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.

Jesus God.

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.


Savanna Kougar said...

Yep, Siren is GOOD that way! And, if I could write manlove stories I would. The cash cow is a big one right now.

Pat, if you get the time/energy, go the self-pub Indie route. Even if you don't have big sales, you're far better off in the long run. Because for one thing if you keep going, get more stories out there, the better your chances are for attracting readers.

I've had some major life setbacks recently or I would be closer to Indie pubbing my next. And my muse pulled the old trick of making me think it was a short story or novella when I'm now at about 54,000 words.

And, that's why I've published with Siren because it's my story, and they respect that.

Pat C. said...

I just emailed the editor and withdrew the story. I'd rather toss it back in the closet than go to the trouble and compromise for such a low payoff. Time to start reading up on indie pubbing.

Yeah, those muses are bitches. I thought Belonging would be a short story and it turned into a novella. Then the sequel bloated up on me. Meanwhile, I thought the one I just subbed would be longer but it only clocked in at around 34,000 words. Go figure.

Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, exactly. They expect you to be all gung ho for chump change, for a measly chance.

imo, we writers as a group, need to get more of a backbone, put our stories out there best way we can, and let the readers decide.

There's so much fear porn about what's going to sell and what isn't, or if you're trendy enough... whatever, I think it's time to sling it all out there. And I so wish I had the time and energy to do Indie publishing that way.

Yeah, and really, I advise not going the 'freebie' route anymore. There's a slushpile of free reads that can't ever be read, in total, out there.