Thursday, May 17, 2012
The Going Rate for a Soul
This is the story of a story. Around six years ago I wrote a little horror story about a serial killer in the Dexter mode. A neat trick, considering I’d never seen or heard of Dexter at the time. I’m not even sure it was on when I wrote my story. Anyhoo, I sent it out to the few mystery/horror mags on the market that would take a story over 5000 words. No bites. One mag held it for a year and a half before regretfully sending it back. Finally I saw a call for an anthology about serial killers, and my story fell within the word parameters. I sent it in and success! They took it! I can’t say “they bought it” because this market was pay on publication. Publication was estimated at about a year away.
The year came and went. I did a few spot changes at the editor’s request. The editor mentioned Dexter. I explained how I’d never seen Dexter when I wrote the story. My character and Dexter’s similar outlook on life, and killing, was just one of those weird coincidences.
Then, with only a couple of months to go until publication (and payment) we authors got an email: the publisher was having financial troubles and had cancelled all planned anthologies. We were back at square one.
The editor promised to look for another publisher and gave us the option of pulling out or staying in. I opted to stay in. What the hell, I’d waited this long, and the market clearly wasn’t clamoring for another Dexter, even an inadvertent one. At some point I was bound to get a check.
Success again! The editor found a new publisher. Back to the waiting.
Then yesterday we got another email. The anthology was good to go. The publisher—not the editor, mind; this was the publisher—just had a couple of changes. We just had to check over our stories, agree to the changes or discuss them with the new publisher/editor, and we’d be looking at publication around September/October.
So I opened the file to check on what changes the publisher wanted to see.
I think our “publisher” is a frustrated editor/writer. He hadn’t made suggestions. He’d cut some sentences, added others, moved whole paragraphs around. He wanted me to make changes and additions that, if implemented, would effectively change my protagonist’s personality and probably the thrust of the story.
The publisher, by the way, also mentioned Dexter. Are you starting to see a pattern here?
After my initial skim-through, and somewhat in shock, I decided to let the file sit overnight and sleep on my emotions. I’ll take another look at the changes sometime today with a fresh eye and a calmer brain. If it turns out my first impression was right and the guy is indeed trying to rewrite my story, I think I’ll go with my initial gut reaction and pull the story from the anthology.
Have I mentioned payment yet? Here ’tis: they’re offering one cent a word. Since nothing has ever been said about splitting royalties between contributing authors, I can only assume that one cent a word and a contributor’s copy are all we’re going to see. For my 8000+ word story, which they’ve now been holding for over two years and want me to revise into something else, I might see about $80. After publication.
Welcome to the world of a working writer.
The more I think about this, the more pissed off I get. I may just pull the story after all and make it, in its original non-Dexter form, my first foray into self-publishing. I may earn less than $80, but it’ll still be my story. The returns are liable to come in a lot faster than they have through these “traditional” publishers, and I won’t have to deal with a publisher who wants to be my co-author. I’m long past the point where I’ll put up with anything in order to see my words in print. I’ve seen my work in print for several decades now, and at way more than one cent a word.
Then there’s the other story I wrote as work for hire for a start-up fantasy publisher. I was promised a flat fee of $300 for a 5000-6000 word story—half on approval of plot, half on approval of story. I sent in half a dozen plots and finally got one approved. Got my $150. I wrote the story and sent it in by the agreed-upon deadline. The editor said he’d get back to me in a couple of weeks. That was October. No sign of the story, the editor’s opinion, or my other $150. Thank God I’m not trying to make a living at this.
And these are just short stories. I shudder to think what must go into selling a novel.
Self-publishing is looking better and better, boy I tell you what.
On a better note, yesterday I subbed a M/M romance novella to Siren. Their editors are skilled, professional and easy to work with. Responses are swift, within two weeks. So’s production time. Once a book’s accepted, you can count on seeing it for sale on the site within six months or less. Royalties are paid on time. Editors might make suggestions and request expansion or clarification of scenes or characters, but to date not one has actively moved or rewritten whole sections of story, or tried to get me to change my character so it’s more like a show on cable. Guess who I’ll be writing more stories for in the weeks to come.
If I had the whole thing to do over, I’d have taken art and illustration in college and gone into comics like I always wanted. Wait, we can self-publish comics on the Internet too. I’m starting to like the future more and more.