. Keep flooding the market with cheap, free, stomped-upon writers in your projects and see how that works out for you.

Pay writers a decent wage for good work. Don't take or keep rights you do not need to take. You're probably a writer too, Mr. Zine Man and Ms. Anthology Editor. Be good to your creative partners or it's just not going to work out. And that's a truth you can take to the bank.


  1. :) Someone has to take on the dirty work.

  2. Well, somebody had to say it. You rock!

  3. It was just something that bugged me.

  4. With the increase of ease for epublishing, this has become a serious problem over the last several years. Everyone fancies themselves and editor and wants to show off their Amazon credibility.
    Writers, in general, don't mind writing for "exposure," but these fly-by-night excuses for printing house expose nothing at all. Who is their audience? Generally a lot of mid-level to no- account writers who are learning to craft a sentence.
    This being said, I've seen this happening with established sites and print mags. Last year I wrote a review for no pay. The audience liked it, and the writer still brags about it. The editor liked it so much she started talking about giving me a position. First, I'd have to write a few more unpaid reviews "to test the audience."
    No one wants to part with their pennies anymore.
    Glad you brought up Harlan. He may sound like a mercemary, but really he isn't. He's very understanding. He's not asking for gold bars, just some form of compensation.
    Thanks for bringing this up.

  5. George, of course Harlan isn't a mercenary. He's a professional writer, as am I. Professional writers should be noticing these things and avoiding them. If in the end all they can get are untried, new writers and cannot lure professional writers, perhaps they will begin to treat writers with more respect.

  6. I used to be a union organizer, and these are the same problems people have in the workplace. just pay me what i'm worth, so simple :)