Saturday, 1 October 2011

Earning Your Crust, Part Two

So in this second half of my treatment of writers' pay, I will look at US conventions for short stories, poetry and novels. Please note that mainstream UK publishing does not have the same strict definitions of 'professional' payment, etc. In the UK, most magazines do not pay for fiction and poetry. Some do, but prices vary wildly.

The following rates are given based on the entry requirements for the Science Fiction Writers of America and the Horror Writers of America. These professional bodies only admit members who fulfil certain publication criteria (i.e., publication by certain qualifying markets).

Short Stories (US)
SFWA and HWA state that $0.05/word is the suggested minimum rate for professional publications, with a minimum payment for any story of $50. Any magazine paying equal to or more than this, with a readership in excess of 2,000, is considered professional. Any magazine with a smaller circulation, or that pays $0.01/word or above, but less than $0.05/word, is considered 'semi-pro' instead.

Roughly converted, that's just over £0.03/word. So for a 1,000-word story, you'd get about £30-35. Not all prestigious magazines in the US pay this much, but they do not qualify in terms of the entry requirements for either the SFWA or the HWA.

Poems (US)
Duotrope's Digest states $5/line (minimum of $50 a poem) is professional payment. That's about £30-35 a poem, minimum.

Novels (US)
In the States, the SFWA and HWA only consider certain publishers as qualifying a writer to join their ranks. In short, the publisher should pay an advance of $2,000 plus minimum royalty rates. SFWA and HWA also vet contracts, and give examples of their standard/preferred contract on their websites. The Science Fiction Writers of America's sample contracts are available here.

There are similar rules for scriptwriters, too, although I won't go into those in detail.

What About the UK?
The figures stated above, as explained, are for US writers who wish to join the SFWA or HWA. But I think the payment amounts above are a good indication of what writers should, ideally, be looking for.

That is:
£35 per 1,000 words for fiction
£35 per poem (or £3.50 per line)

I'd be tempted to say, in most cases, that you should expect a minimum payment of £40 for any story or poem. Or even £50, to give you a bit of leeway when bartering. It is worth noting that most magazines in the UK, if they do pay, don't advertise their rates. So bartering is probably expected, and therefore you should always go in higher rather than lower.

But do also bear in mind whether a magazine pays or not before you submit. Duotrope is great in this respect. If a magazine doesn't pay, either don't submit there or resign yourself to the fact you won't get paid. But instead consider what benefits, if any, it might get you. For instance, if the magazine is owned by a press, then that might help you build up a relationship with an editor, which may be advantageous if you're shopping a manuscript around. Also think about how prestigious or well-read the magazine is. Who will see your story or poem in that magazine? Will you be making the right impression by appearing there?

Many UK publishers (on the indie scene, at least), prefer and appreciate a good track record in magazine publications. However residencies and commissions (which usually pay better) might be another/better way to get recognised for your work.

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