November 5th, 12,000 film and TV writers walked off their jobs in order to fight for their share from profits from their work. Sure, you might not feel the impact of this strike for a while since studios tried to stockpile movies and TV episodes, but should it go on for even a few months, you surely will. The main issue is over a slice of the profits from when their words are downloaded from the Internet (especially after they got screwed after the advent of money from video). This is the context in which we’re having this conversation.

Writers are taken for granted.

We often talk about the community of writers. We pay forward the opportunities and mentoring that we’ve received along the way, and veterans often encourage newbies along. And while I celebrate any who seriously try to pursue their call to write, don’t expect me to celebrate every new non-paying market that comes along.

A recent discussion on a message board that I frequent started over a new market wanting writers to submit stories to them. Their pay rate: $7 and a copy for stories 8,000 – 12,000 words long; $10 for a novella/20,000 words.

Let me think about it this way: let’s say I take a week, a regular 40 hour work week to write a short story (I write fairly slow, so this probably isn’t far off for me to do a 5,000 word story). This includes the time it takes for me to do my research, outline the story, do an initial draft, re-write the beast at least two times, run it past my first readers, then polish it before sending it off to be cast off by editors. At my day job, my billable rate is something like $50 per hour, yet here I’m asking for 5 cents per word, basically the same rates H.P. Lovecraft was making back in his day. Now, 5 cents per word is considered professional rates by HWA and SFWA, basically the industry standard.

But a new market pops up and I’m supposed to laud their appearance because they “love” the genre. You want to love me? Pay me. I know, I know, who am I? I’m a nobody writer in the greater scheme of things. But if I’ve learned one thing in my struggle toward overnight success it’s that there comes a point when you have to think of yourself as a real writer: if you think of yourself as a professional and act as a professional, you will be thought of as a professional. And professionals wouldn’t submit to such a market (unless they were doing a friend a favor, which I’ve done, or it was for charity, which I’ve also done).

There is no ladder to climb. You don’t start off in small markets and work your way up to bigger ones. You start submitting to the largest, most prestigious, highest paying markets first (Baen’s Universe, Clarkesworld Magazine, Cemetery Dance, Dark Wisdom, Horror Literature Quarterly) and work your way down. When you/your story’s “ready” it will find its place. If I submit a story to a market paying less than 5 cents a word, then there is an obvious trade off of some sort, be it wide distribution (in the case of an Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest) or critical acclaim (Electric Velocipede, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, All Hallows). Or there are editors I simply want to work with (examples not included for fear of appearing to be sucking up).

Otherwise, good luck with your venture. Apparently whatever passed for your business model included paying printers, but why not the folks who actually produce your content? I believe in publishing well/building my resume and there are worse things in the world than not having a story published and putting it in a drawer rather than give it away. But there are still plenty of writer hobbyists who will submit to you.

So, as we settle in for late night shows in reruns, soap operas going dark (sorry Keene), and an overload of reality television shows, think about the folks who put them together. Or read a book.

(Thank God for DVR, because I have nearly 100 hours of stockpiled shows to keep me amused for a while. Otherwise, fight on my brother and sister writers!)

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.