I have a little bit of a bug up my butt about this one (yay for prairie-isms). We’re in a brand new world for creatives of all types. There are so many different ways to build a creative career, and we’re all trying to figure it out. Different people have different attitudes about how writers should make money, how often they should take unpaid work of one kind or another, and so on.
In this world, I get that sometimes you’re going to want to publish with a place that doesn’t pay, or only pays royalties. I can get behind those things – sometimes there are different systems that you can play with and figure out for your own way of doing things. That’s fine. I actually feel pretty good about anthologies and the like paying royalties. It isn’t the ideal way of doing things, and it shifts the economic risk, but I can understand it.
The toxic attitudes come in when there are publishers out there who act like writer’s owe them for the exposure of being published. Like so many other writers, I’m constantly on the look-out for new places to submit to. Figuring out different stories can find their own homes.
In one group for writers to swap submission calls, there has been a weird attitude growing and fomenting. Calls are regularly posted without any word of pay, and the defense is that people who are organizing the journal or magazine in question aren’t getting paid. The straw that broke this camel’s back (yay, more down-home sayings) was when one publisher pointed out that they were more likely to be friendly to writers who published unpaid work with them versus waiting for them to be a paid position.
This attitude is, frankly, dangerous. It continues to suggest that writers are lucky to have their work read and that they should be happy for the opportunity to write. Instead of the publisher of the magazine being willing to put their money and weight behind a project, bearing the risk, they’re asking writers to hope that they’ll eventually get paid for future work.
There is this view that writers need to work up from being unpaid to someday publishing with someone that will pay them. That their work isn’t worth anything now, but someday you might be. Instead of pushing yourself and shooting for those professional markets, you should be happy that someone is even deigning to read your work.
It also fails to comprehend or acknowledge how most literary markets work. Most of them are made up of volunteers, people who care about stories and care about good ones. The New Quarterly, for example, has a pile of volunteers who work for it and keep it running. It is an unfortunate necessity that not everyone can be paid, but no one there things that the authors should be unpaid. They pay authors, and pay them well and on time, because their work is worth something.
If literary journals have this attitude that they are owed stories, and that you shouldn’t be paid because they aren’t, they are asking you to bear the risk of their product. If they are selling their magazine or anthology and you don’t even get royalties or a token payment, their attitude is that your work is worth someone being paid for it, just not you.
These magazines also need to realize that you have other options. You can self-publish short stories or you can go to Wattpad or your own blog or any number of other places. You can find ways to profit off your own story even if they aren’t willing to pay you. The world is changing and shifting beneath all of our feet, and you owe it to yourself to try to make money off of your stories if you believe in them. However you choose to do so is up to you, but you should watch the attitudes of people and the many small publishers out there, and try to figure out if they care about stories, or if they care about making a buck off of someone else’s desperation.