I realised recently that I hadn’t sent off any work to publishers for rather a while, and now I’m beginning to make up for it.
When you submit short stories or poetry on a regular basis, you quickly realise there are two broad types of market.
- Directly to publishers. This is where an publishing house invites submissions of single poems or stories for an anthology, often on a set theme, and an editor decides what’s included. There are usually no charge to send in work and the author is often paid a flat fee or a rate per printed word.
- Competitions. This is where an organisation invites submissions, often on a set theme, and a judge or panel of judges decide who wins. There is often a charge to send in work, and the winner usually receives a cash prize along with publication.
At least that’s how it should work. However, I’ve been involved in more discussion of late about places that aren’t giving a fair deal to their contributors. This includes Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton, who was asked to write for the Huffington Post in return for ‘exposure’.
I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from a couple of poet friends that a popular magazine follows a similar ‘exposure’ model with the claim that they’re a small press and are unable to pay. At least one of these friends has been professionally published elsewhere and will no longer submit to this magazine.
I’ve also recently spotted an advert for a competition with a £10 entry fee or £11 if submitting online, and the prize is to read your work at their event. To me, there’s a lot wrong with this.
Firstly, the price difference is not explained; contributors appear to be penalised for not wasting paper. Secondly, it’s still around double what you would expect to pay to enter a competition. Thirdly, there’s not so much as a nominal cash prize offered, nor any mention of a contributor’s copy.
My advice is to be clear about your reason for sending your work to a particular place. Ask yourself whether the reward is proportionate to its quality and to the financial position of the publisher.
That principle still applies to charity or fundraising work. This year, for instance, I’ve been invited to perform at local landmarks to raise funds for the maintenance and restoration. As I know the organisers, I’m clear that I’m donating my time and work to these causes. One of them even offered me travel expenses, which I declined.
But don’t think everywhere is out to get you. Gutter magazine offers a two-year subscription rather than cash payment, which I consider to be fair, while feminist zine Artificial Womb is a tiny operation but makes a point of paying every contributor.
And a final piece of advice: Wil Wheaton wrote that the exchange he had with the editor wasn’t unpleasant, and that he didn’t blame her for company policy.
Echoing this, it’s always a good idea to be civil to editors no matter how the conversation ends. We’re used to reading about authors and other celebrities who act like divas, but if you develop a reputation for being difficult – especially at the start of your career – word will get around quickly and potentially close off avenues you hadn’t yet explored.