< Well Now I'm Pushing Thirty
Next >

: Andrew Appel posted about Thoughtcrime Experiments to the prestigious Freedom to Tinker weblog (alas, still not called Freedom To Tinkle). Andrew is one of the authors of "Using Memory Errors to Attack a Virtual Machine", the paper that partially inspired Ken Liu's Single-Bit Error. Andrew writes of the anthology:

It's not all honey and roses, of course. The authors got paid, but the editors didn't! The Appendix presents data on how many hours they spent "for free". In addition, if you look closely, you'll see that the way the authors got paid is that the editors spent their own money.

It certainly wasn't my intention to hide this fact! But more generally, this is my impression of how things work in the antilucrative world of SF/F short fiction publishing. When I sell a story to a magazine, I get a check signed by the editor. In almost all cases, that money is in some sense the editor's money. The only thing different with TE is that we're not trying to make our money back.

Here's what I mean. Unless you're Gordon Van Gelder or Sheila Williams or Stanley Schmidt, you don't draw a salary. A small-time editor/publisher spends their own money, in quantities that are obscene to them and laughably insufficient to the writers, and then tries to make that money back. There are different strategies for this. Strange Horizons solicits donations and runs public radio-style fundraising drives. Futurismic runs ads. Small print mags sell hard copies and/or subscriptions.

It's your money being spent because you're the publisher: if you make a profit, the profit is yours. The flip side of Stanley Schmidt drawing a salary is that if Analog should sell a million copies one month, he doesn't get to keep the money. It belongs to Dell Publications.

The thing is, you'll never make a profit. Even in the good old days the SF magazines scraped by, and these days are bad and new. Find an online magazine with Project Wonderful ads, look at their PW graphs versus their payment rates, and do the math.

Here's a ridiculously optimistic assumption: let's say ten percent of the people who downloaded our PDF would have paid us ten dollars for it, and that everyone who bought a five-dollar hard copy would have paid ten. We'd still have lost money, to the tune of a few hundred dollars. And that's just the loss on the money we paid out! I'm not even thinking about the money value of our time. The unprofitability of this whole realm of publishing is no secret; it's a running joke. Even people who try to make some money back aren't doing this for money, but because they like the non-monetary returns they get on their investment.

Sometime in the past decade I learned a valuable lesson from Jake Berendes: know when to say "screw it". Do the thing you've been waiting for someone else to do. Removing the commercial angle altogether will save you disappointment and headaches. Spending money to create something interesting for everybody feels much better than losing slightly less money in a commercial venture.

Filed under:


[Main] [Edit]

Unless otherwise noted, all content licensed by Leonard Richardson
under a Creative Commons License.