Sunday, July 25, 2010

For the Love or: Give Me Your Work for Free, Clueless Newbie

Something has been bothering me for a while now, and I think it’s time to get it off my chest. I know that this isn’t going to win me any new buddies in small press (I’ll probably upset at least one or two people, perhaps to the point of hate mail, but whatever), but it really, really needs to be said. The longer we go without anyone pointing out the gigantic elephant in the room, the worse off all of us will be.

What the hell is going on with these “for the love” anthologies?

I recently stumbled across submission guidelines for an anthology (and publisher) that shall remain nameless, and I was blown away by the implied arrogance in the listing. Are we going to pay you? No. Are we going to give you a contributor’s copy? No. It’s flash fiction; what were you expecting, money for your work?

They actually said that. You can't expect us to pay you because it's only flash fiction. Give it to us for free in exchange for having your name in our precious Table of Contents.

Fuck you. No, seriously. Fuck you.

I’ve been in several anthologies, with more slated for publication in the coming months. Each and every one of them paid a penny a word or more, plus a contributor’s copy. Seeing as how my short work tends to hover around the two-thousand word mark, that’s twenty bucks a sale plus a copy.

That’s beer money.

I don’t really care about the checks; they’re token payments. They’re a safeguard against crap writing. If an editor is willing to pay money for the work they publish, there’s a better chance for me that my Table of Contents neighbors are going to be worth their salt. One of the things I love about anthologies is that it’s somewhat of a shared experience. I enjoy seeing my name appear alongside people I either know personally (and whose work I enjoy) or have the utmost professional respect for. Taking cash out of the editor/writer/publication equation all but guarantees stories that normally wouldn’t make the cut (because nobody is willing to pay for them) are included because everyone who refuses to give their work away for free declines to submit.

I’m not going to submit to those places, and neither should anyone else who has any confidence in their abilities.

What really irritates me to no end about the “for the love” attitude is that my time isn’t worth compensation. Writing a competent story takes more than a few minutes; it can be downright difficult. I have, at times, agonized for weeks over whether or not a scene works or if certain words or phrases need to be replaced. When I’ve finally completed a story, when it’s passed multiple rounds of my own paranoid scrutiny, why would I just fling it out into the ether for free?

What this editor (and several others, as I’ve encountered this sentiment in multiple places) is saying is, “Your work isn’t worth paying for. I’m not going to give you a damn thing but, because you’re so desperate for people to see you as a ‘published author,’ you’re going to give me the fruit of your labors without any compensation whatsoever, and I’m going to profit off it.” They won’t come out and say that directly, though, as they’re too busy trying to look like a legitimate publisher in order to reel in new writers who are naive enough or inexperienced enough (usually both) to fall for it.

Hell, these worthless excuses for publishers are probably banking on selling extra copies to the very ‘authors’ they’ve ripped off. They need at least one copy laying around to impress Grandma and Pap-Pap with, right?

I’m not at all against anthologies that donate their proceeds to worthwhile charities. In fact, I’m all for it and am more than willing to waive my token fee if it means someone in the world (who isn’t a greedy editor) is going to benefit from it. Nor am I opposed to donating fiction, especially flash fiction, to nonpaying horror websites. I’ve given fiction to 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Flashes in the Dark, The New Flesh, MicroHorror and others. I routinely post my microfiction exercises over at Ficly under a Creative Commons license, and I’m fine with that.

You know why that doesn’t bother me? Nobody’s making money off my back and then flipping me off afterwards, expecting me to pay to see my own work in print. Seriously. That’s absolutely crazy, and seeing as how many fly-by-night nonpaying (and poorly edited, might I add) books show up in my Facebook feed or mentioned on forums I frequent it’s not going to end anytime soon. It won’t end until people value their own work enough to refuse to give it away to someone more than willing to hoard the profits for themselves.