Pay vs unpaid mag markets

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a question based on a discussion over at the Shocklines.com bulletin board that concerns paying versus non-paying markets.

In a nutshell, a new magazine publisher requests submissions from writers, but mentions that he pays only in a single copy of the issue and an "enhanced profile," whatever that means. This starts a debate about the value of non-paying markets and ends with the publisher abruptly announcing the "death" of the new magazine before it was ever begun!

My question is, if you are seeking an agent and all of your publishing credits are from non-paying "amateur" publications, does this impress an agent? Or do you look for publication in paying markets only?

Regardless of the old question of whether a writer
should or shouldn't submit their work for "free," I'm just wondering if getting published in a market that pays nothing has any appeal for an agent when he or she reads a writer's resume.

Thanks so much for any information you could provide.

The problem here is not that this guy didn't pay but that he wasn't in business. As an agent, when I read your query letter and it says "I've been published in the "Snark Central Literary Gesundheit" all I do is google the SCLG to make sure it's not a figment of your imagination and to see if what it looks like. I don't pay much attention to the rate structure because I know a LOT of small literary journals that are labors of love don't pay much besides copies of the mag and a pub credit. Here's one that a reader sent me just today (thanks Kitty!) Getting paid isn't the point here. Having someone who is not your mom say your work doesn't suck is what reassures me.

Think of sending work to these lit mags as an internship. You aren't going to get paid much if anything but the experience is good on your resume. You don't want your entire career to be an internship so you'll want to move up the pay scale, but everyone needs to start somewhere.


Mindy Tarquini said...

Paying or non-paying, there are few markets for short stories and poetry. I submit to these markets because I want people to read the things I write. That can't happen if the stuff's buried on my hard disk.

And hurray for the plug for Picolata Review!

MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

I look at it like this: If you're buying a car, they let you test drive it. Or if you want to taste an ice cream flavor to see if you like it, they'll give you a sample, so why not offer up a little writing for free to make sure it's liked.

I'm sure many will disagree with writing for free, and that's cool for you if you choose to not do so, but my first article was published for no pay, but then I moved up a little, and gathered more clips and confidence, and eventually was published in Pregnancy and Parenting.

As you said, Miss Snark, it's like an internship. Prove yourself and it'll happen.

Thanks again for always having such great topics for discussion here.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Manic Mom on this one. I did several "gratis" pieces, but then moved up the scale. Besides not being paid lets you act all tortured artist like- sometimes this gets you free drinks.

Simon Haynes said...

Remember that you should always submit to the best markets and work down. If you're submitting something to a free market which has already been rejected by those who pay, then what do you have to lose?
Eventually you may sell a piece to a paying market, and then you stop sending to free markets and instead stash away your unpublished fiction for your grandkids to laugh at years hence.

Anonymous said...

But I know on the response time tracker over at critters there are one or two e-mags that every response listed is a sale. When I see these come thorugh with sale and !!! following I can't help but wonder if it means anything if they never turn anybody away.

Alex said...

I have to disagree somewhat. Many submissions come to me yammering on about the millions of places the author's been published, none of which I have EVER heard of: The Wyoming Review, Poobah Quarterly, The Kansasian, totallygoodfiction.com, forrealpublishedstories.com, etc.

If anything, this takes away from the credibility of the author, in my mind.

PJD said...

Seems to me that any never-heard-of online-only "publication" is not worth submitting to. There is little incentive for the online pub to turn anyone away (it's essentially free to publish everything), and lots of incentive to have more and more and more on their site (think of google). Plus, chances are that no one is really reading their stuff except other writers who are trying to figure out if it's worth submitting there.

Print publications, even those with circulations of 500, have made a statement of sincerity by spending money on production, printing, and distribution; they have to be at least a little picky in their selections unless it's a vanity publication.

Of course, over time, the better ones stop being never-heard-of.

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Adam Hurtubise said...

I second the plug for the Picolata Review. Very well done.

Anonymous said...

There are prestigious literary journals which pay very little, or pay in free copies, and you can be sure that editors and agents know and respect them.

Anonymous said...

Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet is a non-paying short fiction market with an excellent reputation. There are numerous others. Don't assume 'selling' a story to a non-paying market is a waste. My first sale was for a copy of the magazine it appeared in. My next was for 1/4 cent per word. The following year I started selling for 3 cents. Now I'm selling to professional markets. It's how it works for us mortals. There are a few lucky bastards that start selling professional right away - but the rest of us hate them.

Lee Bemrose said...

Interesting answer. I was wondering along similar lines with regard to defunct magazines. It seems a bit hokey to mention one that isn't in print anymore, and yet it is a writing credit.

Anonymous said...

I submit to and have been published in literary journals, and VIRTUALLY NONE pays anything. This includes just about every one of the very, very prestigious literary journals. If you've been published in any of these journals and say so in your query letter, agents will definitely take note; the fact that the journals don't pay is irrelevant. What's relevant is that they publish less than one percent of what they're sent, that they have high editorial standards, and so on. By the way, this certainly does apply equally to quite a few very good online journals--plus, your work is read by way more readers when it's published online. Most of the college-based lit journals have quite small circulation, rarely more than a thousand or so. In contrast, several of the highest-quality online journals report upwards of 20,000 unique readers for each issue.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know WHICH on-line literary journals are considered prestigious by book agents and publishers? I would like to compile a list of these for future submissions. I have started with the ones that are listed in the Million Writers Award Notable Stories of 2005 at http://www.storysouth.com/millionwriters/2005notablestories.html but would be interested in hearing about more.