Submitting: What’s worth it?

Earlier this week I was taking a look at Duotrope.com, a fantastic resource for finding new markets for work and tracking submissions, while searching for a market for a short story I have finished and wanted to start sending out. I found an anthology whose theme and genre were a good fit for it but from a publisher* I’d never worked with before, had heard nothing about, and whose pay scale left much to be desired. However, judging by their list of works they’ve put out (and their list of works they’re accepting submissions for), and that they had an anthology listed on one particular “Reader’s Poll” for last year along with Cthulhurotica, I decided to ask around about them. In the end, after doing research on them, their books, and their pay, and getting reviews and recommendations from other authors, I’m not going to submit to them but I thought I’d put up why.

There are many reasons to submit to a market, even one that’s obscure or low-paying, and it all depends on your motivations. If your motivation is simply to get published then submitting everywhere or anywhere is good enough, regardless of possible exposure, the merits of the market, the possible reimbursement, etc. etc. etc. My criteria is a little more strict than that as I’m trying to approach my writing from a more professional point-of-view and also to, well, seek some reimbursement for my work.

When choosing a market to submit to I first take a look at its genre and theme. Obviously, it doesn’t make much sense to submit a science fiction story about deep space exploration with no elements of horror in it to a market that only publishes modern-day, urban horror stories. Some markets are very particular about what they will accept; Apex’s magazine, until they recently broadened their genre requirements, only accepted stories with a mixture of science fiction (as in space) and horror so submitting a western, even if it was a scary western, wouldn’t be appropriate.

Another thing I consider is the market’s reputation. Is it a well-known, pro-level market like Weird Tales, Clarkesworld, Apex, SF&F, Asimov’s? Is it a well-known, smaller market like Wily Writers or The Edge of Propinquity? Reputation of the market can go a long way toward your writing resume as it implies that you’re good enough to not only beat out the rest of the slushpile but impress the editors enough to like your work. You could be published fifty times by Bob’s Backyard Horror Extravaganza** but if no one knows about BBHE, the quality of their publication, how much possible competition there might be in the slushpile, or even if that’s just you posting your own stories online on your own zine then it won’t do you as much good.

The third thing I look at is pay and compensation. Considering the fact that I, if accepted to a particular market, am the one contributing what the market is essentially making money off of, I’d like to get something back especially if I spend hours of my personal time writing and editing the story prior to submission. Duotrope defines pay rates as pro-level being anything five cents per word and up, semi-pro being anywhere to one to five cents per word, and token being less than one cent a word a word. John Scalzi had a post about a particular low paying market and I find it hard to disagree with him. If I write a five thousand word story and a market is going to pay me 1/5 of a cent a word, that means I just made $10. Now, when you consider the fact that a five thousand word story might take me 3-5 hours to write, not including the time spent editing, and I’ve made less per hour than I would if I went back to my first job ever making sandwiches for Togo’s. That’s not worth it. Now, if it’s a flat fee of $50 for a three thousand word short story, then that’s $10 an hour or more depending on how long it takes to write/edit it, that’s a little more reasonable (at least as I consider it at this time). Hell, even a rate of one penny a word still makes me more, potentially, than minimum wage when looking at the 3k word example I give above.

But the “worth it” for me, when it comes to money, can change depending on what other things might go along with it. Will I get contributor’s copies of the work I’m featured in and/or a discount on purchasing the work in the future? If it pays lower than other markets does it have a name with more recognition, or have I seen their anthologies out in the wide world (and thus gain greater exposure to more people)? There are things to consider when you look at compensation other than just a dollar figure but if the dollar figure isn’t good, those other “things” need to make up for it.

As to places that do anthologies with payment schemes like contests, those are typically toward the bottom of my list, especially if the non-winners get nothing, not even contributor’s copies or a discount. My father, an electrician most of his life, said “Never work for free unless its for a good cause, family, or friend” and I believe holds true to writing, especially if I want to make something professionally out of it.

Sometimes this means that I might finish a story and, after it’s been passed over by larger markets, it might sit in the trunk for a bit while I wait for another publisher to pick it up; I think that’s ok. Honestly, I think it’s more important that I submit to the markets that I feel good about A) supporting with my work, B) where my story might be a good fit, and C) will net me some kind of benefit.

Now, your criteria may differ from mine and that’s alright; this is in no way meant as anything more than me sharing my personal opinions as far as they extend to myself. You should come up with your own criteria of what you find acceptable regarding where you will (or won’t) submit to and I think anyone who thinks of writing (or doing photography or any other kind of art) should consider it.

~~~
*The name of the market isn’t necessary and I’d rather not have people think I was bagging on a market simply because I chose not to publish there.
**If Bob’s Backyard Horror Extravaganza actually exists I’ll eat my hat I apologize for using them as an example of a potentially “bad” small press.

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