On the same day that Harlan Ellison has released a video promoting Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word, a collection of his stories from the 1950s, the Science Fiction Writers of America has announced it will raise to six cents a word the standard payment by short fiction markets that SFWA recognizes as qualifying new members.
“SFWA considers it important to urge markets to pay writers more, and we hope this increase will encourage publishers to adjust their rates accordingly,” says the announcement.
In Harlan’s video he tells about the days when he lived in New York — such a new writer he didn’t have an agent and would walk his manuscripts around to the editors. When the stories sold he got one cent a word.
The thing is, even if it wasn’t a plush lifestyle, he could make a living as a writer if he stayed chained to his typewriter.
Who dares quit his day job now? As recently as 2004, SFWA’s minimum standard for short fiction was only three cents a word. Then it was hiked to five cents, and now is going up to six.
Organizing writers is like herding cats, so SFWA will never be as successful as OPEC. But if short story rates increased at the same pace as the price of gasoline, by now SFWA’s minimum would be 25 cents a word.