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mylefteye

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Scalzi vs Black Matrix [Dec. 7th, 2009|03:33 pm]
mylefteye
You’ve probably read and rolled your eyes at that post by John Scalzi on his Whatever blog and the response from Black Matrix, which you can read here, so I don’t mind if you roll your eyes at this mention and move on.

To summarise, Scalzi had a go at Black Matrix for offering writers a pay rate of 1 cent per 5 words, and called upon writers to boycott them. I’ve had a look at a few of the comments on his and Black Matrix’s blog and it seems pretty clear cut to me. John Scalzi and his ilk should keep their gobs shut.

I could, and in all fairness should elaborate, but instead I’ll do that in the comments. I’m interested to see where the writers and artists on my flist stand on this one.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: justin_pilon
2009-12-07 04:00 pm (UTC)
The page is gone, LOL. But I had gotten wind of this. I don't think it's right to single out one particular market, but I do agree with him in the sense that I'm extremely wary of publications with pay rates beneath 1 cent/word, in particular when they have no track record and an editor I've never heard of. I think it's not so much a matter of how much you get paid, but of the quality and recognition behind the publication. There's some semi-pro mags I'd give my left-- okay I'll leave that part out, but you get the idea-- to get into. I also think it's a bit unrealistic to only focus on pro-paying markets especially for a beginning writer. I believe pro sales do tend to spawn more pro sales as your name picks up recognition, but not everybody is going to luck out with a first sale to a pro market. Telling writers to only sub to 5+ cents/word markets could be seriously discouraging for them I think. Take the situation this month. Almost every pro-rate horror market is closed. There's just not enough pro-rate markets to set this kind of standard.
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-07 04:28 pm (UTC)
I cocked up the link. It should be OK now. But yeah, why did John Scalzi pick on Black Matrix? Even if we dismiss all those 4theLuv markets, they are a long way from the lowest paying market. And at least they are being honest and upfront about the pay rates. I remember seeing magazines in Ralan's pro-paying section that advertised 5c a word, up to a maximum of $20... for stories 3-7k in length. Eh?

My feeling is we all have to start somewhere. What you said about writers applies to publishers and editors too. If writers start boycotting them we'll end up killing the small press. It's a symbiotic relationship. It's karma, man. :)
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[User Picture]From: catephoenix
2009-12-07 04:35 pm (UTC)
I read John Scalzi's post a few days ago. If it wasn't for FTL and Token mags taking my stories in the mid 90's, I probably would have given up writing. Was I good enough for pro markets back then? God no. Am I now? Time will tell.

I had made a decision (prior to this) to aim for pro and semi-pro magazines exclusively (give me until 100 rejection letters or June, whichever comes first) next year, not because how much I'm paid is a factor (a lot of the time I donate payment back to the magazine), but because I've been at this so long, I really feel I should attempt to step up a gear and if I fail, then I at least know where I stand. For most of 2009, I really didn't try hard enough.
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-07 04:52 pm (UTC)
It's worthwhile aiming for the upper end of the market for the increase in exposure. The money...? Well, I don't see how $50 as opposed to $10 is going to change anyone's life. Like you I've waived fees or donated payments back to the publisher when I've been happy with the finished mag, book or mp3.

If one can sell to the pro-paying markets, brilliant, go for it. But speaking for myself, I don't know what people like Cemetery Dance are looking for. I've never been particularly impressed with it, although I'd love to get a story placed with them. Likewise I'd love to get a mention by Eleen Datlow or Stephen Jones, but having read some of the stories they've recommended, I'm not sure why. :)
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[User Picture]From: sinauthor
2009-12-07 06:28 pm (UTC)
Pay is nice, but I'm most concerned with getting my name out. Of course, these two can happily coincide like in WEIRD TALES (who always reject me very politely).
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-07 07:29 pm (UTC)
Long live the small press!

And the polite pro press!
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From: mmerriam
2009-12-07 07:15 pm (UTC)
When it comes to submitting stories (the business end of writing) I always start with the highest paying markets that seem a reasonable fit for the story and work my way down through the small press and semi-pros (where pay means less than reputation).

I think I've made my position clear that to me a story's purpose is to be told or read, and if you refuse to allow the story to fulfill it's purpose because no one offered you what you "pro rate" then that story did nothing. You worked on it, wrote it, loved it, and it did nothing.

I think I'd like to smack the fellow who keeps going on about how Black Matrix is exploiting writers. If you chose to submit a story to a magazine that pays less than a penny a word that is your choice. I have. To several of the Sam's Dot Publishing stable of magazines. So has Jay Lake (just to name a big-time pro), and those magazines have turned up in award nominations. Lone Star Stories paid a whopping $25 a story which sometimes worked out to less than a penny a word, but it also launched some great careers.

I think Scalzi and that ilk have forgotten what it means to not be so famous that you could submit and sell your grocery list if you wanted.





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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-07 07:23 pm (UTC)
Hear, hear! You put that so well all I can do is nod along.
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From: mmerriam
2009-12-07 07:30 pm (UTC)
truepenny says some interesting things here:

http://truepenny.livejournal.com/697323.html

I don't completely agree with her, but she has some good points.
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-07 07:44 pm (UTC)
Wow, she sells a story for pennies and sees it reprinted in The Year's Best of...! To my way of thinking, that completely overturns Scalzi's assertion that a writer must find a pro-rate market that places a monetary value on his or her work, or not bother selling it all.

where Scalzi and his ilk see businesses looking to get fat on the backs of writers’ creativity, I see average Joes that love books and want to be part of the scene. They are willing to work and put up whatever money they can afford, and thank goodness they are there, because otherwise I wouldn’t have sold a single story to date. Not one.
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[User Picture]From: jongibbs
2009-12-07 08:48 pm (UTC)
I have a 'Pride will only let me go as low as 1 cent per word' rule. It's the principal of payment, rather than the money itself for me.

A novel, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter :)
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-07 09:04 pm (UTC)
Although I tend to look for 1 cent per word minimum, I've let some stories go for less and gotten more for others. My main criteria is finding a good home for my stories.
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From: aaronpolson
2009-12-07 09:11 pm (UTC)
As I blathered about on my blog today, those who make their income with fiction ar competing in a changing world. Scalzi earns his biscuts with his writing; I don't. Me? I'll keep writing and submitting and writing...I love stories. Can all the pros say that?
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-07 09:21 pm (UTC)
I just commented on your post a few seconds ago! I do wonder, all these pro writers complaining of the small press effecting their income, does anyone make a decent living by writing short fiction. I wouldn't have thought it possible. As I said in a comment above, $10 or a $100, it's hardly life-changing sums of money, is it?
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[User Picture]From: musingaloud
2009-12-07 10:36 pm (UTC)
Exactly. What everyone said. God knows those of us still knocking on doors aren't doing it for the money. Hell, from what I hear, most "pro" novel writers aren't really doing it for the money, either. While we'd all love to be able to (do it for the money), it's just not a viable option. Not in this marketplace.
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-07 10:40 pm (UTC)
...it's just not a viable option

You got it, Pam. in a nutshell.
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From: ext_126408
2009-12-08 09:16 am (UTC)
Mike

Personally I think things have gottten so bad that more and more writers will be self publishing instead of working for free or slave wages. Vanity presses used to be a joke but they're not anymore, now its more of a POD press and some can be very good.

Still in this market writers are getting royally shafted up the arse by everyone.
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-08 04:40 pm (UTC)
The problem with using POD to self-publish is we still have to stump up the cash for all the set-up fees, which are not insubstantial, especially if you're only reckoning on selling a hundred copies or so. Pitiful figures for a 'proper' publisher, but OK for a small press outfit.

For example, my collection was published by Baysgarth Publications, who is one guy who works at Tesco by day and, er, drinks like a fish by night. But somehwere in his busy life he found the time to typeset the book, pay me and the cover artist and cover all the printer's set-up fees. There was no risk for me, and down here at the small press level, that's about as good as we can hope for. The collection earned me about £300, brought me exposure, garnered praise from two of the writers responsible for me having a go at it in the first place, and helped to land me an agent who can count James Ellroy and Stuart Neville among his clients. Which is actually a lot more than I could have hoped for! :)

But when all's said and done, the writer deserves the lion's share of a book's takings, and if that means self-publishing I can see why many would take that route.
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-12-08 10:11 am (UTC)
The attitude of certain successful writers as seen last week really ticks me off – there’s room for everyone and we’re all trying to get better and make progress.

For me right now, being paid (whatever amount) for a story is some kind of validation that I’m on the right track. I aim for the pro-mags (what few there are) when I have what I feel is the right story – whether I’ll get there or not remains to be seen.

If (when) I do, I’m pretty sure my experiences with the small press will have stood me in good stead… whatever the likes of Scalzi think.

LRB

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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-08 04:49 pm (UTC)
It was on your blog that I first came across the Scalzi debate. Like you, I think it's for each writer to decide where he sends his or her stories, and I find it quite sad that a successful author should see fit to diss a fledgling press. It's an uncharitable attitude, to say the least, and you'd be quite justified in calling it elitist.
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[User Picture]From: gerardbrennan
2009-12-08 02:08 pm (UTC)
I think it'd be useful for anybody reading this post and the comments (or anybody else interested in writing) to google the name Stuart Neville. One of the defining points in his writing career? He subbed a story to an internet magazine that paid him with a T-shirt...

Also, Brian McGilloway had his first two novels published by Macmillan New Writing, which didn't pay an advance. His next three books were published by Pan Macmillan. I imagine his agent worked out a decent payment for that.

It occurs to me that both of these writers were more intersted in getting read than getting fed off their writing and they're going to be around for a long time.

Are they lucky? Yes. But they're also two of the most talented and hardest working writers to come out of Northern Ireland in the last couple of years. There's more than one way to skin a cat. Do your own thing and if you're lucky, you'll get what you deserve. If you're very lucky, like win the lottery lucky, you'll get more.

gb
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-08 04:14 pm (UTC)
You hit the nail on the head with those examples, mate. To put it another way, we all have to plough our own furrow. I've already used that phrase in a comment above, but it's a good un so I'll not aplogise for using it twice.
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[User Picture]From: sunlit_oakk
2009-12-08 02:33 pm (UTC)
I may well just shock a few here but I think Scalzi actually has more good points than Black Matrix and it's actually zines and mags like Black Matrix that have lowered the standard somewhat for fiction.

I think pro-rates for all is a very difficult goal but one to aspire to, us taking the step up to semi-pro for the next few books we are to publish. One of the reasons for that was my feeling that we had to pay the authors more.

When I read that a 7,000 word story written for Black Matrix would net the author a massive $14 I was shocked.

I understand why it's going on but I'm not the biggest fan of it all.

And yes, I understand both sides but I think the Black Matrix gang's arguments were very very weak.
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-08 04:23 pm (UTC)
*jaw drops in shock*

:)

Actually, I'm not that surprised, as I know you are ambitious and keen to to get good authors on the side of Morrigan. You're a good man and I honestly believe you'll go a long way in publishing.

But...

Let's just say the people behind Black Matrix (and many, many people like them) just don't have the funds to pay the authors more for their first book(s). Should they just forget publishing, or should they say, "Look, we're paying peanuts here, but it's early days yet and with some luck and good judgment we'll grow into a company that can offer the writer fair compensation"? Personally, I'd rather they did the latter.

Black Matrix's worst crime, I think, is to state 0.2 cents a word instead of offering a flat payment and /or contributer copy. I'm sure if they had done that they would not have been singled out. Mind you, I happen to believe they'll profit from all this publicity.
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From: ext_126408
2009-12-09 03:24 am (UTC)
Mike, Ger,

My problem with the attitude that people are "happy just to be published" is that publishers will increasingly fuck the author over because of this. You want an advance? Fuck you, there's a hundred people out there who we can publish for nothing. People who accept zero payment to me are like scabs coming in to work in the coal mines. New writers, old writers, wannabe writers everyone gets exploited by the publishers.

You should demand something. Even 100 quid is better than no advance. Big publishers moan and complain about the market but somehow they manage to maintain their London offices and their junkets.

Ger, I know what you're saying about exposure and all that, but you should see some of the shenanigans major publishers are pulling these days. It aint right.

Adrian...
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-09 02:56 pm (UTC)
You know, the "scabs working during a strike" has been lurking at the back of my mind while this whole debate has been rumbling on, but I think it's important to differentiate between micro press outfits who can't pay a great deal and the proper publishers who can but don't. FWIW, I have never given a story away. I demand some payment, even if only to validate the transaction as a "sale". Sometimes I've donated that payment back, and on other occasions I've struck out for a better deal than was originally offered.
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From: ext_126408
2009-12-09 04:00 am (UTC)
Mike

I'm losing my cool over this and really we're both saying the same thing: its better to publish with a small indepenent press than go with a big publisher who will screw you over.

I have a friend in Canada who recently published with a major press: they paid him almost nothing for two full length novels and then demanded a free e book novella for their online content! This is the kind of stuff they have been getting away with for years and years.

Its like in the movie The Player - the writer is the lowest rung on the ladder despised by everyone.

Adrian
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[User Picture]From: mylefteye
2009-12-09 03:03 pm (UTC)
When you hear of shit like that it makes you wonder whether it's worth doldiering on. You sweat blood to bring a story into being, only for some greedy corporation bastard to treat you like a commodity, there to be exploited.

Incidentally, the guy that started this whole debate, John Scalzi, gets between 35 cents and $15 per word for his short fiction/essays. He doesn't write many as he doesn't consider them to be a cost-effective use of his time.
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