29 April 2014 ~ 6 Comments

An Unexpected Writing Milestone

So I’ve reached an unexpected writing milestone this week: being banned from submitting to a publication after pointing out some questionable business practices. I’ve posted this elsewhere but I decided I’m going to post the email transcript of my conversation with Collidor’s Ray Taylor which ended with me being banned from his publication. I have never done this kind of thing before, but I haven’t said anything in the email conversation I’m ashamed of and I’d rather that people make their own decisions with the words in front of them rather than taking my word for it.

Neither half of the conversation has been edited from it’s original format except when I quoted some text within my emails and responded to them in the next line I added the label “Me: ” to make it clear where the quote ended and the response began.

Also note that their guidelines say that reprints are acceptable.

Share if you like.

(After submitting a story)
RAY TAYLOR:
Dear David,

Thank you again for sending us your work, Marley and Cratchit. While it is still in the queue, I’d like to ask you if you can lend a hand while we get our Appzine off the ground.

Collidor is a community project. We believe that authors and other creative people should be able to earn a living doing just that – creating.

While we are financed for the first couple of issues, we need to demonstrate market potential in order to get to a second round of financing. That means as many advanced subscribers as we can muster through our crowdfunding initiative.

While we are not in any way suggesting that you must donate or purchase a subscription (there are no strings attached to a submission acceptance), authors such as yourself will utimately benefit the more subscribers we have. Your show of support would be greatly appreciated.

https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/0hqF6/ab/32lk04

If you are not in the position to subscribe or donate yourself, you could perhaps help out by promoting Collidor to your own network of friends and acquaintances. With your help we can get the word out, build momentum, and make Collidor the best science fiction market as we lead the new wave in publishing.

If you have not already done so, please follow us on Twitter (@collidormag) and like our page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/collidormag)… and if you can, retweet and share posts to your own friends and followers.

Thanks again for your submission, and keep writing!

Ray Taylor, publisher
COLLIDOR: A Science Fiction appzine for mobile

DAVID STEFFEN:

Ray,
Mass-sending solicitations is an abuse of your submission system, and likely a violation of anti-spam laws in some countries. You might want to check your terms of service with Submittable as well.
In any case, it seems like soliciting your slushpile is barking up the wrong tree. To be successful, you need to get the attention of fans to kick in, not your submitters. Presumably there will be overlap between the two groups, but a submitted story is not an open license for solicitation.
Please do not send more.
,David

RAY TAYLOR:

Thanks for your email. Actually Submittable has a bulk email option on enterprise accounts, however these emails were sent out one at a time. The idea actually came from another author and a number of our submitters already contributed and promoted us on social media without solicitation.

We have also not violated any anti spam laws as you as well as other submitters established the relationship and as a result allows us to communicate with you on any topic we feel might benefit our mutual investment.

And not only is solicitation OK, it is actually possible to set up a Submittable account to charge a fee for each submission. I have elected not to do so as I do not believe in a pay to play model in publishing. I have decided to eat the cost of having stories read where maybe 1 in 10 or even 50 might actually make it to publication.

In that regard I suggest you do your research and get your facts straight before making accusations.

Now of course you are under no obligation as I had clearly stated, but it is in your interest, as in every aspiring professional author, to help promote paying venues for content. The trend in publishing has been a steady erosion of content licensing fees, and this is largely because authors have not done their fair share to support the economy that pays them. Support is as simple as following us on Twitter, liking our Facebook page and asking your own community to take a look at a venue that is not only author friendly but pays the highest rates in the industry (and the plan is go even higher as we gain subscribers and sponsors). Gone are the days that solitary writers can sit in their rooms and write and expect enough cheques will come in to pay the rent. That might still be true for the less than one per cent of professional authors out there, but trust me, you are a very long way from that, my friend.

So you can slog away for exposure and self publish and self promote and hope that by giving away your work you can gain momentum and followers if that is your goal (I suggest Wattpad), or you can help a startup that has as its goal the creation of a high paying market for quality writing. One that also dedicates resources to editorial development and your success and skill as an author. We expect many of our authors will go on to become successful in other well paid publishing venues with our help, and not be forced to work for free or next to nothing.

Basically if you like the idea of getting paid $0.25 a word, benefit from our editorial expertise and the exposure we can bring you, it should not be a problem to consider lending a hand. Many have done so already.

Regards,

Ray Taylor, publisher

DAVID STEFFEN:

Ray,
I’m going to drop Submittable a line, to ask them what their policy is about solicitation.

I think we have fundamental ideological differences here that we won’t agree on, but I wanted to respond to a few of the points:. You can respond or not as you like–I’m not demanding a response.

>>Actually Submittable has a bulk email option on enterprise accounts
Sending emails individually rather than a bulk email doesn’t really change things. Me: The email being tagged as having been sent through “mailgun” doesn’t encourage a non-spam interpretation.

>>We have also not violated any anti spam laws as you as well as other submitters established the relationship and as a result allows us to communicate with you on any topic we feel might benefit our mutual investment.
Me: Asking to receive call for donations was not a part of our communication. It is not only NOT a part of the communication necessary for the submission process, it is a blatant advertisement. Establishing a relationship does not give a free pass for advertising.

>>And not only is solicitation OK, it is actually possible to set up a Submittable account to charge a fee for each submission.
Me: That’s very generous of you to not charge me for sending you content. How exactly does this justify solicitation?

>>I have decided to eat the cost of having stories read where maybe 1 in 10 or even 50 might actually make it to publication.
Me: That’s how starting a business works, yes. It’s an investment of money and in time. If the business plan is sound and you find a market, then your initial investment may become profit when you have enough customers. Making money selling fiction is haaaaard. A lot of magazines out there aren’t making money. There are many reasons for it, including an abundance of free fiction to be had, but I’m sure you know about all that.

>>The trend in publishing has been a steady erosion of content licensing fees, and this is largely because authors have not done their fair share to support the economy that pays them.
Me: So the reason that writers aren’t getting paid enough is that writers aren’t paying enough to the publishers that publish them? A publishing system in which the primary money comes from the writers is flawed. Where is the money coming from? You need to find content from writers. You need to find readers who will pay for the content. There is overlap between these groupsbut you can’t treat them the same and expect to succeed.

RAY TAYLOR:

Mailgun? These were sent through Submittable’s messaging system. You might want to take that up with them in your request. I can look into that on my end.

Actually if you go back to what I wrote, I was not suggesting pay to play at all, even though it’s an accepted model, but that authors do not do enough to promote the idea that good writing is worth paying for. Publishing is an ecosystem, and it does not flourish because creators are typically the ones having to accept whatever crumbs are thrown their way, we are in a model where content is cheap but low quality as a result because the best writers do not have the financial incentive to further hone their craft.

If you take the music or book publishing business, publishers no longer invest in new or mid listers until it can be proven they can self promote. This is perhaps unfortunate that people are reluctant to pay for content, but indeed one can’t expect to be paid If you do nothing to change that environment and expect other people to do the work for you. And I have solid data to back that up.

DAVID STEFFEN:
>>Actually if you go back to what I wrote, I was not suggesting pay to play at all, even though it’s an accepted model, but that authors do not do enough to promote the idea that good writing is worth paying for.
Me: You must be hanging out with different writers than I hang out with. That is often the topic in various contexts with those that I interact with.
It’s hard to do much to promote an entity that hasn’t produced anything yet. If I read what you published and I thought you made good choices, I’d promote at the slightest opportunity. I heard about your magazine because another writer posted a link to your guidelines in a writing forum. I have shared that link in other venues as well. It’s not the promotion that bothers me, but the format it takes of unsolicited email advertisement. For all I know, you don’t have interest in the kinds of stories I like to read–I can’t know that until some of it is available for me to read.

>>we are in a model where content is cheap but low quality as a result because the best writers do not have the financial incentive to further hone their craft.
Me: Content being cheap per unit doesn’t necessarily mean that no money is being made. I know some writers who have made some steady income from epub sales, which are cheap but if you can get enough quantity the bulk can make up for it.
And I certainly don’t agree that stories on the market are of low quality if you look in the right places.

>>one can’t expect to be paid If you do nothing to change that environment and expect other people to do the work for you.
Me: I’m not even sure what exactly you’re saying. What work is being done for me? I happily promote fiction magazines that publish fiction I like. I happily contribute financially to fiction magazines that publish fiction I like. At this point I don’t know if you publish fiction I like because you haven’t published any yet (as far as I can tell). I’ve contributed to startups, but generally it will be if the mission statement sounds especially exciting or if the editor is an entity who has picked stories I like in other venues.

What I am taking issue with is not the suggestion of promotion, or the suggestion of contribution. You can suggest those all you want, and I will continue to choose what I want to promote and what I want to contribute to based primarily on the merit of the content produced. It is the medium of the communication that I take issue with, the unsolicited advertisement in email.

RAY TAYLOR:
Well precisely, you are free to choose, I asked without any obligation on your part, and you have chosen not to participate. Fair enough.

As someone who has followed science fiction for over 40 years, I can safely say that the current decline in literacy has coincided with a decline in the quality of writing. While you can state that money is being made and there are indeed good writers out there eking out a living, the harsh reality is that it ain’t like it used to be.

There is an urgent need for curation, and the better paying markets such as Tor (backed by a huge multinational) are unfortunately few and far between. Most paying gigs for fiction pay abysmal rates, as I’m sure you already know. The only winner in this commodity approach to content is in fact Google and to a lesser extent, Amazon.

So there is a way out of this mess. But it does mean fighting the system as it stands, and it takes a community to build it, as the traditional publishers don’t have a clue how to make money any more . Taking an adversarial or what I might call a consumer approach (you claim that not being able to evaluate our content is your reason) is a bit odd when we are essentially both on the same side of the fence when it comes to monetizing content. You would like to make good money and I’m interested in developing a market for that.

I regret you withdrew your submission, even though it was really not what we are looking for in terms of reprints. In general a story should not be freely accessible on the web or at least have some claim for fame such as an award or serious critical acclaim. I question your motives for submitting a story that anyone could read on Escape Pod, and I would have obviously rejected it on those grounds alone. We have a different venue for archival material but it will be on a shared revenue model. At the moment we are only offering that opportunity to a very select group of well known authors with a long track record.

Good luck with your writing career.

Ray Taylor, publisher

DAVID STEFFEN:
I say your strategy is deeply flawed. You say I don’t know what I’m talking about when I don’t want to support your market. Time will tell.

But, that completely bypasses the core question: why spam?
a professional would not stoop to that, whether or not it’s illegal. Which it is illegal.

I submitted a story that’s already available to test the waters. And I learned what I needed to know–I don’t want to work with you, because you spam your contributors, it’s clear to me that you don’t know how to run a publishing company, and you also can’t take criticism. Prove my wrong by succeeding if you like.

From my end, I don’t see any point in continuing the conversation further as I’m definitely not getting anything out of it, and it’s equally clear that you’re not interested in hearing what I am saying.

RAY TAYLOR:
David,

I have sought a legal opinion, and in the United States (and with similar legislation in Canada), the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 defines unsolicited email (which in my case it was not unsolicited) as legally permissible as long as certain header information is not forged (e.g. false sender email addresses, false subject lines) and naturally anything fraudulent. By withdrawing your story you have effectively opted out the relationship with us and there will be no further communications through Submittable.

Just because you received an unwanted email does not make it spam. The reality is you solicited us by submitting a story and by divulging your email address. You had established a relationship with Collidor by doing so and as a result could expect communications that may be to the benefit of our relationship.

http://www.business.ftc.gov/documents/bus61-can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business

As I had stated in my first reply to your email, you should do your homework before making accusations.

Adversarial approaches with publishers are not terribly good strategies for establishing constructive relationships. Furthermore, I take a very dim view of time wasters who are ‘testing the waters’. This is borderline abuse of the goodwill of publishers who dedicate resources to open and unsolicited submissions.

You will receive no further communication from me and any future emails or submissions from you will be automatically and summarily deleted.

Ray Taylor

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