Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Contest Payment Plan

Katherine Tomlinson emailed a link to a spec-fiction market called Fiction Vortex.  She made the comment that it would be nice if they'd just state that they pay or don't pay.  Now they do pay a flat rate of $3 per story but then they run a monthly contest where readers vote on their favorite story and the winner receives $10.  Besides the popularity contest the editors pick the top three stories and the winners receive $30, $20, and $10 extra.  Now it seems to me that the better way would to take that $70 and split it evenly among the writers for a payment of at the least $10 per story, especially since they're paying through PayPal, and let's face it, after fees the writer would be lucky to have enough to buy a candy bar.

Another "contest" racket that I've spotted lately is in the anthology markets.  Instead of calling for submissions for a non-paying market they sponsor a non-paying contest.  The prize?  You get published.

And then there's the submission process for both zines and anthologies where only the top story receives a payment of $10 or $25.  Basically another "contest" type.

I don't know about you, but this type of contest payment plan just doesn't seem right or fair to the writers.  Sure, some writers get their professional fees but the others pretty much get "a stick it up your butt" payment.  I'm not a fan of paying fees to enter contests but, on average, it's a much better way than this current trend of contests.

What about you?  How do you feel about these "contests".  And what other sort of "payment plans" do you find rather offensive to writers?


Linda Maye Adams said...

I've passing on anything with fees to submit. Honestly, the only benefit I see is to the people receiving the money, and there are far too many sites with the attitude that we should be grateful they're publishing us, or that they're doing us a favor. I remember years ago getting an email from a "publisher" who was offering a contest for visibility. You paid a $25 entry fee, if you won, you got a dictionary that was worth less than the entry fee and published.

There are two others I don't like:

1. Royalties. These sound like great payments, but it doesn't make for a motivation for the publisher to sell the books. Book doesn't sell, he doesn't have to pay the writers.

2. I've also been seeing a lot of anthology calls for veterans (I'm a vet). These are often for charity to help the veterans, and they solicit stories from veterans. They also don't pay. My take is that if they want to help vets, they can start by paying them, and then paying the charity after that.

Thomas Pluck said...

I occasionally submit to non-paying markets that I admire, but after publishing an anthology and doing the work, I understand a bit of the hard job of editing.
And I still think if you charge readers, you should pay writers.

I refuse to submit to any publication that charges the writer a reading fee. I did that once with Glimmer Train's contest, but they get $15 for their magazine. They don't need to squeeze writers. I don't pay to enter contests anymore, either.

Publications with bizarre pay schemes like this make me wary. Royalties, as well. It's a matter of trust, and it's never as much as you think it will be. A flat payment is a better deal.

The market for crime fiction- especially "noir" or violent crime fiction- is a lot smaller than we like to think it is. Once you see the sales numbers, it can be incredibly depressing. There are established, prolific writers who do well, but it's essentially a small niche in the larger mystery genre.

As for charity anthologies, having published two of them, it's a tough gamble. Anthologies do not sell well without a big name or two attached, and if you attract them with payment, you will have little left to donate. I consider Protectors a success, but if I paid $50 per story, we'd have nothing to donate to the cause.
Would $50 attract a big name when their story can get $500 in a pro genre magazine?

David Cranmer said...

Mr. Pluck made many of the points that I would.

Barb Goffman said...

To be Devil's Advocate, I'll argue the opposite point of Linda regarding royalties. When a publisher pays only royalties, the publisher has an incentive to sell because that's the only way he's going to make money from the anthology. (And if a publisher pays a flat fee per story with no royalties, he also has an incentive to sell because he makes money from sales, too.)

From an author's perspective, if it's a matter of choosing between getting a flat fee or royalties, I think it depends on the fee amount. Wouldn't it be terrible to sell a story for a token amount and then have the book take off and the publisher reaps all the financial rewards?

sandra seamans said...

Welcome to the Corner, Linda!

Yeah, I don't do fees either, but I do charity anthologies if they're for a charity I feel I can support. I don't have a lot of money so a story is a way for me to give back.

You just never know how a royalties system is going to work out. I've done two anthologies through Untreed Reads, one I never received any royalties from and the other I'm still getting checks after two years.

Yes, Thomas, the crime noir market is very slim and usually non-paying. Sometimes a good horror market works noir stories so I try not to limit myself to strictly crime zines.

He's very good at making those points that hit home, David :)

You're right, Barb, both the publisher and writer have to depend on each other for sales. But with anthologies, you just never know what is going to sell. Makes you wish there was a giant crystal ball so you knew where to submit.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Having come here from the literary mags in the early 2000s, I know that many of them sponsor contests to pay for the mag. I guess if it's very clear what they want and what you will get, I am okay with it. I mean who is making money off this anyway. Having said that, I never enter contest where I have to pay to play. I don't mind writing for free but I almost prefer online zines where people can read my work without paying for it. I mean how many subscribers are there for these little print editions of various zines. A few dozen? At least it might get read online.

sandra seamans said...

I've never understood the draw of the small literary magazines, Patti. Like you, I'd just as soon be published online where readers can find my work than in a magazine that barely anyone reads.

Dan Hope said...

My name is Dan Hope; I'm the managing editor here at Fiction Vortex, and I thought I'd chime in. I agree that our system isn't ideal, and our goal is to one day offer professional rates to authors. The trouble is that we're relatively new, and we're doing this out of our digital garage, so to speak. In other words, the authors are actually the only ones getting paid at Fiction Vortex. I don't know if that makes things any better, but I hope it's clear that we're doing this for the love of sci-fi/fantasy and the authors who write it.

We have a sponsor that offers us a small sum each month in return for a small ad on our site. Until such time as we can improve our cash flow, this meager budget is all we have. We contemplated not even offering a token payment or monthly prize and putting the money toward advertising the site (after other costs such as server hosting and web design). But we decided that we wanted this site to be author-centric from the start, even if we don't have much to offer at first. At least it keeps our priorities straight. So the majority of our monthly budget goes to prizes.

We decided to go with a token payment because it makes things a little more water-tight, legally speaking (we have literally bought rights instead of just gained permission to post). We post anywhere from 8 to 11 stories a month, so the prize money would be less than $10 per author if we spread it out. We figured having some excitement and chance for reader participation would be more rewarding for authors than $7. Again, more money would trump everything, but until we have more money, we thought this was best.

I appreciate your comments, Sandra, and I hope I don't sound too defensive. I just want to make it clear that we do love our authors and we are striving to give them more for their stories. Let's hope in a year or two you can write that Fiction Vortex pays professional rates.

sandra seamans said...

Thanks for stopping by Mr. Hope! I didn't mean to pick on Fiction Vortex specifically, I just happened across your zine at time when I'd been finding too many markets that were running non-paying contests and used it for a jumping off point.

I know how hard it is to run a zine and coming up with the funds. I appreciate that even though the amounts are small at least you're giving the writers their due.

Mike C. said...

Hi, my name is Mike Cluff, one of the other editors at Fiction Vortex. I just want to thank you for your concern for authors. When Dan and I decided to start Fiction Vortex last December we debated a lot,and I do mean a lot, about authors and pay rates. We didn't want to scare authors off by 'paying for exposure' (as inappropriate as that sounds) and we also didn't want to insult readers by offering just a buck.
However, here was our dilemma: How to attract authors that would submit great stories when we really don't have all that much to offer? And how do we get to the point that we can offer something more?
Well, we have some great stories coming our way, but the dilemma still stands. We still are fumbling our way to a place where we can give our authors what they truly deserve. We are our in our infancy, barely two months into it and we admit there is much more to running a publication than we had thought. We can't find a solid tutorial on how it should be done, so we are always seeking feedback and ideas. And you know what? So far people have been great, some authors are more excited about our project than we are, and that is quite humbling and very inspiring. So in that spirit of humility I appreciate this feedback and ask for anymore you might have. Any help getting us to the point where we can pay professional rates to our authors and Fiction Vortex is our actual job (believe me, it hasn't paid us a dime) is appreciated.

sandra seamans said...

Thanks for stopping by Mike! The problem with online zines is that there is no prime example of how to do it profitably in order to pay writers pro rates.

What I have been seeing recently is more and more zines publishing Kindle editions and selling them.

ThugLit does both a print and Kindle edition and is able to pay their writers $25 now. They were a non-paying market when they first started out. They built up a reputation of printing only the best over the years. Word of mouth did the rest. They're now considered one of top markets for crime/noir fiction.

Many markets are running KickStarter fundraisers to get the money to pay authors and that seems to be working for some of them. Plan B and Fireside Magazine both did this successfully.

I'm not sure where Nightshade gets its funding but I know that they have ads on the site that generate income. Many authors will pay to have ads placed on sites that generate a lot of traffic.

Those are just a few ideas that I've seen in action. Good luck with your zine, we writers need all the markets we can get.

sandra seamans said...

Plus with Nightshade, they sell Kindle editions to help pay the bills.