The perennial question…

Let’s face it, one of the reasons why people like you and I have taken up writing (apart from the fact that, above everything else, we enjoy the exercise of wordsmithing) is because we would love to turn our ‘hobby’ into our ‘profession’. What better way to earn our living than by doing it with the thing we love to do the most. It’s just like Sir Patrick Moore – he was originally an amateur astronomer who went on to carve himself out a venerable career as a writer, researcher, and radio and television presenter on matters stellar to the science-hungry public – and he’s STILL doing it, at the grand old age of 87, and probably will still be doing it the day he dies.

The central theme of today’s blog is this: is it better to start chasing after publication in paying arenas only from the word go, or is it better to submit anywhere just to get exposure, even if it means not getting paid? Indubitably, in my opinion, it’s a combination of both. Certainly there’s no harm in trying to get your story paid for, but sending your work out to non-paying publishers is a good way of getting your name out there. Most of my acceptances and submissions have been to non-paying ‘zines.  Admittedly, I am very lucky in this respect; my wife is the sole breadwinner in the household and is quite happy to remain so while I pursue my dream of becoming a writer. I am extremely grateful for that and am fully cognisant that many would-be writers, if not most of them, don’t have that luxury, and have to have day jobs. But it means that I can afford to not get paid for my contributions and that if I do get paid, it’s a welcome bonus.

I think it’s somewhat foolish to concentrate on one avenue at the expense of the other. Certainly it’s a boost when an editor tells you that not only has your story been accepted (a major rush in itself) but that you are getting paid for it as well. It’s a considerable step forward but it’s also a recognition of your qualities as a writer. But then, I guess some people see NOT being paid as being somehow inferior to getting remuneration. I can see why they would think that.

I see it from completely the opposite angle – it’s only inferior if you think of it as insufficient payback for all the work you’ve done in writing any particular story. However, if you look at in a different light, it means that your name and your material is actually getting out there. It’s more likely, I would think, that any recognition possibly due you would come by getting the stories out there in the first place. Your quality as a writer isn’t judged by how much you were paid for your last published story. And, in any case, pursuing the paying-only route automatically limits you.

There is a corollary here, however. You still need to do your research for suitable venues for your work, despite them not paying. If an online ‘zine publishes everything they get sent, the good, the bad and the ugly, then, although it is to be hoped that your story will stand out from the morass, ultimately it won’t do you any good, as I can’t imagine prospective readers and publishers going there to find the next Stephen King (that doesn’t mean to say that he won’t be there, of course). Pick where you want to send manuscripts very carefully – quality ‘zines and publications generally have a more discerning audience, which means, if they use one of your stories, that your work compares very favourably to the other contributors’.

In the end, that’s what we want to be recognised for – that what we write is of a sufficient quality to attract readers to want to read them and to seek them out. The fact that an editor at an influential ‘zine accepts your story, even though he can’t afford to pay you for it, should tell you something. It means your work is good. Inclusion in the publication, along with those others whose work has also passed muster, is just as much of a rush as having a cheque sent to you by a major publisher. EVERY acceptance I’ve had so far, all three of them, has been an occasion for celebration in the Marshall-Jones household. I’ve not been paid by any of them (well, strictly speaking, the  one accepted by Dark Valentine is being paid for, but as they pay $10 per story I decided that it would be put to better use by being donated to one of the editor’s favourite charities instead), yet the pride I felt at being accepted was absolutely immense. The bottom line, for me at least, is that I am getting my material out into the world – when I get my first substantial cheque through it’ll be because I have laid the groundwork first. And that’s the way all writers should go….

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5 Responses to “The perennial question…”

  1. Too true. I remember the first time I was asked to write for an education magazine about the project I was leading – I didn’t get paid, as it was part of my job, but the immense anticipation of waiting to see my words and name in print was quite exciting. When it arrived, I felt a little proud that I had achieved something.
    I’d like to think that one day I’d be earning a nice living from writing, but the joy of seeing your name attributed to a journal that will remain for a few years in libraries etc. is also worthy.
    Your groundwork laying abilities are awesome Simon and I’m sure you will be publishing your collection of short stories very soon….

  2. Interesting, and I pretty much agree about ‘exposure only’ or ‘4theluv’ markets, and for a writer at the start of his or her career they can provide some much needed confidence and credits. But remember it’s not a question of pay vs exposure, but pay & exposure vs just exposure (and the paying markets will usually provide the greater exposure). Generally, but not always, it’s a good rule of thumb to exhaust the paying markets first.

    We had a roughly similar discussion on TTA forums a while back:-

    http://ttapress.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1602&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0

    You might find it of interest, though I wouldn’t go any further than the first page as after that it got off topic and slightly silly.

    • Thanks for the link, Peter. I am intending to submit to paying markets as well as the non-paying ones – this was just me thinking aloud and putting things out there to encourage some form of debate. I may be discussing this topic at Leicester’s Terror Scribes day in two weeks in a Q&A/Discussion session I’m holding… and the extra input will come in handy… =)

  3. Although what I write isn’t fiction exactly, I’ve gone from the position of being invited to write for radio (unpaid) to ranting blogger (also unpaid). As a satirist, it’s very liberating to be beholden to absolutely no-one.

    Unfortunately, Jobcentres don’t see it quite the same way.

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