Monday, May 16, 2011

Giving it Away?

Should writers submit their work to non-paying markets?

I came across this very interesting discussion over at the Library of the Living Dead:

Giving Away your Writing to 'for the Love of...' and 'for Exposure / Publicity' Anthologies

When I decided I was going to pursue a career in writing, I also decided I was going to be a professional writer. I was going to treat my writing as "the business of art." I was going to have office hours; I was going to write on a regular basis, submit on a regular basis, market my work, and generally conduct myself in a professional manner.

When I started out, I heard a lot of experts advising writers to "start small" and submit to non-paying markets first to build publication credits and gain name recognition.

While I respect their logic, it didn't make any sense to me (not to mention, "starting small" is not something I'm inclined to do . . . with anything . . . EVER, lol). Write for free? That doesn't sound very professional. defines professional as:

Following an occupation as a means of livelihood or gain.

A later definition in the list is even more pertinent:

A person who earns a living in a sport or other occupation frequently engaged in by amateurs.

And, in turn, the definition of amateur is:

a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. 

So, according to  the very definition of "professional" is someone who gets paid (or attempts to, lol).

For me, that's the clincher. If I'm going to be a professional writer, then I expect to get paid. Right from the start, I decided I was only going to submit to paying markets.

I do understand the logic behind the advice to submit to non-paying markets. They do add credits to your publication history and, in theory, "get your name out there." I'm just not sure if it works beyond theory.

Do unpaid publication credits really carry any weight with pro markets? Or are they viewed on par with getting an opinion piece published in your local free shopper paper? Most non-paying publications have standards that are just as high as those of paying markets. So they should carry just as much weight as paying markets. But do they? Reality and public perception are often too very different things (as the continued debate about self-publishing shows).

And do they really get your name out there and garner name recognition? How many authors have you "discovered" thanks to seeing their name again and again in small presses? Probably very few, if any. I think the chances of building a name are better shooting for the higher-paying markets, which usually have a higher circulation and therefore offer a better chance of getting your name out there in front of more readers.

Even small paying markets don't offer much opportunity for name recognition.

For example, I had a story in the Loving the Undead Anthology. It was a paying anthology, but the publisher went out of business and the anthology went out of print not long after its initial print run. So while I was paid for my contribution, it obviously failed at "getting my name out there." If it had been an "exposure only" anthology, it wouldn't have benefited me at all. I would have given away a story and hardly anyone would have seen it. Worse yet, selling it later as a reprint stinks because a lot of markets don't take reprints and those that do usually pay less for them. So the story would have been written for nothing other than the joy of writing the story. Great, but not what I'm aiming for in my goal of being a professional writer.

I'm not knocking non-paying markets. And I'm not knocking anyone who decides to start with non-paying markets. Everyone has to choose the path that works best for their own writing career. This is just an explanation of the reasons why I chose, for my own writing career, to raise my flag with the "pay the writer" camp.

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Story-A-Day May Update:

So far, so good: ten (business) days, ten stories. You can see the complete list of my progress over on my Story-A-Day blog.

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Links for writers:

Best Articles This Week for Writers

Tough Lessons From a Debut Novelist

Writer Reality Check

Secrets To Being a Super-Prolific Short Story Writer

54 Tips For Writers From Writers

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