You Ask, We Answer: How do I find out what a magazine pays?

Chris asks: How do you determine whether or not it’s in your interest to write for a publication when the Writer’s Handbook says the magazine pays “variously” or “on publication”” Payment “in copies” is a red flag to me, but when a publication is non-specific on remuneration do you simply move on and look for another opportunity?

I agree: To me, “payment in copies” means “You work for free, and we pretend that sending you copies of a magazine you wrote for is a fit reward for your toil.”

Many, many magazines — I’d say almost all — do not give details in their guidelines of what they pay, or even if they pay at all. In fact, many editors who call writers with assignments give the writers the topic, length, and due date, and conveniently forget to mention what they pay!

I wouldn’t diss a magazine that doesn’t state its payment in its guidelines, because so many of them do this that you would have no one left to pitch. Your task is to do some research and get a good idea of what the magazine pays before sending your query or letter of introduction.

Writer’s Market usually rates each magazine on a dollar-sign scale to indicate how much it pays, with no dollar signs meaning no payment and four dollar signs meaning high payment. I often disagree with their ratings — such as when a magazine pays something like 50 cents a word and gets four dollar signs — but it’s a start.

You can also post to writing forums like AbsoluteWrite and Freelance Success (if you subscribe) to ask how much magazine X pays. Be sure to include your e-mail address, because many writers don’t want to share their assignment details with the entire Internet. Freelance Success and the American Society of Journalists and Authors also have databases of payment information for various magazines, so if you’re a member of either of these you can take a look.

If you can’t find payment details anywhere, and you feel uncomfortable pitching without this info, you can always write to the editor and ask nicely. Some editors find this a turn-off…but do you really want to write for an editor who thinks writers shouldn’t be concerned with the pay they’ll receive for their work?

If you can’t find a magazine’s pay rates, you need to go with your gut to decide whether it’s worth pitching the magazine. If you decide it is worth your time to try and the editor calls you with an assignment, you can ask about payment then and base your answer on the editor’s reply.

Got a question for the Renegade Writers? Send it to us at questions [at] therenegadewriter [dot] com. [lf]

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3 comments… add one
  • …And of course it goes without saying that mags are paying for certain rights, and you may be able to negotiate rights and get higher rates. Or take your low-rate, one-time-rights pieces and resell, resell, resell. I send out resale letters the day after initial publication when I can.

  • LB

    Does anyone know how much iParenting pays?

  • I wish I could remember where I read this so I could properly attribute this tip, but here’s another way to gauge payment… see if you can find their advertising rates and compare publications that way. For instance, a mag that only charges $400 or $500 for a half page ad may only pay their writers $150 or less depending on the length of the piece (I’m making up these numbers, btw, I don’t have ad rates handy). Pricier ad markets probably pay their writers a bit more.

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