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Category: submissions

Why living as a writer is impossible, part III: because there is no money

In past posts on this subject, I discussed various reasons a serious living as a writer is a pipe dream: the SASE, simultaneous submissions, and there are many more to come. But today I’m going to discuss the real reason, outside all the others, that making a living as a writer is impossible. Because publications don’t pay.

Seriously. People get their start in writing by stuffing envelopes and stocking up on rejection letters. But the places you send your work don’t pay artists. Your compensation is your name in print. Or HTML. Some publications claim they pay their authors in copies (i.e. you get 2 free copies of the publication your piece of work will appear in).

While it may seem generous, copies of single issues usually run under $20, which amounts to about a $40 value you can’t put in the bank. And if it’s an acceptance by a publisher that does not accept simultaneous submissions, it’s $40 worth of goods in one year. While I’d welcome paying taxes on a $40 annual income, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even survive if I were living in my parents’ basement.

Here are some of the disclaimers about nonpayment from some literary magazines:

  • “We are unable to pay for work.”
  • Payment is in contributor’s copies.”
  • We pay in copies, plus $5 a page.”
  • “Contributors receive a print copy of the issue in which they appear.”

There’s never been any debate that writing is a labor of love, but with writer payments like these, this just proves it.

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“To a Moth” featured tomorrow

My poem To a Moth is going to be featured on the front page of tomorrow between noon and 6 p.m. I met the people of W5RAn at SXSW, and they explained their unique business model.

They are an online-only independent magazine that posts new content – photography, writing, and other random stuff – every hour, on the hour. Like most independent magazines, they don’t pay anything, but I totally dig their model, and I decided to submit To a Moth for kicks. Support your independents!

For writers – the submission process was crazy easy, and you can probably get several things on here. Sure, it’s not the most glamorous thing to put on a resume, but it’s free, it’s easy, and it’s something.

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First flash fiction piece

Today I decided to try my hand at Flash Fiction. I have never really given it a fair chance, because I have a hard time believing people can tell a good story in 1000 words or less. However, people are increasingly pressed for time, and the people over at Rose City Sisters gave my site a fair chance, so I decided to do them the same courtesy.

I knew I had to keep the scope of my story very limited, so I adapted an exchange I had with this guy at the gym who likes to flirt with me in a very weird way into a piece of flash fiction. I decided to call it Ad Hominem, and it’s available for your perusal.

It was a very enjoyable exercise, and one I think I could do quite often to keep my writing skills sharp and try some experimentation, which will come in handy as I move more and more toward telling other people’s stories, instead of telling my own.



Confatigue hits me at SXSW

After an insanely full day, we were more than happy yesterday that the alarm didn’t go off when it was supposed to. Honestly, we were glad it didn’t go off at all. It gave us a chance to recharge in the morning and get some extra, much needed sleep. We finally willed ourselves out of the hotel room and into the rain in time to hit up the 2 pm session. It saw us in the Spotify CEO’s keynote address, which was really cool.

After that for me, it was How to Save Journalism. Citizen journalism is apparently the new hotness. Getting people on the street to share what they’re already doing via blogs and such instead of paying a journalist a salary to write cover stories. The idea of having a model in the US like the UK has with the publicly funded BBC went over with mixed reviews. Let’s face it, everyone wants news and no one wants to pay for it, especially through a pay wall on the newspaper’s website.

The IDEA of payment isn’t the question. I think people are coming around to the idea that the news isn’t free, but the METHOD of payment is what publications are still trying to figure out. There was also great talk about long form news being treated as more of a public service, funded by philanthropists, instead of a conglomerate.

The idea that being small a big asset, and that big papers are trying to find out how to create smaller models was mirrored in the second session I attended, Web-First Publishing: How Alt Weeklies Can Survive. They also spoke about the blending of job duties in today’s environment. Citizens are becoming the journalists, the journalists are becoming the editors, and editors are becoming the web developers. I guess it’s a good thing I can do some basic HTML and CSS.

This was the end of the interactive conference, and if there were three things I would say were impressed on me in every panel I attended, it is this:

  • You have to find a way to involve your community (whether it’s your readers or an actual physical community) in the development of your work. The idea of creating something, pushing it out, and then hoping someone picks it up is over.
  • Technology may be getting bigger, but the models are getting smaller. No one wants to read a 500-word cover story, escpecially on an iPhone.
  • Keep working, and don’t give up. Whether it’s getting that novel published, developing that complex application, and finding that perfect job, keep at it, and your persistence will pay off. But you’ve gotta do the work.

I am coming away from the interactive with lots of great ideas for the future, so stay tuned to be part of it! Music fest starts today.

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Site Review: Writer’s Market

For my birthday this past year, my wonderful boyfriend got me a very thoughtful and practical gift – the 2010 edition of Writer’s Market. For those unfamiliar with writer’s market, it is the authority on listings of book publishers, consumer magazines, trade journals, literary agents, and pretty much any other place you could possibly send a manuscript. No doubt about it – it’s a resource you need if you’re going to be a serious writer.

It’s also on the pricey side, as in you can’t remove from the reference section in the library. One great feature about the 2010 edition (10 years newer than my previous copy) is an included free year’s subscription to their website,, which allows you to get involved in writer communities, sign up for webinars, and track submissions. I’ve been using the site for about eight months, and every time I use it, I get more and more frustrated.

First, the site is slow slow slow slow slow. That’s five slows. Dialup on a rotary phone slow. The first time I accessed the site, I wondered if I had a malformed URL. I didn’t. It’s just seriously that slow. Doing anything on the site takes about twice as long as it should. As a professional geek, I’d really like to take a look at their log files to see how long their server calls take and see what the hell is killing the site speed. If I could tell Writer’s Market to change one thing, it would be to speed up the site.

Second, their search logic is TRBL (pronounced tur-ri-bull).  Instead of doing the smart thing every search does, and list search results by relevance, they list them in alphabetical order, based on the full text of the associated page.

So, for example, when I search for a magazine called The Aesthetic, the search returns every market that includes the word “aesthetic” in their description, guidelines, or any other field on the market’s page, and since most markets try to describe what kind of aesthetic they are looking for, it returns a lot of results (slowly, I might add).

Which, for a magazine that starts with A, is not a big deal, but if I do the same search for Frank (which is an actual literary magazine), I get 10 pages of unnecessary search results, and the entry for Frank is on the fourth page of a search that takes 10 seconds, and another 5 to go to the next page.

I could go on and on with examples of how TRBL the searching is, but the site is currently timing out because I keep “overloading” it with queries.

Third, the site uses Silverlight to do its submission tracking. I don’t know a whole lot about Silverlight, but from what I’ve come to understand it’s an applet of some kind that sites can use to embed. The problem I have with the Silverlight web applet is that because the site is already Godzilla-after-biscuits-and-gravy slow, loading the flash animation for your foldering tree takes forEVer. And while it does a great job of caching the market information, you have to submit each manuscript one by one.

So, for instance, I have 5 poems to send to a literary journal. I search for the journal, save it to “My Markets,” access the Silverlight applet that is My Markets, find the folder, then submit one poem. After I enter the date information (which should REALLY default to today), I start over again. Silverlight reloads, I find the same journal in the same tree, and submit one more poem. And because the site is so slow, this takes a long time.

My fourth beef: there is no mechanism to withdraw a submission, which you have to do if you have any simultaneous submissions that get accepted somewhere else. Instead, you have to go  into the Silverlight interface, access the submission record in the tree, and mark it as a rejection. I get enough rejections without having to fake one.

Okay, so I’m a little harsh on site usability – but if you’re going to go web, do it right. I haven’t used the community forums much, mostly because it takes so long to navigate, but it looks like there are a lot of resources out there. And of course, tracking submissions in the Silverlight interface is a helluva lot more accurate and organized than I could ever manage – but it’s a web applet, so it’s supposed to do the work for me.

I’d be really interested to see Writer’s Market do some site rework, get some beta testers, and solicit some real feedback about what they could do to improve the site experience and eliminate the redundant work in tracking submissions.


Why a living as a writer is impossible Part II: the SASE

In this second segment of the analysis of why it is literally (no pun intended) impossible to make a living as a writer. Today we’ll be discussing a little item writers know all too well and hate just as much as the new fall lineup on CBS: the SASE.

What is an SASE? It is a self-addressed stamped envelope. For any publication that is too behind the times to have an online submission manager (which we’ll discuss in a later segment) or accept submissions via e-mail, the writer must send his or her manuscripts on papyrus in a stamped envelope, and if they want to know if their work has been accepted or rejected, they must include a self-addressed stamped envelope in the same envelope.

This prevents the publisher from having to look at your cover letter, grab an envelope from the copy room, write your address on it, slap a stamp on it, and stuff it with your rejection notice. It’s a lot of work, so they pass it on to their submitters.

For any writer that wants to send a simultaneous submission, the SASE is crucial, because you have to wait for rejection before you can send the same manuscript anywhere else. So, you eat the 45 cents (probably soon to be 50) and double your out-of-pocket expenses to send your manuscript for submission.

Then comes the moment you open the mailbox and see a 3×5 envelope with your handwriting on the cover. There are few worse feelings than opening the mailbox and seeing an envelope you swiped from the mail room at your 9-5 with your own address slathered on the front in your orange pen in your own handwriting. You know it’s a rejection. You just know it.

Then, there are the large percent of SASEs that never get sent back, so you’re just wasting 45 cents on something that is slower than an old man in a Cadillac DeVille in the first place.

So who still uses SASEs, besides publications?

  • The court system – but only if they are not image-enabled, and you require an original version of a document for some reason (such as notarization). But typically, electronic documents are acceptable as court documents.
  • Comic books – (and some magazines) require that cartoons be submitted as originals – no photocopies. Glad I’m not an artist, because I would be too afraid an original of mine would be lost forever.

And that’s about all I could find. An SASE is a receptacle for a rejection, and nothing more. And the more I read about the SASE, the more empowered I feel to not include them anymore. After all, I won’t send my stuff to anyone that doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions. And I can use that 45 cents for happy hour at Sonic.

p.s. In researching this topic, I came across this post on a thriller writer’s blog. He is now added to my Google Reader, which I will not be giving up for Lent.

Happy Mardi Gras everyone!

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