Columns > Published on November 2nd, 2021

Value Your Fucking Work (Pt. II)

Original Header images via Monstera

And we're back. To recap, you can read Part I HERE. 

We left off talking about token payments, which brings us to the most controversial form of compensation of all: none. 

IT’S “FOR THE LOVE,” MAN

No, it really isn’t. 

Publishers who mention this phrase are preying on your desire to be published. The only one who profits from this arrangement is the publisher. 

Yes, it’s one way to get your work and your name out there in the world, but that’s only effective if it’s a high-profile anthology with marketable names attached—and guess what? Those marketable names won’t go anywhere near a “for the love” market because they want to be paid for their work. 

For the sake of argument, let’s say this “for the love” anthology does take off. You now have some exposure because your story is in that anthology. Who benefits from this? Not you. Not now, not directly. That would be the publisher, who is earning 100% of the royalties from each sale. 

We can justify it to ourselves that our story was an investment in our future writing career, but in the end, all you did was give your story away for free. 

That’s the harsh truth for all of us who take this seriously. The career we’re all trying to build won’t work unless we’re being paid. Otherwise, it’s just a hobby.

“BUT I’M NOT ON YOUR LEVEL. I’M NOT AS GOOD AS YOU ARE.” 

The career we’re all trying to build won’t work unless we’re being paid. Otherwise, it’s just a hobby.

Someone actually said this to me when I suggested they target the pro-paying markets first. My reply: “You never will be with that attitude. Always aim high.”

That’s advice I give new writers whenever I can. There’s a self-defeating mentality that newer writers adopt when they’re actively trying to shop their work. I certainly did when I first started. 

Predatory publishers know this and openly take advantage of it. They’re counting on writers who don’t value their own work.

You put in the time, took an idea, and crafted a story out of it. Why shouldn’t you be paid a decent rate for it? Thinking you aren’t good enough or aren’t on someone’s level is equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot before running a marathon. 

Aim high. The worst thing that’s going to happen is a rejection—and that’s part of the gig. Keep submitting, keep aiming high.  

“IT’S ART, MAN. IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY.” 

Creating art isn’t about the money—at least, it shouldn’t be, and while I do agree there’s a fine line between art for art’s sake and art for commission, the odds are you were going to create the art anyway. I’ve been writing my whole life, and I’d still be writing even if no one wanted to publish my work. If you enjoy writing, then it’s likely you’ll say the same. That’s art for art’s sake.

But when you start thinking about publishing said art, it isn’t just art anymore. It’s a commodity, a product. It has value. Writers need to understand and accept this. If someone wants to publish your work, then they see value in said work and the potential for it to earn money. 

Even if you don’t see value in your work, they will—and they’ll take advantage of the fact that you don’t. 

Your writing is a tangible thing. It is worth something, and it is up to you establish what that worth is. 

How? 

By submitting it to paying markets. As long as writers continue to devalue their work, publishers will continue taking advantage of them by offering lousy compensation. 

WHAT’S IT WORTH TO YOU? 

Writing is damn hard work. We bleed and sweat for our stories too much for them not to be worth anything.

But how do we know what it’s worth? 

Easy. Your work is worth as much as the market is willing to pay for it, and you should always aim for the highest rates. 

It’s no different than negotiating for your salary at a new job. You want the highest rate you can get. And the job, regardless of industry, will base the salary on what others are paying for the same kind of work. 

In publishing, figure out what the baseline rate is for your genre and aim for that rate at a minimum. Start with the higher paying markets, and if the story isn’t accepted, you can work your way down to markets paying the baseline. But go no lower. That’s what your work is worth at a minimum.   

Let’s look at Payment Caps and Flat Rates for a moment. The publisher will either pay up to $X.XX for a story or a flat $X.XX for a story, respectively. In each case, you must determine if said compensation is worth the work. 

Flat Rates: A publisher pays a flat rate of $100.00 for stories up to 5k words. That’s 2 cents a word. You can submit a 5k story and accept payment at a low rate, or submit a 2k story and accept payment at a pro-rate of 5 cents. 

The Payment Cap is only slightly different. You’re getting paid up to a set amount. You may write a 6k story, but the pay is capped at 5k words at the specified rate.

It’s important to understand how the value of your work may be diluted depending on how you approach these scenarios. The greater point here is that you need to do the math. If you start examining offered rates by the word, you’ll quickly understand just how many of the markets out there are offering bullshit compensation. 

BUT WHAT ABOUT CHARITY?

That’s different. You’re donating your time and talent to a good cause. So is the publisher. No one is making a profit on the book; all profit is going directly to the charity in question. That’s how it should work, and for me, personally, it’s the only time I offer my work for free. 

IN SUMMATION

By now you’re probably tired of listening to me, so let’s wrap this up. 

  • Your work is worth something. 
  • Your time is worth something.
  • Understand your work has value.
  • Determine your baseline rate and go no lower.
  • Aim for the highest rates you can.
  • Learn to identify predatory markets and avoid them. 
  • Don’t give your work away for free.*
  • *Unless it’s for charity.
  • Do the math.

Writers, one last piece of advice: We’re all on this journey together, but we each walk alone, and no one is going to champion your work if you don’t do it first. Value your fucking work.

And for the small publishers out there who are practicing everything I’ve detailed here: We see you and we’re taking notes. 

$20 for a 10k word story is ridiculous, and needs to stop. 

A royalty split on an anthology that will have little to no marketing is insulting, and needs to stop. 

“For the Love” markets are absolute bullshit, and need to stop.

Writers deserve to be paid for their work. Period. As my friend and fellow author Patrick Freivald is fond of saying, “Fuck you. Pay me.”


Get Scanlines by Todd Keisling at Bookshop or Amazon

Get Devil's Creek by Todd Keisling at Bookshop or Amazon

About the author

TODD KEISLING is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of Devil’s Creek. His other books include Scanlines, The Final Reconciliation, and The Monochrome Trilogy, among many shorter works. He lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his family where he is at work on his next novel.

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