If you're a new writer looking to turn a hobby into a career, you may want to consider that approach, at least from time to time. Sometimes, publications are looking for a specific type of story for an anthology. Maybe they are collecting stories based on the worlds created by Lovecraft, or star-crossed love stories featuring werewolves and vampires in tragic romances, or killer clown dolls crazed by genital warts. Whatever. They give you the subject. You just have to write a story about it. It can be lucrative, if you can pull it off. And if you're between stories, it can also be a good exercise in writing outside your comfort zone. Just think about it, ok? My go-to site is DarkMarkets, which lists tons of open markets in horror, and dark/speculative fiction, the deadlines for submissions to their publication, and links for other submission guidelines.
As you're perusing the list for suitable pubs, I want you to pay particular attention to something. You can find it in the submission details, usually right after the word count: it's the payment amount being offered for your magnum opus. You'll see payments ranging from a "Contributor's Copy" up to 6 cents a word, or some flat rate per story. Royalties may or may not play a part in it as well. That's really what I wanted to talk about.
The above covers a lot of territory, right? Depending on the publication, and how they figure payment, you may receive anywhere from $5-$10, to hundreds of dollars, with the possibility of royalties. 2-3 cents per word seems to be an acceptable norm. (You can get more or less depending on the size of the publication, and you should probably tailor your expectations accordingly. Cemetery Dance is going to offer better rates than a local mag, and that's a pretty tight market) Or you could get just a copy of the publication itself, which means you basically worked for free.
I have a problem with that.
Look, I am by no means widely (or even moderately) published. I'm still at the stage where I squeal in girlish delight when a magazine tells me my story is being held for further consideration. Even with a book out, I absolutely understand the newbie willing to accept no payment for the "exposure." There are even times, when I'm okay with it. If you're truly a "hobby" writer, and just want to tell your grandchildren about that one time you published a story, fine (although, why not get paid for that, too?). And if it's for a good cause (I recently wrote and illustrated a mini-comic for a publication that was shining a spotlight on the plight of the homeless. Didn't get chosen, but it's being published elsewhere), or some other labor of love, I can get on board with that. But if you want to be a professional writer, and be taken seriously as one, you need to be paid for your work.
Ask yourself this: Why are so many publications not offering payment, or next to nothing? Answer: because they can. So many people want to be published authors, they are willing to settle for "exposure." And, as the old saying goes: Why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free? The number of people willing to accept publishing without payment, makes it more difficult for everyone to succeed as writers. And on the publishing side, if you think about it, what's more appealing: someone who's been giving their writing away? Or someone who's been receiving a professional wage for their work? If a publication's been willing to pay for the work, it, and therefore, the writer, must be pretty good, right? If you settled for your contributor's copy, and nothing else, not only are you screwed out of payment then, but few pubs are going to pay to reprint a story you gave away the first time.
Look, it's not about getting rich. If you're writing to get rich, you may want to re-examine your life choices. But can you think of any other jobs where "exposure" is considered payment for work well done? Even session musicians and extras on movie sets get paid. You spent hours writing and rewriting your masterpiece. The magazine that publishes it is getting paid for that. And so should you.
Now, go get that money, player...