So what is a short story worth?

Thanks everyone who dropped by the other day to discuss the thorny issue of short stories and being paid for them – or not! Some great responses from Nuala Ni, Sara Crowley, Alistair Gentry, Damien G Walter, Lynsey May and Bernie – and others who passed on tips in person or email. I am just going to put a few bits of this here where it will be easier to find for future reference.

Sara said it’s sad/hard/depressing to think about this. I know what you mean, Sara, but somehow it helped. And it’s great to have someone like yourself who writes, reviews and sells short fiction, helping think it through, so thanks. Anyway here’s the stuff I took from it, to mull over. Between us we seem to have answered some questions and raised others.

We all get a buzz when we get a ‘yes’ as it’s nice to know someone’s reading our stuff — but it’s nice also to get some cash. Damien said “limit your markets to those that pay properly, or are otherwise very prestigious.”  So, I am trying to think about this, as in,

What really IS prestigious? And what is useful to me at this point? Some of the officially prestigious markets are ones that I actually don’t think that much of. Is this because they have rejected mmy writing – may well be a factor in some cases- , or because they make me feel like I don’t belong in other ways…?

Sara, Alistair, Bernie and Lynsey May suggested that the issue of payment may be secondary. Sara said ‘When do we know we’re “good enough” to demand payment? Who will buy my words? Will I write them anyway?’ If the stories have an intrinsic value to us, maybe that is part of the equation. Yet in the rest of the world, some objective way of assigning external or non-subjective value is the way things normally work. People who make socks do not normally give them away, they sell them. Why should stories be so different?

Assuming  someone is willing to pay, what is the right payment?

Nuala Ni reported a rather nice rate of rate of 1.5 euros a word (3000 euros for a 2000-word story), but had to win a comp to get this. This raises the issue of reading fees for comps, or for publications with a paid submission model – which exist, also – in the US is one example. But many of the annual prize-linked anthologies in the UK could be said to belong in this grouping too.

What is reasonable for writers to pay within a pay-to-submit model?

Another from Nuala – Keep an eye on what you’ve sent where, don’t just send it out and forget about it. It’s an ongoing process.

From Alistair: “Everyone’s exposed everywhere nowadays, the signal to noise ratio just keeps going up and up” Damien: “there’s a line where you either develop a full scale publication or you start to seem like old news“.

So it is not enough to get another acceptance: you need to know why your story should be in a particular publication. How it will help you.

Think about it. If you have a reason to be there, that is fine. They get a story and you get what you want – exposure, an audience, a theme or deadline to work to, the experience of working with an editor, another entry on your CV… Or another published story to pop on your shelf or send your Mum for Christmas, if that’s what you want.

I am still mulling over all this, and am happy to hear from anyone else who has other points to add into the mix.


with thanks to

Sara Crowley, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Bernie McGill, Alistair Gentry, Lynsey May and Damien G Walter


2 thoughts on “So what is a short story worth?

  1. hello there – I had a highly intelligent and articulate reply to your first post on this subject, then went off and did something else and forgot to post it.

    However, it now gives me a chance to read through the really interesting comments from others, so much of which I chime with.

    Prepositions notwithstanding, I’d like to echo a few things. Firstly, that ‘payment’ is relative, and not always exchangeable for goods. Sometimes, it is as simple a thing as joining in with the world – and the buzz that comes from that, because this writing stuff is bloody lonely. Contributing to a book that raises funds, that stands a chance of raising far more than the few quid you could afford to stick in a collecting pot, is good for the soul. Sod payment in £$e or baht, sometimes.

    Payment comes in other ways.

    As Nuala said, it is having an agent take notice of a story they saw in an anthology and bothering to contact you. That affirmation is worth its weight in gold. It really does happen, that a good agent will take a chance on the writer of a single story. (For checking purposes, Bridport 2007, Agency A M Heath, who read the antho each year.)

    I think it is important not to rubbish the worth of ‘free’ publications, especially when a writer is starting out. (Not that anyone has – but I wanted to say that). So long as the build of the CV really is that, and isn’t merely another notch on the side of the PC screen for the sake of the notch, that is. I admit, I went through a stage of being obsessed with numbers, at the expense of strategy… and soon learned that I was not only giving my work away, I was beginning to undermine my own ‘brand’.

    A long hard look at what I was doing, and that stopped. I will no longer send to anywhere unless I feel it really is good for my work to be there. Payment or no. And that depends on many factors – quality, who else is published there. Who are the editors. Is it merely an ‘in’ publication with the attendant emotional blackmail that goes with that moniker? (“Be seen with us, mate and you’re in with the movers n shakers. Stay in the cold, and wowee, who want’s to know, ya know?”)

    Tis a minefield. And discussions like this are diamond. Wish I’d read more of them a few years back.

    love, Vx

    PS Oh and theres a free subs tracker at Duptrope for those who throw up at the thought of spreadsheets.


  2. Vanessa, had been meaning to drop a line and ask you to spill your thoughts on this. So thanks so much. Must ask you back when your novel is out! – Lane


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