A Field Guide to Small Publishers

Type 1: Small Press - non-paying, token paying & low paying markets for fiction, article, reviews, poetry, and art.

 I have seen writers and artists get angry at non-paying markets, as if their very existence is an affront! If you are one of those, then please - stop being such an asshole. Sure, writers wanting to give their work away for free can just do it on Wattpad. But, especially when you're first starting out, there’s something nice about having your work selected for inclusion by an actual editor. There is credibility and validation in having your publication at least “juried” by a third party. And every once in a while, works from those publications get singled out for further honours and/or republished in paying markets.

For those who consider those markets beneath them – remember that the publishers and editors of those publications are most likely making less than you. Yes – less than zero ie: paying all expenses out of pocket. Many small press magazines are classic “labours of love.”  

Printing and postage both cost money – more money than a magazine or anthology will likely earn back through any combination of ad revenues and issue sales/subscriptions. If they sold every issue for full price, it probably wouldn’t recover their hard costs. If they charged enough to do that, no one would buy it because it’s too freaking expensive.

Even online magazines have to pay for their url – plus webhosting, design, insurance, maintenance etc.. Most have small readerships (200 subscribers is very good – and most of those are fellow writers artists and publishers). Many publishers do all the work themselves: reading, copy editing; layout, typesetting; administration, interacting with the community; doing publicity; keeping the subscriber list updated; and responding to submissions. Most publications that survive, do so because they’ve been able to round up a legion of volunteers to read; update sections of the magazine, represent them at functions and so on.

One to three cent a word markets are usually ones where the publishers, usually writers themselves – either have big ambitions, or so strongly desire respect in the marketplace – that they put themselves in debt to get it. From having once co-run a small press genre magazine that paid 2 cents per word, I can pretty much promise you that no editors have ever gotten rich off your labours. In fact, all these markets are paying a lot for our deathless prose – with their faith in your work – and the labour they expend to create a good venue for your work. 

The quality of those publications is often governed by the fact that established writers don’t usually work for free, so you’ll usually be in the company of newbies. If you don’t like it, then don’t go there, but the publishers and editors of those publication deserve medals more than they deserve your scorn or ridicule.

There is one other notable type of non-paying short story and poetry market. The literary/arts magazines – which are usually non-profit. The publishers and editors are sometimes paid – at least with honorariums. And grants often pay for printing and distribution.  These publications are often works of art unto themselves – and their purpose is to provide a showcase – a credit on your bibliography that will impress other writers and editors. What they don’t pay in cash, they pay in prestige…perhaps not your cuppa tea, but a very legitimate form of payment for many struggling authors and artists.

When it comes to long fiction markets – all the rules change. That’s where you really need to start looking out for yourself. My next blog entry will be dedicated to that very subject.


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