Think, before asking writers to pay for your hobby

I’ve been approached twice in the past couple of months about submitting to a non-paying markets which wanted to raise their profile, in return they offered exposure. Here is my reply to one of them.

Hi [Nameless editor],

I have a lot of sympathy for starting a new magazine. When we started Shimmer, our token payment was $5 and a copy of the magazine. Our editor-in-chief looked at how much she was spending on yoga and felt like she could afford to spend that much to support her fiction hobby.

After two issues we went to $10 per story and then to .01 per word. Each time we’ve raised the price as soon as we could sustainably afford it. It’s still a token payment but enough money to buy a meal to celebrate and a physical copy of a magazine that one can show to people.

The thing that we did to increase our profile was interview “name authors” since we knew that we couldn’t ask them to sell us a story for five bucks.

I’m sorry if it seems like I’m lecturing you, but I guess… I guess I am. I think my point here is that sometimes you have to pay for your hobbies.

Sorry for the lecture and I do wish you luck with the magazine.


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19 thoughts on “Think, before asking writers to pay for your hobby”

  1. I like your response A LOT. A token payment is just that – a token – but it means that the editor(s) cared enough to think it was worth paying something, even the price of a latte.

  2. At least they’re up front about it, rather than claiming a pay rate at all and then never paying, or paying 1/4 of a penny a word (which rounded out to a check that couldn’t even cover a copy of the magazine!) But that’s just as bad.
    And then the hobbyist gets up on hi/r high horse whenever we as writers dare to call them on any of this stuff. I loved Harlan Ellison’s diatribe about that”…You don’t go to the gas station and demand free gas…” etc.

  3. Because a Campbell Award winner who is also the future VP of SFWA, with a short story collection now published and hopefully an urban fantasy novel (heeee) published soon, needs exposure from a mag that won’t pay her. Okay, maybe in Bizarro World, lol.

  4. Ya know, I didn’t see it as a lecture as much as a hint on another way to get things going. I.E. the part about interviewing named authors. That is a polite no thank you, with a hint of what can be attempted. If they are smart, they’ll say thank you and then politely ask for a 5-10 question interview.

    Off topic: I totally hate that prior responsibilities kept me from seeing you when you were in Seattle last week. Darn real life intruding on best laid plans and all…

  5. I completely understand the need for good contributors and the lack of funds dilemma, but we pay a token amount at Innsmouth, and when we solicit I make a point to offer more than just exposure. I wouldn’t solicit anything for free unless we were doing a fundraising antho for a good cause.

    Token payments are not much but they’re our way to say thank you, we care.

  6. Vaughan Stanger

    Mary, I think your letter was a masterpiece of tact. Another way of looking at it is that, while not all magazines can offer professional pay rates, all should be capable of professional behaviour.

  7. This has come up recently for me, and I generally make a point to insist upon payment. After that, it becomes a question of friendship. I’ll put effort into what I send in a directly proportional level to how much I am actually friends with this person.

    And, I still lecture them again, so they will at least think twice before asking me again in the future, further testing our friendship.

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