Jennifer Marie Brissett is an MFA candidate at the Stonecoast Creative Writing program, where she concentrates in speculative fiction. Her short fiction can be found in Warrior Wisewoman 2 and The Future Fire. She has a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Engineering (Electrical Engineering with a concentration in Visual Art) from Boston University and once owned and operated a indie bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. Her site can be found at jennbrissett.com.
Brrr… did anyone else feel that chill? Well, I did. I haven’t been able to think about anything else since this whole Black Matrix flap started.
I’ve been reading the blog posts from Scalzi and Rachel Swirsky’s guest blog post on Jeff Vandermeer’s site and I must say that I’m more than a little disturbed by the whole thing. The chill I feel is the people at the pro level pulling up the ladder saying, “you stay down there, kid.” These major editors and authors with large clout slamming on a small non-pro market feels just wrong. I plain don’t understand why Scalzi is insulted by the pay rate that has nothing to do with him. He clearly would never submit to Black Matrix, but other new writers might. Writers like myself.
The speculative genres have an open door to new writers that mainstream fiction doesn’t have. That open door is provided by the semi-pro and non-paying markets, NOT the pro-rate ones. They play a role in the development of new writers. New writers have a chance to be recognized and develop. They often provide more feedback and encouragement rather than a form letter that arrives six months later, or even worse a rejection form email that comes back so fast that your computer is smoking from the speed of its arrival (makes you wonder if they even read your piece.)
I’m not a big name author. I’m just starting out. I have no connection with any of the parties involved in this discussion. I’m just a new writer who hopes to have a career in the genres. I began with Critters, then I took an online writing class, then I joined two writing groups. Now I’m in an MFA program. I’ve worked hard to improve my writing to the point where I got my first sale. It was to a semi-pro market. And I was thrilled. The amount I got from the story was enough to maybe buy a trade paperback book and Chinese take-out, but it was money from my writing. I’m proud of that. My story that was overlooked by the pro-markets went on to get some pretty good reviews from Analog, The Fix, and SF Crowsnest. I say this to say that the pros aren’t always right and, because of the smaller markets, they are also not the only game in town.
If it were left to editors like Rachel Swirsky there would be no new writers at all. Her market is a reprint, pro-rate market that–by her own admission–takes stories from only the pro-rate markets. She admits in her blog piece:
I could tell you lots of things about slush. I could tell you, for instance, that if you are submitting an unsold story to a reprint market and your name isn’t Tim Pratt or Greg Van Eekhout, you are not going to sell that story to me. Why? Because you’re competing with stories printed in the best magazines, chosen by the best editors in the business. If your story was ready to compete with top-level stuff, some other editor would have seen that before your story made it down the market list to find me. Could there be an exception? Sure. There are exceptions to everything. But so far, I haven’t found one to this rule.
So why does she have a slush pile??? It’s a waste of everyone’s time, including hers. I don’t get it. If it was advice that Swirsky wanted to offer about cover letters then maybe the thing to say was to put your five best market sales on it and leave it there.
And the silence on this is just too much. I know that people are scared to say anything to these bigwigs in the field. I guess I’m just stupid enough to do it (I prefer gutsy, but I digress.) These smaller non-paying, or low-paying markets play a critical part in the development of the speculative genres. They encourage new writers and give them a place to be heard. New writers are given a shot in these markets that they are often denied in the pro-rate markets. It’s the smaller, so called “crappy,” markets where the new voices are found.
BTW, calling a market “crappy” because they cannot pay SFWA pro-rates is downright rude. There are plenty of really great markets that pay semi-pro rates, token rates, and even nothing. I’ve run a business and I know how hard it is to keep things afloat when all you get in return for your efforts is love. It seems like a mean thing to say about someone’s efforts.