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The Editor Speaks

Tony Richards' article in this issue of TWU, "What's The Worst That Can Happen?" has set me thinking. I have a lot of sympathy for his views, and though I speak from the other side of the fence, I was (and am) a writer before ever I was an editor. I totally agree with what he says about simultaneous submissions. It's unfair of an editor to insist that an author submit a story to no-one else until the editor has responded, if that editor is going to sit on it for months, then reject it with a form letter.

With that in mind I've decided to revise the TWU guidelines. The quoted response time on the TWU website is a target of four weeks -- it used to be 20 days, but that was when TWU was just beginning, and the number of submissions made a response time of under three weeks feasible. The actual (or current, projected) response time is adjusted on the submission-log page and in the acknowledgement emails.

I think it's reasonable, however, to ask authors not to submit a story elsewhere for the duration of the quoted response time, and that's what I'll continue to do, with this proviso: if I haven't responded to an author's submission by the expiry of the quoted response time (four weeks) the author is free to submit it elsewhere, as long as he or she lets me know, and then it's up to me whether I'm prepared to take a chance on the story being accepted elsewhere. Of course, as Tony says in his article, the story belongs to the author, and he or she is free to withdraw it from my consideration at any time, though a little give and take wouldn't go amiss here. Some time ago Andrew Burt, who runs Critters Workshop, put forward a similar proposal of limited-time exclusive submission. It's a fair system, but it will only work if editors come to accept it as the norm. Well, here's one who will.

I therefore hereby launch TWU's Fair Deal for Authors (FDA) in an attempt to let authors know where they stand. TWU's pay rate (currently £3.00 per thousand words) is no more than a pittance, but rarely in the small press is it the money that counts. A story is an investment of creativity and should not be squandered. If authors choose to submit to TWU, they need to know how long their investment is likely to be tied up. With the small press, that will be more to do with response times than with how much money a story might earn.

But while I'm in the mood (of trying to be fair to authors) I might as well go the whole hog and consider that other bugbear of authors' dealings with publications: payment dates. Hot on the heels of the matter of submitting a carefully crafted work to a publication, only to have it ignored, is what happens if the editor comes through and accepts it. More often than not an author will be told when (approximately) it will be published, and will have to wait until that date, or a fixed time afterwards, to receive the monetary rewards. It's the standard: payment on (or shortly after) publication. A few publications, however, pay on acceptance, which in any other field of commercial endeavour would be a reasonable expectation.

Let's say, for example, you want to book a holiday. You go round the travel agents, perhaps try a few online. You check out the destinations, the accommodation, flights, dates, and optional extras. Eventually you approach your chosen agent and say, yes I want to buy this holiday, but I'm not going to pay you for it until I return home after the trip. In fact, I'm not going to pay you for it until I've had my holiday snaps developed, put them in an album and showed them to all my friends. Ha! You can imagine the agent's response. But this is the equivalent of 'payment on publication' and it's only in magazine publishing that it's accepted as normal practice.

So, as part of the Fair Deal for Authors, any stories submitted to TWU after July 30, 2003, will, if accepted for publication, be paid for on acceptance. The TWU guidelines will be amended accordingly, to include what happens to rights purchased if TWU fails to publish the story within a specified period from the date of acceptance (probably twelve months).

Considering the token payment that TWU offers its authors, it's as well to be realistic about TWU's standing in the field of the small press. Some years ago I wrote an article for Janet Fox's Scavenger's Newsletter -- a print publication listing markets for writers (TWU's guidelines have appeared there more than once). Scavenger's is sadly now defunct, but my article was entitled "Who Reads This Stuff?" and its thesis was broadly that the only people who read the small press are authors.

Literary agents and publishers will not be scouring TWU looking for burgeoning talent. So who else, other than authors who write for online publications, will be reading it? Occasionally, it's true, a story may be picked up for some other purpose: Mark Siegel's "Ghost Writer" in TWU4 was quoted on BBC Radio (along with an excerpt read by Mark himself), but it's unlikely that the programme's producer is a regular reader of TWU. The theme of that section of the programme -- ghost writing -- was probably typed into a search engine, which then came up with a link to Mark's story.

Incidentally, Mark's first novel Echo and Narcissus is now available, published by Aardwolf Press. (Go to http://www.aardwolfpress.com for comments from Ed Bryant, critic for LOCUS, Paul Di Filippo, critic for ASIMOV'S, and Tim Powers, author of DECLARE, THE ANUBIS GATES, etc.)

Speaking of first novels, some readers of TWU may be curious as to why the posting of TWU6 has been more than usually late and disjointed. Well, ye editor has his own writing projects in progress, and in particular the last couple of months has seen the rapid approach of a deadline in the writing of -- yes, you guessed -- his first novel. It has, I'm afraid, taken precedence over everything else (it was the only way to get it done).

Enjoy TWU6. Issue 7 should be online around July 2003.


Paul S. Jenkins, May 2003

 
 
 
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