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Surprise mini-check


I was on my way to sleep, but I just remembered to mention a recent event, and if I don't write it down now I'll forget again, so here goes.

One of the relevant pieces of backstory for the following is that Kam is now living in a house that I lived in for about three years in the early '90s.

On Saturday, Kam got back from the nine-day geology trip she'd been on, and she called to let me know she was back and to tell me that she had mail addressed to me.

Who's it from? I asked.

Tekno Books, she said.

For those unfamiliar with them, Tekno Books is a book packager run by anthologist Martin H. Greenberg.

Another relevant piece of backstory is that in 1995, one of their books was an anthology of short-short stories called 100 Vicious Little Vampire Stories, which contains my only professional-level sf sale to date. (That story was very good to me; it also helped me get into Clarion West.) I believe I sold the story for $75. (And btw, one reason that I try to be gentle with writers who behave unprofessionally is that I made a gigantic and embarrassing mistake in the process of selling that story to that anthology, and they were very nice to me and bought the story anyway.) A few years later they sent me a small royalty check, and I had always sort of wondered whether I ought to keep them apprised of my address as I moved, but figured it wasn't worth it. It never occurred to me that the last address they had for me was the place Kam's now living.

Anyway, yup, sure 'nough, the envelope contained a royalty check, for $16. I was thoroughly tickled.

I guess the moral is: always send change-of-address forms to your publishers, just in case.

Or maybe the moral is: short-short stories can be surprisingly lucrative over a surprisingly long period.


Yikes. I'm trying to close my first pro sale now, and you've got me paranoid. I wouldn't even know if I'd made a mistake. My editor seems like a pretty forgiving guy so far, anyway...Cool that you're still getting royalties. :)

Sorry, didn't mean to induce paranoia. In my case, it was quite obvious even to me that I had made a huge mistake: I somehow managed to completely forget, when I submitted the story, that a different version of the story had been published before, at Swarthmore. (BEM had a circulation of about 400 copies at the time, iIrc, but it was still a prior publication.) In fact, I didn't think of it until after I cashed the check. At which point I wrote an extremely embarrassed note to the editors, explaining the situation and offering to send the money back, but they were very gracious about it and said they would've bought the story even as a reprint.

Wow, BEM was a prior publication at some point? That actually takes a huge load off my mind. I'm in this weird situation where the story was accepted, then I found out that to be in the anthology it had to have been published elsewhere FIRST (for some reason), so I asked whether BEM would count, they said sure, and I sort of rushed it into this spring's publication. If this has come up before, even from the other side of the issue, then I feel less like I'm trying to pull a fast one on the universe. :)

I guess I should provide a little more detail.

(First: for those who have no idea what we're talking about, BEM is the Bug-Eyed Magazine, Swarthmore's science fiction group's annual literary magazine.)

I spent years wondering whether publication in BEM counted as prior publication or not. It didn't seem to me that it should, 'cause of the very small and very geographically limited circulation, but I just wasn't sure. I asked the few people I knew with publishing-industry experience, but none of them gave me a clear answer.

By the time I submitted that story to that anthology, I knew that the answer might not be what I wanted it to be, but somehow from the time I decided to submit until a little after I cashed the check, I completely spaced on the fact that that particular story had appeared in BEM.

So when I wrote to the editors, what I was hoping they would say is "Oh, that doesn't count as a reprint." But instead they said they would buy it for the same amount even though it was a reprint.

Which was very kind of them; I doubt I would have been as nice about it in their shoes.

But it didn't really provide a definitive or universal answer to the question of whether a tiny-circulation photocopied college literary magazine counts as prior publication. (It was further complicated by the fact that I was one of the BEM editors, though I didn't participate in choosing my own stories.)

So the real answer to whether a tiny magazine counts as prior publication is, unfortunately, that it depends entirely on the editor you're trying to sell reprint rights to.

I suspect a lot of editors would count it as prior publication. But I suspect that others wouldn't. In borderline cases, there are usually a wide range of opinions.

There are also often a wide range of stances on whether such a previously published story is an acceptable submission. Some editors might say it hasn't been published before; others might say it's a reprint and we don't take reprints; and others might say it's a reprint but so few people saw it in its original form that we'll consider it anyway. (And some of those might pay their regular full rate, while others might pay a lower reprint rate.) And then there are the unusual cases like yours, where it's only acceptable if it's a reprint.

I wasn't sure from your phrasing whether you meant that you as a BEM editor decided to publish your own story, or whether you meant that you submitted it and other editors agreed to publish it; if you were the one making the publishing decision, that does sound a little awkward to me. On the other hand, some years that's the way BEM works; I think there may even have been periods when it published everything submitted to it, and maybe now is one of those periods for all I know.

Anyway, what I'm very slowly and roundaboutly trying to lead up to is my recommendation for a cardinal rule for authors dealing with reprint-related issues, which is:

Be honest and clear in all your communications with editors about this stuff. If you make a mistake, let the editor know as soon as possible. If you're not sure about something, ask the editor as early in the process as possible.

There are lots of opportunities for problems and pitfalls and mistakes and confusions about this stuff. As long as everyone involved understands what the situation is, it's fine. And mistakes can usually be forgiven. But if you (generic you, not Eliza) intentionally lie to an editor about a story's reprint status, and the editors find out about it, there will be problems.

Royalty check! For a true prince.

That's so cool, Jed!

Ew, no, I'm not an editor. That would be way awkward. I cleverly used my contacts by going to lunch and saying "Hey, Susan, wanna publish my story?" Answer: "Sure!" (I think submission volume may be a little low recently.) :)

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