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.


Harper Hull said...

Couldn't agree more - seems like the same bunch of people appear for the same freebie places over and over too, at that point you may as well just form your own little book club and leave the rest of the world out of it.

Becky said...

No disagreement from me. I will donate my time and energy for a good cause. The publisher's profit is not that cause. Do they expect their tires rotated for free, because it only takes a few minutes? Do their doctors see them for free, because it only takes a second to look in someone's ears and write a prescrition? Of course not. Mostly because a professional doesn't put up with those kind of demands. The more we value our skills and act like professionals, whether we're writing for millions or beer money, the better for everyone.

JWS. said...

I think part of the reason may be that with POD being so easy to use for people to publish, a lot of companies are starting up with NO CAPITAL for getting the work done. Fact of the matter is, the more you offer your writers, the better quality of work you get. Anthologies shouldn't be a "how cheap can I make this" kind of deal. People notice.

Unfortunately this will continue to happen as long as writers see themselves as "working their way up the ladder" or as you said, just hoping to see themselves in print. It's completely understandable; writing is a difficult, lonely, frustrating gig that many of your friends won't really get unless they are artists themselves. This is easy justification for learning your craft. maybe like getting stars on a pop quiz, lol.

Leaves me kind of torn, and probably that is a result of me working both sides of the fence. On the one hand, I love the fact that anyone can put a book together or publish a story, on the other, I realize that this will lend itself to a thick layer of hobby writing and publishing that anyone serious about their work needs to wade through to be noticed.

My suggestion is the same thing I tell my daughter when she doesn't want to wade through the crud that washes up on the beach: keep your head down, plow through it, and you'll be clear in no time.

Great post Jessica!

J. Kyle said...

In my opinion in has to do with the institutionalization of art. Art is fundamentally a free enterprise, bottom-up scenario

but you get people with credentials, university salaries, and institutional approval to decide 'what art is' without taking any type of risk (whereas even critics take risks to the value of their opinion by endorsing or bashing a piece) and the world responds by devaluing anyone without this official seal of 'artistic beauty'
Like writing is just some neurotic thing we do, hoping against hope to become PUBLISHED and have someone read our private doggerel
I, for one, currently care as little about the tilted system of small publishers and commercial success as I do about the tilted system of large universities and institutional success
We write to remake the image of the world

Anyway, nice blog :P Took me about three paragraphs to click Follow. Keep up the beautiful work

Jessica Brown said...

You know, the older I get the less I, too, really care about professional establishments, despite the fact that I very well may land face-first in one (or more) of them as my career unfolds. Publishers are nice but no longer a real necessity - Dan Holloway and the rest of the Year Zero Writers publish themselves under a Creative Commons license, and the always awesome SUPERVERT does all of his work in-house. There are any number of authors self-publishing (only to be picked up by small and/or major presses after a while, but still), and all of this is fine.

Art really is free, I agree, and publishers really are a mode of transportation/distribution and a source of word of mouth.

When I get riled up is when publishers like the unnamed little press that sparked the outrage that became the genesis of my post flat-out tells writers that they will be profiting off their work with no compensation. They expect these people to be naive enough (and some, unfortunately, are) to give up their creation for something as insignificant as a byline in a publication that very well may not have much of an audience in the end. That's absolute arrogance on the part of the publisher, and really ought not be tolerated at all (except in the case of charity anthologies and the like, when all proceeds are donated, which is another situation entirely that I'm inclined to approve of).

In those cases, the authors involved are better off publishing on their own. At least nobody will be bleeding them dry for nothing.

Thank you for the kind words regarding my blog, as well. I always enjoy hearing that people enjoy what I have to say, though sometimes I wonder just how much I'm saying hasn't already been articulated by writers way more eloquent than I am.