Writers frequently warn one another against working for free, “for exposure”, or “for the love”. Writing is a business, and writers should get paid. To that end, SFWA recently announced an increase in their “pro rates” from 5¢/wd to 6¢/wd, hoping to encourage speculative fiction publishers and magazines to pay writers more.
However, many of those same publications–particularly online magazines that make fiction available to readers for free, and rely on donations to cover expenses–pay editors little to nothing. The staff of the well-regarded Strange Horizons are all volunteers. Other sites, such as Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Lightspeed, are more circumspect, but their Hugo nominations in the “Best Semiprozine” category are telling. According to the Hugo Awards site, “A lot of science fiction and fantasy magazines are run on a semi-professional basis: that is they pay a little, but generally not enough to make a living for anyone. The object of this category is to separate such things from fanzines, which are generally loss-making hobbyist pursuits.” What counts as professional? “A professional publication either (1) provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or, (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.” So these semiprozines are defined by not paying professional rates for editors, even as many of them pride themselves on paying pro rates (as defined by SFWA) for writers.
The editors of these sites are incredibly talented. They publish stories, poems, and illustrations that win awards and accolades. They provide an important service to the industry and to readers; short fiction is where some of the most interesting ideas in speculative fiction are developed, and many of our most outstanding authors primarily write short works. So why are there no SFWA pro rates for editors? When there’s outcry over the publishing industry’s reliance on unpaid interns, why doesn’t anyone talk about the speculative short fiction industry’s reliance on unpaid editorial staff? If writers or artists were asked to work for free to the tune of dozens of pieces over the course of a year, the practice would be derided as exploitative. But we exploit editors without a second thought.
Money isn’t thick on the ground for anyone in this industry, obviously. Calling 6¢/wd “pro” for writers might have made sense a few decades ago, but it’s absurd now. (By contrast, the Editorial Freelancers Association puts pro rates for fiction at 20–25¢/wd.) Nonetheless, I wish SFWA had put forward a 1¢/wd raise for editors as well as for authors. 1¢/wd isn’t much–those same EFA rates suggest more like 10¢/wd for substantive editing–but it’s a whole lot better than nothing.
Would that mean that readers need to pony up more for fiction, either in subscription fees or in donations? Absolutely. But I don’t think the world will end if publications explicitly state that editors need to get paid for their work as much as writers do, and ask readers to support that philosophy with their dollars. Crowdfunded writing projects should include a budget line item for editing, not as a stretch goal but as an essential component. Patreon appeals for patronage should mention paying editors as well as paying writers. The speculative fiction community happily gives awards for editing: arguably four separate Hugos, if you count Best Semiprozine and Best Fanzine as well as Best Editor, Short Form and Best Editor, Long Form. We name our awards after editors and magazine publishers: the Hugo, the Campbell, the other Campbell. (There’s inexplicably no Merril Award or Carr Award for best anthology, but that’s a separate rant.) This is not a community that’s unaware of the value of editing, or unwilling to acknowledge the tremendous work that editors do. I think it would take very little nudging to encourage a cultural shift toward paying editors for their time and effort and knowledge.
The editors who help our wonderful short fiction scene thrive deserve their award nominations, no question. They also deserve financial compensation. If we don’t expect writers to work “for the love”, we shouldn’t expect it from editors either.