A few weeks ago, I wrote a bit about writing for exposure, i.e. writing for free. That’s an issue every writer will have to deal with at some point, and the answer won’t be the same for everyone. This post is about a related issue: transparency.
What does that mean? If you’re a writer selling your work to magazines or other markets, even if you get paid, you probably also chose the market because of the audience you’ll presumably reach.
Too often, though, writers have very little information about the circulation or influence of any particular market. Which is funny, because advertisers demand that sort of information. And if you’re selling stories—guess what?—each thing you write is an advert for your work.
A well-known professional magazine may list circulation numbers…somewhere. But most online “magazines” (let’s face it, they’re really just websites) do not disclose this in a transparent way. Let’s look at a few speculative fiction magazines, shall we?
That source of Unquestionably Correct Info, Wikipedia, tells me that Analog Science Fiction & Fact had a circulation of just over 25,000 in 2011 (the most recent year listed there). The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction had a monthly circulation of 14,500 in 2011. But go to the actual websites, and you’ll learn nothing. Smaller markets (Strange Horizons, for example) list no information about readership, either. By the way, I’m only citing these titles at random. Virtually all the magazines follow similar rules of not-telling.
You might look at proxy measurements like Twitter follows, FB likes, or ad prices to guess how visible a market is. You could ask the editors or the advertising rep, too, if you’re curious. But in an ideal world, these figures would be available without having to dig. I’d like to see this type of information listed on Duotrope and similar services. Maybe it’s in the massive Writers’ Markets books? I don’t know…it’s been years since I wanted to leaf through those tomes.
In general, I encourage writers to think about this issue because even if you get paid a professional rate (which can be as little as 5 or 6 cents/word), you are still very likely going to be making less than minimum wage for the time it takes to write a story. Therefore, looking for additional benefits like exposure is smart business practice.
Questions writers should ask before selling a story:
1 How many people will read this?
- What’s the official circulation of the magazine/market?
- How many hits does the median blog post on a website get?
- How many unique visitors does a website or online magazine get?
- How many copies of an ebook or issue of a magazine are downloaded?
2 How will the magazine promote my work?
- Will they tweet links? How often?
- Email subscribers? (If so, how many recipients open the email?)
- Post on Reddit or similar site?
3 How will citing the market support future work?
- Will you be proud to list this publishing credit on your CV/resume/bio?
- Will the name be recognized by others?
- Will a publishing credit here open doors elsewhere?
None of these questions are simple. But with ever fewer opportunities to make anything resembling a real payday for a story, the smart writer needs to consider all the potential benefits that a publication can offer. Writers create the supply that these markets are selling. As writers, we deserver to know exactly what that means in terms of numbers. Yes, we’re all artists and blah blah blah. But art is only effective if it’s seen.
Jocelyn Koehler writes science fiction and fantasy. Learn more and find links to her published work at her personal blog, Team Blood.