Going Professional

Today’s Twitter feed brought up some interesting developments over at Escape Pod. What used to be just a podcast now has a monthly magazine containing the text of the stories that have been published in audio. There will also be book reviews. What’s more, they are clearly going for the semiprozine market as they talk about paying professional rates. Obviously they need donations, but they sound determined to pay their authors good money.


Or almost. Because, as is depressingly the case, there is a catch. Being a suspicious type, I sent to look at the submission guidelines, and I found what I expected:

At the present time, EP does not offer payment for reviews.

So yes, they’ll be paying their authors, which is a wonderful thing to do, but only if they write fiction.

This is by no means an isolated occurrence. I don’t mean to dump on Escape Pod because they are only doing what many other venues do. One of the reasons I work for Clarkesworld and not for anyone else is because Neil is prepared to pay the same rate for non-fiction as for fiction. Other magazines don’t do that. Indeed, in the past couple of weeks I have caught a couple of people using the term “professional writer” to mean “professional fiction writer”. There’s a widespread view that even if non-fiction writers get the same money as fiction writers, they are still not worthy of being viewed as “professional”. SFWA’s membership rules don’t help here.

So it is all very well for people to complain about the quality of book reviews online (here and here most recently). But if there’s nowhere that recognizes that non-fiction is worth paying for, then there’s no real incentive for people to get any better.

9 thoughts on “Going Professional

  1. One of my pet hates, most definitely.

    What is sad is that writing for a paying venue, even if it is a venue that only pays a small amount, really forces you to up your game and make a properly professional effort. Paying for non-fiction content encourages better writing and the entire community is served by better reviews, criticism and non-fiction.

    The fact that there are so few places that pay for non-fiction content while there are dozens of places paying for, more often than not, piss-poor short fiction is undeniably dispiriting.

    1. I’m not sure I’d totally blame the magazines. As Martin says below, they are following the money. It is a vicious circle.

  2. I’m not sure that a financial incentive is the only real incentive.

    I agree with your point that all forms of writing, not just fiction, deserve respect and reward. I’m really pleased you have set up Salon Futura and put your money where your mouth is. However, I think it is undeniable that there is a reasonable level of demand for good genre short fiction but very little demand for good genre criticism. So, inevitably, the money follows this.

    But I still think there are softer incentives like respect.

    1. Respect is hard to measure. Nor does it put food on the table.

      And from my own personal point of view, I could have more Hugos than Dave Langford and Charles Brown put together, but it wouldn’t get me a visa to the US.

  3. The first paid writing I did was nonfiction (not in SF/F, however) and early on found that the acceptance rate for nonfiction was eight times higher than for fiction. (And the rates were generally higher, too, except for small-town newspaper writing.) So I’ve always considered nonfiction both professional and (in the wider world than SF) respected as a form of writing. Certainly the quality of writing can be equal to the best fiction.

    I’m now wondering if small-scale fiction outlets outside of SF/F pay reviewers (the main magazines did, as far as I know), or if they’re expected to contribute their time & effort for the prestige of being some literary quarterly’s reviewer. Is it reviewers in particular (outside the paid gigs in major magazines) who are not being paid–perhaps because of the number of people willing to do reviewing for nothing–or the perception that reviews don’t bring in income while fiction does? Or has the game changed for all nonfiction writers?

    1. You may well be right here. There’s certainly a common view that anyone can write a book review. Good criticism is as hard to write as any other form of writing, but it is hard to get respect for it.

      It may also be true that some venues encourage “just my opinion” reviews in order to provoke controversy in the comment threads. You are not going to want to pay for something that you regard as troll-bait.

  4. I’ve been a professional writer for over a decade and I’ve never gotten a lick of fiction professionally published (unless you count a strange online collaborative screenplay contest prize from the late 1990s).

    By most accounts, I’m pretty fairly compensated as both a writer and I’ve earned far above the SFWA’s minimal pro word-rate for almost all of my paid non-fiction. I do occasionally give away some nonfiction for which I am not paid, usually to online venues where the compensation comes in social capital, traffic, or simply the good feeling of helping out a friend.

    That said, I defy someone to tell me I’m not a pro writer when I’ve paid my mortgage and put food on the table with the fruits of my keyboard labors — and I’ve done it longer than most online fiction venues have even existed. I’ll cop that I’m not a pro AUTHOR, but that’s a far cry from saying I’m not a pro writer.

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