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.

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.

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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Comments

Luke Schamer's picture
Luke Schamer from Cincinnati, Ohio is reading "House of Leaves" June 15, 2015 - 7:32am

Fantastic article. In my opinion, the most important point is that submitting to and promoting For-the-Love markets lowers the standard for other writers. 

I've watched this same issue infect my local music scene in Cincinnati, OH. Veteran musicians laugh at the idea of never being paid to perform. Yet up-and-coming musicians will promote the show, sell the tickets, and then give most or all of the ticket sales back to the promoter. It's a huge fucking scam. And what's happening now? When all these young musicians are playing for free, promoting the shows, and kicking back all ticket sales to the promoters? It's becoming the norm. 

Up-and-coming musicians believe playing for free is absolutely OK and normal. The promoters tell them that they're doing it for the love--they're musicians, they need the exposure!

In an always-connected world complete with internet, Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, etc. etc., young artists believe the path to success in their chosen art form is merely exposure. Likes, retweets, shares. 

What fresh artists don't seem to understand is that the key to sustaining their art form is payment... and respect for their work. It's no secret that markets who pay writers, musicians, artists, etc. are more respected. 

Thanks again for the awesome article, Max. 

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk June 15, 2015 - 8:41am

Great Article Max,

As pretty much a rookie ( been at this since 2011 ) really agree that all the work that goes into writing, re-writing and then workshopping letting it go for free does seem a bit mental. Mind you finding any press that’ll publish any of my gibberish (paid or otherwise) is proving to be a frustrating waste of time.  

cinestress's picture
cinestress from Seattle is reading Hikkikomori June 15, 2015 - 11:37am

This is exactly why I have stopped writing for a few websites and magazines that would ask for many hours of my time and I wouldn't see a dime from their ad revenue or subscriptions. I think it's a big no-no if someone is selling their product and not paying the people who put work into it.

Mike Roberts's picture
Mike Roberts from Kingston, Ontario is reading Chuck Wendig books and "Joyland" June 15, 2015 - 12:35pm

As great as standing up to the big bad publishers sounds. all it takes is a few people to decide that FTL is better than nothing and it's back to square one.

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money June 15, 2015 - 2:08pm

Good article, and you make some excellent points. I just wonder if you have considered the implications and assumptions you seem to be adhering to when you make these claims.

Your first point seems to be that publishing work for no payment means that your work isn't 'good' enough to be paid for. A dubious claim at best. While I agree that being rejected is a good signal you can use to reassess the value of your own work and perhaps improve it, and being published is a good signal that your work is of a particular quality and doesn't need to be improved (and granted that if these standards are skewed this can lead to a spiral of "mediocrity") but the underlying assumption here is that the value of any work is primarily determined by some monetary number assigned to it. Even outside of cases where my Harry Potter Slash fic will always be rejected by Jericho Books no matter how much I 'improve' it, or Moby Dick or Leaves of Grass both being essentially self-published for lack of being "good enough to be paid for" (Moby Dick basically bankrupting Melville in the process) what we're left with is the idea that if no one is willing to pay money for your work, your work at least needs to be improved, or scrapped all together. And in our modern market economy, there is a certain amount of truth in that, but I think it's important not confuse the issue. Being accepted by a paying market is not actually a sign of 'good' work. It is only a sign that the publisher thinks they can sell your work for a profit. So unless your definition of 'good' work is 'increase the publisher's profit' it doesn't serve anyone to confuse the two.

And this ties in directly with your third point: there are shady publishers that are trying to skim value off of their writers (or outright steal that value) and we need to be aware of that. Because again, you are right; these shady publishers are only able to continue to survive because naive writers mistake being published with being good. But this applies just as much to paying markets as it does non-paying as it does to outright scams. Indeed, this claim seems to be very dubious when you try to draw hard lines between markets that pay the author 10% (or 8% on paperbacks) and markets that pay 10% of nothing (because they make no profits to share with the author) and markets that keep that 10% percent for themselves (where we just call them scams.) Especially when the first market makes hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits, and the last makes $250... less printing and shipping. 

Now this isn't to diminish the culpability of scam publishers, but to point out that when you only use the measure of monetary profit for a publisher (indeed "estimated potential profit" at that) we're already talking about some weird abstraction that is miles away from determining if the work that you are submitting for publishing is any good or not. And it ignores the reality that we live in where we make choices about publishing that don't follow this rule. (Rob Hart holding out on publication of New Yorked to find a publisher that offered a hardcopy run as well as an ebook is a perfect example of this.) It also brings up the question of token payment and semi-rate payment markets. Are they too to be eliminated? Are they also toxic influences, poisoning us all?

Which brings up your second, and most dubious point... If I publish my work without getting paid for it, then all writers everywhere are getting paid less for the work that they are publishing. Indeed, I'm little better than a scab or a blackleg and need to be corrected by the likes of Max "Pinkerton" Booth III. (Yeah, I know I got my analogy twisted. It's mostly snide anyway.) Now, yes, I exaggerate. But my exaggeration is following the premise you set up. If we can simply stop submitting to these non-paying markets and they will simply go extinct, then the same is true for the authors that are submitting and not getting paid (or indeed are paying for the "privilege" of being published.) In fact we need more scam markets to prey upon naive authors, that's the best way to eliminate them. Either they will not be able to afford continuing to write for no money, or they will no longer be so naive.

But ultimately, it's not so simple. The whole notion that non-paying markets are some blight on the publishing community and need to be eliminated if only we writers had enough self-respect to stop giving it away for free (strumpets...) is both historically and logically false. Historically, paying writers at all is anomalous. Even the best writers were not paid at all for their writing... for over a thousand years. Shakespeare was not paid for his writing. Voltaire was not paid for his writing. I've already pointed out Melville and Whitman's dubious relationships with publishers. If being accepted by a publisher was some delimitation of the value of the work, then most of the western canon is worthless, and by your estimation they were all "Crazy One-Ear Joe collecting garbage". Non-paying markets have also exploded over the past couple of decades, Still, advances on books continue to rise. Numbers of books published (yes, ones that pay the authors) continue to rise. Paying markets have also exploded over the past couple of decades. The idea that if we give an inch to these non-paying markets, we'd fall down a slippery slope and eventually no one would ever get paid to write anything... Well, to quote you, "This is insane logic." And even worse, to think that we'd just stop writing alltogether because no one was paying us?

And your article also ignores the implications of self-publishing and the scalar nature of monetary value that would require us to say that Angels and Demons is a demonstrably better book than The Brothers Karamazov.

I grant that I've taken a few steps further in these arguments than you've made in your article, so let me step back and finish with what I think is the assumption that underlies this whole article; your value as a writer is directly indicated by how much money someone is willing to pay you for your work. I think this is patently false, and you perhaps think so as well, but each of the points you make in this article only stands on this premise. If you aren't getting paid for your work, you're mired in a pool of mediocrity. Or you're crazy, and deformed, collecting garbage, or you're naive and actually paying someone to rip you off... All because you don't have the self respect to prostitute your work for only the highest bidder.

Now, I've said a lot of negative things about your article, but please remember, this is a good article, and ultimately I think you are right. I think it's a shame that you are right, but this is indeed the system that is creeping up around us, and if we don't watch out for scam publishers and constantly try to improve our work to finally start regularly landing paying gigs, we're not going to be able to make writing a job that we can live off of. Including standing up for ourselves and saying, "No, my work is good enough to be paid for." I mean you have painted an accurate portrait of an ugly situation, and have given some good insights into it. Remember though that, just as you point out, "being published means my work is good" is the mindset that allows scam markets to continue to prey on authors, but it's not such a far cry from the mindset "being paid for my work means it is good," which is actually how we got to where we are now, for good and ill.

Anthony Rivera's picture
Anthony Rivera June 15, 2015 - 4:29pm

An INCREDIBLY great post! And one long past due.

There's a date of expiration on every product these days. And Max Booth has just established one for every FTL author market that exists.

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading Tons of LGBT nonfiction so he can judge a literary contest June 15, 2015 - 8:33pm

Right on, brother! (Does that date me?)

--Ed

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 16, 2015 - 8:31pm

Harlan Ellison - I Don't Take a Piss Without Getting Paid For It!

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like June 16, 2015 - 9:58pm

There are some worthwhile points in the article and comments. But I get the feeling the types of publishers against whom the author of this article is advising belong to a more specific class than one might realize on a quick read. What he's saying might be true of those he's talking about. However, if he's actually including all non-paying markets (and for-free self-publishers) in the "FTL" category, then I'd absolutely disagree that it makes writing worse.

And, if non-paying markets are more common these days, part of that (I think) would be due to the greater ease of communication (and layout & printing, shipping, commerce) rather than due to other writers allowing their work to be published for free. (It might be both, and more.) Today, anybody really can start a press. Many don't last, but that isn't due only to quality of content. It is often due to this small irony: though writers can't live off exposure, publishers (even self-publishers) require it. If nobody knows you've published a book or magazine, not only can you not sell it, you can't even give it away.

But if the author just means don't submit to a scam publisher, then I'd agree: don't submit.