There is a lot to consider when looking at markets to submit your short stories to. From small press print anthologies, to major literary magazines, to niche ezines with limited traffic, a new writer hoping to score some publishing credits has nearly unlimited options.
With this post, I want to look primarily how much to expect to get paid for your short fiction. I’ll talk about the different pay scales and provide some examples of open markets falling in these categories.
When it comes down to it, there there are basically four categories of pay for markets publishing short fiction:
- Non-paying. (Also known as “exposure only”)
- Token paying (usually a fixed dollar amount averaging less than 1 cent per word)
- Semi-pro (1-4 cents per word)
- Professional (5 cents or more per word)
It’s really up to you which one you choose, but I’ll tell you the pros and cons for each, as I see them.
Whether or not you submit to a non-paying market is your prerogative. Some might say to go ahead and start with these markets if you’re a new writer, with the idea being that you’ll have less competition and the publication will have a higher acceptance rate. The important part at this stage is simply building your author bio and pay doesn’t matter.
While I do agree with that to an extent, I don’t usually recommend submitting short stories to non-paying anthologies. The way I see it is that if any money is generated from the anthology, then the contributors should be compensated for their work, even if it’s just a few dollars. If not upfront as a token pay, then a royalty after the fact would be appropriate.
Another reason I would recommend staying away from non-paying anthologies is that you can’t really use a non-paying market as a gauge to measure your writing ability. With such a small submission pool, the editors may very well be accepting every story that comes their way.
Finally, if you have work accepted in one of these markets and don’t receive a complimentary contributor’s copy, then you’ll most likely be buying one. Do you see the problem here? I’ll publish your story, expecting to sell you a copy of the anthology. It’s basically a small-scale vanity press.
To me, websites are an entirely different story. When it comes to publishing on the web, I think non-paying markets are perfectly acceptable for new writers, especially in the case of poetry or flash fiction, where it can often be more difficult to find a paying market.
The reason I think non-paying ezines are okay is because when an online magazine publishes your story, it is instantly available to the world. This translates to a much larger potential audience than what you could expect from a print anthology from an unknown publisher. While the site publishing your story may not generate a ton of traffic, your story will still be archived there indefinitely and eventually indexed in search engines. It should include a link to your author site and could help bring some awareness to your brand in the early stages of your publishing career.
Perhaps the best part of publishing on the web is that you’ll have a sample of your work available, free of charge, to show anyone who might be interested in your writing. If you’ve written a good story, it could lead to some sales of other stuff you’ve written.
So to summarize things, I say don’t ever submit to an anthology that doesn’t at least offer royalties or contributor copies. It is okay to submit to non-paying ezines, as long as they will provide a link to your author site and keep the story archived and publicly available as long as the site is live.
If you want to see your name in print and actually hold a physical copy of a book including your work, token paying anthologies are your best bet. These will usually be available from small press publishers who pay anywhere from $5.00 – $50.00 for a story, with optional contributor copies or discounts. A typical acceptance rate is around 10%, so you won’t have as much competition as you would in a semi-pro and professional market, giving you a better chance of making it through the slush pile.
Token-paying websites, likewise, provide all of the benefits of non-paying websites, except you’ll also get paid for your work.
I should also note that I own and edit a token-paying ezine named Theme of Absence, which publishes original science fiction, horror, and fantasy every Friday, as well as interviews with the authors.
Professional and Semi-Professional Markets
I’m grouping these two categories together mostly because the only thing that separates them in my mind is pay. Semi-Professional pay is generally .01-.04 per word, where professional pay is .05 per word or more.
These are the markets that are hard to break into. When you’re submitting to higher paying markets, you’re competing with hundreds–or in some cases thousands–of other writers each month. If you don’t have any credentials, your story might not even make it to the slush pile, let alone through it. Some of the larger ones accept a fraction of 1% of the unsolicited short stories they receive.
Even though the odds are against you, I do think it’s a good idea to submit to these markets, assuming you are ready. Make sure it’s your best work. Make sure you’ve had it critiqued and make sure it’s flawless.
Also, if you’re submitting fiction to one of the higher respected professional markets, be sure you’re not wasting your time. Read at least one entire issue of Asimov’s before randomly sending them a story that is nothing like the type of fiction they publish.
A Word About Contributor Copies and Royalties
Contributor copies and royalties are a form of payment you can–and should–consider as well. One note about royalties, though, is that since sales are generally low for small press print and electronic anthologies, you may very well never see a check, since the royalty pay will come out of the profits of the book after the expenses.
Anyhow, regardless of how you view pay, the most important factor is what you are comfortable with. I’ve had some writers tell me they have no problem at all submitting short stories to non-paying anthologies. Their only concern is building up a bio with as many publications as possible.
On the other side, I’ve had some writers tell me that they only submit to professional paying publications. It’s not the quantity of your publications, they say, but the quality. A personal rejection from a professional publication is worth more to them than an acceptance from a token-paying one.
And what about me?
I fall somewhere in between. I usually submit short stories to markets in the token to semi-pro range, although I will occasionally send something to a pro-paying market if I think it’s appropriate. Most of my publications have been in token-paying markets, with a few semi-pro and a few non-paying flash fiction sites. My biggest concern isn’t so much the pay or the prestige; it’s more important for me to simply find the right publication to place the story.
What about you? Does the pay a publication offers affect your decision whether or not to submit a story to it?