Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Vanishing Contributor's Copy

Let me take this opportunity to lovingly pat my old carriage horse before she goes out to pasture.

Let me change the vacuum tubes in my radio so I can listen to some of the biggest stars broadcasting out of New York.

Let me....  Nah, you know this is all metaphor.  I'm talking about contributors' copies.

When I used to page through Writer's Market, before there was an internet (okay, now there's a genuine reference to a memory of a time gone by), I used to calculate how much I would make, based on the market's rate (big mistake to focus on that, but that's a subject for another post).  Whatever market listing I was perusing often said this: ". . . And one contributor's copy."  Or 2 or 3.  Sometimes they just said "Pays one contributor's copy."  Not the princely $.05 per word (which has not budged a single penny as the definition of professional payment in decades -- another topic for another day.)

Fast forward to present day. 

Now, I'm getting contributors' copies along with payment.

Feels good.

But.....

In the electronic age...

What do contributors' copies actually mean?

(Mean spiritually, that is, not to get too heavy on you.)

I got three contributor's copies when my story "Two Dwarves and Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs" was published by EQMM.  They arrived by regular mail inside a thick, loose-fitting plastic bag.  Felt nice.

More recently, my flash fiction piece, "What is the Difference between Optometrists and Ophthalmologists?" was published in the anthology Flush Fiction, the first all-fiction book by the publishers of the long- running Bathroom Reader books.

(If you remember Jeff Goldblum's People magazine writer from The Big Chill, you know how long each of the stories takes to read.)

Two contributor's copies.

My story.  My name.  First page, even.

But...

I have placed three flash fiction pieces with the estimable Every Day Fiction, an online journal.  You read the story on the web, or you subscribe to the kindle version, or you can sign up to get it emailed to you.  No paper.

And, in recent months, I have self-published my own short works online.  No paper.  and each story with its own cover, designed by me.  One of them with a blurb from a friend who is a novelist (and who would not blurb it unless it was good -- that was our deal.)

So, I've got online work that is more easily accessible, versus printed work that is far less accesible.

Whence now, O thrill of the contributor's copy?

Does print represent professional validation? 

Not necessarily.  My three stories in Every Day Fiction went through a team of wonderful Canadian editors and first readers.  They have always provided thoughtful feedback even on stories they rejected.  (Am I selling them short by attributing their niceness to their Canadian-ness?  Probably. Being Canadian never lent class to Seth Rogen.)

There's something comforting about paper, its permanency.  But those electrons that can be zapped anywhere on Earth… 

It's two different things.

I think that in the long run, print publishing will be dead.  The killer app will be a cheap reader that you can spill orange juice on without ruining it.  Then it will take the place of the breakfast paper.

So, I will be watching for the orange juice-proof e-reader. 

Then I will know that sample copies are at their twilight.  Until then, I will pinch the spine of Flush Fiction in my left hand, flip the pages with my right thumb, hold it up to my nose, and inhale the smell of success.

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