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  1.  (7290.1)
    John Scalzi wrote something interesting about the pay for short fiction here while also talking about F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    For example, here’s one fun fact: The engine of Fitzgerald’s income (at least until he went to Hollywood) was not his novels but his short stories. He considered them his “day job,” a thing to be endured because writing them would allow him the financial wherewithal to write the novels he preferred to do. And how much did he make for these short stories? Well, in 1920, he sold eleven of them to various magazines for $3,975. This averages to about $360 per story, and (assuming an average length of about 6,000 words) roughly six cents a word.

    To flag my own genre here, “Six cents a word,” should sound vaguely familiar to science fiction and fantasy writers, as that’s the current going rate at the “Big Three” science fiction magazines here in the US: Analog (which pays six to eight cents a word), Asimov’s (six cents a word “for beginners”) and Fantasy & Science Fiction (six to nine cents a word). So, sf/f writers, in one sense you can truly say you’re getting paid just as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald did; but in another, more relevant, “adjusted for inflation” sense, you’re making five cents to every one of Fitzy’s dollars. Which basically sucks. This is just one reason why making a living writing short fiction is not something you should be counting on these days.
  2.  (7290.2)
    It's more cost effective to put the time into a new novel/TV series/movie pitch.

    Yeah, Charlie Stross schooled me on that score years ago. Horrible, really.

    It's kind of fascinating to consider that even Suicide Girls could scrape up $300 to pay me for 500-750 words. And that $300, at the nine-cent rate, is more than three thousand words at a "popular" sf anthology magazine.
  3.  (7290.3)
    I think at one point sf writers wrote for the digests for the exposure - on the assumption that it was effective advertising for theri books.

    There were also the serialised novels which used to be popular and were probably a handy little bonus to the book contract.
  4.  (7290.4)
    There were also the serialised novels which used to be popular and were probably a handy little bonus to the book contract.

    Which still happens from time to time. There was a terrible one in, I think, ANALOG a year or two back. And, of course, Charlie Stross' ACCELERANDO is a fix-up of a string of connected stories for ASIMOV'S.
  5.  (7290.5)
    @Don Hilliard--I think you're onto something with citing the OMNI model. That could be either a template with 21st-century rebooting, or else an idea source for something that could improve on the original.

    @Chadbourn--Brand recognition can be workable depending on the writer. Sometimes a writer may be skilled in working in TV but be absolutely awful working in prose. I loved J. Michael Straczynski's BABYLON 5, but I tried skimming a prose novel he put out and put it back on the bookstore shelf after the first page. Harlan Ellison is a great example of a writer who combined name brand with excellent writing. Perhaps Neil Gaiman or somebody on his level of success could be one of our hypothetical three.

    Do writer politics also have to be taken into account with our hypothetical magazine? What little I've heard of the American SF writer's community indicates that personal and business ties are intertwined like ivy, and elevating, say, three especially successful writers at the expense of midlist writers may create unnecessary friction.

    @Ginja--Yeah, the pay issue was something that came up in my mind too. I was trying out various number crunching models to see what would work. The various fiction word counts are 20,000 words and less count as short stories, 20,001-40,000 count as novelettes, and 40,000-60,000(?) count as novellas. If we were to pay a quarter per word for a short story per month, that would be something like $60K over the course of a year, which would be a very nice year's wage for a working short fiction writer. Multiply that by 3 top tier writers, and that's $180K paid out for fiction talent. If $60K is too high, how much should be budgeted to make an exclusive contract with the magazine worth the writer's while? Then again, could the conundrum be resolved by rethinking the length of fiction that can be published in this magazine?

    To make decent pay for writers work, the advertising model would have to be rethought as well, with advertisers going beyond the SF publishing realm. I suspect that if you flipped through the pages of the Big 3 SF magazines, you would not find ads for video games.

    Maybe it's sentimental of me, but I'd want to have the writers paid well, give them the freedom to try whatever they want, and especially have the magazine make money. So maybe the model could be a modified annual foundation grant, where the writer's major obligations are to produce so many words over the course of a year and the forms those words could take is left up to the writer. So it'd be a short story one month, a serialised novel over several months, etc.
  6.  (7290.6)
    Maybe it's sentimental of me, but I'd want to have the writers paid well, give them the freedom to try whatever they want, and especially have the magazine make money. So maybe the model could be a modified annual foundation grant, where the writer's major obligations are to produce so many words over the course of a year and the forms those words could take is left up to the writer. So it'd be a short story one month, a serialised novel over several months, etc.


    I like this idea. But then I think there would be some good in treating writing as a salaried job with a guaranteed income and fixed set of expectations. It would possibly offer the security required for a writer to push themselves to try new things.

    Speaking of Interzone I've only ever bought two issues of the magazine. One issue I bought a few years back was in a grotty corner shop in Leicester because it was the first and only time I'd seen the magazine on sale in a shop. It looked like a normal magazine with a black and white interior and I remember little else about it because I've thrown it away. The other copy I bought back in August from Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh and was a back issue from earlier this year I bought for the Bruce Sterling interview and story. The cover and size are fantastic to look at but the page design is still pretty terrible inside.

    There were also the serialised novels which used to be popular and were probably a handy little bonus to the book contract.


    I seem to remember reading that The Daily Telegraph has been serializing a novel and I remember The Guardian a year or so ago serialized a novel in it's weekend Review supplement. The problem with serialization is that the needs for a piece of serial fiction to work are different to a novel released in one sitting to work. Which is why Charles Stross's Accelerando is designed as it is and most of Charles Dickens work is written the way it is. But then this is also the issue that comics face when been taken from monthly singles into trade paperbacks. Newspapers also used to print more short stories as well.

    Does anyone know anything about Japanese Light novels or mobile phone distributed fiction? Wikipedia tells me that light novels are, "often serialized in anthology magazines," and this might provide an example of a working market to look at.
  7.  (7290.7)
    @Ginja--Here is a NY Times article about mobile phone distributed fiction in Japan. My takeaway is that certain technological developments need to happen to have it work in America. Then again, the reasons for the popularity of such fiction raises new cultural/generational issues regarding audience expectations on writing style and what constitutes artistic depth.
    • CommentAuthorDee_Noir
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2009
     (7290.8)
    I'm having a time out until I can learn some manners.
    I disagree with the idea that SF magazines need to be printing stories by established writers in order to guarantee or encourage success. Perhaps I am being naive, but I had assumed that the audience of Interzone (for example), are looking to be wowed by new authors making an impact on the scene. This is the way brilliant authors ranging from Eric Brown to William Gibson, have made a name for themselves.

    The problem isn't that SF magazines need to tart themselves up, get competent InDesign people working for them and realise that in a superficial style over content age, image is important, although all these things might very well help. The problem is that SF has always had a traditionally small audience compared to other genres, and that audience is increasingly attracted to the novel over the short story. And SF films, and SF telly and SF comics (FA, looking at you). The short story is no longer considered with the potency which it once was.

    '...there are fewer outlets - except for electronic ones - for the short story, fewer magazines, than once there was.'
    - Brian Aldiss, A Science Fiction Omnibus (Great Britain: Penguin Books, 2007), vii
    •  
      CommentAuthorspinnerin
    • CommentTimeDec 2nd 2009
     (7290.9)
    Along the lines of collecting together a roster of well-known authors and paying them on an ongoing basis to create a steady stream of stories--there's no reason the writers couldn't be doing this themselves. I only know of one project like that offhand, though: Shadow Unit, which is an ongoing supernatural crime serial that runs on a donation model. Any others the rest of you have seen?
  8.  (7290.10)
    • CommentAuthorChadbourn
    • CommentTimeDec 2nd 2009
     (7290.11)
    Those budget numbers are fascinating. But all of this just goes to the very heart of what angers me as a writer. A lot of business people try to push that writing is an art and writers should do it as much for love as money, ("There's no money in it, you, know, darling") which feeds very nicely into their bank balance. When you take into account that the writer only gets the third cut of the profits from any novel (publisher gets first, bookseller second), this is something that is a political issue for creative people. But we live in a culture that rewards capital invested, not art, creativity or endeavour. And not only do business people push the "writing should be art" line, a lot of writers do too. And that's the reason why many full-time writers in the UK come from a - shall we say - privileged background. You don't find any other profession doing it for the love of it first and foremost. I'll try that line on the builders or the plumber next time they're round. A political issue.

    And when you factor in pay for writers in the non-print media, this whole short story avenue really does look like a dead end. UK TV writing is paid at about a tenth of US rates (same for acting, directing and the rest). But if you can get sixty grand for a Walking the Dead two-parter, why the hell should you beg for fish from short story mags. Unless you do it for love, of course. Yes, TV writing is a different skillset, but it's not *that* hard to learn the ropes and move into it.
  9.  (7290.12)
    So what level of payment would be required for most writers (as opposed to the superstars) to stop regarding these markets as charity cases?

    10 cents a word? 20? 50? $1.00?
  10.  (7290.13)
    While looking for sales data on sf books I came across this article:

    Especially when you compare the sales of YA to those of science fiction and fantasy (SF/F for short), which best-selling SF writer John Scalzi did in May 2008. The Bookscan numbers, which are not accessible to those outside the book industry, were provided to Scalzi by an anonymous friend. "Without mentioning specific numbers or titles . . . the top 50 YA SF/F bestsellers outsold the top 100 adult SF/F bestsellers (adult SF and F are separate lists) by two to one," he wrote at Scalzi.com. In short, Scalzi concludes, those 50 YA books sold twice as many copies as the 100 SF/F titles on the list.


    link

    so if sf and fantasy books aimed at young adults sell better than those aiemd at adults, maybe there should be a magazine aimed that market?
  11.  (7290.14)
    Just trowing soem stuff out there:

    Long time sf editor - and founder of the Baen books imprint - Jim BAen is publishing Jim Baen's Universe online.

    It looks like an exact replica of the traditional digest only in electronic form - complete with "cover art" .

    Funding seems to come from donations but I suspect Baen Books may be subsiding it.

    http://baens-universe.com/
  12.  (7290.15)
    Long time sf editor - and founder of the Baen books imprint - Jim BAen is publishing Jim Baen's Universe online

    Jim Baen's dead, and BAEN'S UNIVERSE has been cancelled, effective next spring.
  13.  (7290.16)
    To summarize some of the ideas that have been discussed so far:

    SET ONE:

    What customers value--Something that doesn't have a cheap and boring layout, something that caters to their interests (e.g. scientific trends, gadgetry)

    What customers will pay for--Good short stories from skillful and known writers; possibly art, comics, or product reviews.

    SET TWO:

    What the successes do--Covers the whole range of SF media instead of just print; appeals to a wide and well-educated audience; creates enough excitement and interest in its subjects to create a need to buy the magazine; takes advantage of new publishing technologies, new communications technologies, and new payment methods; friendly to more than its niche audience; pays its writers better

    OMNI and WIRED have been cited as either models of success or templates to build on.

    Distribution of the magazine would also be an issue. Is there still a point in looking for a major magazine distributor? Or would a combination of E-book, PDF, POD and Magcloud work to generate a subscriber base?

    Format of the magazine could be either the old paper copy, or else it could be first appearance of material on the Website with a variety of value-added print options in print form. For example, the E-book would be cheap but lack detailed layouts. The print version would have better layouts or even limited edition autographed versions.

    How would the magazine earn revenue? I suspect relying solely on subscriptions will be insufficient. But if advertisements are seen as a source of revenue, would having Google ads on the site generate sufficient amounts of money? Or could you charge more to get certain types of print copy (e.g. limited edition magazine autographed by authors)?

    I note that in a way the old anthology magazine seems formulated on what seems a democratic model. The editor traded on the name writers to draw readers' dollars and help draw readers' attentions to the new and upcoming writers. But it sounds like our hypothetical Big Names Only magazine may appear less democratic by limiting editorial space to those with proven track records.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeDec 3rd 2009 edited
     (7290.17)
    "I note that in a way the old anthology magazine seems formulated on what seems a democratic model. The editor traded on the name writers to draw readers' dollars and help draw readers' attentions to the new and upcoming writers. But it sounds like our hypothetical Big Names Only magazine may appear less democratic by limiting editorial space to those with proven track records."

    You don't have to pay everyone the same rate - or give them the same exposure.

    For example, you could have a web-only section that paid a lower rate than the stories that went into the hard copy.

    Or you publish everything online with an annual "Best of ..." hardcopy anthology. You pay the big names an additional fee up front for use of their stories in the Best of and fill it out with the best of the stuff from the lesser known writers.
    •  
      CommentAuthorLucifal
    • CommentTimeDec 3rd 2009 edited
     (7290.18)
    I guess I'm not surprised that no one has mentioned Murky Depths yet, but we do a lot of what people have said they'd buy if there was a print magazine that did it. Hmm, that's sounds awkward.

    Miranda's Eyes: What customers will pay for--Good short stories from skillful and known writers; possibly art, comics, or product reviews.

    We do most of that.

    Chadbourn: the writer only gets the third cut of the profits from any novel (publisher gets first, bookseller second) - and don't forget the distributor. If small press publishers are "lucky enough"(sic) to have a distibutor then it'll probably cost them to get their publications in a shop - then if they don't sell there's returns to consider.

    And no, we don't pay good rates. But that's not that we don't want to, it's because we spend our meagre budget on producing a good quality print anthology magazine, mixing comics, prose, articles, interviews, and starting with Issue #11 a sprinkling of book reviews. Mostly our stories are 5k words or less so those with low concentration can whisk through before they get bored.

    Take the current Issue. We have a short story from Mike Carey (which is also the first half of a writing competition), five other prose stories (all with commissioned double-page spread illustrations), five comics ranging from one to nine pages (one of them a graphic novel serialisation of Richard Calder's Dead Girls), articles on Steampunk from Robert Rankin and Toby Frost, an interview with the cover artist Lars Rasmussen, one poem and a regular column-with-attitude from Matt Wallace, not to mention the bios page for the comic creators.

    Jon Courtenay Grimwood had a story in Issue #1 and is writing another for us which will appear in Issue #12. Juliet E McKenna wrote a story for us that appeared in Issue #9 and said, at the BFS awards in September, that the small press magazines give established authors a chance to experiment and go where their book publishers might not allow them to, and she's eager to write us another story. It is important for small press anthology magazines to attract "names" and many of them appreciate when a publisher is trying something that doesn't quite fit in any of the "accepted categories".

    I'm hoping that one day we'll be a in a position to pay pro rates but as you can see from Warren's budget model (and our distributor takes 57.5% not 55% - but that probably says more about my negotiation skills) publishing a sci-fi magazine is not a business to be in if you want to make money - at least not for yourself or your contributors.
    • CommentAuthorDee_Noir
    • CommentTimeDec 3rd 2009 edited
     (7290.19)
    I'm having a time out until I can learn some manners.
    I've been aware of Murky Depths for some time and just let me be the first to say, I think you guys are doing an absolutely spectacular job. If there is a populist future for the short story based magazine, I reckon it'll be in publications that follow a similar pattern to yours.

    N.B. Can't believe I was moronic enough to miss your table at the MCM09. I guess once I see a stack of Freakangels volume 3, I'm a bit dazed and confused for the rest of the day.
    •  
      CommentAuthorLucifal
    • CommentTimeDec 3rd 2009
     (7290.20)
    I reckon it'll be in publications that follow a similar pattern to yours.

    But not OURS?