Weekly Musing: Get Paid!

The starving artist. A man or woman suffering for his or her art rather than “sell out”. They do it for love, not coin you capitalist pigs! They are above everyone else who works for a living as their motivation is a deep passion burning within their heart. The artist is a better creature, the ideal we all secretly wish we were.

What a noble image. Except it’s not. Quite frankly it’s bullshit ideal to aspire to. People are paid to do pretty much anything and everything yet when it comes to music, acting, writing, dancing, and the others arts, there tends to be this hesitation about payment and when. An overwhelming majority of artists have “real” jobs that provide a living income. This job is in addition to practicing their art in the hopes of making their passion their “real” job.

NOTE: Before I go further I want to make clear this isn’t a post about the lack of fine arts support or that I’m referring to novels. I’m strictly relaying my opinion based upon my experiences with submitting short stories.

I wish I had realized a years ago that instead of sending my short stories to places who only promised “exposure” and contributor copies upon publication that there was another option. I also wish I hadn’t submitted places that charged reading and entry fees especially when no payment was offered upon acceptance.

But I did it because as a beginner I listened to wise veterans espousing it is perfectly okay and even expected to give our work away for free. The (il)logic behind it is you need to build your portfolio of publication credits in order to achieve bigger and better success. Also it is about paying one’s dues on the ladder of success. Last year I had an epiphany where I realized how wonky and untrue this is. If a story or poem has merit, it will be accepted regardless of how many publications you have under your belt. Many places claim they read the submissions blind so whatever publishing credits you do or don’t have aren’t influencing their decision.

Let’s breakdown the notion of paying a writer in exposure and contributor copies only. Honestly, with the exception of a handful of publications, if the only promise upon publication is exposure, then it’s not worth it. With so many print and online magazines competing for the same audience, exposure probably isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. And if the magazine can’t afford to pay even a token fee of a few dollars then you have to think about how large their audience really is.

One of my biggest pet peeves in all of this is the entry or reading fee. I hesitate to use the word scam because many honest and reputable entities, like Writer’s Digest, have them in connection with their contests. Overall, though, to me reading/entry fees are a way for magazines to make money. I understand a vast majority aren’t rolling in dough and the fee is covers website and printing (if there are any) costs and to compensate for the editor’s time. If it’s a contest, sometimes the outfit openly admits the fee is what pays for the prize money.

But what about the value of our time? Does not our work deserve compensation, too? After all, our work is the reason why you have anything to edit. And why ask writers, a profession that historically is not known as well-paying, to be your revenue stream? Plenty of sites exist where people are willing to donate money in order to help people fund projects. There’s also the oh-so-lovely option of advertisements. Don’t ask your content providers to also be your funding source. Even if the fee is a small amount like $3 or $5, that’s still asking a writer to pay in the slim hopes of being published.

If you are a writer and want to pursue publication, don’t give into the temptation to submit your short stories and poetry when there is no financial compensation. Even when the reward is a few dollars, at least someone is willing to give you money for your efforts. It doesn’t make you a sell out or an arrogant jerk to expect it. Hell, the first piece I ever had accepted I received money for and it was a story I sent in on a lark. What did I have to lose, after all?

Unfortunately I kept submitting work to places that offered no compensation or who charged a fee. As a result, the next few stories published I made nothing. Yes, it’s a great feeling to know someone thought your work worthy enough to be published. I am very grateful for every story published regardless of dollar amount. But I wish I’d had more belief in my ability to allow myself to acknowledge every short story is worth something.

While the number of places willing to pay for work is smaller than those offering exposure only, plenty of publishers exist who will. A couple of places I like to use to discover publishing opportunities are Submission Grinder and allows you to sign up to receive an email whenever a new publishing opportunity arises. Not every website link they send is a paying market, but it’s another source I’ve found useful. Authors Publish is another place that sends an email with links to publishing opportunities, both paying and not. They also include links to articles on a variety of topics and they also include book publishers seeking stories.

Over the past year I’ve been submitting my short stories only to paying outfits. Has it limited the number of opportunities available to me? Yes, however, between last year and year-to-date I’ve submitted work to 70 paying markets. That doesn’t mean I only found 70 paying markets because there were more. I passed on some because either I couldn’t have something ready by their deadline or the market didn’t seem like the right fit for my work.

So I say to anyone other there submitting work, don’t be afraid to submit it to places that will give you money. Your time and your art are worth it. There are places waiting for a story like yours and doors are open if you look for them.