Letters from the Editor

Letter #1

I belatedly entered the discussion about the SWFA rate hike and emailed Kelly at SFWA about the hike and the difficulties magazines face.  The next day she told me Neil Clarke, SFWA Bulletin and Clarkesworld editor, had just begun tweeting on the subject.  He was mentioning  the same points, with many editors responding and congratulating him on how well he stated the problem. He said he hadn’t seen my email, so happy coincidence. 

    Before emailing Kelly, I sent this to my staff, and got some valuable feedback which I added to the email  to Kelly.  Thanks to staff members:)  Here is the email I sent to Kelly:


     Hi. I’d heard some time ago there would be a rate hike, but I’ve just found this post so late though it is, and with gratitude for the good work the SFWA has done in mind, I’ll add my thoughts on what the pay rates mean practically speaking and how the term ‘professional’ is applied to writers and magazines.

    It feels good to be called a professional – the word engenders respect and admiration — but by SFWA rules that only means a writer has sold three stories to a qualifying publication over the course of their entire life. Why use the term professional when that refers to someone making a living at their occupation?

     It sounds nice and right to say writers should get paid a living wage. But 8¢ per word won’t provide that. Even if a writer could write and sell a 5,000 word story every week of the year, that would only garner an annual gross of $20,800.

     So we can be great writers, but unlikely to be making a living at it, which means we’re not professional writers. And one can be a professional writer, but not very good.

     A professional publication, according to the SFWA, does not have to be self-supporting or provide their staff with “just compensation”. Staff members are probably all writers themselves, and working purely for the love of writing and the sf/f field. It’s through them most stories get to readers.

     Also, because of the current definition for “professional” publication (hinging entirely on the American dollar and American valuation of just compensation), many international magazines publishing quality speculative fiction fall into the margins. Authors seeking to publish “professionally” simply don’t submit to these magazines as much, which I think is a shame.

     For many magazines, the SFWA rate hike means a 33% increase in annual budget. In the midst of a struggle where general readership continues its decades-long decline, costs keep rising, and online publications face the expectation that online should equal free, this hike may be impossible to meet. The small percentage already paying 8¢ or more per word will survive for now, but the hike may leave fewer SFWA venues. And every year new and established magazines cease publishing altogether.

     To turn the overall situation around means getting more people reading, and paying for what they read. We should be able to think up a few ingenious ideas. How can print publications manage wider distribution? What broader public relations work could we do? For online perhaps sliding scale subscriptions would help. Crowd funding is good for projects, but for supporting magazines I think it reinforces the idea that readers have the right to read for free what writers have labored to produce and publishers have paid for and worked to set before them.

   We at Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores are happy with the stories we publish. One is now shortlisted for the Nommo Awards from the African Speculative Fiction Society, and eight of our twelve 2018 stories were on Tangent’s Recommended Reading list. But if 8¢ per word must be the new bar, we are not currently in a position to meet it. Better to continue to progress publishing good stories than perhaps end up going down for a goal that does not address the basic problems.

     If any of the stories now under consideration are accepted after the deadline, we’ll pay the new rate for those, since they were submitted with the understanding we were an SFWA market. We’ll work on introducing a sliding scale subscription rate and other ways to increase income. We’ll increase pay rate for writers after we begin to cover basic expenses staff incur in helping to produce the magazine and spread the word at cons. Meanwhile we’ll keep putting out stories, illustrations, interviews, articles, and podcasts people love.


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