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 Short Fiction Writer: What League are You in?
by Terry W. Ervin II


Many businesses and organizations are fixated on lists, charts and rankings. The writing community is no different. Am I a professional writer? If so, where do I stand—how do I compare?

In an online discussion several years ago, a writing friend, Mark Orr, compared writing to the different levels of professional baseball (as played in the United States). With his blessing, I’ve expanded upon his original analogy, forming a rough standard by which writers of short fiction can determine where their current skills, drive and talent have placed them.

Before that can be accomplished, quick review of the levels of professional baseball (from Top to Bottom):
Major League – Where the real pros reside. An elite crowd, mainly due to their skills in fielding, batting and/or pitching. Major League teams are based in large metropolitan areas, offering the greatest chance for exposure, both locally and nationally. There’s strong upper level management overseeing the team, from marketing to contract negotiations. The best coaching staffs are hired to manage, improve and refine player skills and technique. Salary compensation is high by most standards (minimum seasonal salary was near $400,000 in 2006, with the average salary around $2.7 million).

The levels then move down from
Class AAA, to AA, A and the Rookie. In theory, Triple-A players are the best out there below the majors, the Double-A are a notch below that, Single-A, and then Rookie. The home fields of Triple-A teams are in major cities, with Double-A, Single-A and Rookie Leagues playing in progressively smaller venues, garnering less exposure. The pay scale also drops, down to $300 a month for some players in the Rookie Leagues.

Players move up or down based mainly on their skill development and performance. Rookie leaguers are usually first year draftees looking to develop skills without major spectator pressure and Single-As are hungry players early in their careers, eager to improve and move up. And it’s not uncommon for Double-As to bypass Triple-A and jump right to the Majors.

Translation of professional baseball’s ranking structure to short fiction writing:

Rookie League – ezines and magazines which don’t pay the writer but give a bio and link, and maybe a contributor copy. Minimal advertisement and limited exposure, other than by word of mouth. Most writers at this level are learning the basics, including the submission process.

Examples of markets at the Rookie League level:
Alighted Ezine (
http://www.alightedezine.com/ )
Mysterical-E (
http://mystericale.com/ )
ThugLit (
http://www.thuglit.com/)

Single A- magazines and ezines which pay a flat rate of $5.00 or $10.00 for a story, and usually a contributor copy. The competition for placement in these markets is a little stiffer, the editorial input a little more critical, and marketing and distribution efforts, while small, are made.

Examples of markets at the Single-A level:
Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine (
http://www.fmam.biz/ )
Mouth Full of Bullets (
http://www.mouthfullofbullets.com/ )
Haruah: A Breath of Heaven (
http://www.haruah.com/ )

Double-A - magazines and ezines which pay a rate of cent to 2 cents a word for fiction, and often a contributor copy. Competition for slots in the publication schedule is increasingly stiffer; the editors often receive well in excess of 100 submissions a month. The magazines/ezines often have some name recognition, especially if they specialize in a specific genre market (Science Fiction, Mystery, Horror, Romance, etc.).

Examples of markets at the Double-A level:
AlienSkin Magazine (
http://www.alienskinmag.com/main.htm )
Dragons, Knights & Angels (
http://www.dkamagazine.com/ )
The Sword Review (
http://www.theswordreview.com/ )

Triple-A - magazines and ezines which pay from 3 to 5 cents per word (but may have a cut off or maximum payout) and contributor copies. Name recognition, even outside their genre, is more commonplace and competition for publication on their pages is highly competitive. The number of regular readers or subscribers is consistent such that advertisements supplement publication and distribution costs, and the editors (beyond the owners of the magazine/ezine) sometimes draw a salary.

Examples of markets at the Triple-A level:
Aberrant Dreams (
http://www.hd-image.com/main.htm )
Cemetery Dance (
http://www.cemeterydance.com/ )
Withersin Magazine (
http://withersin.com/withersin.htm )

Major League - starts at 5 cents per word and goes up from there, or a flat fee that is equal to or above five cents per word. Some markets pay 25 cents or more per word, often based on a writer’s proven track record. The magazines promote, advertise, and are often found on magazine racks in retail locations nationwide. In addition, through sale of advertisements and sufficiently high readership and subscriptions, a magazine’s staff may also draw a salary.

Examples of markets at the Major League level:
Jim Baen’s Universe (
http://www.baens-universe.com/ )
Glimmer Train (
http://www.glimmertrain.com/ )
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (
http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/index.htm)

Even by breaking fiction markets into different levels, they (like professional baseball teams) vary greatly in how well they’re run, the quality of writers (players) they’re able to attract (recruit), and the interest/loyalty they garner among readers (fans) and respect of critics (sports writers).

Just as one could theorize that a strong Double-A baseball team would beat a mediocre Triple-A team on the field, one could argue some Double-A magazines publish better quality reading than some Triple-As. And, whether a pro-rate magazine, or a non-paying recent start-up, each strives to field the very best short stories they can.

Do all writers have the talent to make it to the “Major League” level? No, just as all aspiring professional athletes don’t.

Will all writers with talent make it? No, for a host of reasons, including questions of dedication and persistence.

Will those writers who put in the time and effort to learn the craft of writing (like a ball player learning to refine his skills and knowledge of the game) improve their chances to place and move up? Yes. And if a writer enjoys writing, that is a form of payment in itself.

The above analogy isn’t perfect. For example, Professional Baseball is structured as a farm system where Rookie League teams will never rise to become Major League teams. Whereas, fiction markets are generally independent and have the ability to “move up” based on readership and revenue they’re able to attract. One might even disagree with the criteria used to categorize the fiction markets and the examples listed.

Even so, as listed, a writer can evaluate where his work is being published and gauge his current “professional” level. In the end, a writer can’t reach the majors if he doesn’t submit—take his turn at bat.

Copyright Terry W. Ervin II. All rights reserved.



Terry W. Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is a frequent contributor to Fiction Factor and his fiction has appeared a number of places, including The Sword Review, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and MindFlights.

When Terry isn’t writing or enjoying time with his family, he can be found in his basement raising turtles. To contact Terry or to learn more about his writing endeavors and recommended markets (among other things), visit his website at:
http://www.ervin-author.com


 



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