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May 29, 2012 12:45 PM   Subscribe

What constitutes token versus semi-professional payment in the North American short fiction market? What's reasonable to expect? What are reasonable contractual expectations when signing away a piece for first publishing?

Any resources, information, and dire warnings would be appreciated. I want to make sure that I'm not making any mistakes I have to live with for the rest of my so called career.
posted by Stagger Lee to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "Token" payment usually means you receive a copy of the magazine. "Semi-professional payment" usually takes the form of a fixed pay rate (either per piece or per page). Professional payment is, well, more.

If you're just starting out, you probably want to begin by sending stuff to well reputed magazines that give token payments. Try magazines you personally read and magazines that are associated with universities. These magazines are usually not soliciting submissions and are more likely to publish fledgling writers. After you get a few of these publications under your belt your cover letter will get more attention. But if you want to shoot for the stars, well, that's another strategy.

Magazines usually want first printing rights, reprinting rights, and electronic rights. You can possibly negotiate.

I don't know if you use duotrope, but it allows you to search markets by payscale and is a great resource all around.
posted by munyeca at 1:15 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Duotrope's glossary should be helpful:
Non-paying Does not pay in real-world money, but may offer copies. A 3,000-word story sale would result in US $0.
Token Payment Amounts to less than 1 US cent per word. Sometimes referred to as an honorarium. A 3,000-word story sale would result in US $29.99, at most.
Semi-Pro Amounts to payment between 1 US cent per word and 4.9 US cents per word. A 3,000-word story sale would result in as little as US $30 to as much as US $149.99.
Professional Amounts to payment from 5 US cents per word and up. A 3,000-word story sale would result in anything from US $150, all the way up to the thousands. Note that some writers' associations may define "professional" differently. (Some writers' associations require a certain number of "professional" sales before a writer can join. The term professional does not imply that the writer lives solely off income from writing.)
Plus Royalties Pays royalties based on sales, in addition to any other payment offered.
Payment isn't everything, however. There are high prestige markets (Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet is one) that pay very little. You should always start with markets with either high payment or high prestige and work your way down when submitting.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:51 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and here's why you start high: you never know who will want your work. There might be only a slimmer chance of the New Yorker accepting your story, but there's still a chance, and promarkets sometimes do take unpublishers authors, even if it's rare. If you start at the bottom and work up, you might lock yourself in to less prestigious markets. Basically, if you want to be a pro, treat yourself like one. Aim high, and let the markets do the rejecting for you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:04 PM on May 29, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the information. I'm specifically interested in rights, contractual obligations and payment right now, I've mostly figured out how to shop the market, and am weighing offers. I appreciate the bonus advice all the same though, and I'm sure it'll be helpful to other people as well. All great advice.

I've actually found Writer's Market to work well alongside Duotrope, no big shock there though.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:36 AM on May 30, 2012

Legit publishers will usually want first North American serial rights. They might also want reprint rights for certain situations (an anthology of stories published by their authors). Payment is usually on publication.

Honestly, though, a lot of this information rides on the legitimacy of the publisher in question. Feel free to shoot me a MeMail and I'll share any information I might have.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:47 AM on May 30, 2012

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