Exposure is Not Payment: Why You Should Start Respecting Yourself as a Writer
For-the-Love markets are magazines and anthologies that publish writers without paying them. Often, these publishers don’t even provide contributor copies. Some writers submit to these places because they love to write and don’t care if they get paid. This train-of-thought can be toxic, not just for the writers submitting to these places, but also to the writers trying to pay their bills.
BY SUBMITTING TO FTL MARKETS, YOU ARE PROMOTING MEDIOCRITY
The odds of getting accepted into a paying market are much slimmer than getting accepted into a non-paying market. I know, you’re thinking, “No shit, Max. Next why don’t you tell us the sky is blue and cake is delicious?” But hear me out. Say you submit to a pro-paying anthology and you’re rejected. What do you do? Well, if you’re smart, you go back through your story and look for flaws. You give it another test-run and make sure you haven’t missed any kinks. You strive to improve something you already thought was finished. Most likely, you do improve it. Rejection makes you work harder. It turns a story into an even stronger story. But now say you skip a paying market and send it directly to a For-the-Love anthology. Since these anthologies aren’t overflowing with submissions, and the cost of publishing you is literally zero dollars (assuming there is no contributor copy offered, on top of no payment), there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to receive an acceptance. They’ll take your story and publish it with no editorial feedback. There’s no room for improvement when you publish with these markets, because there’s nobody telling you there’s a need to improve. You remain stagnant in a pool of mediocrity.
SETTLING FOR NOTHING MAKES NOTHING THE STANDARD
Whenever I bring up this topic, I usually hear this argument from those who favor FTL presses: Not everybody can pay their bills with their writing, therefore being paid should not be the standard. This is insane logic. Just because Crazy One-Ear Joe down the street likes to collect your trash for free doesn’t mean actual garbage men should also have to work for free. Once you start settling for no pay, then other magazines and anthologies will take note and offer you the same. Nobody's going to pay you money if you don't mind working for free. It is okay to love what you do and get paid for doing it. Enjoying your job and getting compensated for your job are not two separate entities. You do not have to pick one or the other.
DON'T FALL FOR THE TRICKS OF THE SMALL PRESS CON ARTIST
In addition to not offering payment, by neglecting to give contributor copies out, authors are then led into purchasing copies of their own stories just to see their name in print.
This is a very popular scam that con artists play on new, naïve authors who are blinded by the desire to see their own writing in a book. They don't know any better and the “publisher” knows this, taking full advantage.
Many people will argue that the authors in question made the choice to sign the contract and get ripped off, so they're shit out of luck. I will argue that I'm actually not a grinch and have a heart and can understand how some authors may not know better; if this is their first encounter with someone hiding behind the name “publisher”, how are they to know? I'm not saying the authors don’t bring it on themselves, but it is my hope that they can change, just like it is my hope that these publishers can change. This is the main reason I'm writing this article and not allowing this topic to be shoved in the closet. I believe this will certainly continue to happen and I hope this article helps authors avoid signing shitty contracts with equally shitty companies.
I’ve heard actual “presses” claim that contributor copies are not an industry standard, which is a hilarious and depressing statement. I’ve even seen some places refuse to dish out electronic copies. Digital files that don’t cost the publisher a fucking dime to send. “Publishers” come up with these laughable excuses, claiming they’re afraid the PDFs might circulate. Basically, they don’t even trust their own authors to not upload the anthologies on torrent websites. But the truth is, they’re holding these back in the hopes that the authors will purchase a copy on Amazon once the book goes live. Because that’s their only real targeted audience. They don’t have a fan base. They just have the authors they publish, and the authors’ families. If you do not receive a contributor copy for your work, then you are being ripped off, pure and simple. If the book is published in print, then you receive a print copy. If it’s eBook only, then you get an eBook. If the book is in print, and you don’t receive a print copy or an eBook, then you’ve been fucked.
This is a common scam I’ve noticed among the many micropresses that pop up. Typically, they will start off by exclusively publishing anthologies. These anthologies will not pay anything. The press will accept fifteen to twenty authors for each anthology, all writers who are just starting out, naïve and hungry for any kind of publication. Authors find these open calls and they submit and almost nobody is ever rejected. There won't be a contributor copy given because the publisher knows the author will buy a copy, maybe even a few copies, just so the author can see his/her name in print, and (s)he'll go around showing everybody, bragging. The author's friends and family will want to support the author, so they will also buy copies. There will be no author discount. It will be full price. You publish an anthology with at least fifteen people and charge $14.99 for the book, plus shipping, that's nearly $250, before printing costs. You do a dozen or more anthologies like this a year and you start making a serious income. Especially when it's not just the authors buying it, but also their families.
HOW TO FIX THE PROBLEM
The only way to stop this is for you, the author, to stop settling with every press that’ll publish you. If the company no longer receives stories, then they will have to a) close down or b) offer payment and contributor copies. Not just contributor copies. Contributor copies are not payment. Money is payment. Start respecting yourself as a writer and these presses will gradually become extinct.
To quote George Cotronis:
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