Every writer wants to be published. For many, it’s the Big Thing. It’s the external validation, the justification for continuing on with all this madness. But in today’s world, it’s also very easy, and writer exploitation is a rampant nuisance.
Like most writers starting out, the first paid fiction sale was my main goal. Not word count, not long-term project completion, not mastering the craft; I wanted, first and foremost, to be published.
And in August 2010, I received an acceptance for my first story, “Night of the Widow” — not a great story, but one I was proud of at the time. It was purchased — or at least contracted for — by Bill Tucker of the Library of Horror Press. Mr. Tucker is a great guy, so far as I’ve been able to tell, and has worked hard for the Library. I went on to sell three more stories to Mr. Tucker for various Library of Horror Press anthologies, one of which was paid for and published. The other three, I just read on the publisher’s forum, have been cancelled, for financial reasons. So they’re no longer listed on my bibliography page, and will likely never see print. I’m fine with this, despite my initial disappointment.
But what troubles me, aside from my own interests in the matter, are other writers’ reactions to this small press going broke and subsequently cancelling upwards of a dozen — if not dozens — of announced themed anthologies. Each of these books was conceived as a themed collection of stories, and then an editor (to be paid on release of the anthology, like the writers — the editors have been equally wronged) would read, select, and send out contracts for chosen stories. Then a table of contents would be posted, and a vague, tentative release date such as “Spring 2011″ would be posted.
Due to financial difficulties — i.e., poor sales — the projects were simply abandoned. And writers, editors, and cover artists were left unpaid (I’m assuming — cover artists were perhaps paid on completion of their work) and unpublished — which happens all too often in this industry. I’d read the horror stories more times than I can count, and yet I always assumed nothing like this would ever happen to me.
But the writers involved are fine with this! They’re disappointed, sure, as I am — but they’ve offered up propositions such as:
- accepting a one-time advance of $5.00-$10.00 in place of the contracted 1 cent/word + contributor’s copy
- attempting to use Kickstarter as a way to fund books that have already been compiled and contracted for
- and even: paying for the publication of the books in place of accepting payment!
Are we so fucking desperate? Do we never want to have careers?
The writer is such a delicate artist, such an utterly senseless creature, that he is willing to look past simple business sense, accept no payment — which he was promised long ago, perhaps over a year ago, when the contract was signed — and be happy about it?
Involved parties have suggested that a penny per word is itself a problem, that the publisher wouldn’t be going broke if it hadn’t customarily promised writers compensation of 1 cent/word plus a contributor’s copy, and then only the editors and cover artists would need to be paid. Fuck… Aren’t these books of stories? Written by writers?
Anyway, my anger is not toward the publisher — a labor of love with a very passionate community surrounding it — and certainly not toward the editors, but toward the writers themselves, who are too stupid to recognize the seeds of exploitation, who are fully willing to forego payment of any kind, or even pay the publisher to fund the book’s release. This is not the way publishing works — it was never intended to work this way, and it shouldn’t ever work this way.
If someone is in such a big damn hurry to be published, he ought to take ten minutes to convert his document to .mobi format and throw it up on Amazon. Or put together his own pay-on-demand anthology project — and hell, don’t offer contributors any sort of compensation for their work. Maybe they won’t mind.
But dammit, writers, stop giving away your work for free. Writers get paid.