Science Fiction Writers of America just announced that they’re raising what they consider to be a minimum professional per-word rate from $0.06 to $0.08 per word, as of September 1st, 2019. The full announcement can be read here. I was excited about this change, just like I was excited to see them raise the rate from $0.05 to $0.06 back in 2014. The way I see it, SFWA is an advocacy group for writers and part of its mandate is to encourage publishers to pay a fair rate for genre fiction. But not everyone was as excited as I am. A writers forum I frequent on Facebook was filled with anguished comments about how SFWA keeps moving the goal post, and how this will only make it more difficult for the new writers to qualify for membership. So are they right? Am I now an out-of-touch elite, resting on my qualification laurels? I don’t think so. Let’s examine the arguments I’ve encountered against this change and then look at the list of affected markets.
- Will this change will make it too difficult for new writers to qualify for SFWA membership?
Compared to 2018? Maybe. Historically? Definitely not. Thanks to the internet and print-on-demand technologies making publishing cheaper, there are more magazines and anthologies paying $0.08+ today than there were magazines paying $0.03 per word back in 2003. (SFWA raised the qualification rate from $0.03 to $0.05 in 2004.) SFWA has also made it easier to qualify for membership via other means in recent years, welcoming self-published authors and game writers.
- Can magazines can’t afford to pay the princely sum of $0.08 per word, or will they just ignore the SFWA guidelines going forward?
Inflation is a thing. Everything goes up over time, and we can’t expect writers’ wages to remain the same. Back in the pulp days writers were paid at $0.01 per word, but guess what? $0.01 in 1954 money is an equivalent of $0.08 today. It’s true that some venues will ignore the SFWA guidelines, but that was already true at $0.06/word. Interzone still pays a British penny (roughly $0.015 per word) today. But you hardly ever see venues offer $0.05/word now because the goalpost is so close. I think we will see many, though not all, pro paying venues adjust upward a little.
Here’s the list of qualifying short fiction venues that appears on the SFWA qualification page. Keep in mind that ANY market not listed here that pays the minimum rate will also help qualify an applicant for SFWA, so this is not an exhaustive list. Also for the purpose of this list I’m disregarding venues that are defunct or at least have not sought submissions in the past 1+ year.
Venues that already pay $0.08+, for at least some of the fiction they acquire:
Daily Science Fiction
Flash Fiction Online (* flat rate per story; some will fall under $0.08/word under current rates)
Future Affairs Administration
Unidentified Funny Objects anthologies
Venues currently paying $0.06 or $0.07 per word
Arc Manor/Galaxy’s Edge Magazine
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Dreaming Robot Press
Cast of Wonders
Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores
Flame Tree Publishing
MZB (Sword & Sorceress)
OSC’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
Zombies Need Brains anthologies
Not specified in guidelines
Grim Oak Press
Star Citizen Jump Point Magazine
That’s 20 markets currently paying $0.08+ and 16 markets at $0.06-$0.07, with three more I couldn’t find pay rate data for. It will be interesting to see if and how the pay rate landscape changes based on SFWA’s announcement.