My first fiction “sale” was to a small press with well-meaning but ignorant staff who screwed me over (entirely by accident, i am sure, but still annoying). David Levine, whose beard, work, and career all have earned my respect, was kind enough to look at that contract for me when i received it and point out why he wouldn’t personally sign it.
I signed it anyway, regretted it, and have subsequently taken his advice ever since: don’t go to underground MMA death matches if you don’t know where the emergency exits are, if you’re going to sell your body get the money first, and do not sign away your first publishing rights for anything less than professional rates as outlined by the SFWA.*
A mutual friend and writer, the late Jay Lake, disagreed some–he advised me to think of pay as only one of the factors in choosing magazines to which i should submit fiction. He had a system, which he described as “the three Ps.” His concerns were primarily Payment (how much cold hard cash are you going to get for the piece), Publicity (how big is the publication’s readership, how often are they reviewed, etc.) and Prestige (how often does the publication yield work that ends up in Best Ofs or work that wins awards).
I combined Lake & Levine’s advice into a system that yielded me sales in the $200 – $500 range, inclusion in one Best Of, and consistent chances for high-profile reviewers to shit on my work. hahaha I don’t sell often, but my bibliography still looks pretty good. After i made those rules, i only broke them once, for love. Ideomancer was a fantastic, small online magazine that consistently published quality stories. I’m still proud of “Rendered Down” and often include the sale in my cover letters.
Lately, i’ve been thinking about that love. I want to add another P to Lake’s advice, a P for my own personal parameters: Passion.
I realized i have been preventing myself from attempting publication in interesting magazines or anthologies if they don’t fit my formula. Because i read submissions for Tor.com, i try to read lots of other short stories, to keep current with what’s being published elsewhere. For example, i recently discovered Vitality, which doesn’t pay pro rates but has a mission statement that speaks to me.
L.A. Little is nearly finished compiling an anthology called “SF Outliers,” which is working on the high-risk indie model of “no one gets advances, but everyone gets royalties.” Not usually my thing. You know what though? I love that he has committed to sending personal responses for every story. I can’t do that at Tor.com; our volume is astronomically prohibitive. But i believe it’s important, so i try to be personal when i can. While being a professional writer requires a thick skin, not everyone starts out with it–some people have to grow it. Little’s dedication to the editor-writer relationship made me smile.
So i sent the SF Outliers anthology my best eligible work, with no guaranteed return. I wouldn’t do that for every indie anthology that pops up, but if i have eligible work lying around and they’re committing to something i personally believe is worthwhile? Hell yeah.
If i never see a dime, whatever. Passion is now my fourth P, and while i am sad i can’t discuss my modification to Lake’s formula with the man himself, i have a feeling he would approve of my motivation even if he found fault with the execution. Lake was the first professional to take a personal interest in my work. He consistently encouraged me as a new writer, and i like to promote that behavior whenever i can. I’ll be paying forward his generosity, patience, and kindness for my entire life, however long it may be.
* These may not all be advice from David, but he can’t prove otherwise.