Monday, June 29, 2009

Per-word vs. flat-rate

Earlier today I listened to a presentation about short story writing. One of the two presenters--an established mystery short story writer--claimed that professional publications pay by the word and that publications that pay flat rates are not professional publications.

What a crock.

I've sold short stories--some of them mysteries--to many publications that pay flat rates The flat rates some of these publications pay exceed the per-word rates that the top mystery magazines pay for stories of equivalent length. And sales to some of these publications were used to qualify me for active membership in the Horror Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

So, whether a publication pays per-word or pays a flat rate for its fiction is not, in and of itself, an indication of whether or not the publication is a professional market.


Carol Kilgore said...

Good advice, Michael.

I came back from vacation to find I'd been tagged with the I Cannot Tell a Lie meme.

So I'm tagging you.

Check Under the Tiki Hut for particulars.

sandra seamans said...

Would you mind going into a little more detail on what is considered "Professional" for a writer, Michael? Yesterday I kind of got slapped with the point that being published in zines isn't professional, even if I do get paid. Are only print publications considered professional level?

Michael Bracken said...

"Professional" is how one group of writers attempts to distance themselves from another group of writers, and each group of writers manipulates the definition to ensure that they are "professional."

One thing that amuses me is when writers of one genre, having little experience with common practices in another genre, define "professional" is such a way that professionals in the other genre are excluded.

Here are some rather general guidelines to determine whether a publication is professional:

1) How much does it pay?

For purposes of obtaining active membership (membership with full voting privileges) HWA and SFWA require short story sales to publications that pay no less than 5-cents/word. MWA and PWA are less rigid. My understanding, which may be incorrect, is that RWA only considers sales of novels as a qualification for active membership.

2) Is the editor of the publication paid?

A professional publication pays its staff. Usually. Some literary magazines are staffed by volunteers and underwritten by a university or a non-profit organization.

3) Does the contract indicate understanding of copyright law?

A professional publication offers a contract or letter of agreement that clearly indicates that they understand copyright law.

Why e-zines aren't generally considered "professional":

1) They doesn't pay or they pay only a token amount. A few science fiction e-zines do pay "professional rates," but writers in other genres are unaware of them and therefore tar all e-zines with the same brush.

2) Few e-zines have paid staff because the e-zines don't generate enough income. Many e-zines are supported by the editor/publisher's day job. Professional publications aren't usually supported by the editor/publisher's day job.

3) Far too many e-zine editor/publishers indicate their complete lack of knowledge about copyright law in their guidelines. For example, their guidelines says things such as "all rights belong to the individual contributors" or "all rights return to the writers after six months" or some other nonsensical statement.

Does that help you understand why being published in e-zines isn't considered professional?

Maybe later I'll tackle the definition of "professional" writer.

sandra seamans said...

Helps a lot! Thanks for the clarification. I look forward to reading more if you decide to tackle that definition.