When speaking with other writers, I’ve heard some say you should only submit to professional markets that pay a minimum of $.05 per word and others who say you should you respect the art of writing enough to do it for free (those are what I refer to as “unpublished writers”).
I fall somewhere in between, as I feel it’s perfectly acceptable to submit to token and semi-professional paying markets (and I should, since I run a token-paying site) but I don’t believe you should ever submit a story to a non-paying print market.
In a post earlier this year, I talked about Choosing A Pay Scale For Your Short Story, and went over the different types of pay you can expect for short stories and flash fiction.
In this post, however, I’d like to talk specifically about token-paying markets. To refresh, these are publications, either print or online, that pay less than $.01 per word, usually in the form of a flat rate. While you’re not going to strike gold from token-paying publications (sometimes the pay isn’t even enough to cover the cost of the cup of coffee you drank writing the damn story) I do believe they are a great resource for new writers hoping to grab a couple of publishing credits early on in their writing career.
So with that said, here are 3 reasons why you should consider submitting short fiction to token-paying markets:
1. Higher acceptance rate
It’s true that smaller markets usually have a higher acceptance rate. That doesn’t mean that they have lower standards by any means, but what it does mean is that they have fewer writers submitting short stories to them, due to the lower rate of pay. This is great news for new writers. With a smaller number of submissions, your chances of getting an acceptance are higher. Just to pull out some numbers for comparison, you can expect an acceptance rate of less than 1% when submitting to most pro markets. I see quite a few token payers accepting over 10% of the stories submitted to them. Some even higher. My current acceptance rate at Theme of Absence hovers around 25%, meaning you’ve got a 1 in 4 chance of getting picked up.
I would never encourage you to send anything other than your best work to a publisher. But if you’re a new writer (and to me, a “new” writer is someone who has been writing for less than ten years) you’re still working out your kinks and learning about this business. Because there is such an abundance of markets out there, you’ve got a lot of options when it comes to submitting short stories.
I’m going to tell you this, the submission process can be a little daunting at first. Every publisher has different needs and guidelines. By submitting to smaller markets, you can get a better feel of how the submission process works. You can get more familiar with Standard Manuscript Format and improve your query-writing skills. You can also improve your writing skills. Editors with a smaller slush pile are generally more will to provide personal feedback with rejections. By the time you’ve spend a year or two submitting fiction to these markets, you’ll be more ready to brave the larger publications.
3. Street cred
Yes, receiving a payment that adds up to less than a cheap pack of beer isn’t necessarily something you’ll go around bragging about, but there is something to be said about getting published. For one thing, if you tell anyone you’re a writer, one of the first three questions they ask is “Did you ever sell anything?” You can answer YES, even if the sale price was pretty low.
Another thing this tells you is that you can get past the gatekeepers. Since token-paying publishers do pay authors–usually out of their own pockets–you know they are not just saying “yes” to everyone. They opt to pay you for your story because they see merit in it, unlike the so-called “For The Love” print publishers, who instead of paying writers, “publish” them in anthologies with the goal of selling them copies.
To close things out, I’d like to say that as a writer, you need to view yourself as a professional. If you don’t mind taking lower paying jobs, take these reasons to heart and consider token-paying markets. If you’re hoping to use your writing to pay next month’s mortgage, stick to the professional, or at least semi-pro markets.
The most important thing, however, is to make sure that you are submitting to a market that is right for you and your story.
What about you? How do you feel about lower-paying fiction markets?