Friday, March 27, 2009

Thinking about Paying Markets

I find as I grow into this writing life, things shift and change, and the latest shift is towards something I have been thinking about for a while: only submitting my stories to literary journals that pay.

Before I carry on, I want to stress that I certainly don't subscribe to the school of thought that submitting to non-paying journals is somehow "giving away your work for free". Not at all. Publication is a vital part of being a writer, especially a writer of short stories, and when you are beginning to send work out, being accepted for publication is extremely important. First, there is the sense that you are not just writing for yourself: one other person - the editor, who is not related to you, who doesn't know you, who isn't invested in your emotional wellbeing - has just told you that they respond to your work. You now have a reader. Then, there is the seeing of your work as part of something bigger, as part of the editor's vision for the journal. And, of course, there is the audience, the readership, others who are now being given the chance to see if they respond to your work. All of this also goes into building your reputation as a writer, getting "out there". To my mind, these things are just as important as monetary payment, if not more so.

Publication builds confidence, allows you to say to yourself "I am a writer", and that will spur you on to write more and submit more and grow more into your writing self. Having a book is one peak of this process, you can now say "I am a published author", and, as someone told me when The White Road & Other Stories came out, no-one can every take this away from you. You will die a published author.

The next stage is when your confidence is such that you don't need to be published to like what you are doing, to know that you are a writer, to know that you will keep on writing. The need here has changed. For me, what I now need is justification for the decision I made two years ago to write full time. I need to know that my writing is a career, is something I can do to support myself. For this, I need to be paid. Even if that payment is nowhere near a salary, whatever it is, I can say "I am being paid for my writing". It now replaces what I was doing before, journalism, as a source of income. I recently was asked to submit flash stories for a series of chapbooks by a new small press. When I heard that they could be previously published stories, and that I would be paid, I was amazed, delighted. Two flash stories were accepted, and I received $50. That may not sound like a lot, but that's real money. That pays part of some bill or other, puts some food on the table. It makes a difference.

Naturally, as for most writers, that source of income will need to be supplemented by others, and, as for many of us, that is teaching. That was another shift for me, another stage: I put myself into a position where I was asking a room full of people to see me as someone experienced, who knows something and has knowledge to impart. Some kind of authority. Doing that for the first time was scary: not only was I asking to be treated as if I had authority, I was getting paid for it. But, after the first session, I felt that I had not only asked and received this, but that I myself felt that it was actually true. I did have something to pass on, something to talk about, and now, four months later, I see how much it enriches my writing life.

So, from now on, it's paid markets only and writing-related paying work. If, as has happened a few times recently, I am asked to submit to a journal that doesn't pay, I will definitely submit, because this is also a shift, being "solicited", and it means something to me. But in a way, it's a relief not to "have" to submit to the many many excellent non-paying journals out there. Keeping track of submissions was driving me a little crazy! Now, my pool is limited. Probably a very good thing. Maybe I will actually get more writing done.


Jen said...

Tania, this is my first time reading and responding. Your post addresses many things I have been thinking about lately. I have only been writing flash fiction for a few weeks. Before that, I've been blogging about education and technology for years, and writing in the field of education. Now that I'm doing something creative, it feels so much more a part of me. When I think of selling anything I've written, it feels like selling a child! I don't know if this is just the early stage of a writing career, or if I have a strange perspective. I have no problem giving away my work for free with creative commons licensing. I even love the thought of others rewriting my work, but the thought of someone else owning it, is not something I'm ready to entertain. I just wonder if you felt like this in the early days, and how you overcame it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope your community is supportive of your decision. It sounds very wise!

Tania Hershman said...

Hi Jen,
thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I don't ever think of someone else owning something I've written just because I've been paid for it, most journals ask for first publication rights, not more than that, and they can never change your work without your permission, if that is what you're worried about. You need to read the small print, but any publication concerned about writers will always give you approval on edits.

But what I would say is that you should do what feels right to you. When I was first sending work out, I was desparate for it to be published, I felt like that was the only thing that would tell me if it was any good or not, it wasn't something I felt I could judge myself, I needed someone else to tell me. I guess that's the same whenever you start something new. I don't feel like that so much any more. That's what has changed. But that doesn't mean I think any less of non-paying publications, there are many many quality lit mags that can't afford to pay and I know they would if they could. This is just something I feel is right for me right now.

Good luck with your flash fiction, it's a fabulous thing to be writing and there are loads of wonderful places to submit it to!

Nik's Blog said...

I agree 99% with everything you've said here, and the only way that I'm different (aside from not having a supercool collection out) is that there are cool and interesting places out there that don't pay that I'm happy to be in.

But aside from that, I agree with everything and wish you luck and what you deserve.


Jennifer Jones said...

Thanks, Tania. I'm not really worried about anyone changing the work. I think I need to research more about "first publication rights." I'm used to academic writing where the piece has to be exclusive. Thanks for the feedback!

Douglas Bruton said...

This is very interesting, Tania. I hope to one day be where you are and in a position where I am being solicited (for work I mean!).

But I also think some pieces will still be out there for free. For example, there is a collaborative venture called 'Greyling Bay'... no money, and a strict editor making the selection of work... but it is a fun project and being involved takes me away from some of the other things in my head... I don't see me wanting to give that up.

I also sub to paying sites and get that 'worth it' feeling when a dollar cheque slips through the door.

Know what? I just love writing and throwing stuff out there, no matter what... but then I have a reasonable paying day-job, and so am not in this for the money... that maybe makes it easier for me.

As I said, interesting conversation.


Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Tania, I am absolutely with you. My only exception to this is a market with exceptional prestige. In that case, I do submit knowing I will get other benefits. For example African Writing. From there I got asked to join One World and now I have a story in the same book as people like Jhumpa Lahiri, Chimamanda Ngozi and Vanessa Gebbie. That is a type of payment too.

Tania Hershman said...

Nik, thanks, you're right, there are fabulous places that don't pay that it is great to appear in.

Jennifer, my pleasure!

Douglas, that project, the fact that it is collaborative, sounds like it gives you a great deal, I would never suggest giving up something like that. And yes, having a paying job does make a difference! Thanks for giving us your thoughts.

Lauri, definitely agree with you, to be in one world is fantastic, yes it is a type of payment, prestige.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Really good useful post, thanks. I think the advent of the internet has done wonderful wonderful things for writers. After all, some part of us 'wants to be read' and the net allows that. It's all part of 'growing up' as a writer, isnt it? The moving on and out and up. Although sometimes, I must confess, I look at flashes and think Oh what the hell and whiz it off somewhere on the net that doesnt pay but which I know has a decent editor. I would certainly not do that with a short story now. They take too long to give away. There has to be some payback - a good line on the CV, maybe.

Tania Hershman said...

Thanks V, I feel like that about flashes too, but have also realised that if I am aiming for a collection of flash stories, I need to keep a load unpublished, resist the urge to send them out!

The Bookaholic said...

This is really nice!