SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, has raised their qualifying pay rate for short fiction to 6 cents/word. Beneath Ceaseless Skies has raised our pay rate to meet this standard; it is important to us that writers be paid a pro rate and qualify to join their professional organization.
Yet in this era of difficult financial straits for magazines, with many turning to uncertain revenue sources such as crowd-funding, and with the most successful known revenue stream (Amazon Subscriptions) closed to new vendors, we are mindful that higher pay rates may compound existing financial challenges.
We agree with the current increase to 6 cents/word, as this accounts for inflation since the last increase in 2004.
However, we would be concerned that any further increase in the near future could leave markets struggling to meet such higher rates, and would lead to them either reducing the amount of original fiction they publish, or not raising their rates and thus losing SFWA-qualifying status, or raising their rates and later ceasing publication when unable to secure additional revenues.
All of these outcomes would result in fewer opportunities for writers: for veteran authors to earn their trade; for neo-pros to develop their craft or showcase their work to readers, agents, and novel publishers; for new writers to establish their writing and their membership in the field. Neo-pros and new writers would likely bear the brunt of these effects.
Some advocates of additional or larger increases cite the goal of making short fiction rates produce a livable wage. This is a noble cause but a grossly unrealistic one. The Editorial Freelancers Association estimates pro rates for the writing of fiction at 20–25 cents/word. To meet such a standard, SFWA would have to quadruple their new rate, which would strain markets throughout the field (to our knowledge, only one of the thirty SFWA-qualified short fiction markets currently meets that rate). Lesser raises would be inconsequential in achieving a living wage, and would risk the outcomes above in order to make a purely symbolic gesture.
We urge SFWA and the short fiction field overall–authors, publishers, veteran writers and new ones–to undertake a thorough dialog on these factors before consideration of raising short fiction rates again. This current era of ebooks, free online magazines, and free fiction podcasts has expanded the short fiction audience across the planet, fostered the emergence of diverse markets, and increased opportunities for established and new writers alike.
But meeting the financial challenges of publishing in such a landscape remains a work in progress. Further or larger or unrealistically motivated raises in the SFWA short fiction rate would exacerbate these challenges and could stunt the field’s growth, if not halt or even reverse it.
Scott H. Andrews