Proposed Submission Guidelines

The first issue of NEEDLE was invite-only. We’d planned for the second one to be, as well. Then, as folks saw what the magazine — journal — was about, we’d open up to the general population (as we called it in my younger days) and work through the piles of genius.

Well, as word about NEEDLE started making the rounds, we got some unsolicited submissions, as well as requests for guidelines.

So far the guidelines were: “When I ask you for a story, I’ll tell ya.”

The mag will get stronger as we widen the pool — deepen the pool? widen the net? — for story submissions. And that’s where I need your help. Here are some proposed guidelines. If you have thoughts, we’d love to hear them in the comments down there.


Submission Guidelines

We want stories. No poems. No interviews. No book reviews. No essays.

Boil it hard, then paint it noir. No sci-fi. No romance. If there’s a cat, he’d better not solve the crime.

Original stuff. Not something that ran elsewhere. Not something you’ve had on your blog for the past six months. We want the magazine to be the best, freshest punch to the gut it can be.

Length: 1,000 words to 12,000 words. Flash pieces will work. Long stories or short novellas or whatever your friends call them – they work, too. If it’s a great story, we want more of it, right? Average length is about 3,000 words, if you’re the kind of person who’s into that average length stuff.

Format: Standard manuscript format with your information. Word (or compatible) file.

Acceptance: If your story is selected for an upcoming issue, we’ll email you and ask for a bio and photo.

Rights: Yours. We want to run the story in print. After six months, do whatever you want with it.

Payment: Seeing your story in print alongside some of the best crime fiction writing around. And our thanks.

Email: Send your stuff to needlemag AT

21 responses to “Proposed Submission Guidelines

  1. I’m working on a few things at the moment so thanks for the submission info. It looks a great mag and I’ll be getting myself a copy, for sure.

    Regads, David.

  2. David, Cool. Thank you, sir.

  3. My two cents (no pun intended): pay the writers if you select their work.

    — c.

  4. Hey, wow, Steve, how about you pay writers $1 MILLION dollars per story? Then you would be SUPER RESPECTABLE.

    Just go to Puff Daddy or some dudes in Dubai and say you need $10 MILLION DOLLARS so you can pay 10 writers for the next issue and be a respectable magazine. I’m sure they will give it to right away.

    ‘Cause otherwise you should just shut down, man. Don’t try to start anything new. Only people with money should try to start anything, man.

    I know that one day you would like NEEDLE to be so successful that you could pay contributors. I know that you think it would be great if writers could earn a living writing, and that it would be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber, and that it would be great if Gandalf the Grey would wave his wand and turn Osama bin Laden into a cute bunny rabbit. I know you believe in those things, man.

    But you don’t got the dough to pay the writers, so you gotta pack it in, man. Sorry. Without money you’re just part of the problem, making writers work for nothing. How dare you?!?! You’re a bad man, Steve.

  5. Hey, now, I’m trying to keep this debate at least a little respectable. This is serious, by the way — writers claim to love writing, but if they love it so much, they should respect it.

    I just wrote this over at my site:

    “Remember that thing in November? Where Harlequin Romance basically wanted to get writers to kind of “pay in” to get published? And how the Romance Writers Association came out against it?

    There’s a reason for that: writers have fought to get paid. We’re still fighting to get paid. We’re fighting to make this seem like an industry and an outlet that is more than just creative piffle — “Oh, I love writing so much, and I just want to be published, even at the cost of my own time!”

    No! No, no, no! The pro authors are fighting to feed their goddamn kids, and everybody else is willing to pay into the idea that writer is subservient.

    Bullshit! The writer is offering a product, man. Own it. Own the value of that. Be impressed with yourself. Be aware that the writing of a story — of a quality story — is deserving of praise, attention, and money. Don’t be a whipping boy. Too many writers are willing to take it up the ass.

    Writing is awesome.

    Writing is something I love.

    Which is how I know it deserves to be treated like a right proper profession, not a throwaway endeavor where the writer is the leastmost creature on the ladder.

    You love writing? You truly love it? Then give proper to the writers, both yourself and everybody else.

    Pay the writer.”

    It’s not a joke. No other career — no other job! — gets treated with this lack of love and respect. (Well, maybe web designers.) I’m not trying to be snarky, I’m trying to make a serious point about the value of writers — and, dare I even say it, artists — in our society.

    I’m not trying to be belligerent for the sake of being belligerent, here.

    — c.

  6. let’s not make anyone out to be a bad guy in the whole thing. Just a few guys who are passionate about what they’re doing.

    The reason this is a fun debate, and interesting debate, is because there’s no right or wrong answer.

    Well, other than what the needle folks think is best to get needle up and running, which is all that matters.

    Looking forward to seeing it grow, and to seeing this debate be applied to more and more outlets as the publishing world changes around us.

  7. Chuck,

    Well then explain how it is NEEDLE is supposed to pay contributors.

    Or is it just supposed to not exist?

    See, that’s the problem–Steve & Co. are trying to get something started, and they don’t have a bag of holding with an endless supply of gold pieces.

    So is it your contention they just shouldn’t do it at all?

    I think it’s great when writers get paid handsomely for their work. I think it’s great when (good) journalists get paid handsomely for their work.

    I also think it’s great that technology exists now that lets a group of writers with an idea start up a print or online magazine and offer it to everyone in the world.

    It’s all well and good to say writers should get paid. I think teachers should be paid more than football players. But what’s the business model? How do you get a fledgling project off the ground? Or are you saying you just shouldn’t, even if you can?

  8. Give the magazine a chance guys. It’s new and upcoming, so at least give the guys a chance to get it on its feet. Don’t submit if it causes heart ache. On the other hand, submit if you want to be involved with a magazine that could go places in the future.

  9. Chuck, you’re absolutely right. Writers should get paid for their work.

    The thing is, in order to get paid for their work, writers have to convince the people who publish things and give people money for their work that they will get a return on their investment. In other words, a writer has to show a paying publisher that he has some sort of track record — or, even better, an actual audience that will pay to buy his work in print.

    For a long time, to get to that point, writers turned to small press literary journals, fanzines, what have you. And pretty much all of these venues paid their authors in copies, if that. Over time, however, the writer could build up a list of credits that would get his foot in the door with a publisher who would pay for his work.

    Guess what? Most of those small press journals, fanzines, pulp magazines and such have gone out of business.

    So, how is a writer to build up a list of credits? Well, he has to find the venues he can.

    Steve and his fellows have decided that they want to create such a venue — for themselves at first, for others as the opportunity arises. And it’s entire possible that someday Needle might become popular enough to allow writers to be paid for their work appearing in it. I hope it’s that successful, and I’m not involved in it at all.

    Yes, writers should get paid. If wishes were horses, as the saying goes, then beggars would ride. For the moment, it looks like Needle is paying its writers the best it can — with exposure in a professional-quality publication surrounded by professional-quality writers.

    Sometimes the best you can do is the best you can do.


  10. Lein:

    I mean, here’s the thing. I have no idea. But it’s not my magazine. I’m not claiming to have the answers anymore than, when I worked at the library, or at Gateway Computers, I had input into how Their Businesses Made Money.

    What I do know is that, those places did not ask me to work for free.

    The burden is not on the writers to figure out how magazines or publishers pay them — the burden on writers is to write quality stories and get them published. And, yes, get paid for that.

    Someone who starts a magazine — the onus is on them how this is all going to work. That’s the responsible route. That’s the ethical route.

    And it’s not impossible, either. Charge $10 instead of $7. Put in a page of advertising. Do some kind of Kickstarter thing. Do it on the web instead of in print, where you have only web costs. Take donations. I don’t know. Those are off the top of my head.

    I don’t think it’s “great” if writers get paid. I think writers should get paid.

    Where else is this a thing? You commission art, you pay the artist. You get someone to paint your house, you pay the painter.

    You know what happens when a guy writes a movie?

    He gets paid.

    You know what happens when a guy writes a television show?

    He gets paid.

    Even if he writes a little itty-bitty indie film, he gets paid.

    Guilds, and the HWA, and the RWA, and the SFWA, these all exist to support the writers, and yet writers are out there giving this shit away for free. It’s insane. Nobody else does this. Nobody but fiction writers.

    To be clear, I’m not talking about writers getting rich. I’m not talking about five cents a word (which is, by the way, a Very Low Rate). I’m talking about one cent a word. Or a percentage of $$ that comes in.

    It’s a distraction to say, “Well, wouldn’t it be nice if teachers were paid more…” Yes, yes, it would, but even still, teachers *do* get paid. Some writers don’t. And that’s insane to me. It shows how little they value their own work that they’re willing to let it float for nothing.

    Should Needle Mag exist? Of course. It’s gorgeous. And it’s attracted great talent. My opinion shouldn’t stop it, and surely won’t. But I also can’t support a magazine that doesn’t pay its writers, especially when it wouldn’t be impossible to do so. You’ve got fifteen authors and have made $10 –? Fine. You get to $15, you pay those fifteen authors a dollar. Something.

    Submission guidelines should never be, “Oh, you get the honor of being here among these great writers.” Really? That’s it? That’s my payment? The pleasure? The honor? That’s really cocky, man.

    I think Needle Mag should keep on rocking.

    And I think they should figure out ways now — not later, now — to pay the writers.

    — c.

  11. @Lamar:

    I’ve been writing freelance professionally for 11 years. I’ve also been writing short fiction since I was 18 years old. The only short fiction I’ve ever had was paid. And that’s the only way I’ll ever do it. I won’t write short fiction for free. I won’t write novels for free. I won’t write screenplays or teleplays for free.

    I’m doing all of those things for pay. Now. Currently. And I got here by adopting that ethos from the beginning.

    I know Steve and everybody involved with Needle aren’t bad dudes. I know their heart is in the right place and they’re not willfully snubbing their noses. And I know Needle is going to be a kick-ass mag through-and-through. But I fall very clearly on the other side of the ethical divide of this argument.

    — c.

  12. Chuck,

    If you’ve been able to write for a living and sell your work, then you’re one of the lucky few. Even with years of work, most of don’t get that opportunity — and I say that as one of the few writers I know who has actually made money doing it.

    And it isn’t an ethical divide — it’s a practical one. Needle isn’t starting out paying writers because it doesn’t have the money to pay writers. You say, basically, “If you’ve got a buck, pay ’em a buck.” That’s all well and good, but what benefit is there to me as a writer to get a check from Needle for $1, other than to be able to say that I got paid for this piece of work?

    Again, I don’t think you’re wrong. Writers should get paid for their work. And publications that don’t pay their writers make it more difficult for writers to get paid from the sources where money is potentially forthcoming.

    Your philosophy is to concentrate your efforts on paying markets. Good for you; I wish you continued good fortune. There are some of us, though, who have to work up to being ready for that sort of effort. Basically, some of us have to look up to see down. And that’s what magazines like Needle and websites like Pulp Engine are for — giving us a step up so that we can make it to a level you’ve already achieved.


  13. No one asked me to work for free on this magazine. I chose to do so. So did everyone involved.

    I appreciate the debate about what I should do as a writer and what I should do as an editor.

    And I agree that Warner Bros should pay Mr. Harlan Ellison for his work.

    But I do not agree with the argument put forth on Twitter today that Needle should shut down if it can’t pay its writers. I don’t think we need to shut down. I think we need to work together to put out the best damn ink-on-paper crime fiction journal we can.

    And I’m not going to compromise by running to the Web. I’m not going to compromise by only printing the stories we can afford to pay for. You know why? Because we couldn’t have afforded half of these stories. Hell, Jedidiah Ayres’s awesome novella alone would have set me back a mortgage payment. But I want people to see it.

    I want people to read everything in here. And I want the readers to be able to afford a couple of copies to spread around. So adding another $5 per copy isn’t the model I had in mind.

    No, no one asked me to do this. No one asked John to stay up until 4 in the morning fighting with margins. No one asked any of the writers to skip supper so they could get through that draft. No one asked Scott to work late scanning in the printed PDFs where he’s noted misplaced commas.

    People did this because they wanted to, not because it’s a job. For every writer I know here, writing is a passion. For those involved, they became involved because they believe in the writing, not because they believe in cash payments.

    I appreciate the time and effort they’ve each put in. They know we can’t pay and they’re still involved, because they believe in the collection of talent.

    Maybe someday we’ll have the revenues of a Warner Brothers and can afford to “pay the writer,” as you and Mr. Ellison demand.

    But right now, we can’t afford to do that. And, honestly, I can’t afford to sit around generating some revenue model. I want to hold this magazine in my hands. I’ve read the stories. I’ve seen the proofs. It’s fantastic.

  14. Hey, man, we’re just going to have to disagree on this one. I wish you uber-success with Needle, obviously.

    One last comment, though — I think it’s your responsibility to come up with revenue models. You’re charging money; this is a business, like it or no. You can put the giraffe in a dress, but I still won’t have sex with it. (Well, maybe I will.)

    It doesn’t take long to conceive of revenue models that pay the writers something. I’m a writer, not an editor or a business man, but I know how others have done it. I contributed to an anthology recently, and that anthology establishes in the contract of acceptance a small percentage of all earnings. So, they’re not required to pay out up front, but pay as they make money to cover the costs of the writers. This further offers incentive to the authors to pimp the product: the more people buy it, the more people see their work *and* the more scratch they get. It’s never going to be a lot of money, but it goes a way toward confirming the value of the backbone of the anthology: the stories of the writers.

    Either that, or a Kickstarter gig, which has been very successful at getting a number of RPG products up and running so that they may pay their authors.

    Greater minds than mine — y’know, most of them — can surely conceive of more inventive or permissible models of paying the writers.

    Anyway. Best of luck to you and the magazine. I’m sure it’ll kick ass.

    — c.

  15. Got just the story for you. I’ll start working on in tonight.

  16. NEEDLE isn’t the product of people wanting to make a buck off writers. NEEDLE is a product of the writers themselves. A co-op, if you will. A United Artists. We are, in effect, putting our money where are mouths are. When we can pay ourselves, we will. The alternative is to sit around with our collective thumb in a place it doesn’t belong while waiting for someone else to give us a break.

  17. Really, I meant “our mouths,” not “are mouths.” I am my own worst proofreader.

  18. Chuck,

    I, like many posting here, fall on the side of the fence that sees value in nonpaying markets. I’ve been published in my fair share of pro markets, as well as those that offer token payment or no payment at all. And in no instance did I feel I was being undervalued or being taken advantage of, for the simple reason that in each case, I’d done my due diligence, and understood the terms and rewards behind every given submission.

    I was lucky enough to win an award early in my career that increased my visibility a great deal, and I won it for a story published in a nonpaying zine. Another nonpaying zine garnered me a letter from a respected agent, offering to read my material. My relationship with the editor of a third nonpaying zine resulted in a paying anthology publication alongside many of my literary heroes.

    These all seem like positives to me, and since it was me who did the submitting (and the writing in the first place), that seems like a fair trade. To be honest, a token payment means far less to me than does quality control and decent stewardship on the part of the editors. I’ve worked with a lousy editor whose check cleared before he and his publication disappeared into the ether without a word (and without publishing my story). I’ve worked with fantastic editors who didn’t pay me a dime, and who no doubt lost money publishing my stories. I tell you, I’ll choose the latter every time.

    It seems to me that the thrust of your argument is that writers should get paid for their content, period, because it is their profession, and that is what a professional should expect. I submit that writing is a profession in high demand, with relatively few available spots, and as such, some free content on the part of the writers should be expected. Athletes can’t expect to be paid right out of the gates; there is a long development period during which they’re considered amateurs. Musicians play open mike nights and busk on corners. Some buskers receive token payment for their efforts — a buck in the guitar case, perhaps — and some do not, but one can hardly argue that that token payment is the point of the endeavor.

    You asked on Twitter if any of us would do our day job free for a week. As a researcher, I did just that, working on grant-funded research while an undergrad without receiving a dime. Ditto interns in nearly every competitive field. But again, I think this is all beside the point at hand.

    See, I reject the basic premise of your argument: NEEDLE is a business, and therefore must pay its writers. NEEDLE, it seems to me, was conceived of and executed as an artistic experiment, namely one to see if a print magazine supporting short-form noir was feasible. The goal, as I understand it, of not paying authors, was to keep the cover price low enough people would actually buy it. You’re welcome to argue it IS a business, in that they sell a product and wouldn’t kick a profit out of bed, but like the busker on the corner, it seems to me that profit isn’t their primary goal. Given NEEDLE’s nearly unprecedented financial transparency, it seems to me they’ve no interest in secreting away gobs of cash that could be better spent paying writers. Right now, they’re more a non-profit than anything else — with art, not commerce, as their aim. Shouting at them to act like a proper business is like yelling at a soup kitchen to at least try to break even.

    It seems to me your philosophical issues should be with your fellow writers (me, for example, since I’m a fan of many nonpaying markets), not nonpaying markets themselves. We’re the ones undercutting the value of your product by giving ours away. And I’m aware you said you wish the folks at NEEDLE well, and that you’re sure they’ll continue to put out NEEDLE regardless, but the fact is, your vociferous objections are not made in a vacuum. They color opinions of writers and would-be readers, and they no doubt influence the folks behind the magazine, folks getting nothing by way of payment for all the headaches. Time and again, I’ve had editor friends close up shop because of the crap slung their way; I’d hate to add another quality fiction outlet to that pile. A little respect for plurality, and the possibility that there might be a model contrary to the one you subscribe to, would go a long way toward letting them survive until they CAN pay.

    Wow, see what happens when you get me off of Twitter?

  19. Chris, and all:

    I don’t have much more to add except, in this day and age of the Internet, revenue models and monetization are not only possible, they’re becoming easier to accomplish. I’ve seen gamers set up very tiny indie publications (and gamers are the very definition of “for the love”) and not only pay writers but turn around and actually make a small profit.

    I can’t stop you from doing what you want to do, nor do I want to. I don’t want to stop Needle, either. I wish the best of luck to all involved because it’s clearly a conglomeration of awesome writers and creators, but I’ll be hard pressed to agree with the fundamentals of your argument.


    — c.

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  21. Bloke plays guitar. Gets some mates together. Gets a non paying gig. Bit later gets paid a couple of free beers. Bit later,mabe, gets paid pin money. Everyone has a laugh. Some people dance. Some get drunk. No one loses.

    Some of the best gigs I’ve seen have been like that. Great memories. No one loses.

    Played those gigs too. Good memories. I didn’t lose.