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Writing: Kiss of Death Acceptances

Perhaps the only thing worse than not getting a story or poem accepted is to have it accepted but to watch the magazine fold, the anthology be canceled, or the supposed publication fade into the ether, never to be heard from again. This probably happens to everyone at some point, but I have had it happen at least seven times. I then begin to wonder, do I have some sort of  superhero (or villain) power where I cause the publications to die? The moment they accept my piece, the end is near–the kiss of death.

Of course that’s sort of a reverse ego thing and if I really did have that power there are a few publications I would like to use it on. Not for rejecting me, mind you. That’s part of the business, but in the past when editing and writing, I was cheated out of money by one magazine, and got so much BS from another, along with a lengthy battle to be paid, that they deserved to fold (and I believe have by now).

But the truth is, especially with the proliferation of the internet, that it’s easier and cheaper to run a magazine (such as online), but it still takes skill, knowledge and consistency. Perhaps the best nonpublication I had was  a magazine called Offworld Magazine. If you’ve never heard of it it’s because they didn’t even get number 1 out the door. They did pay for the story (called a kill-fee in some mags should they choose to not publish, though this one did not have that caveat). However, when I received the letter that said my story had been “excepted” I thought it had been rejected, not “accepted.” To except is to exclude. Hmmm.

Then there were the Tampa marketing anthologies, a list of themed anthologies by this company I had not heard of before. These days, there are many many publishers and small start-ups and new ventures so sometimes it pans out to try something new, after carefully reading the guidelines. It was low paying but still seemed worthy. As can be seen here there was little response from the company and the first anthologies were supposed to be out in June of 2009. After no response and several query emails you tend to chalk these things up to yet more unfulfilled pipe dreams. Then last November I received an email from someone who was asked by the head honcho to get the project done and he was accepting my piece. I asked which piece as I had submitted several, and when was this going to be published. I didn’t wish to pull my piece from other possible submissions unless I had some guarantee. He said he’d ask the big guy…and I never heard from them again.

I’ve sold several poems that were subsequently unaccepted because the magazine forgot they had them or lost them or changed their minds in the next two years. I had a story accepted to a noir erotic anthology and then it was held because they were splitting the anthology into books 2 and 3 and I would be in book 3. And then the publisher canceled book 3. I did get a kill fee on that one too. I’ve had a magazine say, “We loved this poem and would have taken it but we’re closing our doors.”

Sometimes there are odd little anthologies that pop up like “Quantum Planet of the Arts,” a collection of surreal (or something) fiction that was supposed to be published last year. After several emails to the editor who said they were delayed but still planning to publish, (and that she would send my email to the publisher) I heard nothing. My last email this year was a note to her saying, I will presume this venture dead. I heard no response so I think I presumed correctly.

There have been a couple of erotic magazines with the same result, communication dropping off to nonexistence. Circlet Press, always a slow mover fell into that realm in my books. They never replied and I presumed them dead. But instead they win the prize of the slowest rejection letter every–seven years! By that time I had sent the piece out many times (maybe published as I don’t remember what it was). After a certain length, really, a why bother should probably be the best plan. But it is frustrating when publications don’t bother to tell you they’ve rejected your stories, or they’re way behind or they’re folding. It’s part of the biz. I do have two stories languishing in magazines that seem to have dropped off the face of the earth, though I’ve had some private communication. I send those pieces out in the meantime but leave them with the magazine in case they ever get through their slush. It’s been nearly two years with some of them so I’m not exactly holding my breath here.

I recommend www.ralan.com as the best place for speculative markets with updates and the grave of dead magazines. I can say at least that my superhero power of writing and getting pieces published is better than my kiss-of-death power. I’ve had more accepted pieces published than not and that is a relief.

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Writing: The Sad State of Poetry in Speculative Fiction

Waaay back, when I first started to get serious about writing, I wrote poetry. Okay I started writing poetry at the angst-ridden edge of twelve, and shelved much of it until my twenties. Eventually though, my poetry grew up and ventured into the world.

My first professional sale was for a whole $1.45 and yes it was a science fiction poem to Star*line. I continued to sell a poem here and there for usually five bucks and a copy of the magazine/book. Then I hit it big and sold a poem to Amazing Stories; $36 USD. Wow! And from that, I was invited (they actually contacted me) to join the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), THE professional organization for science fiction writers throughout North America. (I  don’t think I’d ever heard of SF Canada way back then.)

Thirty-six dollars and SFWA membership. SFWA works on a third of the pie idea. Three pro sales makes you a real writer. One or two-thirds makes you an Associate. You still pay the same amount but you get fewer privileges and can’t vote for the board or the Nebulas. What does it get you? That may be a different post but there is a wee bit of prestige, a very wee bit if you stay Associate forever.

I’ve sold more poems and stories since then, but everything must be speculative obviously for SFWA’s requirements. The publication that your piece appears in must meet the demands of a high production number, be a long running publication, pay pro rates, be American (and a few, very few Canadian magazines), etc. for membership qualification. Oh and poetry, well SFWA decided to drop it like a hot potato. No longer can you become a member on poetry alone. Not even if you’re the best poet in the world. Bruce Boston is probably the best Speculative poet out there. Certainly the most well-known. Canada’s own Sandra Kasturi is no pale shadow either. And there are numerous more.

But here’ is thesad state of the beleaguered poem. Someone got it in their head that because a poem is a hundred words or a hundred lines then why, it’s gotta be easy and fast to write. I’ve spent days, even months writing a poem (in some cases, years, but not constantly). I doubt it was any poet who said, scrap the poems from SFWA. And if three measly poems were just too few for a full membership, then why not make it six or nine or a dozen? Nope, SFWA allows stories, novellas, novelettes, books, even flash fiction in the right circumstances (though I hear that’s iffy) but poetry. Ick. That stuff is for intellectuals pontificating down their noses. Who reads it?

And really, that is part of the problem, isn’t it? Who reads poetry? There is a small point here that I believe poetry is part of the old bardic tradition and really is meant to be heard and seen. Look at poetry slams (a discussion for another day). Many people read it…sometimes, for it to still be bought in some places. But enough? And poetry, well it’s unfathomable, bizarre, esoteric. And spec poetry has just gotta be worse. Doesn’t it? I mean aliens in a story gives you time to paint an elaborate picture, but a vignette? Well, we don’t have time to look at that.

Sigh, there was an era where everyone was taught to read poetry. And what is “The Cremation of Sam McGee” if not speculative poetry? Poetry doesn’t have to be unfathomable or above people’s heads though I’ve had the most straightforward poems rejected by editors who said their audience wouldn’t understand them. Say the poem is confusing but don’t lower the intelligence of your readers, please.

Oh and did I mention that speculative fiction is the worst paid genre out there (except, would you believe, erotic fiction)? Yes, I can write a poem and receive $100 for it from Descant, or a story for a lit mag and get anywhere from $100-$1000, or I can write an article for anywhere from thirty cents a word to a dollar and more. Sure ,there’s a range but if you’re writing poetry and speculative poetry, well you really are the dregs of society. Not even as good as the tentacle waving scum of speculative story writers. No sirree. You’re filler on those pages that don’t have a story long enough.

That is the sad sate of speculative poetry. Alas. And this attitude is often held by those who have never written it or tried to understand it. SFWA has some pretty old-fashioned ideas that makes me wonder on the value of continuing to be a member when I’m a small time Canadian writer.

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Writing: Rights & Contracts

I decided to withdraw my poem from being published in the online magazine Sotto Voce. Often one is paid little to have a poem published. I’ve received everything from $5-$100 for poetry. Of course, I would like to get more rather than less but I’ll sell a poem for $10 if the magazine looks respectable. What I won’t do though, is give my poem away for free.

Likewise, I do read contracts and do take them seriously. Sotto Voce stated they had exclusive rights to put the poem on their website for 120 days. Okay, not a big problem and fairly standard. They also said that at the end of that period all rights revert to the author, but then went on to say they took the nonexclusive right to keep the poem in their archives, as well as using it in a print, audio or other format, should they so choose.

Keeping something in a magazine’s archive is becoming more standard and some magazines will take it down should you resell the piece. Others may not. I could live with that but the nonexclusive rights on print, audio and other were bothersome. Most publishers may ask for the nonexclusive right, which often means first refusal on a print anthology (or whatever they specify) but they will at that time negotiate to pay for that right. Some magazines may say, we take print and anthology rights.

Their use of having an open-ended nonexclusive right in which they informed me that they would not pay additionally bothered me. It also meant that should I try to sell the poem to a print magazine I could jeopardize that sale because it might have been printed already. Given the vagueness of their all-encompassing, nonexclusive rights, I wasn’t sure that I would be notified if they used it elsewise.

Normally, each right is a separate thing: world rights, first North American rights, electronic rights, audio rights, print rights, etc. It’s a hodgepodge and can be very confusing and many publishers will try to lump it all together to get as much as they can for the price of one. I usually ask if I’m not clear, and contracts are often weird legalese. Since I neither needed the modest pay nor the publishing credit (though it’s always nice to have more) and because I was uncomfortable with this contract and didn’t like the exclusive nonexclusive rights they seemed to be taking, I said no after consulting with other writers (just in case I was getting overly picky).

Often contracts can be adjusted. When I receive a written contract I will sometimes write in or cross off something. So far no one has said no to those changes. There is leeway in most cases. Sotto Voce didn’t seem to want to do this and their contract was online with places just to fill out. Not much room for adjusting it. If they had paid more I might have gone with selling the poem to them. But not for peanuts.

Harlequin also had a fairly specific contract that asks for all rights (print, online, audio, ads, etc.) for a period of time. However, they are paying a whole lot more and the contract has a clause that should they go to other formats or languages, reprint, digital, etc. that those fees will be negotiated. I asked the editor about some parts of that contract but decided to go with it, although Harlequin doesn’t specify how long they keep those rights before releasing them. That bothers me and in retrospect I maybe should have put a limit. It might not be too late.

Contracts really do take experts and the wording is often vague or misleading. There are lawyers that specialize in such but we little writers don’t tend to go that route for small sales. There are agents who also specialize in understanding contracts and if you’re selling a book, they can help with the nuances of the rights. As well, many small publishers don’t always realize what they’re asking for and sometimes need educating. In the past I’ve had to mention this to a few new publishers. In the end, it’s up to each person as to what they’re comfortable with selling or giving away. And to me, it’s not about the money so much, but about respecting the writer and the writing.

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