I have a confession: I’ve wanted to write short stories since I was a teenager. In fact, one of my earliest efforts at fiction outside of songwriting was a really bad short story with a dreamy feel and an ambiguous ending.
Don’t worry. I would never inflict that story on y’all.
It wasn’t until much later that I realized how hard it is to break into short story markets. There’s an absolute glut of submissions floating around out there, so editors can be as picky as they like (or not).
Because of that glut, some magazines sincerely believe that paying writers in “exposure” is perfectly fine, a privilege even. We all have to start somewhere, right? So why not with a non-paying venue where writers can gain some street cred? And anyway, aren’t magazines doing writers a favor by publishing their stories?
Many writers fall for that line of reasoning without realizing that they’re being duped into doing the one thing they shouldn’t: Working for free. Yes, many magazines are run by volunteers simply for the love of it. (This one is.) Yes, budgets for short form magazines are tight and often non-existent. (This one’s is.) In light of that, why shouldn’t writers “volunteer” their time and write for non-paying markets?
Simply put, because just like any other working member of society, writers deserve to get paid for their time, effort, and innovation. Being a creative (i.e. an artist) doesn’t mean writers should starve. It doesn’t mean they should have to perpetually rely on a full-time, non-writing job to support their passion. If a writer is good, he or she should eventually be able to earn a living as a writer, but to do that, writers must first get paid.
If get paid isn’t part of your business plan, you’re doing it wrong.
Am I advocating only writing for paying markets? Absolutely not! It’s your work. Submit it to whichever magazine you feel is a good fit for your story, self-publish it, show it only to good friends, or hide it in a secret box buried in the backyard under the belly of a fire-breathing demon summoned from the darkest reaches of Hell. Your story, your decision.
Our decision, as publishers and fellow writers, is to work as hard as we can to pay for the fiction and artwork published on our website and in our magazine. Granted, we may not always be able to pay a lot, especially in these beginning days, but our ultimate goal is to become a professionally paying market. Writers deserve to get paid for their work, period. Don’t settle for less than you deserve, or at least understand what benefits you’re gaining and rights you’re losing when you allow someone to publish your work for free.