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What Is Your Writing Worth?

Finding ways to fairly compensate writers is a real challenge for independent publishers. At PANK, one of our primary goals this year or whenever it becomes realistic, is to be able to pay the writers who contribute to both our print and online issues. Achieving the means to do this, however, remains difficult, particularly given that we can publish 300 or more writers in a given year across our two platforms.

There are three primary means of raising the money to pay writers that don’t make me uncomfortable–via advertising sales and subscriptions, via grant funding or donations, or by subsidizing expenses with your own money. As a print magazine, advertising sales (theoretically) and subscriptions account for a significant portion of the money we use to print each annual issue. It would not be sustainable for us to direct those funds toward paying writers who currently receive a copy of the issue in which their work appears as an honorarium. Grant funding, particularly for very small magazines, is very hard to get. We write grants and try our best but grant money is always soft money and as such it is also not a sustainable option. We have never received a donation but we do believe in fairy tales. Subsidizing the magazine with personal funds, which is what most independent publishers do, is as realistic as a given publisher can afford but if you are not independently wealthy, this option, lest I sound like a broken record, is not sustainable.

Some magazines charge reading fees to pay writers, most notably Narrative and while I won’t get into the ethics of that approach here, I will note that writers such as Robert Swartwood have taken up the issue quite eloquently. Other magazines hold contests for which they charge a fee and for the very big magazines these contests allow them to not only pay a handful of writers significant prizes, they can also cover operating costs for more than one issue.  PANK held its first contest in 2009  and we were able to pay the full prizes. Additionally, each entrant receives a free copy of PANK 4. We didn’t make any money from the contest and we continue to discuss how we feel about the idea of the writing contest, a situation where many contribute to the benefit of a few.

As a writer I must confess I am always shocked when a literary magazine pays me for my writing. It makes me feel uncomfortable, so accustomed have I become to writing for free and sometimes not even for contributor copies. What does it say about the state of literary creation that compensation has become entirely foreign and as elusive as a mythical creature?

Some of the big literary magazines pay anywhere from $10-50/page to $1,000 per creative work but those magazines are few and far between. There is a tier of magazines who pay a token amount of $5 or $10, with the implication (and one I understand), that the gesture is more reflective of the thought that counts rather than appropriately compensating writers for their creative work. Sometimes, when I get a check in the mail for $5  I think, why bother but then I think hey, that’s a case of Diet Cherry Pepsi and I get happy. Time and again, I see great writers who allow their chapbooks to be published without receiving even a token honorarium or contributor copies and who don’t seem to have a problem with that.

As I think about compensating writers from the perspectives of both writer and editor, I have to ask. Is the simple act of being published enough compensation for the modern writer? At what point does not paying writers become exploitation? As writers, how do you feel about publications who offer micropayments and token honorariums? What is your writing worth?

136 thoughts on “What Is Your Writing Worth?

  1. To be published is well enough for me. I think if one feels they are being exploited then they should only submit to those magazines that pay.

    As I was just reminded in the Collapse documentary (see previous post) money is the root of all evil. I’m skeptical of anyone who gets into writing fiction or poetry to make money. The illusion of a bestseller is just what it is – an illusion. The people who produce a glut of books telling people how to write a bestseller are the only ones who make any money on the deal – they are the true parasites.

    I read with Barry Graham a few months ago. There were about fifteen people at the reading. He gave everyone there a copy of his book. Scott Mcclanahan and JA Tyler have done similar over the internet. These are my heros.

    I think most of us right because we have to. The heart directs. We find a way to make money and still do the thing we love. Our writing is worth something more powerful than money – it’s worth other people’s time.

    1. “As I was just reminded in the Collapse documentary (see previous post) money is the root of all evil.”

      Love of money is the root of all evil.

    1. I’m unclear on how making money makes one an ingenuine artist.

      There’s a whiff of classism in arguments about how money and art are separate things. Historically, a lot of art has been done by the rich who had access to the leisure needed for such projects. One hopes that today’s attitudes allow for more diverse voices — but shutting out renumeration, and defining it as the opposite of art, creates a situation in which it remains the purview of those with class resources.

  2. well-said, Roxane…

    for some reason, i put these questions into relief by considering the way painters can make some money by exhibiting their works in galleries. i wonder how often a young, unknown painter or photographer can sell an individual piece for several hundred or a thousand dollars by having the talent and luck (and by doing the legwork) to obtain some space in a gallery in a big city, and by holding an ‘opening’ to which many people come. i hope it happens often, i don’t actually have much of an idea.

    1. in my experience, edward, it’s the same boat. artists, as you know, put hours and hours into making the work, then looking for the place to show it, then perhaps paying for the postcards/promo stuff, the food and drink for the opening, and whatever else themselves (esp. as a young or unestablished artist), and then quite possibly not selling anything or maybe a piece or two, which after the time and expense paid out comes to a paltry return, at least in terms of cash. in terms of the fun and self exploration and satisfaction of putting together a show though, it’s glorious.

      1. good point…one thing about writing is you don’t have to keep paying for equipment the way a painter has to – canvases, brushes, paints, studio space, etc.

  3. I don’t expect to make any money from my writing, and I mostly agree with what Greg wrote above (that we writers do what we do because we love it). I’ve given away a lot of my writing. And I used to co-edit and co-edit a small journal that was self-financed and given away for free. But I do believe that, ideally, writers should be able to make money from their writing—enough to sustain themselves and their writing, at the least.

    It’s sad that the US right now doesn’t value writing and writers more. I think it’s foolish that it meanwhile (over-)values a lot of other professions that don’t deserve it—like bankers. And middle-management. And athletes. And doctors who don’t really treat people.

    And I think that too many writers have unwisely given up on making money. “Oh, you know, no one reads poetry any more, and you can’t make any money doing it.”

    That is a sad statement of fact, but it should be only a description, not a prescription. Instead, I’d rather take a more Nietzschean view (or, as Curtis White wrote in THE BARBARIC HEART: Try to win!), and try to convince people that what we do is worthwhile, worth spending time on, and worth buying.

  4. I like money. And I like to write. I think it would be really cool if the two things went together, like Girls Together Outrageously, that very cool group of groupies led by Pamela des Barres- she wrote a very good book called “I’m With The Band” and probably made a bunch of money.

  5. I can’t help thinking that this mindset is just not realistic. And to me it’s insulting.

    Literary journals aren’t making money off of the published stories/poems so why should writers?–and why is that the only question ever put forth? Why shouldn’t a literary journal make money? Why shouldn’t the editor? Why shouldn’t the slush readers? Why isn’t my TIME worth money? Oh but stories are, sure. As far as worth goes, if every literary journal disappeared, what would writers do then? (Online journals require just as many man hours as print journals, so it’s realistic to include them too, but realism aside…just to make a point…imagine it: zero journals). What would you do?

    Why is money even an issue? Writing a story takes work, but it’s not necessarily working. I’m an ex-musician. In music, there aren’t a lot of options. There are not hundreds of compilation magazines?presses? (some music equivalent of the literary journal?) that I can send my songs to FOR FREE, and expect a response FOR FREE (god forbid that a record label would send me only a form rejection! the nerve!), and then if my song is accepted, BE PAID FOR IT–as far as I know nothing like that even exists (that’s my main point). There’s no way to get thousands of other people to know who I am by just sending off emails. The only option for musicians is to write, record, and play as many shows as possible–tour. That’s it. Oh and Myspace (ha).

    Personally, I think stories and music are worth money, worth paying for. But I refuse to pay $5 or $20 to a writer for their stories. The money could go toward better things (like paying myself? unacceptable?)–like printing the next issue because no one bought the previous one–but also because what’s $20 to anyone? To me it would be insulting to pay such a small amount for something that’s probably priceless. That being said, what’s $1,000? Not very much still.

    And yes I charge money for a print journal. I should add that. Readers should pay. Unfortunately not many people read journals from what I can tell. And most of my readers are writers. Journals exist for writers…so if my journal goes under for lack of funds, it will go under because of writers.
    (I’ve sold a single copy of the journal this month. Maybe 2 last month.)

    So I’m saying that writers are very lucky. People know who you are because there are people out there that care (myself included), willing to spend every second slaving over the writing of others. This isn’t a pity-me-for-my-great-sacrifice statement, as I’ve heard writers refer to this kind of sentiment (also insulting). This isn’t sacrifice. It’s devotion. To you, writer. Why? Because you write great things and I want more. And I want to convince other people to like you too.

    So yes, I certainly feel that publishing you is enough.

    1. Peter, I really like and respect you. I think you know that, but I have to say that suggesting writers should be paid does not mean that editors and magazines shouldn’t make money. I was just focusing on one aspect of this issue but I feel everyone should get paid for the work they do be they writers, editors, publishers, artists, musicians or whatever. I absolutely believe its okay for literary magazines to make money. You sound kind of burnt out or angry and I can see why. It is difficult to run an independent literary magazine in a culture where the endeavor is not appreciated. That said, I rarely meet an editor who is not devoted. We choose this, right? We choose to put out a magazine. We’re supposed to be devoted and publishing things we love because we’re choosing to do this. That’s our job and sometimes its thankless and sometimes writers are completely frustrating but that doesn’t diminish my devotion. Does it diminish yours? I’ll always write for free because I love writing but I will never feel bad about knowing I deserve to be paid. We all do.

      1. we do choose it. but in my opinion, literary journals don’t owe anything to writers — it should be enough that they exist at all, because it doesn’t exist for most art forms. Writers are lucky that journals exist. So to think further, to think writing is deserving of money (sure it is) but at the same time not being willing to pay reading fees (most people would be angry if I charged $5 per submission–but this is MY time, and it’s worth a lot to me, so why shouldn’t I?), and when submissions are free, to complain about how long it takes or how little an editor says in response, something is wrong with that.

        I’m not saying people don’t deserve money or that money is bad. Just that the thinking is flawed.

        And thanks for the kind words, and I hope you know that I think the same of you.

        1. This comment seems to propose that writers are your customers.

          Theoretically, this isn’t true. The magazine you put out is your product. It is consumed by readers, not submitters.

          1. Theoretically, yes, if you purchase you are a reader. But unfortunately only writers ever read my journal. And that’s probably true for most journals on the small level.

            1. So you actually do see the people submitting as your customer base? And you are doing them a favor by putting out the work?

              This is very different from the models by which I work. I mean, there’s obviously a difference between Keyhole and vanity publishing — a smart, discriminating editor being the important one.

              But if the magazine simply exists to publish work… well, I dunno. Not for me. Though I can see why you have a different perspective on whom should be grateful for whom.

                1. I only see it that way because unfortunately it’s just the way it is. And it is hard to justify keeping a journal alive when it’s this way. In fact, the only reason I am keeping the journal alive (I’m actually really close to killing it because even writers don’t care to read it very much anymore, apparently, and it’s getting close to not being worthwhile for anyone) is the hope that eventually things will change, and I want to hold open the door for new writers.

                  1. You sound really burned out. I’m sorry.

                    I reached that point with the magazine I was editing several months ago. We had a decent audience — still have, I think, I handed the thing off — so the points where I was feeling fatigued were rather different.

                    But still. It’s not fun. I wish you the best. :(

                    1. I’m not really burned out. The journal is a lot of work and I do it at a pace that makes me not burned out, which writers hate, which kind of makes me want to be a hermit. That’s all. Overall, I really like it.

                    2. Burnt out or nay, unless I’m totally misreading you, I do hear you expressing the feeling you’re underappreciated by the very community you’ve so supported and, irregardless of questions abt who is whose customer and who should or should not be compensated, I’m very distressed by underappreciation of editors and of you in particular. Some of these comments made me sad.

                      To broaden the conversation a bit, I wonder if there’s more we could or should do to foster a culture of editor respect (mutual respect, I suppose) in our “sector” ?

                    1. Keyhole isn’t retired. I may kill off the journal eventually if it gets silly, but I have no plans to quit the books.

                      But I’d prefer the journal to keep going. The determining factor will be the amount of readers this year. If readership continues to drop off, then it seems unethical to continue because it would be a disservice to the authors.

    2. Peter, I get where you’re coming from, as I have had this argument with myself many times. I think the flaw in your comparison is that authors can’t perform their work.

      They can do readings, sure, but no one is going to pay for that. Personally, I can’t stand to hear someone read their fiction for more than 10 minutes at a sitting, no matter how good it is.

      Fiction can be performed, but then it is a play, not fiction.

      The author has but one recourse, and that is publication.

      Personally, I think the future of publishing is in self-publishing. Surely, I jest! But I think that’s the way it will go, thanks to the evolving technology. Musicians will self publish their music and authors will self publish their stories, readers will be able to follow their favorite authors without the filter of a publisher or journal. The only reason people aren’t already doing it is because there’s still too much stigma attached to it, and there’s still too many people hoping to score a big advance from a traditional publisher. But I do believe those prejudices will disappear over time. Then, one day, there will be a writer with a self-published book that will take off. It will sell a hundred thousand copies, some reviewer in the New York Times will get a wild hair and actually review it, thus lending it legitimacy, and then bang, the whole publishing world will implode as writers abandon it and strike out on their own.

      And monkeys might fly out my butt.

  6. at this point i feel no sense that i deserve to be paid for my ‘effort’ as either a writer or editor. work ive done in my life that i felt i deserved to be paid for were making chili dogs for weinerschnitzel when i was 16 and being a janitor and doing a lot of ridiculous back-breaking labor in the military and delivering newspapers to people at 4 in the morning. writing/editing/reading/anything-literature-related is not work, its what i do when i need a break from work, its therapy, its a retreat, its what i enjoy, its my hobby. don’t pay me for it, sheesh, just leave me alone while i’m at it, a nice room is all.

  7. Attitudes toward money are very different within the SF/F/H magazines. I made about $7,500 from short story sales this year. This is one of the reasons I’m never particularly motivated to send stories to mainstream magazines. Apart from the glossies, there is little potential for renumeration.

    To the extent that I approach writing as a business — which I don’t always, though I’m trying to more — then it makes most sense for me to write slipstream of near-future work which I can sell either inside or outside genre. That’s the kind of work I can send to The Atlantic Monthly or whatever, and if it doesn’t score there, I can try it with markets whose editors already know my name.

    Of course, I’m a relatively slow writer, as far as genre writers are concerned. (A lot of genre writers stream out content; for instance, Scalzi produces 1,000 words an hour and does not revise.) That means that when I receive solicitations, even though my work isn’t in particularly high demand, it takes a great deal of time for me to answer the few I get. These days, a lot of my output is spoken for by the time it’s finished, which means I have even fewer pieces to experiment with. And as long as I’m being paid well for work on a regular basis, submitting to magazines that don’t pay will always be on the back burner.

    I don’t know that I believe that it would be impossible for small lit magazines to offer payment. After all, the same barriers that are named here apply to genre magazines, which tend to manage token payments, or even per-word rates, usually without running contests.

    Priorities, however, differ. And that is legitimate. I would just prefer to see it framed as a matter of choice, and business plan, not possibility.

  8. I’m all for decoupling the meeting of my material needs from my creative labor if it’s what seems necessary for my work to be the strongest it can be. For me, the dictates of the work, and the compulsion to create it, which generally feels more like a necessity than an interest or hobby, will always outweigh compensation. I share the revulsion many writers feel regarding the notion of marketplaces and commercialization.

    That said, I agree with Adam that what our culture and economic system value is pretty fucked up, and I think we should always be careful not to romanticize poverty, obscurity and devaluation of artistic labor, which it seems to me some of the folks in this thread are doing. And sure — why NOT more actively tell people why art is valuable, as Adam suggests? Is it just because we distrust economics as a valuation system? …I think some artists avoid this because of some fear that commercialization and mass culture and whatever automatically sully and degrade and pollute the work or something (I had a discussion w/ a friend recently re: my whole glam rock live reading getup who said they’d experienced old guard and academic lit writers as automatically rejecting anything that made lit, including live readings, more pop culture-y, b/c of the association w/ the market). I don’t think I necessarily agree with this. Aren’t there ways of claiming the mainstream’s tools to promote stuff we dig?

    1. “I share the revulsion many writers feel regarding the notion of marketplaces and commercialization.”

      –and I want you to interrogate that for classism, particularly the notion that it’s “crass” or “lower class” to be concerned about money. (Or Jewish! Which I admit is always my first thought when I’m accused of being too interested in business.) I think the conflation of working for money with the idea that one must therefore not have any passion or interest in writing is really problematic. I also think that while it’s framed as a rebellion from capitalism, it does some of capitalism’s work — by making class differences invisible, and by keeping business concerns covert, which prevents organization and makes it difficult for people to negotiate from a position of power.

      1. This makes sense, and I think it also gives me a stronger position from which to critique the writer position I’m on about later in my comment, far stronger than, “But I like glitter.”

    2. Yes, just do it.

      Robert Bly dances around wearing masks and chanting all sorts of gobble-gook while banging on a drum. He has made a good living at it.

      American culture has undervalued the arts since at least when Columbus landed. Prior to that nobody is quite sure what to say.

      1. Agreement. I am not repulsed by money. I love money! I wish I had more of it! (I have, like, absolutely none.)

        I’d like to see more writers stand up for their work, and their worth in this culture. And to insist on getting paid for it. And being appreciated, respected. There are infinite ways to do this. Self-defeat shuts them all down.

        To clarify, I’m not asking about getting blood from a stone. I know that many literary journals—most of them—can’t afford to pay contributors. I don’t think that editors should sacrifice anything to pay writers. Editors should get paid, too! They’re doing great work trying to convince people that the arts are worthwhile. They’re creating an infrastructure for the arts, which is vital work.

        That said, I don’t like to see editors say things like, “Writers shouldn’t expect to get paid.” I don’t think that defeatist statements like that help anyone. Speaking as a writer, I will be unhappy if I never make money from my writing. I really will. I don’t mean that I won’t be unhappy with my writing, or won’t consider myself successful, but I will not cede from the start that I cannot make money doing what I do. What I do is worthwhile, and valuable to my culture.

        Our country wastes more money than any of us can ever imagine bailing out corrupt banks, and infinitely more money than that dropping bombs on poor people (among other hideous endeavors). Demand that we stop doing that. (It’s our tax dollars!) Demand that we spend that money on things that matter, like health insurance, a sustainable infrastructure, and the arts.

        Yadda yadda yadda.

        1. I just came in from a drive about and listening to an NPR interview of Patti Smith. She was saying how at the start she was worried at her first reading that her mentor Gregory Corso would throw food at her as he had told her to do anything but be a boring poet.

            1. tim: Somehow I don’t get the impression that Patti Smith worries a whole lot about money. Like I say, just do it… and for gawds sake don’t be boring about it.

              It is one thing to have food, shelter, health, another to have a will to persist and without story we perish.

              I talked w/ a friend this morning who was telling me about the problems that his son-in-law who is a hedge fund trader has because the younger man does not know what worthwhile thing to do with himself. He knocks down $1M+ per year, has their retirement savings all banked up, funds set aside for all 4 kids for college, wants to buy a house in Greenwich, CT but it needs to be not near a highway because they don’t want to hear cars. He hangs out with the less well advantaged Boy Scout leaders, took one leader to dinner and for the two of them it cost $1,500 for the meal… w/ wine. But they can’t really be friends because it is an asymmetrical economic relationship. In fact, my friend, the first time I went to his house the first thing I said when I walked across his threshold was, “I’m not supposed to know people that live in houses like this.”

              Another portion of my day I spent reading this thread.

              May I suggest that some of you try to get your bank accounts over to that filthy rich side of the swamp and then send our worthy editors and us poor writers a whole lot of money? Now, that would make for a fine story.

  9. Tim JY,

    It wouldn’t let me respond directly to your last comment.

    I’m only using myself and my journal as an example, because that’s all I know completely and I would be more likely to misspeak using anything else.

    Honestly, I’m not trying to say that I personally feel underappreciated — I feel very appreciated, actually, since I’ve been lucky enough to get to know a lot of the nice people like you. But I do keep up with blogs and facebook stuff, and I see a lot of the same. 99% isn’t directed at me or Keyhole, but that doesn’t mean that I feel differently about the prevailing tone. I just read blogs and status updates and I feel a little bit afraid of people.

    Some of that attitude does boil over into straight up hate mail. It just boggles my mind.

    Writers like to flaunt duotrope statistics to show how awful journals are for taking so long and for being so impersonal. To turn it around, there are statistics about what the majority of writers want on there too: they want to submit for free and get paid upon acceptance. That says to me that the majority of writers think their work is worth money but editorial work is not.

    Then throw in the popular opinion that people don’t read anymore, and what you have is a recipe for failing publications. (Not that I believe the popular opinion — I don’t at all.)

    But I’m not saying that I expect or want money. Not saying writers should NOT want money. I’m just pointing out the flawed thinking. And I think it is part of the reason that none of us are likely to make money.

    1. ” That says to me that the majority of writers think their work is worth money but editorial work is not.’

      No, it suggests they think your job is to create a journal that other people think is worth paying you money for. If you can’t do that, then that strikes me as your problem, not mine.

      1. I expected that response, which is why I threw in the part about people not reading anymore.

        If I can’t sell to readers, it IS your problem (and every other writer), because once writers burn out on supporting the journal, the journal will be gone. Then where will the writer be?

        1. yeah, but that’s thinking of it more like you are a charity or something. keyhole is one in a thousand small journals to spend money on. it can’t just be an obligation on the part of writers to buy it as a thank you for existing. there’s 999 more out there. i think most journals think of it more like a business with a product to sell that competes with other products. but you seem to be saying, look, all you writers wrote all this, you should all be buying it, its not a product i created i’m just spending the time wrapping it for you, its what *you* created.

          i don’t think you can lump all writers together like that. there are a myriad of aesthetics that different editors develop over time and readers are choosy. its not like we all thousand of us are friends on facebook with each other and are all one entity that is obligated to buy every issue of anything if any one of us have writing published in it. i believe some fault lies on an editors shoulders for a journal not succeeding, in whatever way they are defining success.

          1. technically, we are a charity. but that’s still not what I’m saying. I don’t know how to say it clearly apparently. I think Robert (below) gets what I’m saying.

            Keyhole is just one example. when I say my journal, I mean all journals. if Keyhole is gone, it’s a bigger loss to you than it is to me.

            “it can’t just be an obligation on the part of writers to buy it as a thank you for existing.”
            — that is why I said when the writers stop supporting the journal(s)– because I think there’s a natural reaction to buy newly-formed journals — but once that is gone, then the journal will most likely be gone. unless it lives in a literary city.

            and this is definitely NOT what I’m saying: “all you writers wrote all this, you should all be buying it, its not a product i created i’m just spending the time wrapping it for you, its what *you* created.”

            I hate selling to just writers (I know they’re writers because I’ve taken the time to find out who writers are). But like Robert said, that’s just the way it is. Honestly, I’m not OK with that. I’d be more than happy to focus my attention elsewhere. I probably will soon.

            Plus I’m not lumping. I say things like “average” and “most.” You want a large list of examples? What good is that.

            Sure, it could be the fault of the editor too.

            I don’t think I’m going to be able to get my point across without further comments telling me that I’m saying something that I’m not saying. So far only Robert understood what I’ve been getting at. And if nothing else, these comments are just further convincing me that a literary journal is a waste of my time.

            Just blame the editors. It seems to be all anyone ever does.

            1. I think you’re getting your point across, Peter. At least what you’re saying makes sense to me. I agree that blaming the editor does seem to be the default reaction and its frustrating but I do know it is possible to sell to more than just writers. It takes a lot of work but it is possible. I would hate to see Keyhole disappear but if it doesn’t make you happy… life is too short, man.

              With regard to something else you said earlier, people will always complain about response times. Crazy long response times (more than 180 days) make me crazy but complaining about them doesn’t mean an editor has to do anything about it. I get the most psychotic, vicious hate mail because we respond too quickly. People will always always complain about something. Try not to let it get to you.

              1. Thanks, Roxane. I’m glad I’m making at least some sense. I’m trying really hard not to sound like I’m saying editor vs. writer. I was using that really as just an example of the problem as I see it. We’re all in the same sinking ship. And we can’t exist without each other.

                Keyhole does make me happy. What doesn’t make me happy is knowing it’ll never be enough to justify its existence — my own personal standards involved here: if it’s not being read the way that I feel it should be read, then it just shouldn’t be done.

                I don’t take hate mail personally — and honestly I don’t care. What really gets me down about it is that anyone feels they have good reason to complain about being given something (not talking about money here). Writers have it really good. Seriously. Compared to other art forms and their paths to success or whatever (paths to being known by anyone other than their immediate friends and family), it’s a lot easier for writers–I mean you still have to be good, obviously–but the opportunities are so much greater. That’s really all I mean by these comments.

                1. Something else Rachel said to me about this that I’m not sure ever made it to the comment thread was — even if there’s a ton of overlap between your submission pool and the folks purchasing and reading the journal, it’s still good to think of these as distinct groups for the sake of marketing and sales. …I think this makes sense to me. As a writer being read by other writers, I seriously value writer-readers. I’m not saying Keyhole doesn’t value these folks — I think you totally do, but I think it’s good to remember many of us are reading Keyhole because the lit excites us and not because we want to get in. I understand your wanting to expand beyond this community, but we too are valuable readers, I think. And I think you are probably right that a journal being new is a major reason people buy it, but I feel like there must be other reasons as well. Darby is right — there is a lot of competition for the little bit of money I have to buy stuff — sometimes I buy because of the content alone, but just as often I buy because of the personal touches. I decided to subscribe to Keyhole because I loved the issues I’d read and because Keyhole/Peter Cole had been very good to me, and because at the time I decided to subscribe, Keyhole was doing a concerted push for subscriptions, Matt Bell and others were helping promote it, and I wanted to help make that campaign successful. I think something similar also happened with Pank — an active call for subscribers from one of my favorite editors that I decided I wanted to support. Then Roxane turned around and made a donation to the non-profit where I work when I was doing a birthday fundraising drive on facebook, which totally floored me and further intensified my feelings of good well toward her and Pank. I decided to subscribe to Copper Nickel because they too were doing a subscription drive and needed to reach a certain goal by a certain time, and because if I subscribed during this campaign and gave them Matt Bell’s name, he’d get his subscription extended for another year. …In this way, I think the marketing of literary journals seems a lot like non-profit fundraising… the personal appeals and campaigns and such work, at least on me. Also mobilizing existing networks and relationships. I feel like I am seeing less of this sort of activity from folks so far this year, but maybe I’m totally wrong about that. I think w/ such campaigns and activities, consistency can also help… somebody who witnesses something one year and decides not to participate, when it comes back around the following year, may remember how much fun it looked the year before, and say “What the hell?” Then throw their dollars into the ring. In any case, I think my buying and reading habits are not always linked w/ my submitting habits… I seriously hope I’m not the only person like this, and I think it’s worth understanding what makes folks like me tic.

                2. Peter, I love you to death for everything you’re saying here. One thing you haven’t mentioned that perhaps more people need to be aware of:

                  The writer’s job is to write, and then to submit. And maybe they do some promotional work once their stuff is published.

                  For indy journals, editing is only one part of the editor’s job. Editors are also the publishers, the type-setters, the public relations, the marketing departments, the financing, the distributors… pretty much EVERYTHING that goes into producing a literary magazine falls onto the editors’ plates. Except the writing itself.

                  And, even as we’re doing all that (and not getting paid–quite the opposite: as the likely financiers of the journals, we’re taking a bath economically), we recognize that the writers are working, too, as evidenced by Roxane’s original post. Yeah, as an editor, I’ve thought long and hard about how the hell to pay writers. I certainly want to. But to do so requires more personal commitment to being a fund-raiser, marketer, etc., which takes time away from–oh, I dunno–the actual editing.

                  The solution, if there is one, is for editors to hook up with people who enjoy those roles and are passionate about the magazines. Damned if I know where those people are, though. I’d bring ’em on board in a heartbeat.

                  1. Hi Clapper, all,

                    I want to disagree with the editor/writer division. Most of the editors I know are also writers. And vice versa. Who doesn’t have her or his own literary journal? Or work on one?

                    If someone starts a literary journal, then I think they’d be wise to think very seriously about how they’re going to sustain it. So I do think that having some idea about business and marketing is a good idea. They might want to have someone around who can help with that kind of thing. Being sustainable is a good thing.

                    Subscriptions and sales seems to me a very shallow well. There are simply too many journals out there, and not enough people buying them. Private and institutional support seems more feasible, although I really don’t know anything about this.

                    I used to work for Dalkey Archive Press, which is an impressive place not only because of the books and the journal that they put out, but because John O’Brien and others have worked very hard to create alternative means of financially structuring a press and a journal. And then telling others about how they, too, can do that. I can dig out some of the back issues of RCF if people want specifics; meanwhile, there’s lots of information at their site about how they’re structured/financed (see almost any of the interviews with John O’Brien).

                    Just as writers shouldn’t demand money from editors who don’t have it, editors shouldn’t demand sales from writers who can’t afford their journals. We should recognize that writers and editors are often the same, and stuck in the same boat regardless. Look elsewhere for money and support: grants, private contributions, events.

                    Look at how the indy music does it. Jim Munroe has written /volumes/ on how to adapt that DIY commercial model to literature. Part of the problem there, though, is that very few writers/editors want to actually work to promote their events to anyone other than themselves. They think that people actually want to hear them come read their work badly, then buy their books.

                    If I had a venue at the moment, which I don’t, but if I did (and I imagine I will again soon), then I’d create a variety show. Bring in all kinds of artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, etc. Create a real happening thing, weekly. Charge for admission. Give people a solid three hours of art and entertainment. Build bridges between different media and genre. Pay performers and contributors. Sell merchandise. Show that writing can go toe-to-toe with anything else, and should be valued alongside movies, music, theater, improve, stand-up, dance, whatever.

                    And I’d do it with institutional support!

                    Yadda yadda yadda.

            2. i think i get what you are saying, that writers need editors as much, but i still think the competition factor trumps that. i mean the more journals that exist, the less i need any particular one of them. i support a few journals, i subscribe to them or buy new issues when they come out. but for what i do, there’s so much i don’t cuz i don’t have the means, no one does. i think a lot of writers support journals (maybe not?), its just there’s a flood of journals, at some point journals have to compete.

              i don’t want to make this all angry. i mean i sympathize with the lack of gratitude for the gig of editor but maybe i kind of expected it going in. every potential avenue to grow is sort of futile. i’ve resorted to simply not growing. if i knew a way to sustain it, i’d make abjective a print journal, and i’m sort of waiting for the day i might somehow be independently wealthy cuz that’s the only way i’d really be able to do it, but until then, i’ve figured out a model that is fairly easy to sustain and relatively cheap and allows me to not have to worry about funding.

              keyholes a cool journal, man. i was just reading issue 9 the other day, carrie murphy’s poems. very nice. i don’t know what to tell you if you want to kill it. i mean you got to sort of want it in the end regardless of where readers are. this is why i don’t track readers with abjective, i don’t want to know. i don’t want to have to think about that. im sure its depressing. i’d rather just keep going forward, tunnel visioning the future. there’s probably light up there somewhere.

  10. ‘why NOT more actively tell people why art is valuable, as Adam suggests?’

    okay, devils advocate. this gets long too, i’m writing now after i already wrote all the below, but want to play out this argument for the sake…

    what is valuable about art? i mean as opposed to like the eggs in my refrigerator or the water coming out of my faucet when i turn it on. art on a macro scale is valuable, but *particular* art–meaning some genre vs. another genre or something on television or playing hopscotch–is not as valuable since there is such a surplus of everything. art that is valuable to people tends to be entertainment that is fed to them because how one spends their spare time isnt necessarily worth so much effort to have to look so hard for (by contrast, if i were starving, i would be spending every breath desperately searching for water or a twinkie or something), but art is all a means of escape from meaningfulness (life, children, shitting, building houses, eating toast, etc.). whatever films are in the theaters or whatever books are selling best, that’s the valuable art for most people, it was convenient and is apparently filling up enough of whatever part of the brain it is that art and entertainment fill up in people (by people i mean not so much people involved in the creation of other art, but just people), but compared to our everyday commodities, even that art is not that valuable, or it has to be put lower on the totem of all things that make human society function. if a couple are out on a date and they go to a movie and then have sex later, was the movie more valuable than the sex later? we are not talking about things people need, we are talking about how people choose to spend their *spare* time, their most meaningless time, to try to put a little meaning into it, but whether it happens or not, so what. so he didn’t spend that time reading a book, he spent it staring at a wall, who cares. its nobody’s job to read for a living. what’s at stake if i don’t happen to read this particular piece of obscure literature? there’s no value if there is nothing at stake. its difficult to convince that its meaningful that someone should spend their spare time one way vs. another way when people know what makes them happy, or they know what calms them or they know what excites them or they know what moves them already. maybe its just they like to sit outside and watch the trees in their spare time. i mean really, fuck them, wasting their time like that. writers so much i see them bitching about not enough people read not enough people read, but i kind of see them as happy doing what they are doing, or if they aren’t happy they look for something else and find new things and get happy again and so on. meanwhile a million writers are at their door waiting to be the next in line to become potential spare time fillers when all there is is a mother inside enthralled with watching her baby sleep.

    1. we shld start doing literary audio recordings for unborn babies… that will fix the problem — sell them for their in-womb brain enhancing properties

      i agree w/ Peter that editors seem to get stomped and undervalued, i see them as aggregation artists in their own right — writers and editors in order to survive need to get past an us vs. them dichotomy, easier said than done, particularly when there are slim pickin’s and lots of opportunity for pissing contests

      if one wants to attract readers who are not writers then an editor/publisher needs to figure out what those non-writerly readers need, and then to select work from writers that those non-writerly readers will want to keep reading — telling them what they need won’t work

      business is based on identification of a need and then to figure out a manner by which to satisfy the need in such a way as to derive a profit, profit being the cost of doing business tomorrow (or profit could be simply feeling good about what was done yesterday)

    2. I don’t think that art’s value can be directly quantified, but that’s true of many things in life. Beauty. Freedom. Clean air. A sustainable infrastructure. Hard to attach a specific dollar amount to any of those things (though the market tries).

      I like having eggs in my fridge, because I like eating eggs (I’m going to have two for lunch, in fact). And I’m willing to pay for eggs. I’m willing to pay even more for clean, sustainable eggs made by chickens who aren’t abused.

      I also like having art around. I’m willing to pay for it. I pay to buy CDs, see films, buy books. I pay money at some readings I attend. I go to museums, etc.

      I don’t think there’s anything too complicated about it, really. The problem, I think, is that too many artists have accepted the idea that what they do isn’t valuable to society. And they’re willing to go off to their corners of the world, of the subculture, and speak only to one another, and not really participate in the culture. Or only participate in a really marginal way. Which I think is a shame, and self-defeating.

      Here’s a simple test. At the next reading you go to, ask who there is a writer, and who isn’t. I bet you almost everyone there will be a writer (or a close friend or family member of one of the readers).

      After that, the next time you go to a reading, bring along someone who isn’t a writer. (Please take them to a good reading so they don’t end up killing themselves.) Afterward, talk about the reading. The same way you’d both go see a concert and talk about it even if you’re not musicians, or go to a movie and talk about it even if you’re not filmmakers.

      If the readings around you are too embarrassing to bring non-writers to, and are just CV-puffery/networking events that don’t care whether people actually attend, then do what you can to make them better. Or start your own cool fun interesting artistic challenging entertaining reading event.

      If you don’t think art is valuable, then enjoy and support whatever you think is valuable.

      If you don’t feel like doing any of these things, then don’t do them.

      Yadda yadda yadda.

      1. this is just a thought experiment. i’m not interested in trying to make art seem more valuable to people. for the sake of this argument, i’m quantifying art only relatively in a needs/wants construct. food and water are more valuable than art because i can’t live without eating and drinking, i need it. i can’t need art, i can only ever want it. society places more value on needs than wants. in fact i would say that it places more value on practical things than aesthetic things. if my tire goes flat its more important to me to pay to fix the tire than to buy a new book. i instantly care more that there is someone to sell me a new tire than i care that there is someone to write a new book. this is the premise of the argument i am trying to make. convince me that art is more valuable to people than the practical things in their lives.

        1. This is getting a bit abstract, but I don’t agree that people don’t need art. More than food and shelter are required for living—much more, in fact. The problem is that people often don’t recognize how much survival requires: You need a doctor, for instance, when you get sick—which requires a medical tradition. So I guess we need food, shelter, and doctors.

          Beyond that, humans are social creatures, and so we need society. (Try existing all on your own; very few people can do it. And even there they weren’t born abandoned at birth in the wilderness and left to fend entirely for themselves—they use skills that other people developed and passed on.)

          Art offers a great deal of social benefit. Storytelling is a very simple yet powerful way to communicate information to others, and to pass it on to later generations (which is vital if you don’t want every new generation reinventing the wheel). So’s poetry:

          Bright red berries bury you
          But blue berries make better food.

          Many of the formal aspects of literature that we appreciate today stem from mnemonic devices that at one time were part of group survival (and that often still are).

          Experiencing art together also builds and strengthens social bonds (as do things like entertainment, religion—things that it’s sometimes hard to tell art apart from). Liking a painting that my neighbor made gives me more of a reason to stand up and fight for him when a bear attacks. And that neighbor might then raise my children after a snake bites me (he might also paint a painting commemorating my bravery and tragic death, giving my children some memory of me, moral instruction, etc.).

          And so on. Beyond that, art helps people think more imaginatively, which helps them find solutions to other problems. (“Why aren’t our crops growing this year? None of the usual answers are working?” “Let me try thinking outside the box—luckily, I’m an avant-garde artists /and/ a botanist.”)

          My point is that I wouldn’t be too quick to discount art as a “need,” and to categorize it only as something extraneous. That kind of over-rationalist thinking leads very quickly to stuff like: “Let’s cut the music program and divert all funds to math and science.”

          Yeah, that’ll give you a great society! I’ll check back in 20 years, when the culture is garbage.

          Here’s a different thought experiment: cut out all art from your life. By this I mean all stories, all music, all painting and visual art, all design, all craft… See what you have left (if anything). (Well, our culture seems to be doing this!)

          Even food involves art: rather than cooking, just eat all your ingredients separate, see how far that gets you. (Eating flour plain is pretty unpleasant. Pastries, meanwhile, are delicious.) (My dad’s a chef.)

          I had a college friend, who studied biology, once tell me that he thought the arts were unnecessary—he was talking about paintings and sculpture and poetry, stuff he himself had no active use for. Meanwhile, he was the biggest fantasy geek I’ve ever met, always reading fantasy novels, buying fantasy art calendars. He also listened to and played jazz music. I suggested he give those things up, and he said, “Not on your life!” Talk about self-delusion; he of course meant only the arts he personally didn’t care for.

          Even if the arts weren’t necessary for survival (and, again, I don’t agree with that claim), then who’d want to live in a world without them? What was it that Nietzsche said?

          “The world without music would be a mistake.”

          Cheers, Adam

          1. ‘Here’s a different thought experiment: cut out all art from your life. By this I mean all stories, all music, all painting and visual art, all design, all craft… See what you have left (if anything).’

            Okay. So can’t I just as easily get what I would normally get from art from something organic or not-made? Such as a tree or a mountain or a sunset. I can consider a sunset beautiful or interesting but it isnt art, no one created it, its just an astronomical thing. communities can join together and marvel at a comet in the sky. there’s a lot of beauty in the world no one created. why is it inherently valuable that we experience art that we ourselves create?

            i mean i agree the world would be bleak but it would be worse if there were no food or water. i’m defining ‘need’ as anything that without which we would die. food being the most immediate in micro scale. add sex to the macro scale.

            music. its tough to get away from music. i mean people walk in cadences. we speak with tones. deliberate music, maybe we would be okay without if we didnt know what we were missing. not that i would ever want to miss it.

            the stories is where i have trouble arguing because i do think there is an inherent value in narrative as a communicative tool. I could go the route and say why does narrative have to be made-up. can’t we get from narrative the same thing if we just say what we see?

            1. Hi Darby,

              > Okay. So can’t I just as easily get what I
              > would normally get from art from something
              > organic or not-made? Such as a tree or a
              > mountain or a sunset.

              Sure, I think those things can be appreciated, for sure, no problem. And we could do today with appreciating those things more, I think.

              And I think that art can help us to do that: Originally, perhaps, art tried to capture some of the beauty of those things (and it still does). Mimesis has a role to play in art, to be sure, and to some extent art is an attempt to capture and extol and preserve the beauty of nature. You paint a portrait, or take a photo, in part because its subject is going to grow older and eventually die. And you want to preserve some of that beauty. Last night I was watching THE BED-SITTING ROOM, and I’m really happy that Richard Lester made a picture with all of those actors—Rita Tushingham, Ralph Richardson, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Spike Milligan, and others—because they’re all so beautiful, and such great comics. And we’ll never have a generation of British comics like them again.


              But I also think that art is more than just that, and that artworks can offer a different kind of aesthetic experience that nature can’t (the converse is also true). Because artworks are also artificial, and there’s a lot of room to revel in that artificiality. And I think that kind of meta-awareness and formal playfulness is very appealing in art, and a big part of the artistic experience, and difficult to find in nature alone. Humans seem drawn to wordplay, for instance, or to making impossible images, and it’s hard to find those things in nature. The nonexistent doesn’t exist to be appreciated, I mean to say, unless we make it manifest. And we seem to enjoy paradoxes and impossible objects and palindromes and perfect circles and all sorts of other “nonexistent” things. (They also have real applications in developing technologies of all kinds, for those who insist on technological applications.)

              Beyond that, I think that humans enjoy viewing the world through different lenses or perspectives. We like making sense of the world. And we do that through religion and science, and language, but another way we do it is through art. So even when we’re looking at things like sunsets and trees, we’re drawn to view them through different interpretive frameworks.

              For example, I was recently reading this Wordsworth poem:

              “The World Is Too Much with Us” (1807)

              The world is too much with us; late and soon,
              Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
              Little we see in Nature that is ours;
              We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
              This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
              The winds that will be howling at all hours,
              And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
              For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
              It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
              A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
              So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
              Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
              Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
              Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


              …and what I was finding interesting about it is how what Wordsworth’s narrator is longing for /isn’t/ necessarily a direct link with nature. Rather, he’s lamenting the fact that he wasn’t born in a time and place when he could see the world through “a creed outworn.” He’d “rather be a pagan,” because what would make him “less forlorn” would be to see the world through /mythology/. I think that’s a very beautiful, and very discerning sentiment!

              And very appropriate for the current age. We lose something when “the world is too much with us”—when we’ve explained too much of it away, or turned it too much into a natural resource we can exploit. (I think the world, if it could be asked, might agree that we are too much with it.) Heidegger had a lot to say about this as well: how we’ve ordered the world to stand by, as “standing-reserve.” Nothing but a resource we can exploit. Which is only one way we can approach it.

              “The Question Concerning Technology”

              Sure, we need food and water to exist. But food and water are more than just things that make us exist. So why should we treat them only that way? Well, what other ways can we regard them? …Art shows us other ways: cuisine. or as a garden. Religion also shows us other ways to regard them: as sacraments. And so on.

              Returning to Wordsworth, I’m really fascinated by how he describes the modern, technological approach to the world–the view that orders it, in Heideggerian terms, to stand by and be ready to be exploited, as “standing-reserve”: how the sea and the wind, both for so long so wild, “are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers.” And how this mastery over nature puts us “out of tune.” Wordsworth, throughout, expresses the problem so beautifully:

              Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
              Little we see in Nature that is ours;
              We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

              …This is what is lost when art is lost, I think. It’s important that we be able to approach the world rationally, and scientifically, and technologically, but it is equally important that we be able to approach is poetically, romantically, absurdly, irrationally. Artistically!

              Wordsworth tries: he sees in the sea a bosom; he hears the wind howling–personification–but he’ can’t make those fragmented body parts cohere into something grander, something more tuneful: he can’t see Proteus, hear Triton.

              …Anyway, moving on to the rest of your comments, for all of these reasons I’ve just expressed, I’m reluctant to fall back on the old “the basics are food and water” view of things. Because I think that’s a pretty narrow way of viewing what people “need.” I don’t think we’d get by fine with just food and water and some shelter and the sun setting over some trees. Human culture is much more vast, much more complex than that. Sure, without clean water, we’d die (rather quickly), but we’d die without many other things as well. Such as a way of remembering where the clean water is. And how should we do that? Shall we make a map? Tell a story? Draw a picture? Compose a rhyme? How do we teach our kids to drink from this pond, and not from this one? Or debate the merits of moving on to another water source, where the water might be cleaner? I think it’s hard to separate art from this kind of conversation, which surely has happened untold number of times throughout history.

              How do we convince the industrialist not to build a factory next to that river? Or to not cut down all of the trees, so we can continue enjoying them? How do we convince the agribusiness firms not to put all of the pigs in factory farms, so that all meat is produced on an assembly line…and tainted with E. coli? Surely art has some role to play in this conversation, which is a conversation directly concerned with where our food and water comes from. And what remains of nature for us to appreciate.

              I don’t see art as being inseparable from everyday life. You reference this in your comments about music (which is also a mnemonic–melody helps us remember random strings of data. Recite the English alphabet to yourself–odds are you learned it set it to “Twinkle, Twinkle”).

              It would help, probably, if I clarify here that I consider art less a product—less some group of objects made somewhere—and more a perspective through which we approach the world, and the things in it (including the things we’ve made). I can have an artistic experience with a sunset. I can also have an artistic experience with a well-designed pen. Or with a Balthus painting. Or a Wordsworth poem. (Or a Heidegger essay. The best philosophy is, I think, always also poetry.)

              I think that developing and maintaining our artistic perspective is important. It was important historically, and it’s important now. Although there exist those who would devalue it.

              As for narrative, it too is a mnemonic. It’s easier to remember random things when they’re arranged in logical orders, and narrative is one way we can order things. There’s been tons written about this, tons of studies done. It’s no accident that every human culture ever has told stories, written poems. If we could live without them, the someone somewhere probably would. But we don’t seem capable of doing that, because we don’t do it.

              As for whether it has to be made up or not: The made up ones help us practice? As well as explain what we can’t explain? I mean, kittens practice fighting, as a way of getting exercise, and preparing for eventual real fights. We tell made-up stories to practice for when we need to tell real once?

              But I think we also do it simply because we enjoy it. I really want to resist this very accountant-based, bottom-line type of thinking. Where does the impulse to define “the bare necessities” come from? It’s not an absolute mindset. It’s just another way of looking at the world. A very techno-rationalist viewpoint, IMHO, that dates back to the Spartans (and even they had art!). What assumptions and values lurk behind it? Why should we privilege that viewpoint over a more hedonistic view that values art for the pleasure it brings us, and that couldn’t imagine wanting to live life without that pleasure? I don’t think that Spartanism is fundamentally more /anything/ than hedonism.



              1. hi a. i appreciate the thoughtful reply here. i don’t doubt that art is valuable to you or even to me or to all of humanity for that matter (in fact, in my original statement, i say that ‘art on a macro scale is valuable’ it was more the micro scale i was trying to suss). anyway, tim sort of found the rational flaw in my argument so that kind of rendered the argument dead in my head as far as trying to find a rational way to quantify art, which i don’t think there is a way to. i was wrong to think there was more logical strength in using life-sustaining necessities as a contrast but even that assumes a subjective value system. oh well. guess art is valuable then, for lack of my ability to debate it the other way. ;)

                1. ^_^

                  I’m really glad you posed the questions you did, because I found it very helpful to write about some of this stuff—to try to articulate some of it. I think I’ll try putting together a more coherent post on Wordsworth and Heidegger over the next few days.

                  You know you’re an English major when you’re excited about writing something about Wordsworth and Heidegger.

                  Wordsworth is on my mind tonight because I just saw SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS. Which is an incredible film that I feel compelled to post something about…


        2. Darby,

          I think there is some truth to the very basic notion that people will prioritize their basic needs, but beyond that, I think the notion that economically, people make decisions rationally and as discreet individuals (which is the assumption of neoclassical economics) has been challenged by numerous economic theorists.

          I would argue that —

          ~We live in a culture where any number of “wants” are marketed, socially constructed and perceived as “needs” such that it is often difficult to intelligibly distinguish between the two
          ~Lots of people make decisions about what to purchase, either individually or collectively, based upon emotions, filial attachments, notions of identity (either collective or individual identity), values (either individual or collective… see Adam’s free range egg example) and are otherwise swayed by many other non-rational factors
          ~Not everybody operates as a discreet individual while making economic decisions. Many folks think in terms of their family unit. Or about themselves with relation to some larger collectivity… community, subculture, race-ethnicity, etc.

          And these patterns absolutely do not apply exclusively to people with wealth. I’m thinking a great example of several of the above is the historical valuation of big, expensive cars in poor African American communities.

          …I also want to say, unrelated to any of the above, that while I think you sometimes raise provocative questions and issues, I find your rhetorical style grating. I would much rather participate in dialogue than debate, because I find and additive conversation is generally far more illuminating and useful than a combative one. I sometimes ignore you solely because of the manner in which you express your opinions, and would be much more inclined to engage your arguments if you owned your own values, experiences and position in a conversation rather than occupying guises — “playing devil’s advocate,” engaging in “though experiments,” etc. I think it’s fine to bring in arguments and opinions that are not necessarily your own, but then why not say that? Why not say, “Hey guys, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this, but this argument got me thinking, how do you all feel about it?”

          1. …And ya know, the more I think about it and think about it also in terms of Adam’s comments, the more I feel like even determining which are needs and which are basic is itself a process of valuation.

            There are street youth who will sometimes direct what resources they have toward something others might see as superfluous in order to feel more “human,” claim some sense of agency in their lives. And there are many of us, myself included, who will argue this is a form of resilience and not a pathology.

                1. I was sitting here, thinking about how kind of wonderful and overwhelming this conversation is getting, with its subarguments and subsubarguments, and then I came to the point that Tim JY said “Word” in response to AD’s paraphrase of Foucault. And that made me so happy.

                  1. James Tadd Adcox, I am going to get you and Mr. Jameson in the same room, and then we are going to be ginormous nerds together, you two especially (only because I sometimes worry I’m not well enough read to hold my own), and then I am going to say, “Word.”

                    I’m thinking this should happen sometime next week.

            1. ‘the more I feel like even determining which are needs and which are basic is itself a process of valuation.’

              assuming you mean needs and wants, i agree with this and my whole argument kind of crumbles due to this. my argument depends on a stable and universal value system and one doesn’t exist. i was building an ethical ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ based on a system based on the survival of mankind, so that anything that sustains human life is a necessity (food, air, sex), and then everything that supports those things are slightly less valuable, then the things that support the supporting things are even less valuable and so on until we are valuing impractical things. but this is an assumed valuation, you’re right.

              1. This is what I always get into when I meet people who support cutting arts programs: they have too narrow a view of what is necessary. “Our students need math to compete with foreign students!” But why can’t music and art and literature make them better math students? And why is it only math that’s going to carry the US into the future? It seems to me that focusing only on math and science—and technorationalism in general—isn’t always the best goal for a society. (I’m not dissing on math and science; I was initially a math/biology major in college, and I love both subjects. But they’re two subjects among many, all of which are important. I don’t see how people can survive without history, without the arts, without literature.)

                That all said, I never expect the people I meet to see the value in something like poetry, because our society doesn’t currently value poetry. And so I think it falls to me, as someone who is passionate about poetry, and who considers it vital, to communicate that passion to others. And to try to bring it to them, demonstrating how it will enrich their lives, and fit in with what they already understand and value.

                And it likewise falls to me, and other lovers of poetry, to argue why it isn’t laughable that a poet might make a better president than an accountant, or a lawyer. (The extent to which we find that last thought laughable is a measure of how much we undervalue poetry.) …Well, should anyone want to argue such a thing.

                My current hope is that, given the recent financial crises, as well as our perpetual state of war, and the crumbling nature of our nation’s infrastructure, as well as the fact that no one who’s in charge seems to know how we’re going to meet our energy needs in twenty years from now, not to mention the fact that much of our nation is simply hideous to look at and live in—that all of this is chipping away some at the received wisdom that lawyers, accountants, and former generals inherently make the best leaders.

                Cheers, Adam

          2. Tim makes some very good points here.

            Economists have for a very, very long time now understood that people don’t spend their money rationally.

            Marketing is the application of this understanding. Advertising execs know how to convince you to spend your money in ways that have little if anything to do with your best interest.

            The idea that markets demonstrate some kind of inherent value or worth is a lie fostered by whoever’s currently in charge of the market. It’s naked self-interest.

            There are all sorts of ways to convince people that literature is worthwhile. Some are rational and honest, others irrational and dishonest. Literature (like all things) can also be marketed.

            Consider INFINITE JEST. You think that became a best-seller because it rose to the top of the market, like an air bubble in water? It’s a great piece of writing, to be sure, but the suits at Little, Brown saw it and understood that it was a piece of great writing that could be /sold/. (DFW was always very honest about all of this.)

            Anyway, there are all sorts of ways to make writing worth things. And, conversely, to make it worthless. (“Every last cent of our money should go toward bailing out banks and bombing Afghanistan, because otherwise our society will collapse!”)


          3. i dont think the rational vs. non-rational decision making thing holds, only because my argument doesn’t depend on what people actually do, it depends on what they ought to do, what decisions they ought to make. it depends on a rational ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ value system.

            as for your psychoanalyzing of me, i dont know what to say other than that i’m aware of all that and to presume i could just change is a little ridiculous. i put out that devils advocate thing for this very reason, so people who aren’t attached to beliefs dont engage. i dont want discussions with people who already firmly unflinchingly believe in what they are saying, i sometimes want to explore facets of ideas without that getting in the way. its not combative, its just distant and holistic and maybe a little cold (grating). the more combative discussion to me is when two people who firmly believe in what they are saying are butting heads because it does no good if each is unwilling to have their mind changed. I’m coming in completely passively with a very real expectation that what i’m arguing can be rationally argued against. this is what debate (although really, debate and argue and discuss are all kind of semantically linked in my head) means to me, its nothing but additive, and is how i come to clearer understandings of things, or clearer understandings of how others understand things. and im not always like this, i just get into moods. i know how i ‘feel’ about all this. i value art intensely. like obviously, we’re all writers, we all agree with each other that art should be shoved into as many children’s faces as possible, but no one learns anything if we all just sit around agreeing with each other.

            1. Hi Darby,

              I’m not sure if this last one was directed at me (I get a little lost in these threads sometimes), but if it was, then I hope I didn’t cause any offense. I’m very happy to be talking with you (and with everyone else here). I think this has been a pretty great conversation, with all sorts of great points made here and there all over the place.

              I’m always happy to see someone playing devil’s advocate. I’m relieved that for once it isn’t me.

              Best regards,

              P.S. The “you” in my comment above is a general you, and not directed specifically at anyone. Apologies that wasn’t clear—sloppy writing on my part…

              1. I’m the “you.” I made a comment abt his rhetorical style and my preference that people either claim perspectives as their own or, if they are bringing perspectives not their own into the conversation, identify that relationship. …I think it’s totally a personal preference thing and Darby’s comment abt why he does what he does helps me understand and appreciate him better. I come from Women’s Studies classrooms where everything is abt the politics of location “owning your location.” (see Adrienne Rich)

                1. i’m motivated more by the susan sontag quote… ‘For no one who wholeheartedly shares in a given sensibility can analyze it; he can only, whatever his intention, exhibit it.’ which i take to mean: to see things in their entirety, step back.

                  1. …I suppose I’d argue that owning one’s own location is a necessary first step toward acknowledging what that location might be preventing them from being able to see, understand, etc.

                    This comes out of the notion that everyone is contextually situated, so removal of oneself from that context is not possible, rather one can only develop a critical consciousness of how that context might color their perspectives.

                    I might be 100% wrong abt this, but I’m not sure that Sontag, based upon the little I know of her, would believe in genuine impartiality either. (Isn’t her argument re: images of violence and torture all abt how said images acquire their meaning through context??) The quote above seems to me to be saying dogmatic, uncritical devotion to a sensibility makes analysis impossible, not the existence of said sensibility period. I feel like she’d suggest fostering a critical relationship with all of one’s positions and sensibilities, rather than postulating an abstract impartial position I don’t believe exists.

                    1. i’m not really sure what you mean by owning one’s location. i’m taking it to mean just understanding yourself and your surroundings.

                      ‘how one’s context colors one’s perspective.’ i mean that is essentially getting distance, getting perspective, removal, the way i see it. no? to see your context you have to disengage with it. to see how long the line you’re in is you have to step out of the line and walk perpendicularly for a while and then turn around. but you are saying ‘removal of one’s context is not possible.’ i mean i dont think absolute removal is possible unless someone has a ghost or something, but i think its possible to the extent that one’s context can be considered clearer. i feel like i do this all the time. i walk around in a state of being disengaged in order to study. this is all a sort of weird thing to try to objectively talk about. in a way we are talking about introverted vs. extroverted thinking, jungianly. for some it is important to experience things, to dive into and embrace their context, while others have a desire to push their context away to better examine it or to control it. its natural in both i think, i dont think you can just change the way you think. but both are valuable mindsets and both have flaws.

                      and i agree about the sontag quote, wholeheartedly implies utter devotion. when i came across it it seemed to point to a way of thinking that i related to so it clung to me. i’m probably taking it horribly out of context itself, its from the notes on camp essay.

  11. Ultimately, I think we as writers just want to be read. Period. The bigger the audience, the better, and so what if we don’t get paid? I think Peter brings up a good point — writers need editors and journals just as much as editors and journals need writers. And yes, most of the people (if not all) who read the small press journals are writers. That’s just the way it is. It’s very unlikely for a non-writer (just an average reader) to pick up, say, Keyhole or Monkeybicycle, which is a shame. In terms of payment, yeah it’s nice when it happens, but that shouldn’t be the end all be all. In the past I’ve been paid five cents a word, three cents a word, one cent a word, and no cent a word. I’m perfectly happy with all of it, because at least my work is getting out there and (hopefully) being read. My issue with places like Narrative (though really, now that I think about it, they’re the only place) is the exploitation of novice writers paying obscene amounts of money to submit to a market that will never publish them (you have to figure most of those writers don’t even MAKE $20 in their writing a year). It’s just wrong. If Narrative only charged for their contests, well then okay, I guess I wouldn’t have a problem with that, but for regular submissions … nah.

    In terms of publications offering token payments, I respect them for the effort and always donate it back to them.

  12. If writers just want to be read, why not publish the story on their own blogs and encourage friends and fans to come read it? The function of an editor is to be a gate-keeper, but once everyone can publish anything they want, essentially for free, the real scarce resource is the *reader’s time*.

  13. for some reason, i only post links to “lit news” like maudnewton & largehearted, but have never posted a link to an actual story. this post has convinced me to change that.
    i’m inundated with mp3s all the time, to post & tease the album. no one’s ever sent me a story as an ‘mp3’ of sort. sometimes i read stories online, sometimes i don’t.

    if you have an online journal and are reading this random comment—please taunt & tease me with your stories.
    i’ll check a few of them out & link back to them (my lit links run once or twice a wk…and no, i don’t have ‘mad hits’ like largehearted or maud newton, so don’t expect that much….but every little bit helps, i guess.).
    send to: deckfight [at] gmail.com

  14. maybe it’s a matter of asking readers to contribute? in the very least, we need to consider models that will enable independent presses and magazines to thrive and writers to be compensated for their work.

    duotrope seems to be fairly successful in getting folks who use their site to contribute to costs.

    what if we did something similar on a literary site? right now on word riot i’ve got a chip-in counter to try to help me off-set costs. i can’t say it’s been very successful. what if i re-thought that model?

    what if the amount raised in one month was distributed evenly among the writers published in the next month, with one stake going toward the maintenance of the magazine? is that feasible? is it just a pipe dream?

    1. Unless you’re doing some mighty fine pimping of the mag out to non-writers, though, doesn’t that still end up being writers subsidizing writers?

      1. Possibly. But writers who subsidize are acting as consumers at that point, not as writers. They are buying a product — a continued reading source. Just as when they buy a novel, they are buying a product as readers. After all, oil execs can fill their own gas tanks.

        Strange Horizons works on this model, which has allowed them to buy stories at five cents a word for many years now. They publish once a week, and the stories average between 3,000 and 5,000 words.

        Last year, when Strange Horizons’s annual drive was going slowly, John Scalzi advertised them on his blog, and his readers (approx. 40,000/day) contributed $10,000 overnight. Here’s coverage from the LA Times blog.

        I have experience working with a magazine that runs by this model, of course. Escape Artists (PodCastle, Escape Pod, and Pseudopod) runs on reader donations — almost all non-writers. People donate in lump sums or put up regular subscriptions. Donations run the gamut from a one-time $5 rate, to recurring sums of $100 or more. I don’t want to give away confidential details, but it’s been made public that Escape Artists pays about $320 for fiction weekly — not a great rate, but they’re reprint sales — and pays two administrative assistants, an accountant, and gives honorariums to its editors.

        You have to have an interesting mission or a large reader base to pull this off, and any given community can only sustain a few. Strange Horizons was the first professionally paying (in this context, that means their rates qualify their sales to count for membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America) online magazine, and came to the community with a particular goal of publishing non-traditional work, with an emphasis on representing people from traditionally unrepresented groups, such as people of color, women, and GLBTIQ people.

        I note that Strange Horizons was co-founded by Maryanne Mohanraj, whose work moves from surrealist to realist fiction, and who has been successful in the literary community.

        Escape Artists is able to flourish on donations because it offered readers something they weren’t able to get elsewhere — well-produced genre short stories in audio. Escape Pod had an audience of about 20,000 listeners per episode last I checked, with PodCastle and Pseudopod somewhere in the 10s. These listeners include soldiers overseas who have limited access to other fiction, people who listen during commutes or exercise, international listeners — lots and lots of people, many of whom would never pick up a traditional book.

        The sheer volume of people made a donation model sustainable. Even if only 5% of people donate, you make enough to pay everyone something.

        Those are the two magazines that run by donation model which I’m most familiar with, but there are more.

  15. Money flows to the writer. Period. If you charge a reading fee to consider my work, you are an editorial whore. If your lit mag doesn’t make a profit, it’s not the writers’ problem, nor is it the reader’s problem. It’s a business model problem.

    And frankly, I never heard of Keyhole before I had this thread pointed out to me ten minutes ago. I won’t lose any sleep over its disappearance. There are plenty of other markets out there, and new ones pop up all the time. I made several hundred dollars in a bad year where I was quite lazy about submitting and hardly wrote anything, and not once did I submit anywhere that does not pay.

    This entire thread underscores the difference between literary writers and commercial writers. It isn’t a question of talent versus hack, nor is it a question of being true to the art versus selling out.

    Writing is a business and people can and do make money doing it. This is a question of attitude. The attitude I see on this thread is one of literary snobbish defeatism. Part of the solution is to write what people want to read.

    1. Hi Rick,

      I’m not exactly sure what or who you are disputing. And you’ve lumped a lot of people together by this comment: “The attitude I see on this thread is one of literary snobbish defeatism.” Who are you talking about? and what makes them literary snob defeatists?

      Roxane opened this post with an exploration of the ways that the journal she edits, Pank, can find the means to remunerate the writers published by same. Greg commented: “To be published is well enough for me. I think if one feels they are being exploited then they should only submit to those magazines that pay.” Rachel, before elaborating on just how much she was paid last year for her work, wrote: “I’m unclear on how making money makes one an ingenuine artist.

      There’s a whiff of classism in arguments about how money and art are separate things. Historically, a lot of art has been done by the rich who had access to the leisure needed for such projects. One hopes that today’s attitudes allow for more diverse voices — but shutting out renumeration, and defining it as the opposite of art, creates a situation in which it remains the purview of those with class resources.” Peter wrote: “But I’m not saying that I expect or want money. Not saying writers should NOT want money. I’m just pointing out the flawed thinking. And I think it is part of the reason that none of us are likely to make money.” pr wrote: “I like money. And I like to write. I think it would be really cool if the two things went together…”

      And that’s just for starters.

      Has anyone here suggested that journals should charge a reading fee?

      And why shouldn’t writers be concerned with worthwhile journals folding? What is the viable business model that you’re suggesting that a hypothetical “failed” journal did not follow? Why should the publishers of a journal bear sole responsibility for its financial success?

      Why do you conflate journal/magazine with “market”?

      Also, I’d like to understand why, as you write, “writing is a business”? Is that all that writing is or is that what writing is for you? You also mention that you “made several hundred dollars in a bad year where I was quite lazy about submitting and hardly wrote anything, and not once did I submit anywhere that does not pay.” Why was this a bad year? Was it because you only “made several hundred dollars” from writing? Was it because you “hardly wrote anything”? Was it because you were “lazy about submitting”?

      You write:
      “Part of the solution is to write what people want to read.”
      To what are you referring exactly? And what is it that “people want to read”?

      I also don’t see how you can separate writers into the two camps, namely “literary” and “commercial”, as you have. “Literary” writing is a genre like any other and there are certainly many examples of commercially successful “literary” works. Is Toni Morrison, for example, a “literary” writer or a “commercial” writer? I would think she’s both.

      1. “Historically, a lot of art has been done by the rich who had access to the leisure needed for such projects. One hopes that today’s attitudes allow for more diverse voices — but shutting out renumeration, and defining it as the opposite of art, creates a situation in which it remains the purview of those with class resources.”

        This is a very important point that is worth pointing out once again.

      2. Hi John,

        I’m not Rick, and I don’t agree with all his positions. Obviously, not all litfic is boring; obviously, people want to read it. Setting aside the many people in this thread –including me– who don’t think all litfic is boring and who like to read it, novel sale umbers bear out the popularity of litfic.


        Obviously there is real grist for dispute here, but some of the difficulty you’re having is down to vocabulary, and no one likes arguing over semantics, so I’ll try to sort that out, both here and below.

        1) A bad year here is pretty clearly an indication of a year in terms of low income. This is a common linguistic construction, not limited to SF/F/H writers, so I actually suspect you of trying to provoke Rick into considering whether or not pay rate is an appropriate metric for a good or bad year… but just in case, basically the phrase (for income) is implied. “I made several hundred dollars this year from fiction sales, and it was a bad year (for income).”

        2) Literary versus commercial fiction: This is just an attempt at naming the difference between genre writers and mainstream writers. I hear what you’re saying that literary fiction can be commercial (and hell, literary is a genre, and some sf is mainstream, so none of these linguistic attempts to create discreet categories are perfect as terms), but it seems to me that he’s just trying to draw a circle around work that marked genres and work that is default. I started hearing the term ‘commercial fiction’ as a way of including all the marked genres — sf/f/h, mysteries, romance — when there started being MFA programs created to teach that kind of writing. I guess it sounds more chic to call yourself a commercial writing program than a genre writing program. I don’t know. I mean, it’s fair to contest whether those are good terms for the two different kinds of writing being named, but it doesn’t seem fair to lay the burden of creating a new terminology at Rick’s feet. And whether we respect genre categories or not (and I don’t particularly), they do have a powerful influence on what writing is acceptable where, so it’s important to be able to name them.

        And this is actually endorsing an argument, so I can’t frame it as definitional:

        3) The reading fee suggestion seems to be coming from Cole. Who has said he doesn’t want one, yes, but who is also implying that writers who are unwilling to pay one, but who expect to be paid, are hypocrites. Which kind of sucks.

        1. Hi Rachel,

          Thanks. Please understand that I truly want to hear what Rick has to say. I would think he can flesh out what he meant and answer the questions. It’s always difficult, or rather, fraught with complications, when talking through an interpreter.

          Here’s one of Rick’s perceptions: “The attitude I see on this thread is one of literary snobbish defeatism.” He lumps together everyone here in a pile. Why?

          Re: semantics.
          Anyone making an argument is going to have to face dealing with having to take things apart. And if you’re a writer, this seems to me par for the course, an opportunity, a place you can explore meaning, word selection, denotation versus connotation, sign and symbol interpretation, not to mention syntax, etymology, etc. It’s one way to get to further clarity. But that’s getting away from the discussion.

          1) I still think Rick it would be good to hear what Rick meant about this statement: “I made several hundred dollars in a bad year where I was quite lazy about submitting and hardly wrote anything, and not once did I submit anywhere that does not pay.” What’s critical to me about this sentence is that he qualifies his “bad year” (insert here, if you wish, “for income”) “where [he] was quite lazy about submitting and hardly wrote anything…” Seems to me there is more being said here than something about income.

          2) Re: Literary versus commercial fiction
          My question to Rick was who was making judgmental distinctions about genre, that is, who was arguing that so-called genre fiction was inferior to so-called literary fiction? Everything you mention is familiar, I think, to anyone who has catholic reading tastes.

          3) Re: Reading fees
          I think Peter’s argument is much more nuanced than characterized by Rick, if that is who he is referring to. Why doesn’t he address Peter directly?

          1. I can’t address why he lumped everyone together, or why he’s not addressing Peter himself, obviously, as I am not Rick. I mean, I could guess, but I don’t think I’d be doing anyone any favors.

            So, just as to this point:

            “: “I made several hundred dollars in a bad year where I was quite lazy about submitting and hardly wrote anything, and not once did I submit anywhere that does not pay.” What’s critical to me about this sentence is that he qualifies his “bad year” (insert here, if you wish, “for income”) “where [he] was quite lazy about submitting and hardly wrote anything…” Seems to me there is more being said here than something about income.

            Again, not Rick, so I could be wrong, but I don’t *think* he’s saying more.

            I think he’s saying “Even when I am lazy about submitting, and when I don’t write very much — even when it’s a year when I don’t run the business aspect of my career very well at all — even then, I still make a few hundred bucks.”

  16. I get the impression from this comment thread that many of the writers here actively think they should NOT be paid for their efforts.

    I find that weird.

    I’m nowhere near as successful as Rachel, but I write. I’ve always written. I love to write.

    But I expect to get paid for publishing my work. Whence came this weird idea that art should be free of “commercial taint”? Artists through history – from da Vinci to Kahlo, from Tintoretto to Hirst – have worked for money. Writers have been the same. No-one has done it for the pure unsullied joy of creation (the only people who do that are outsier artists like Henry Darger). I’ve sold more than thirty storiies, and I mean sold; I have been paid for every single one. Maybe not much (my entire sales to date are a third of what Rachel got in a quiet year… I need to find better markets!) but this idea that art is only “real” if it’s made for free is absurd and, frankly, insulting. If it’s really great art, then it’s damn well worth someone paying for it!

    1. Brian,

      My impression (and my opinion) is that many of the writers here don’t expect to be paid.

      I’ll tell you I’ve probably made a few hundred dollars from my fiction, and I don’t care. Sure it would be nice to make money, but money is not the point. The point for me is getting emails from people telling me they liked the stories or that they even read them. The point is reading aloud and hearing people laugh. The point is hearing a praising word from an author that is a hero.

      I think it’s also important to keep in mind that the ‘literary’ (and take it mean whatever you want) magazines and the speculative/sci-fi/genre magazines are very different. People/dutrope talk of ‘markets.’ I don’t know what the fuck a market is.

      As far as something being great art meaning that it’s well worth someone paying for it, there are a plethora of historical examples that contravenes this, most notably Van Gogh. The subjectivity in the judging of what is great art is also a huge problem.

      1. “I don’t know what the fuck a market is.”

        It’s a fairly common thing throughout human history where person or organisation A produces something that is desired by person or organisation B, and thus person or organisation B gives person or organisation A something back in exchange – usually in some common medium of exchange that allows person or organisation A to deal in turn with person or organisation C, who produces something person or organisation A wants. And so on.

        You’ll probably work it out eventually – most people on the planet have.

        And as for the corny old Van Gogh example – he spent years and years trying to SELL his paintings. He didn’t just give them away! Artists (and writers) have always drifted in and out of fashion, and I have no intention of getting into an argument about whether any individual is or is not “great”. The point is that even those people who have pursued their own art rather than working to a patron’s command (and it is only in the last 150-200 years that any artists have reasonably been able to pursue this course) have done it for MONEY – how successful or otherwise they have been in that is not germane. I carefully gave an example of a REAL exception to that; someone who really did just create art with no apparent intent/expectation of making money from it. So I’m not disputing that it CAN happen.

        See my answer to darby below for a reply to the idea that all you want is an email or a word of praise from an author you admire or whatever – the two are not only NOT mutually exclusive, but you are MORE likely to get your praise if you ALSO get paid! Win-win!

    2. ‘this idea that art is only “real” if it’s made for free’

      i dont think anyone is saying that. its not like anyone is refusing payment. for me its just that money isnt as much of a factor. its a matter of personal priority. i have a day job for money, i dont need to make money writing so i dont try to. i could probably make money if i really tried, but i wouldn’t enjoy it as much i think. like i would be too overly concerned with markets and keeping a steady stream of publications. im just not interested in that lifestyle.

      1. “As I was just reminded in the Collapse documentary (see previous post) money is the root of all evil. I’m skeptical of anyone who gets into writing fiction or poetry to make money.”

        “The fantasy of appropriate material compensation for fiction…”

        “at this point i feel no sense that i deserve to be paid for my ‘effort’ as either a writer or editor. work ive done in my life that i felt i deserved to be paid for were making chili dogs for weinerschnitzel when i was 16…”

        Nope, no idea where I got that impression from this comment thread.

        And then we get “i could probably make money if i really tried, but i wouldn’t enjoy it as much i think”

        If you haven’t tried, then you neither know whether you COULD make money at it, nor whether you’d enjoy it.

        Sure, the money I’ve made selling my work is peanuts compared to the day job. But you know what? I’m a lot happier getting paid for my work than not getting paid for it – and let’s not kid ourselves here, if anyone is serious about writing, then it IS work.

        Several people here are just in the “I just want to be read! I just love it when readers tell me how great my stuff is!” Well, guess what – that happens to people who SELL stories as well as to those who give them away for nothing. Indeed, it probaby happens a lot MORE, because paying venues only survive by going out and getting real readers – something that non-paying venues, hobby magazines, whatever, are NOT under any pressure to do.

        If you really wanted to get read, you’d be seeking out markets that had a large readership – thousands, even tens of thousands, of people. ANd those markets will pay you money, too! Win-win situation!

        1. Brian, I hear where you’re coming from, but I feel like the structural realities in science-fiction/fantasy and literary fiction communities are quite different. From what Rachel’s told me, y’all have a built-in fandom and readership you can access. Folks who have already been following your genre for decades, conventions, an infrastructure, fans of other sci-fi media products to whom you can promote your fiction, etc.

          For literary fiction, especially the so-called “innovative,” “experimental” or “avant-garde” art-type fiction (and I would never claim sci-fi/fantasy can’t sometime be all these things as well) many of us in this thread are interested in promoting, anything we build we are building from the ground up. I’m not at all against reaching out to non-writer readers, and I especially love some of AD Jameson’s cross-genre ideas, but the folks with the most potential interest in our writing for the most part are not actively seeking us out, and are not easily accessed in a systematic way, especially with the limited resources available to most of the editors on this thread. Beyond grassroots marketing and community-building, which with our resources and level of visibility pretty much results at best in a few hundred copies sold, the only institutionalized mechanisms cultivating a readership for literary fiction are mainstream publishers, whose business models are imploding and whom have very little space for the unproven and non-blockbuster, and Universities, who b/c of the nature of their mission tend to be fairly inwardly-focused.

          1. Hi Tim,

            Fantasy and sci-fi were underground for a long time, lovingly supported by people with few resources and little mainstream access. It’s only been in the past twenty/thirty years or so that they’ve broken through to mainstream commercial success (although there have been periods of popularity before that).

            It’s hard for us to remember now, but novels like Barthelme’s SNOW WHITE were big hits. Hippies loved it! I’ve met more than a few who have read it, and who still remember it fondly (inasmuch as they remember anything).

            AG-Exp people shouldn’t be quick to ghettoize themselves. And why should those things be any less exciting and popular to others than sci-fi and fantasy? Why can’t we have conventions, an infrastructure?

            And who even says there’s a clear distinction between experimental and sci-fi, or experimental and fantasy? Pynchon’s the classic example, but he has been so successsful because he appeals to so many different types of readers—including sci-fi folk. History folk. Science geeks. Poets. Exp. fiction people. Systems novels people. And more!

            We see similar things with Borges, Calvino, Auster, Maso, Caponegro.

            Consider Ken Sparling. DAD SAYS HE SAW YOU AT THE MALL is an experimental novel that’s also somewhat realist, and yet very approachable for most readers—very fun, very engaging.

            Alan Moore is one of the most popular comics writers out there, and he’s amazing experimental. So’s Art Spiegelman.

            I’m not arguing that all experimental art will find success (of course it won’t, nor should it want to), but man am I tired of AG-Exp folk telling me—even before they try!—why no one is ever going to buy or read their work. (Not you, Tim. In fact, I consider your work rather refreshing, in terms of how giving it is to the audience—how simultaneously offbeat yet playful it is. We need more writers/performers like you!)

            At Dalkey, there’s this (semi-unspoken) rule: Don’t ever tell people that the book is experimental! Or difficult! Instead, tell them all the reasons they’ll want to read it. let them decide for themselves whether it’s too challenging/strange/unreadable (and note that Dalkey in general tends to publish challenging and yet readable experimental fiction—stuff that could potentially find mainstream success, and yet is rather innovative and beautiful).


            1. This is helpful history. Thanks.

              I guess I’m trying to understand and explain the current on-the-ground, material, systemic reality that makes it much harder for Peter Cole and Roxane Gay (both of whom, while publishing challenging fiction, are also seriously value the accessible and non-rarefied) to reach thousands of readers than the folks running Clarkeworld or Tor.com or Strange Horizons or what-have-you.

              I do feel like there is a context Brian Dolton and Rick Novy are not fully grokking when they dismiss any publication that isn’t profitable.

              Maybe I should own my position in the conversation —

              As a friend/supporter of Rachel (whose personal blog post I think brought a lot of the sci-fi folks to this thread, which I ultimately think is really cool) and Roxane and Peter Cole, this comment thread has really stressed me out and made me feel anxious and angsty.

              And I will also admit to feeling some natural defensiveness re: my own publications. I’ve published some places w/ low readership but been incredibly selective about which ones I’ve published in and all were places I was very enthusiastic about. I’m not at all one of those throw-shit-at-the-wall-and-any-visibility-is-good-visibility people. I want these folks commenting to understand that Pank or Keyhole or Smokelong’s struggles to identify a viable business model have nothing to do with the quality of their content, which is high.

              I dig this:

              “At Dalkey, there’s this (semi-unspoken) rule: Don’t ever tell people that the book is experimental! Or difficult! Instead, tell them all the reasons they’ll want to read it. let them decide for themselves whether it’s too challenging/strange/unreadable (and note that Dalkey in general tends to publish challenging and yet readable experimental fiction—stuff that could potentially find mainstream success, and yet is rather innovative and beautiful).”

              …I referenced Ducornet in a recent facebook status update and was very happy to see several non-writers comment saying, “I had no idea anyone else had ever heard of her!”

              And absolutely of course down with this (which is why I included the parentheses abt ‘sci fi can sometimes be these things’):

              “And who even says there’s a clear distinction between experimental and sci-fi, or experimental and fantasy?”

              1. Sorry this is stressing you out.

                I don’t know that it’s fair to compare PANK/Keyhole/Smokelong to Clarkesworld/Tor. Probably more fair to compare them to Electric Velocipede.

                Electric Velocipede:

                1) Has no infrastructure built up to support it, except what John Klima has built up personally. (Or didn’t until he recently started working with a publisher, because of his success)

                2) Survives largely by word-of-mouth and intense interest in its content, which is unusual and difficult to get elsewhere

                3) Basically being sold on the strength of its editorial vision in a way that other places aren’t.

                1. Hi Tim, everyone,

                  I would hope that this thread isn’t a cause for stress, but rather a cause for excitement. And inspiration. I myself feel rather energized by it (but I tend to be fairly energetic).

                  I see a lot of work that can be done, building bridges between experimental art and more commercial art. And other media and forms. And “genre art” like fantasy and sci-fi. And the mainstream. And the market. And to “common folk.” And to try to show that those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive (and never are).

                  And that they also already contain a lot of one another. My first post here was about T.S. Eliot’s stealing lines from Sherlock Holmes stories. And THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (the book, not the film) contains multiple allusions to PARADISE LOST. Genres have always been hybrid, and in flux.

                  The guy who wrote THE WASTELAND also wrote the inspiration for the musical CATS. Yes. This is not unusual. Wittgenstein loved bad Western flicks. This is common.

                  The two films I’ve been telling people about nonstop recently are:
                  1. THE STAR WARS: PHANTOM MENACE REVIEW, by a YouTube feature-length film that’s basically a guy griping comedically about THE PHANTOM MENACE:
                  2. LE MONDE VIVANT, a 2003 French feature by Eugene Green, a “Lacanian fantasy film”:

                  They’re both fantasy. They’re both 70 minutes long. They both mix high and low art. They’re both brilliant, each in its own way. And it would be foolish to think that only the first one has any commercial viability (it might have more, but LE MONDE VIVANT is itself very charming and approachable).

                  I think it was Jim O’Rourke who, when asked what kind of music he listened to, replied “Good music.” And then added, “90% of any genre, highbrow or lowbrow, is crap.”


                  1. I am mostly excited. There is much to be excited by. Your comments especially excite me.

                    …I think sometimes when big structural and.or philosophical issues are being discussed, and conflicts arise in that discussion, I find myself trying to personally and somewhat obsessively reconcile every viewpoint and everything that has been said, as though it is my personal responsibility to understand, map, and transform an entire system and the individuals within it into something mutually beneficial for everyone. This tendency is aggravated when two individuals I like are in tension with one another.

                    I am feeling much less angsty about it now than I was earlier today and am focusing on the excitement.

                    1. I’m going to post something about that kind of thing soon—about reconciling different viewpoints etc. It’s taking a while to write, though. But soon!

            2. Lots of great ideas here.

              Hey Adam,
              The comments on this post are beginning to sprawl into all kinds of wonderful directions. Your comment here regarding the lack of “clear distinction between experimental and sci-fi, or experimental and fantasy” is worthy of a post of its own rather than being buried here.

  17. First of all, I’m not dismissing a publication that isn’t profitable. I’m dismissing the complaints about it being a lose-lose situation, and the concept that editors should gain both product and income from writers, as well as the fact that you should give away your hard work for free.

    Look, there is a very biased viewpoint of genre fiction coming from the ivory tower. I see it up close and personal when I attend a university-sponsored literary conference. I see people put on pedestals for writing “groundbreaking” fiction that doesn’t sell, nobody wants to read, and those who actually do read it don’t understand. I saw the pride in the face of one man who claimed his book sold FIVE copies. That’s complete lunacy.

    But the real point here is that the genre fiction markets are healthy relative to the literary fiction markets. (And the distinction between literary and genre I’m using here is not mine, it comes from the literary writers where the word genre is in the same category as that “n” word. Genres are artificial devices that tell you upon which shelf to put a book. Nothing more.)

    I honestly don’t care where literary writers publish their fiction. However, since the genre writers can and do get paid for what they publish, I submit to you that the literary writers and publishers might be able to learn something from them.

    This doesn’t have to be an either/or. Despite literary writers being lauded for stealing tropes that F/SF writers have been using for a century, the two camps really aren’t in competition with each other.

    Clarkesworld was mentioned. What are they doing different that literary journals could be doing better? Will paying the writers attract the better manuscripts? Will attracting better manuscripts produce a better product? Will producing a better product attract more readers? Will attracting more readers improve cashflow?

    It’s not my place to answer those questions. I don’t know the literary markets in question, and I don’t write the kind of fiction they buy. That doesn’t mean the fiction you write is any less valuable. You just seem to think it is because I’m paid in money and copies to be published and you are paid in copies alone.

    All I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

    1. “First of all, I’m not dismissing a publication that isn’t profitable.”

      I think this perception, for me, came from the tone of your initial comment, which seemed very — “If I haven’t heard of you, then why should I care?” Which is an attitude that makes me prickly, because I think — if we all approach shit with curiosity and interest rather than dismissal, we’ll be a whole lot better off. I also think more people who are interested in interesting things should put more of their own energy into actively seeking them out, which I don’t think our culture much encourages.

      I absolutely believe it’s good for us to learn from the genre community. Definitely absolutely. I’m just uncomfortable assuming the reason people aren’t purchasing or reading something is because they don’t want it or can’t understand it (“Will paying the writers attract the better manuscripts? Will attracting better manuscripts produce a better product? Will producing a better product attract more readers? Will attracting more readers improve cashflow?”) I don’t think, “If you build it, they will come,” necessarily applies to the folks I’m talking about. I don’t think there are currently sufficient mechanisms for folks to find what we build.

      As for genre distinctions…

      “Genres are artificial devices that tell you upon which shelf to put a book.”

      Yes and no.

      In one sense, I absolutely agree with this.

      In the other, I think there is a particular kind of genre fiction that is unconcerned with language and form and concerned only with relaying a plot (often one that’s relatively prefab).

      (I recognize literary stuff, as folks often argue in these conversations, can often be just as formulaic).

      I like lots of things associated with or dubbed genre, but I am currently not especially interested in reading stuff where it is possible to fully distinguish between “content” and its delivery.

      1. “I am currently not especially interested in reading stuff where it is possible to fully distinguish between “content” and its delivery.”

        That’s a gorgeous definition, Tim.


        I suspect what’s driving what you’re reading as a dismissal of all non-profitable markets is a response to Cole’s position on the editor-writer relationship. When his attitude is “You should be grateful to me,” it’s pretty easy to respond, “Actually, why should I care you exist?”

        1. I didn’t mean that as arrogantly as you made it sound stated here. I only meant that writers should be grateful that literary journals exist — because it doesn’t exist for other arts, as far as I know. It’s a valid point, despite who I am and despite what I do. A literary journal is valuable to a writer in bigger ways than a $20 token payment or even a higher payment of $1,000 or whatever.

          A journal isn’t ever going to pay enough money for a writer to live on, and most small journals are funded by the editors, donations, etc (as Roxane pointed out in the post above) — given that, by default isn’t the point of a literary journal something other than money? Why even worry about money from a literary journal then? That’s all.

          My point in bringing up the editor’s pay is this: if a journal like PANK (just as an example and to relate to the post) can’t afford to pay writers, writers should know that editors aren’t making money either (and I’m talking small journals), and they should realize what they’re really gaining by being published in PANK. Because giving $20 to 10 to 40 people is going to hurt the editor far more than it’s going to help those individual writers.

          1. “Why even worry about money from a literary journal then? That’s all.”

            Well, one argument that’s been addressed from the side, but not directly, is that I should care because I want my work to be seen by as many people as possible. If you’re not getting enough readers to pay me at all, then that’s not going to accomplish my goal very well. It’s not a one-to-one correlation, but many magazines that pay well have circulation to go with it.

            So, that’s one reason.

            Another is because I’m a full-time short story writer. That’s it. That’s all I do. That’s how I make my money. So if you can’t pay me, then I might give you my time if I have extra, or because I think your magazine will help me gain prestige in a way that will get me more work, or because I think people who hire freelancers are fishing in your magazine for people who they want to work for them. But generally, you’re going to be very low on my list of priorities.

            There are other reasons, but there are two.

    2. Hi Rick,

      Who are you addressing here? I’ve asked a number of questions about your comment above. You aren’t addressing them but only dealing with them peripherally. It’s hard to have a dialogue with a wagging finger that really isn’t pointing directly to what’s been said on this post.

      What do you think about these comments from two Big Other contributors?:

      Let’s look at what you’ve said above:
      “First of all, I’m not dismissing a publication that isn’t profitable. I’m dismissing the complaints about it being a lose-lose situation, and the concept that editors should gain both product and income from writers, as well as the fact that you should give away your hard work for free.”

      I don’t think anyone here has suggested that anyone “should give away [their] hard work for free”.

      “Look, there is a very biased viewpoint of genre fiction coming from the ivory tower. I see it up close and personal when I attend a university-sponsored literary conference. I see people put on pedestals for writing “groundbreaking” fiction that doesn’t sell, nobody wants to read, and those who actually do read it don’t understand. I saw the pride in the face of one man who claimed his book sold FIVE copies. That’s complete lunacy.”

      As for the “very biased viewpoint of genre fiction coming from the ivory tower”, I don’t think anyone here would argue that genre fiction, as you’re describing it, doesn’t get short shrift from the academy, from sundry publishing power brokers, critics, etc. It is a reprehensible stance. Who here is speaking from that viewpoint?

      “This doesn’t have to be an either/or. Despite literary writers being lauded for stealing tropes that F/SF writers have been using for a century, the two camps really aren’t in competition with each other.”

      Okay, you obviously have an axe to grind. Is anyone here lauding literary writers who have “stolen tropes that F/SF writers have been using for a century”? Personally, I don’t think tropes belong to anyone. They belong to everyone. I don’t think anyone here would argue that so-called literary writers and so-called genre writers are in competition with each other.

      And lastly:
      “It’s not my place to answer those questions. I don’t know the literary markets in question, and I don’t write the kind of fiction they buy. That doesn’t mean the fiction you write is any less valuable. You just seem to think it is because I’m paid in money and copies to be published and you are paid in copies alone.”

      Who here has claimed that writing that is monetarily paid for is less valuable than work that gets paid in copies alone?

      We’re all about community at Big Other and want to have a real dialogue. Why don’t you address particular things and people because right now it feels like your tilting at windmills.

      1. And continuing as above:

        ” Personally, I don’t think tropes belong to anyone. They belong to everyone. ”

        One agrees.

        Just FYI, though, there is a lot of irritation among SF writers about what they see as a kind of appropriation. A big component of SF writing is coming up with a unique idea. Fiction lives, dies, sells, etc, based on how unique or interesting the idea is. So, it’s very irritating to SF authors when an idea that’s been kicking around genre — that was the result of someone’s innovation — suddenly shows up in mainstream fiction. And all of a sudden, an idea-commodity which did not create a huge splash for the originator, is getting a lot of attention as being interesting and groundbreaking and award-winning and wonderful. But not for the person who came up with it — for someone who is replaying it.

        Now, from a lit perspective this makes eminent sense. The idea is interesting, but not primal. People are excited not just about what the story is about, but how that story is being told.

        But you can see where SF writers are irritated. Especially when the work that originates the idea is actually really beautifully told as well — why don’t we hear more about, I don’t know, Maureen McHugh outside speculative communities? A few break out, like Octavia Butler, but there are many more very powerful spec writers. So it’s frustrating sometimes to see them passed up in terms of critical notice in favor of a mainstream author who is doing something similar, 10 years later.

        “Who here has claimed that writing that is monetarily paid for is less valuable than work that gets paid in copies alone?”

        Laura Ellen Scott – The fantasy of appropriate material compensation for fiction contributes to its sluggish development… Can you tell I’m getting pumped up for my “let’s be genuine artists” speech for my first class on Tuesday?

        pawalek – I’ll always take a smile and pat on the back in lieu of “payment” — note the scare quotes.

        peter cole – I can’t help thinking that this mindset is just not realistic. And to me it’s insulting.

        1. Hi Rachel,

          I’d love to hear more about this, with some specific examples.

          Please mind you: I’m not on either side of the mainstream/sci-fi fence. I enjoy both types of literature, always have! Imagine I always will.

          I’m curious, though, as to who precisely is complaining about what precisely.

          (Personally, I think there’s a lot of borrowing going on on both sides, and that there always has been. And that there’s nothing wrong with that! Although it’s very good for people—critics, writers, readers—to trace out those trajectories.)


          1. I remember particular consternation about cyberpunk themes (very hot in SF in the 80s) going mainstream in the late 90s/00s.

            There have been a number of post-apocalyptic novels from lit people recently, which I’ve heard muttering about (not particularly well-justified muttering, IMO, but whatever).

            Here’s one I’ve never heard anyone complain about — but how about Joanna Russ? Why does Handmaid’s Tale get disproportionate attention? Feminist SF authors were working with the kind of dystopian themes since the 60s and 70s. And of course, Atwood is writing pure, sheer, unquestionable SF there. But she denies it, it gets marketed as mainstream, and there it is.

            1. She denies it, but I’m told she’s a huge fan of SF. I’ve personally never been that impressed by what I’ve read of her prose. I think my HS English teacher ruined my relationship w/ Atwood by pulling out a sentence from Handmaid’s Tale where she says, “I sigh, inhaling.” (Try it, not possible).

            2. I hadn’t realized that cyberpunk was now mainstream, but I am out of the loop. Although…was that THE MATRIX? I think I heard something about that. I was just in a video store and they had GAMER on. I guess that’s the kind of thing you mean?

              The reason I ask is that I’m familiar with hearing people grumble about their ideas having been “stolen” (I used to hear is a lot in avant-garde film circles), but I often find that when one looks into it, it’s very hard to pinpoint where those ideas actually came from. Or, rather, there’s a long chain of people borrowing from others, on and on.

              Of course it’s never nice to take something outright and then not direct people back to the source. Like, it’s nice to know that the title BLADE RUNNER comes from an Alan E. Nourse novel by way of Burroughs.

              I was just complaining the other day about how much Michel Gondry’s ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND steals from JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME…although I don’t know how much Gondry acknowledged that. I was complaining more that people never watch the Resnais film, really (which is so delightful). Of course, it’s hard to find in the US, alas.


              The Resnais film is of course a novel adaptation, and itself owes some ideas to Marker’s LA JETEE. Which itself is duty-bound to Hitchcock’s VERTIGO…

              Well, it goes on and on.

            3. Hey Rachel,

              Russ is great. I think I came to read The Female Man through a recommendation from Samuel Delany somewhere, maybe it was in his book About Writing.

              I like Atwood, too.

              I’d like to see an examination that compares and contrasts their respective oeuvres.

              1. I actually like the Atwood a lot better than the Russ — and I think one reason Russ may get shorter shrift is Female Man is more experimental and harder to read and identify with. But I agree that they’re both strong and deserve recognition.

                (I just want to be clear that the “but lit people are co-opting us” argument isn’t mine, really. It’s just one I hear, and understand where it’s coming from, but don’t really agree with.)

                  1. Hmm. I think they’re the same argument. Large groups don’t pay attention when we do it — only when other people rip us off.

                    I mean, this is a real dynamic for some marginalized communities. Trends advanced in black communities only catching on and making money when it’s white people who do them and who benefit from the cash (everything but the burden). Suggestions made by women in conversations that are ignored until they’re echoed by men (how to suppress women’s writing, by Russ again, come to that). See also: rock music.

                    I mean, I have some sympathy for the concept behind it, and sometimes for the manifestation. I just think it’s overstated.

                    1. Well… and like w/ those things, I think critiquing the systems and the power dynamics doesn’t always need to mean altogether the work of individual artists who appropriate, esp. if they are conscientious abt acknowledging their influences.

                1. I hear you, Rachel. I’m assuming that the grumbling about “lit people…co-opting” “genre” writers is towards, in addition to Atwood, writers like Chabon, Lethem, and Susanna Clarke.

                  1. Clarke is ours! You can’t have her! ;-)

                    But yes, you’re right. The anger does go toward Chabon and Lethem, definitely.

                    Not to Clarke, though, or Link, because they maintain ties to the SF community, or even rose up through the SF community. Clarke and Link are both connected to Datlow as an editor. I mean, there’s not a lot of difference between Link’s work and someone like Amy Bloom’s or Judy Budnitz’s? But most spec authors I know don’t read much Bloom or Budnitz, but they do read Link. Link and her husband edit a speculative magazine; Link used to slush for Datlow; Link works with the online writers workshop for science fiction and fantasy; Link shows up at the KGB readings in New York; Link’s on the board for Clarion San Diego; Link used to edit the fantasy side of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. I’ve met Link at conventions, and she spoke to my class when I was teaching science fiction and fantasy @ Iowa. Some people really do manage to maintain an identity in both worlds… I think Matt Ruff has more or less managed it, too…

                    I think … Chabon rose up through SF too? But somehow didn’t end up connected to the community, and he inspires a lot more resentment.

                    1. I’ll always respect Michael Chabon for the work he did with Will Eisner way back when. I haven’t read any of his later writing, but the guy paid his dues in my book.

                      Same with Lethem. His early SF isn’t bad. It isn’t great, either, but it isn’t bad.

                      Both of those guys seemed to work their way up. I can respect that. They weren’t just handed book deals like some people. (You know—THOSE people!)

                    2. What about Doris Lessing? I had no idea that certain people would be resentful of Lethem or Atwood because of their “crossover” success. I find that really confusing. Why not happy?

                      Patricia Highsmith refused to be boxed into being a “crime writer”. Communities can be helpful for some, but stifling for others. Right?

                    3. paula: we seem to be out of ‘reply space’ (an unfortunate byproduct of this threading system) — but the problem is that they don’t have crossover success — they don’t have ties to sf at all.

                      especially atwood. she explicitly denies that her work is sf, and says she has nothing to do with sf, and this is seen as both a denial that anything valuable can come out of sf, and also a crass marketing move because if she’s not identified with sf she can make more money. people resent that, and i think it’s understandable.

                    4. ha, i said ‘crass marketing’ on this thread after complaining about the condensation of marketing and crass.

                      cynical, i guess. a cynical marketing move.

        2. John,

          There were already two sides in this discussion before I arrived, and Rachel has been from the start firmly on the side that you don’t give away work. She has also done a pretty thorough job of responding to the questions you posed to me. I don’t really have much more to add.

          I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum from most people here. I am not all about how the tale is delivered being as important as the plot. I write plot-driven fiction and my prose should be invisible. If you notice the way I phrase something, then I’m doing something wrong.

          That doesn’t mean that it’s a better or a worse way of doing things. It just means that the my audience wants the story that way. At the same time, it isn’t any better or worse from an artistic point of view either. Different strokes, as they say.

          1. I think the important part mentioned somewhere above is the mindset of the two distinct genre communities — genre markets should pay, literary not always. Nick Mamatas did a nice break down of the “markets” for short stories here: http://nihilistic-kid.livejournal.com/1407128.html.

            I don’t see myself as a member of any genre community, so I’ve never really worried too much about it (I’m not in any hurry to make “pro” status at any writer’s organization), but I write in all different kinds. I’ve sold stories to Postscripts, Chizine, and Space and Time, and I’ve had stories accepted by elimae, Wigleaf, and Hobart (notice the “accepted,” not “sold”). If I write a genre story, I find that yes, I try selling it to a paying market; if I write a literary story, I find I’m not too stressed in selling it to a paying market.


            Who knows. But even though I’m not a fan of writer’s organizations (I’ve heard all the ins and outs of the HWA from previous members that I find at least that particular one a joke), maybe things would change if there was some kind of writer’s organization for literary writers that then stressed paying markets the same way places like the SFWA and HWA do. Because it seems that when someone wants to start a genre magazine and wants to be taken seriously, they know they need to pay writers from the start. In the literary world, someone just starts a blogspot journal with no pay and still people submit.

            1. That link’s very helpful—thank you.

              I’m sure I’ve said it elsewhere in here, but this has been a great thread. Thanks to everyone who’s contributed to it!

  18. I would volunteer one additional point that I think Rachel has alluded to:

    Money matters also to readers.

    We can say that readers just want good writing, but this is impossible to determine at a glance. Bad writing is obvious. Good writing demands time. What money does is imply selectivity and imply value. Money, for better or worse, demands attention.

    Nanoism is a bizarre, rather unique, and very small operation. But I do have stats, and I can say that slightly over 60% of writers have donated their token commission back. The vast majority of those people, in their emails, have been gracious and thankful for offer of remuneration. And the interest in the project from non-writers I think has been affected in a positive way because money is at stake, even if its effect on the project quality itself is nil.

    Payment is not about “deserving.” But time is money, and paying for a commission is a concrete way to say the time (for both the writers and the readers) is well spent. That’s why even a token payment is, I think, a kind gesture.

        1. No. Saying that money has a value to multiple parties does not imply in the slightest that the converse is true: that free is worthless to all parties. That’s a straw man. I think we can all agree that free is not bad. I’m arguing that money makes a statement. It may be a misleading statement (as money does not equal quality does not equal good taste), but I don’t know a single writer in my daily life. I know a lot of readers and non-readers. The non-readers especially respond to money.

          I tell you I pay for twitter-sized fiction, and a lot of writers probably aren’t interested—in the money or the form. Yet a lot of regular twitter users find it fascinating. Obviously that’s a rather specific example, but I do think it generalizes overall.

          Time may be money when we lack either. I like that statement. Unfortunately for nearly everyone on the planet, most of us don’t have as much of either as we’d like.

          1. I made a comment earlier in this stream re: the son-in-law of a friend that as a hedge fund trader knocks down $1M per year… it may have seemed obtuse but in considering it further it also seems relevant as to ‘if writers and editors for literary e-zines should or should not be paid’.

            Hedge fund traders do pretty much diddly as a value to the world-at-large, they don’t even necessarily think up crafty stories. In this case the guy is going through some sort of existential funk crisis as to WTF to do with his life.

            Thus you helped me along to consider that time is money mostly when we are short of either – to me that was a new thought. Thank you.

            So this all kind of gets me to wonder how does money matter to readers? In that I get the impression from what you write that money acts as a sign of validation. It is like a Walter Benjamesque label on the wall next to the painting that says, “This is a good painting. Be happy.”

            Until yesterday I had no clue re: Nanoism. I went and looked and I thought it was pretty cool. I know a bunch of non-writer readers that I could see my turning on to the writing you (as editor, aggregator, kind person) have selected to present there. One would say, “They may be interested.” Satisfaction of curiosity (Barnum was good at this — I suggest everyone run forthwith to the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, CT and see the Fiji Mermaid) is the fulfillment of a need.

            My focus on money vs. giving things away is in respect that I find that if I give freely of my lawn mowing services (trust me, don’t call me) that the tendency of my neighbors is that I must not be very good at it and need more practice hacking up their grass, but if I charge them money for it — and obviously show up with pro-level equipment they feel a little bit more satisfied and if I figure out how to charge them a whole shitload of money and make them think they got a personal bargain because I love love love them then they feel good and I can pay the bills and even afford to buy a round of hoppy beer.

  19. I know this is an old post, but I was a little intimidated by the comments, so I held off for a while.

    I need to get paid for writing because if I don’t then I won’t be able to write any more.

    At the moment, about 50% of the work I have published is unpaid. I see this as a temporary state of affairs. I have only been writing for a few years, and I see these non-paying publications as stepping stones: a way to get my work out there, hone my craft, and build a name for myself.

    I greatly respect many magazines that cannot pay writers, and I will continue to read those magazines; but I do not expect to submit to them forever. I expect that at some point I will earn a living wage from writing. I need to, because if I don’t, I won’t be able to write any more.

    Perhaps there is an element of class bias. I don’t know how other writers can afford to pay their rent and find time to write. I’m 26 and live in a small flat with no dependents and no debt, so it’s pretty easy for me to live on a shoestring budget. But I know it can’t last. I want to have children, I want to live in a house. These things cost money, and so I need to make money writing. If I can’t, I won’t be able to afford to do it any more. For me, it’s that simple.

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