I don’t think this is obvious from my last post–in fact, it might be the opposite of obvious, since I outright called them “bad” at one point, and didn’t mean it in the Michael Jackson way–but I love the small SFF zines.

They can be inconsistent, yes, but they can put out some surprisingly high-quality content as well; they provide a lot of space for people like me to accomplish something besides filling a drawer with rejections from the Big Three; and the people who run them obviously love their magazines and the SFF genre. I have zero editorial experience, but I am absolutely certain that if they make any profit at all (and I expect most of them actually run in the red), those profits are hilariously minuscule next to the hours they put in on the job.

My beef is just that I wish it were feasible for them to pay more. In some ways it’s an honor to be paid anything at all for your work (especially when the internet is choked with people giving it away for free), but in other ways it’s frustrating to know that, as a career path, being paid $20 for a story you spent 20 hours on is not really a viable method for providing an existence, especially when you’re already so financially embarrassed you take extra ketchup from fast food joints so you’ll have some at home and do your furniture shopping between the hours of 1-3 AM at the “Whatever’s On Your Sidewalk and Isn’t Obviously Stained” Home Decorating Center.

But the market doesn’t work that way. There’s no money coming in to most places, so how are editors supposed to send real money back out to their writers? Work a second job to subsidize their publications? Probably. In fact, I would go so far as to say anyone who doesn’t is criminally negligent.

But we’re not even talking enough cash to cut back on your day job (not even when you’re as hilariously poor as me). If you’re selling to what’s known as the token and semi-pro markets, we’re talking $20-150 extra bucks a month, and that’s if you’re selling something every other week, which strikes me as more than a little optimistic. Even regular sales to the biggest markets isn’t a viable job-replacement strategy–$200-500 a month (assuming one sale per–still a lot, considering there is a very small pool of markets which sell that well) might let you drop a day or two out of your work week, but it’s not what you would call a long-term life plan.

If big-market sales are a part-time job, that makes small-market sales an internship where they reimburse your subway fare and sometimes when they send you out for lunch they let you spend the change on a BLT for yourself. Just being there is fun and intellectually stimulating and a fine learning experience, but pretty quick it’s time to strike out on your own full time, and that means writing novels. Sweet: I love writing novels. I just wish it were possible to treat the short form as a career instead of a hobby, an apprenticeship, something you do before you’re good enough to do something better.

Edited to add: I’ve since learned this is less true than I thought–Dean Wesley Smith writes about the worth of various publishing rights and mentions in the comments he’s had two stories that have so far netted him over $25,000 apiece. Elsewhere, I’ve read other authors mention making $7000 and $10,000 on short fiction sales in one year, which, no joke, would cover my bills for a year.

These are outliers, but they exist. I think everyone would agree, however, it’s much easier to make a living writing novels than writing short fiction.

Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Me

I am a Science Fiction and Fantasy author, based in LA. Read More.
My Book Genres