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08 December 2009 @ 02:03 am
What is a Good Market?  
The recent fracas about the lousy pay rates in some short fiction markets has led to a discussion of what constitutes a "good" market to which to apply, or a "good" credit to put on a cover letter.

If you've been following my compulsive numerical analysis of things like honorable mentions in various Year's Best anthologies, then you might be forgiven for expecting me to endorse a similarly quantitative guideline of a "good" market.

I won't, though. My convoluted number crunching is a way of orienting myself and beginning my research of markets; but I frequently -- usually! -- submit to several markets that are nowhere near the top of that hierarchy.

It seems to me that there is only one useful criterion in deciding whether to submit to a certain market: Does that market publish stories you admire? Full stop.

There are markets that were only names on Duotrope to me until I bought and read an issue -- and then became a devoted booster and fanboy, badly wanting to be published in that mag just so that I could be counted among the wonderful writers I found there.

I suppose that pay rates and audience size are also valid criteria, but nobody expects to make a living at 5 cents/word, and the audiences for novels are orders of magnitude bigger than for short stories. I want to be paid something, yes, but mostly in order to know that somebody liked my work that much. A miniscule payment that is coming out of the editor's own pocket is an honor, or so I think of it. I want an audience, sure, but that's because I want to reach other people's hearts & minds. Small audiences are a blessing when they read the work carefully and tell you how much it meant to them. Once upon a time, when I was writing for a tiny audience, zero pay and possibly negative prestige, a reader sent me an e-mail saying that one of my stories had helped her through a difficult time in her life. Seems to me that that's the best thing a writer can hope for.

And I'm proud of all my publications, even the non-paying ones, and consequently I list nearly all the markets in the cover letters. If a venue wasn't ashamed to list me among its authors, then I'm certainly not ashamed to list it among my achievements.
Current Location: Seated
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Rachel Swirskyrachel_swirsky on December 8th, 2009 10:00 am (UTC)
"And I'm proud of all my publications, even the non-paying ones, and consequently I list nearly all the markets in the cover letters"

Just FYI, it's generally considered conventional to only list about 3 or 4. That's about how many the reader has time to process anyway.
Ken: Happyken_schneyer on December 10th, 2009 07:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Rachel. Not a surprise.

Rachel Swirskyrachel_swirsky on December 10th, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)
Sorry if I was misinterpreting you. I just saw "nearly every"... I've been feeling pretty bad because I think I offended you over on Ann's blog. I apologize. It was certainly not my intention.

Congratulations again on your Clockwork Phoenix sale.
Ken: Blowing Kissken_schneyer on December 10th, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Rachel! I haven't been able to get to my LJ for a few days (we had a little family emergency at home), and so hadn't yet had the chance to thank you (or Ann) for your congrats on the sale. I'm just tickled to be on the same bill with Shweta (she came to visit us at Clarion last summer, and I just finished reading her GUD story, which is fantastic).

You didn't offend me. I think, upon consideration, that I have been addressing a different argument than the one that's being made. See, the whole notion of choosing a market, any market, for the purpose of impressing somebody else later (e.g., impressing the editors of some other publication who will be considering some other work of yours) strikes me as so wacky that I can't take it seriously.

I'm also not particularly serious about the credits I put on my cover letters -- can't be, really, because my credits have been so lightweight till now. If I took it seriously I'd just cry. So now, great, I can put Clockwork Phoenix and GUD first on my list of credits, and feel all pleased, but all I hope for by doing so (as I said on Ann's LJ) is that a slush reader who's been told to reject 50 stories a day will maybe turn to page 3 before chucking it.

But I am afraid that other newbie writers (who haven't studied the markets as carefully as I have, haven't had the benefit I had of advice from pro writers and classmaes in a writers workshop, are younger than I and more impressionable, and care more than I do about what other people think) will hear the advice about lower-tier markets being poor (or worse, negative) credits for future sales and be discouraged from submitting to those markets (despite all the disclaimers elsewhere in the postings).

Anyway, you & I agree on most of this stuff. A certain amount of nitpicking is an occupational hazard of the work I do for a living. ;)
mmerriam on December 8th, 2009 11:35 am (UTC)
I've said this before in another friend's blog and I'll say it here:

When it comes to submitting stories (the business end of writing) I always start with the highest paying markets that seem a reasonable fit for the story and work my way down through the small press and semi-pros (where pay means less than reputation).

I think I've made my position clear that to me a story's purpose is to be told or read, and if you refuse to allow the story to fulfill it's purpose because no one offered you what you consider "pro rate" then that story did nothing. You worked on it, wrote it, loved it, and it did nothing.

I think I'd like to smack the folks who keeps going on about how Black Matrix is exploiting writers. If you chose to submit a story to a magazine that pays less than a penny a word that is your choice. I have done it. I've submitted to several of the Sam's Dot Publishing stable of magazines. So has Jay Lake (just to name a big-time pro). Lone Star Stories paid a whopping $25 a story which sometimes worked out to less than a penny a word, but it also launched some great careers.

I think Scalzi and that ilk have forgotten what it means to not be so famous that you could submit and sell your grocery list if you wanted.

As for this idea that you must sell pro or not bother selling at all, because those non-pro magazines do nothing for you: I got a nod from Datlow in the honorable mention section of Year's Best Fantasy and Horror for a story I sold for 1.25 cents Australian. That opened the door to a handful of anthology invites. That sort of thing moves you up the slush pile.

I think the problem is where people are coming from in this argument. Most writers write because we can't freaking help ourselves and we like to see our stories read and published. Scalzi takes the position that he has a talent for this and its a good way to make some money. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with making money, but that is his primary focus.

I know that I'll keep doing this even if I never make a "pro sale" by SFWA standards, while I think if that was Scalzi's fate, he would stop writing and focus on the next money-making thing. Again nothing wrong with that, it's just a personal choice.

edited because I shouldn't try to type before coffee...

Edited at 2009-12-08 11:38 am (UTC)
Ken: Roll eyesken_schneyer on December 10th, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)
Hi Michael.

I agree with pretty much everything you say, including the supposition that Scalzi's grocery list would sell. At nonfiction rates, too.

mmerriam on December 10th, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)
At nonfiction rates, too

Where you can make a lot more money. Where I have made a lot more money.
chriswarren on December 8th, 2009 01:18 pm (UTC)
What is a good market?
I guess the answer to the question of what is a good market, depends primarily on where you're standing when you ask it.

I'd love to be in the position to say that my motivation comes from people who find that my writing helps them through a difficult time in their life, or touches their soul, or satisfies their literary craving in some way.

Simple fact is that writing is my job and I need to find markets that will provide the best income. That has to be the first priority: if the other stuff happens as well then that's the bonus, but the pay cheque is top of the list. However, they are not mutually exclusive. Invariably to get a decent income means you have to write stuff that people want to read, but let's not get all arty farty and confused about a writers job.

Chris Warren
Author and Freelance Writer
Randolph's Challenge Book One - The Pendulum Swings
Ken: Quill tattooken_schneyer on December 10th, 2009 08:06 pm (UTC)
Re: What is a good market?
Hi Chris,

A good point, of course, and I agree 100% that it depends on where you start.

Were I twenty years old and just starting out, I might easily fantasize about a Career In Writing, and I might do what I could to maximize the revenue from that career.

But I start in my late 40s, with a mortgage, a full-time job and two kids who will need to go to college. I do not entertain, for more than five minutes, the notion that I will ever make a living at my writing.

I came to writing at this (comparatively) advanced age because I really do think I have things to say, and I badly want people to read them. I have the sensation of limited time left to me, and the need to say what I have to say while I still can. (I might have a good 30 or 40 years, but I might not.) I don't have time to worry about what some markets like, what impresses or doesn't impress them, what the best business strategy is.

Otherwise I would be writing nonfiction, which pays several hundred percent more than short fiction.
Jon Gibbsjongibbs on December 8th, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
'Does that market publish stories you admire?'

That sounds like an excellent criteria to me.

Great post! Thanks for sharing :)
Ken: Blowing Kissken_schneyer on December 10th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jon!
Tiffanienggirl on December 9th, 2009 12:03 am (UTC)
I think the idea of questioning whether the market pubs stories you love is a great way of determining whether a market is one you'd like to have buy your story. However, I taught to start at the top and submit "'Til hell won't have it" because "good" markets will take good writing as quickly as "bad" ones will.

There are, unfortunately, so many markets out there--pro and semi-pro and non-paying and new anthologies--with all manner of submission schedules, and that close or open to submissions without much warning. It makes it nearly impossible to keep up with all of them. So I tend to keep my eyes on the biggies: the pro markets as well as the non-pro markets that I know are respected in the industry.

I just think it's good business, and while I love to write and it's an amazing art form, etc., etc., it is--for me at least--a business. I write and edit for a living and expect to be paid a certain amount for my work, depending on the particular industry/client I'm working for. Why not try to do the same with fiction?
Ken: Hmmmmmken_schneyer on December 10th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
Hey, Tiff. I see your point.

I think the answer to your last question -- why not try to maximize pay rates for fiction? -- is that the best pay rates for short fiction are terrible, worse (adjusted for inflation) than they were in the 1930s. The best way to maximize your pay rates is to write nonfiction.

So, if I write short fiction and I'm paying attention to the rates, it must be for another reason than the pay.