Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Publication without pay


As promised, here's an interview with Rosemary Kind from Alfie Dog Publishing (the best short story download site) on the subject of publication without pay.

[Patsy]Rosemary, I understand you're starting a campaign to ensure writers get paid for their work. Can you tell me more about that?

[Rosemary Kind]  All too often writers are asked to give their work for free in the hope that it will raise their profile. Can you imagine ringing the plumber and saying 'I need to you to put in a new shower. I won't pay you but your work will get seen by anyone who uses my bathroom. It will be good for your reputation.'? The chances are the plumber wouldn't visit. It's all very well arguing that the arts are different, but as with all professions a writer has to earn a living and giving their work away for free is not going to put food on the table. It isn't just the sites which ask for submissions for publication without payment, there are also the competitions which charge you an entry fee but for which the prize is publication in an over-priced anthology, which the writer then has to pay for, because they want to see their work in print. It's hard for writers. Of course we want to see our work published, but some of these competitions are an outright rip-off for the writer.

[Patsy]Most competitions, free to enter of with a fee, are legit but there are a few dodgy ones. Do carefully read the t&cs before taking part.

So you pay your writers?

[Rosemary Kind]  Yes, we share the royalties half and half between the author and Alfie Dog Fiction. One of the main reasons we set up in the first place was because we were concerned that the number of paid outlets for writers was declining and in particular that once a story had been used in one place it rarely had another chance to earn money for the writer.

[Patsy] It sounds like a good idea to me, but as a writer I'm biased. You're a publisher - wouldn't it be better for you if you got work for free?

[Rosemary Kind]  I might be a publisher, but I'm also a writer. My priority has been to develop a platform that is fair to the writer and which gives excellent value to the reader. If our writers can't find success then neither will we it is in our mutual interest to achieve success.

[Patsy]I've allowed my work to be used for free on occasions - was I wrong to do that?

[Rosemary Kind]  No, as long as you are in control of what you are doing and understand what you are trying to achieve by doing that, but there is a time and a place. It is one thing using a free piece of work as a promotion, but it is quite another to find increasing pressure to give away work. What alarms me most is that many sites not only state that they make no payment but ask for original unpublished submissions. It's scandalous. If a site is not going to pay they should at least have the decency to allow you to have obtained payment elsewhere first. The other problem is that the more the public perceives writing as something which is available for free, the less they feel inclined to pay for it.

[Patsy] I reckon it's worth trying the paid options first but considering unpaid 'markets' if we're new to writing and eager for our first publications, for hard to place pieces and for previously published work which deserves another outing. So, if what, if anything, can we do to ensure we get fairly paid?

[Rosemary Kind]  We need to be discerning about where we submit work to. We also need to question some of the small print, for both publication and competition submissions. If your work is good enough then your first publication rights have a value. If the piece of work is not good enough then it isn't going to build you a following, so giving it away for free is not going to be of great benefit. It's better to hone your craft, learn from your mistakes and then publish work that is good enough to earn you a return for your labour. If you can't find a suitable outlet then writers can always go down the Amazon or Smashwords routes of publication, if you do then you need to make sure your work is thoroughly edited and properly formatted for publication.


[Patsy]You publish on the internet. Some people seem to think everything on the internet should be free and/or that it's fine to use anything they find on the internet without permission. How do you feel about that?

[Rosemary Kind]  Copyright is very important. A writer's work should be protected and not reproduced without their permission for any purpose. Many people have been swept up by the notion promulgated by companies such as Google, that all information should be available to everyone for free. The Google Books Project is one of the most alarming projects I have ever come across. Not only are they intent on making all books available regardless of copyright, but the books are then displayed with ads alongside, which has been proved in studies to diminish the reading experience. The more pressure there is on artists to give their work away for free the lower the quality of the art will become. No one will be able to afford to study and learn their craft and work on it as a profession. All the arts, not just writing will be limited to hobbies or the pursuit of the wealthy. Those who think writing should be available for free would most likely be amongst the first to complain if their employers were to say they were expected to work for free. Why should writers be treated less well than any other occupation? If we want a future for the arts we have to recognise that the arts is of value to any civilised people.

[Patsy] Over to you. Would you allow your work to be published somewhere that doesn't pay? Do you think it's wrong to do so?

47 comments:

  1. This is a fascinating post, Patsy and Rosemary - thank you. I for one would not submit any writing for free. As mentioned before, I came runner up in a competition and my 'prize' was publication in an anthology that I was expected to pay for. Needless to say I didn't buy it (I have a copy on my computer if I want to read it!)

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    1. I think you were right not to pay for the anthology, Wendy. Not giving you any prize or a complimentary copy does seem rather mean.

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  2. Hi Patsy and Rosemary .. what an excellent and informative post - the changes that are happening are overwhelming .. yet there are opportunities and Alfie Dog seems to be playing fair ...

    I'll be interested in seeing others' comments ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Many publishers do pay a fee or have good reasons not to, Hilary but there are others who hope to profit from both readers and writers.

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  3. An interesting post. I would not pay to enter a competition but I have sent short stories to non-paying sites for self promotion, although I'm not sure that this has been effective. Your plumber analogy made me reconsider. I wish I could exchange some writing for some plumbing!

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    1. I'm not sure how much good publication on non paying sites does either, L. That's not to say it isn't worthwhile though. I suspect it depends on the writer and on the site.

      Some competitions might be worth paying to enter - if there's a good prize or if it's a well known prestigious competition perhaps. Some free to enter ones are just as good though, in my opinion.

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  4. I've had a couple of stories published on a non-paying site, and have submitted a blog to another. The stories got some feedback (though not much) and the blog I worked at for days only received one comment, so I won't be sending any more. It's a lot of work for no reward, financial or otherwise.

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    1. I think the key to this is 'or otherwise' - if you'd got more feedback you'd probably have felt rewarded and that it was worth your while, Liz.

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  5. There's been discussion of this topic on my blog in the past, and some of it got quite heated as I recall.
    I think it's great that Alfie Dog is paying its writers, and I wish there were more paying outlets for short fiction. Having said that, I think there is also a place for non-paying outlets. 'Hone your craft', says Rosemary. But how do you get feedback on whether your work is popular or not, as a beginner? You can send it to the paying markets, where if it isn't good enough, it'll be rejected. But there is rarely any feedback. Some of the non-paying markets, both small print mags and online ezines, offer feedback. This is very valuable for beginner writers and shouldn't be underestimated.
    Also, just occasionally, giving a story away can pay great dividends. I wrote a blog post a while ago about a story I'd had published for nothing in an online outlet, which was picked up by a company putting together an English exam paper for Texan high school students. I got a very handsome payment for this.
    It's up to each writer of course, but I would never say never give your work away for nothing.

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    1. I am prepared for there to be differences of opinion, Womagwriter!

      I do say never give your work away for nothing - but what you get back doesn't have to be cash. As you've pointed out, no fee isn't the same as no reward. I hadn't considered feedback but you're right, some smaller sites do that. Some even work with the writer to get the story up to a publishable standard and that experience could well be very valuable.

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  6. This was a very interesting interview. Although all the stories I've had pubbed went to paid markets (except one poem - but I'm not really a poet), I don't see anything wrong with trying the unpaid markets after you've exhausted the paid ones. I think newbies need to dip their toe in the water and get some encouragement even if it's just from an unpaid 'zine at first.
    Fun post! :-)

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    1. Yes, Lexa trying unpaid publications might be a good way for new writers to get encouragement and learn about submitting work.

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  7. Interesting discussion, Patsy.

    As you know, I write haiku and often submit my work to several of the leading international journals. These do not offer payment upon acceptance, but, because of the number and quality of submissions received, it always feels like a great achievement to have poetry accepted in these titles. In addition, if I decide to publish a collection of my haiku, I think that the fact that I have established a reputation as a haijin will be a massive help. Finally, if I hadn't had my work published in Shamrock, the journal of the Irish Haiku Society, the editor would never have requested my permission to use my poetry for the first collection of haiku from Ireland - which in turn has raised the profile of my work...

    I guess it depends on the area you are working in and what the norm is within that area.

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    1. Marion, the type of writing does make a big difference on the chances of getting paid. Poetry is hard to sell, especially short forms and you're right that getting published by some of the places which have accepted your work is a big achievement. For writers of commercial fiction, such as myself, there are far more (though not enough) paying markets and having the work published without a fee wouldn't bring much kudos.

      Haijin is a new word to me so thanks for that.

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  8. While I think it's great to be paid, I agree with those who say "payment" needn't always be in cash. Feedback and promotion are examples of remuneration a writer might find to be acceptable payment, especially early in his/her career.

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  9. I do think when you're learning and making those early submissions, then doing it for free can be useful.
    But then you get to a stage where your writing deserves to be paid for, and I would only give something for free for a charity, or organisation I'm personally involved in.

    Rosemary makes some very good points and I completely agree with her. Writers deserve to be paid for their skills; they've done a lot of training just like a plumber or builder too.

    Thank you, Patsy and Rosemary for talking about this issue.

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    1. Charity fundraisers are different, Carol. When my work has gone in one of those I consider I've been paid a fee equivalent to the donation I might have made had I not given them my work instead.

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  10. Some wise words from Rosemary in this post. This is such a difficult issue particularly when you are a newbie and desperate for that first publication. Possibly the more writers who except publication without remuneration increase the problem and that's something we all should think about. One issue I have is with competitions which pay the winner and print the shortlisted entries in an anthology - great to get a story into print, but then often you only get a copy of the anthology if you pay for it which always seems really unfair to me.

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    1. A prize of publication only without a complimentary copy does seem rather mean to me too, Tracy.

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  11. I think payment should be considered the norm - but it does depend slightly on what stage you're at, and also what you write. I know that when I had my first ever story published in a small press magazine, it was the most enormous boost to my confidence and motivation. Without that story acceptance, I don't know how long it would have been before I plucked up courage to send anything else out. I did receive a free copy of the magazine - so that was payment in a way. The most important thing to me was that at least one person in the world thought my writing was publishable - yes, that was really a valuable thing at that time.

    What I think is very bad is when you pay to enter a competition, then if you are selected for an anthology of the shortlisted stories, you don't even get a complimentary copy. So you are basically paying the organisers, then they are making a profit from your work. And if you want a copy of the book you're in, you have to pay for that too! That can't be right?

    Also, as mentioned above, when you start venturing into poetry it seems incredibly hard to find paying markets.

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    1. I agree - an early acceptance even if non-paying can be exactly the confidence boost many writers need.

      As for the competitions - always read the small print and don't enter those which will publish winners or runners-up without giving any other prize!

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  12. That boost to your confidence was indeed valuable, Joanne. And I agree a complimentary copy is equivalent to a small fee.

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  13. Great interview thanks Patsy and Rosemary. I have four stories on Alfie dog, so I read this with interest. Sadly I haven't earned any money from them yet, but it's given me chance to have those stories published as opposed to not published. But, my main aim this year is to target paying markets and write for a fee. I think the more work we give away free, the more editors will lower standards and use free workers. I call myself a freelance writer, but I mean please myself, not free writing...

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    1. I'm sure you will get sales if you stick at it, Suzy.

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    2. I wish you every success. Alfie Dog Fiction are more than happy to publish previously published work as a means of you earning secondary royalties.

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  14. I have done it on a couple of websites and on my own blog :)

    I'd love to be paid for my work, but, I see the free stuff as a form of promotion.

    Great info Patsy & Rosemay

    Xx

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    1. It is a form of promotion, Vikki. Sometimes valuable promotion and sometimes not!

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  15. Great discussion - and I remember the one on the Womag blog! Although I would hesitate now over giving work away for nothing, I don't think it's quite as black and white sometimes. For writers near the beginning of their career, it can be a huge boost to confidence and a way of becoming known if published by a prestigious market. Susan makes a good point even about markets like AlfieDog (good as it is) when she mentions having several stories published there without earning any money (yet?). Yes, I'm all for being paid (especially when writing full time) but I'd never say never!

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    1. Exactly, it's not black and white, though there were some on my blog who seemed to think it was.

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    2. I agree that it's not clear cut. Sometimes getting no fee but receiving something else instead (feedback, publicity, a warm fuzzy feeling) is a good thing.

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    3. No it isn't black and white, but there is a difference between choosing to use a piece of work as a free promotion and being increasingly pressurised to give work for free on unreasonable terms.

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  16. Great informationa nd advice. And yes, copyright is so important. Thanks for sharing this post.

    Nas

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  17. Sometimes you gotta speculate to accumulate and throw a few freebies, but if the work is worth putting into print, and someone is going to make money out of it, then surely the writer deserves a little something for their efforts.

    As for copyright, that's worth holding on to. Good ideas can be like a golden nugget and worth their weight in words!

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    1. JJ, I totally agree that if money is being made the writer should see some of it!

      Agree to re copyright.

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  18. Do what you need to do to keep on writing is one of my many mottoes. If you're swimming in a sea of rejections an acceptance (any acceptance)can be a huge boost.

    And is there much difference financially between a token-paying publication and nothing? (with respect to the editors who are often paying token fees out of their own pocket).


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    1. Financially the token payment isn't much different from none at all but it is different in other important ways. Knowing someone thinks the work is worth paying for is a huge boost even when the payment is tiny. Plus it means the work really has been selected for publication - some, but not all, sites which don't pay accept just about anything they get sent.

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    2. A valid point, Patsy - but some more literary sites who might not pay in monetary value are extremely choosy about quality.

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    3. Yes, some are. I imagine rejections from them must really sting!

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  19. What a great post! I love the example you give of the plumber. He would never work for free and so why should we? Food for thought.

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    1. This afternoon we had a man round to fix our boiler and sure enough he didn't work for free - but as a friend pointed out that the demand for plumbers is high relative to the number of reliable, skilled people. The demand for short stories is generally exceeded by the number of submissions.

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  20. As you may know Patsy I was in the Music Business for over 30 years and the same notion is held by many. That a manager, artist, producer or session musician should provide their services and their expertise, songs, whatever for free....'because it proves you believe in the project, and if you believe in it, you will get your (financial) rewards later....'. An argument I had almost every day of my life, usually with those whose egos were bigger than their talent! When they 'made it' they found reasons not to want to pay royalties, commissions and so it went on....then we come to downloads and obtaining music for nothing. Huge mega wealthy companies - not publishers - exist, whose main objective is to 'obtain' the Copyright to works by writers and producers, for free, and by the way, they then go on and make huge profits from these works. An unknown or reasonably well known writer does the score for a new movie/television series - for the kudos, to get credits on a major series, being told it will lead to exposure and better paying work in the future (looks good on the CV)....but just this once the company will own the copyright, there will not be an advance - be happy your work is being used. You can see where I am going with this....Google is joining a long line of sharks and now they are circling the Publishing business.....and as with the Music Business, who is looking out for the small guys, those who are just starting and those who don't have fancy attorneys to cover them? Sounds so depressingly familiar to me....and I am now writing and wanting to jump right in and swim with the sharks, whilst trying to avoid being eaten whole. What is it all coming to?

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    1. Jane as far as I know music and writing are the only 'business' this applies to. Perhaps sport too at beginner level. There's big money to be made in all of these but very little of it seems to reach new talent.

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    2. Exactly and even when you manage to make 'big' money there is always someone or some method to ensure you don't receive it. In music, radio stations will 'forget' to fill in the cu-sheets which are used by the royalty collection agencies, so there is no proof of a record being played....so no royalty. Same with TV and there are endless ways to wiggle out of payments of royalties, commissions, advances and so on...I should write a book! If I had a penny for every recording, release, piece of musical performance etc etc., I and my artists' would be laughing all the way to the Cayman Islands.

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  21. This is an interesting debate! I see myself as a writer who is very much at the beginning of a (hopeful) career and as I work full time to support myself financially, for now, what is important to me is getting my name 'out there' for my shorter work. It's also a great confidence boost and that's also important when writers face so much rejection and self doubt that any of it is actually good enough!

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    1. Getting an acceptance or two early on can help a writer's confidence enormously, Vikki. That might well be worth more than a small publication fee.

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Thanks so much for commenting!