In trawling the websites of various potential short story markets, I stumbled across this posting from Mad Scientist Journal, a publication I’ve previously submitted to, albeit without success. I suggest you go take a look. It makes for sobering reading.
I don’t recall a publication of any size being so upfront about the financial realities. Credit to Jerry Zimmerman and Dawn Vogel for their transparency. I post an annual review of my submission batting average each January, but say little about the few farthings that I earn. It’s not just a British perspective that discussion of moolah is crass and gauche; it’s because writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money, to quote Jules Renard.
But publishers are businesses, and they’re meant to make money. Aren’t they?
Well, maybe everyone who goes into publishing goes into it thinking they’ll turn a profit. But I suspect that not everyone is that naive, that many are in it for the love of fiction and want to provide a conduit for stories they love to a wider audience. If Jerry and Dawn’s hearts sink at the numbers, it’s probably because they want to get the tales that move them in front of more eyeballs than they’re currently managing, rather than because the cash register isn’t ringing as often as it might.
If Jerry and Dawn weren’t so open about their accounts, you may suspect from this piece of fiction, that it’s us authors who are bleeding publishers dry. I wish. I’d love to see the data behind this analysis. Either the population in the sample didn’t include the vast majority of hobbyists, part-timers and wannabes, or the salaries of writers include wages from sources other than writing. I strongly suspect the former; there are way more writers than people who have a job called ‘writer’. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter is muddying the waters too. And, anyway, nobody has a job called ‘Short Story Writer’.
I have a personal rule not to pay to make a submission, nor to submit to a non-paying market. This is not because I can’t afford to pay or give a story away (I can) or because I’m a cheapskate (that’s just coincidence), but because I believe in the adage that people don’t value what they don’t pay for. But seeing Mad Scientist Journal’s numbers - which look like they’ve driven Jerry and Dawn from the market, hopefully not indefinitely - makes me think that if some grass roots publishers weren’t showing more largesse than me, then many more of the markets I pitch to wouldn’t be there.