To make a living as a writer is near impossible and it’s not because publishers are tyrants bent on stealing your words for filthy lucre. It’s simply economics. And to stand firm on the “pay the damned writer” side of the current “should writers get paid?” argument shows a general lack of common sense. I understand where this has come from, so before you bring up Harlan Ellison and Wil Wheaton, let’s establish that we all agree that a company that is turning over consistent profit on the strength of the creative content they publish should pay the people who have created that content.
Every writer needs to draw a line for themselves.
Every publisher needs to do the same.
As a writer, if I want to get paid for every piece of my creative output that gets published, then I need to seek out the publishers and lit journals that pay their contributors in cold, hard cash. These markets will have higher circulations and lower acceptance rates, and my writing, as well as my projected public self, will need to be professional-level all the time. In the process, I will eschew the vast majority of online journals and many of the well-established university-affiliated journals. If, however, I understand that exposure won’t pay the rent but that’s okay, then I have a much broader marketplace to work within. Sometimes I will get paid. Sometimes I won’t. I maintain control of what markets I want to support. I can submit to a free online journal just as easily as I can throw a middle finger at Ploughshares. Point being: not all paying markets are advantageous and not all non-paying markets are scrubs. In any event, the decision is wholly the writer’s. I have to decide what is best for me and my goals as a writer, and choose where I submit accordingly.
As a publisher, I have to decide if I can pay for the content that I’m asking for and adjust my publications accordingly. This is something that I have recently struggled with, but to maintain the integrity of the company, decisions had to be made. In the case of RoguePoetry Review, the decision has been made to switch it from a print only book to a free online magazine. The driving reason behind the decision? We could not afford to pay for the content, so we should not be selling the content. So that is our line. We pay our writers for single author collections. We are paying the writers and cover artist in Don’t Open Till Doomsday.
Let’s see if we can straighten this all out now. A writer who gets paid is not necessarily a better writer than one who doesn’t. A market that pays is not necessarily a better market than one that doesn’t. It’s all about where you–be you writer or publisher–draw your lines and what your goals are. So can we stop with the condescension? Can we try supporting our literary communities instead?