Filthy Lucre – Transcript

Raquel: Welcome to Rite Gud, the podcast that helps you write good. I’m Raquel s Benedict, the most dangerous woman in speculative fiction. In our culture, it’s taboo to talk about money. You don’t ask another person how much money they make or how much their possessions cost, or how much they have in the bank.

That’s especially true in publishing. Writers, especially successful ones, don’t usually talk [00:01:00] openly about money, but they should. People should know the kind of money writers actually make. Readers should know whether or not they’re supporting an exploitative industry.

And aspiring writers should know how much or how little they’ll realistically earn. We’re not doing this to scare you away from writing. We just think it’s better to have a realistic idea of the industry you’re getting into so that you don’t get blindsided. And joining us for this episode on money is returning champion and third Canadian in a row, Simon McNeil. Woo.

Simon McNeil: Uh, the maple syrup invasion commences,

Raquel: Yeah, we had a Holy Trinity of Canadians, which is pretty cool.

Simon McNeil: Yeah, I’m really excited for The Marigold. That’s, that’s definitely going high up my to read list, so,

Raquel: Oh yeah,

Simon McNeil: yeah.

Raquel: Extremely good. So why don’t we get into it and start off by talking about how much writers make and how do you get paid in writing. [00:02:00] Because if you’re a writer, a writer of non-fiction usually, or, or fiction, it’s not like a regular job where you get an hourly salary. Now, for some very strange reason, people who aren’t writers have a bizarre belief that writing is a good way to make money. I

don’t know where people are getting this idea. I guess they all see Stephen King and then they don’t see anybody else, and there’s just one Stephen King. There’s a small handful of people who get rich on writing and a whole lot of people who don’t. Maybe an equivalent would be like playing a sport.

There’s a couple of people who make a lot of money playing sports and then there’s, most people do not manage to make it into the NBA. You know,

Simon McNeil: yeah.

Raquel: Who play basketball are not going to make millions of dollars by playing basketball. . Most people, the most money you’ll make playing basketball is if you bet $5 with your friends who will win. [00:03:00] That’s as, that’s as much as you’re getting

Simon McNeil: Yeah. So as far as how much writers make, the answer is not very much for the most part. Now there’s, there’s a few different pay structures in play depending on the type of fiction that’s being written or the type of work that’s being written. So if you’re writing novels, you’ll generally get either an advance or no advance, depending on the size of the publisher.

And then you’ll receive royalties on the volumes that they sell from there on out until the book goes outta print. Those royalties are usually a certain percentage of the amount of money that the publisher receives for the book when it’s when it’s sold. And there’s a whole lot of stuff there where publishers can end up getting burned, as you know, with.

Books that aren’t sold can be returned to the publishers, and then the publishers don’t actually get any money for those, and then the author doesn’t get paid. So that whole thing ends up kind of passing the risk back to the author as well, to a certain extent. The publishers certainly assume some, but not necessarily all. Now then if you’re, if you’re dealing with [00:04:00] magazines, then sometimes it’s on a per word basis, and then other times it’s on a per article basis. And that, that’s where I have the most experience. I’ve written a lot for magazines, because I’ve done a lot of nonfiction and there’s quite a few contracts there where they might have a certain word limit that’s set, but where you’re not actually being paid for words, you’re being paid well, this is how much you get for an article.

Raquel: Right.

Simon McNeil: And then of course, short fiction is usually paid on a, a word per word basis.

Raquel: Yeah. Sometimes some very small publications will have a flat fee or usually a token payment where they’re like, “we wish we could pay you more, but we’re not making any money either, so we will give you $10 and two copies of the magazine ,” and that’s what you’re getting.

Simon McNeil: One thing that has been a problem, and this is, this isn’t really the fault of these tiny little, semi-pro magazines or anything like this, um, but this is what’s happening with pro rates is that pro rates haven’t kept up with inflation. So on short fiction, for instance, back in the mid thirties, so just, just a little less than a hundred years [00:05:00] ago, a short fiction author selling to a magazine at pro rates would probably get between a half a cent and a cent per word.

Now these days you’re looking more like around 9 cents per word for pro rates, but in order for it to keep up with the rates that had been set, like just to keep up with inflation, with the rates that had been set in the thirties, we’d have to be looking at rates in between 11 and 22 cents per word for pro rates.


Raquel: I can’t think of a single sci-fi fantasy mag that pays 22 cents per word.

Simon McNeil: Yeah. And that’s the same as far as purchasing power as 1 cent per word was in 1935.

Raquel: Yeah, I What is the official pro rate? Is it 9 cents as set by S F W A?

Simon McNeil: Yes. I believe it’s 9 cents at at the current moment.

Raquel: Right, right.

Simon McNeil: Yeah.

Raquel: So try and think of how it would even remotely be possible to survive as a short sci-fi fantasy, speculative fiction author on a pay a pay rate of eight or 9 cents[00:06:00] per word, considering how much, how many words a month you’d have to churn out, and then how many venues actually pay that much because there aren’t very many prorate sci-fi fantasy magazines left.

There’s very, very few of ’em. Most of ’em in including a lot of the ones that make the Hugo and Nebula Awards pay semi-Pro. Maybe you’ll get 5 cents a word. Maybe you’ll get 4 cents a word.

Simon McNeil: Exactly, and, and this has also led to another problem as

Raquel: Oh, let me do a little bit of math actually. Let’s think how, let’s think, let me whip out my calculator. Like how much money do you think per month you’d need to make just as a freelancer?

Simon McNeil: As a free, well, I mean, it depends

Raquel: I mean, as freelancer you, yeah. Depending on where you’re living, but I don’t know. Let’s say, let’s assume $40,000 a year.

Simon McNeil: Well, yeah. I mean, if you’re living in a city, you’re gonna be at least going through that

Raquel: Yeah. And if you’re a freelancer, you’re paying higher taxes than a regular employee would. So [00:07:00] let’s say $40,000. And this is living quite ma modestly. So $40,000 a year divided by 12. So you’d need to make, let’s see, a $3,300 a month. How do you make 33 that a month on 8 cents a word? How many words do you need to write a month?

Simon McNeil: my goodness. It would

Raquel: You would need to write and publish 41,600 words a month in short fiction magazines. I can’t fucking do that. Even if I could churn out 40,600 words a month of publishable prose, there are not enough speculative fiction magazines that are taking that at once. They’re not gonna let you run more than one story per issue.

Simon McNeil: Exactly.

Raquel: And very often they’ll ask you to wait. If, if they publish one of your stories in one issue, they probably won’t want another one from you in the next issue, just cuz they don’t wanna publish the same guy over and over again. They want a little more variety. So it’s really not possible to survive just by writing short [00:08:00] speculative fiction.

Just, you can’t.

Simon McNeil: Now, I will say with writing, with magazines, sometimes you can get people who are freelancers who have effectively got a column. That’s usually people who can be expected to consistently turn in copy. But magazines is a bit of a different game because it’s nonfiction. And even there it’s become increasingly difficult to make a living.

Like there’s a reason that I write magazine articles as a side to my career. And this kind of gets into where part of the problem is in figuring out how much authors make, which is that for a very long time, even going back into the thirties, um, when pay pay was a lot better. You didn’t make enough money as an author to live without doing something else too.

Whether it was clerking or teaching or working in management or having a rich spouse, most authors had some other source of income that wasn’t their writing.

Raquel: And that’s absolutely the same now. I have a day job. You have a day job, right?

Simon McNeil: yeah. Yes.

Raquel: Karlo has a day job. Pretty much [00:09:00] any of us in the Rite Gud discord have day jobs. There are award-winning published novelists who have day jobs. It is normal to have a day job. Anyone who thinks that you’re not a serious writer if you have a day job as a fucking idiot. Kafka had a day job.

William Carlos Williams had a day job. . If you don’t have a w a day job, then either you’re, you’re doing some kind of freelance thing on the side, or you have a sugar daddy. There’s no other way to pay the rent as a writer without doing something else on the side. And I think back in the day, you could maybe have a part-time job to fill in the gaps.

These days you really need a full-time job cuz part-time jobs aren’t keeping up with inflation and, and the cost of living either

for the most part.

Simon McNeil: And so back in around, I believe it was 2018, the Author’s Guild in the States decided to actually do some research about how much people were actually making from making, from writing. [00:10:00] And so this, this was because most of the statistics that were available of author income was total income of authors including those side hustles.

And if you look at those median statistics, people look like they’re doing okay because the median is around the middle class range. But that’s including all those other jobs that people are doing. And then when the authors get actually pared back all that stuff and look just at income that people get from being writers, the median income for a writer right now is $20,300.

Raquel: And that’s for a full-time writer.

Simon McNeil: Yes.

Raquel: Oh, God. that’s not great.

Simon McNeil: No, it’s not

great at

Raquel: you, cannot survive on that. You, Nope. No. Unless you live in a shed. And even then, rent and sheds is probably pretty expensive right now.

Simon McNeil: Yeah. They, they call them tiny homes. They just to put some nice

Raquel: They’re telling you houses. They put it, they, they, they furnish it in Millennial gray and charge $1,500 [00:11:00] a month. I don’t know.

Simon McNeil: But yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s basically at this point got to the point where, what I would be telling somebody if, if they wanna be a writer, then what they’re saying is that they wanna be a teacher at least.

Raquel: Yeah. In my case, I have a desk job in civil service that gives me a fair bit of downtime and doesn’t stress me out or drain my energy cuz there’s, I, I could not teach and write at the same time. Teaching requires so much mental energy that I don’t have enough left for writing. So I have a, a mindless drone bureaucrat job that takes up absolutely none of my emotional or spiritual energy. I can put that into writing when I have the time. And it’s frustrating because it means I can’t spend as much writing as I’d use as I’d like to, and I don’t publish stories very often. If, if I get one short story out a year, I’m pretty happy. And I’ll see other writers who are like, “oh yeah, I just, here are the three [00:12:00] story short stories I published this month here, here.

I came out with a new novel in the past six months.” I’m like, how the fuck do they do that? Oh, they don’t have day jobs. How can they afford not to have day jobs? Question mark,

Simon McNeil: Well,


Raquel: there’s this other side to writing, which is there are a lot of successful writers who have some kind of wealth a, a well-to-do spouse with a good job, or they come from a wealthy family and they’re not really open about that.

Simon McNeil: Yep. Or they’re broke. That’s the other possibility. I, I know I knew some people in Toronto who were great writers, who I loved, and they had made a career out of writing and they did not have two pennies to their name.

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: And that was basically what, that was basically a deal they had is they, they lived as frugally as they could and it allowed them to be a full-time artist.

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: But is that really what we want for our artists?

Raquel: Yeah, I, I get deeply, [00:13:00] deeply depressed when I see a Kickstarter for medical bills for an artist or writer I like, especially if someone with name recognition, it’s really disturbing to see an, say a, a writer, a novelist who’s quite successful and who’s maybe gotten awards and who’s quite well known.

A, a recognizable name, having to beg on the internet to pay medical bills. That’s bleak, man.

Simon McNeil: Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s really frustrating and it’s seeming like it’s becoming more common, not less, and I think that’s because, that Author’s Guild study was from before the pandemic,

and things haven’t gotten better since then for anybody.

Raquel: They sure haven’t. Now there’s only one area in writing that seems, or at least used to be a good way to make money, which was to churn out smut. But even people who churn out smut don’t make as much money anymore thanks to Amazon squeezing Kindle Unlimited authors like crazy.

There was a woman [00:14:00] who was kind of famous for writing bigfoot abduction porn, and she was making like $30,000 a month or something like that, writing bigfoot abduction porn, and it was going really well for her. And then Amazon changed its policies on content, on what kind of content you could publish on Kindle Unlimited and also changed the type of pay structure.

Now the way it works is that there’s one predetermined pool every month of money, and each Amazon Kindle author gets. A share, like a percentage of the pool, depending on how many pages of their work has been read. Not even how many times has your book been downloaded, but how many pages? Cuz Kindle tracks the number of pages that the readers have read.

If, if, if you, if you, if your reader only half finishes the book, you only get paid for half of that book.

Simon McNeil: that’s, that is just horrific,

Raquel: It is brutal. So the, the money’s really drained out of that a, [00:15:00] a whole lot. It, it’s a lot harder to make cause there are people who do manage to bring in a good bit. But again, you’ve really, really, really gotta pump it out really fast as far as I can tell.

The only way to really make a comfortable living as a writer is to get a right wing billionaire fail son to sponsor your weird conservative diatribes. But make sure not to write about dicks too much or you’ll get dumped like Rod Dreher was. So for those of you who are less online, Rod Dreher is, or was a very strange, very fucking weird little man who has a, a very conservative, religious conservative column.

And, um, for a long time he had some, some billionaires just sponsoring his lifestyle, paying him six figures a year to write this column. But the guy finally dumped him for just being too goddamn weird. And the thing that broke the camel’s back was he wrote a [00:16:00] column about circumcision and about staring at an uncircumcised boy’s penis.

And I’m gonna, I’m gonna quote, this from the Rod Dreher column that got him dropped. “All us boys wanted to stare at his primitive root wiener when we were at the urinal during recess, because it was monstrous. Nobody told us that wieners could look like that.” And finally, finally, it was at this column that the billionaire fail son said, “yeah, I’m not gonna pay for this anymore, dude.

I don’t know what you’re doing.”

Simon McNeil: that’s painful.

Raquel: Which in truly incredible, truly so you can get money for being like a weird right wing guy. Just don’t write about dicks too much.

Simon McNeil: Yeah. I mean, Jordan Peterson’s testing limits of that right now.

Raquel: He sure is, my God.

Simon McNeil: yeah, no, it’s. I don’t think anybody’s doing too well these days. And that seems to include the CHUDs. Um,

Raquel: I just wanted to bring something up about advances. If you get an advance, don’t, don’t expect a [00:17:00] giant deal. Like a really common advance a decent advance these days might be $5,000,

Simon McNeil: That’s right.

And if you’re dealing with small press,

Raquel: Yeah. Even, even if you’re, even if you’re dealing with a bigger press, there’s a structure.

You don’t get all that money at once. So on a previous episode, we interviewed g Gretchen Felker Martin, who got a really good advance from, from Tor for Manhunt. She got a $50,000 advance and like, that’s awesome. But that $50,000 is distributed in four payments across four years.

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: that’s, that advance is making her about $12,000 a year.

Simon McNeil: Yeah.

Raquel: which you can’t live on that

Simon McNeil: No, you really can’t.

Raquel: Gretchen. Gretchen does not have a day job, but she hustles and does a shitload of other things. A lot of freelancing. She does, has a Patreon. She, she hustles a hell of a lot, so it, it’s not like she’s kind of hanging out, painting her nails. She works constantly.

She [00:18:00] just kind of works on her own schedule. And that is something I don’t think I could do because I want the security of a job where I know how much money I’m going to make next month.

Simon McNeil: Yeah. The full-time artists that I knew also were some of the hardest working people I ever knew. Like

Raquel: I, I, can’t fucking deal. I can’t do it.

Simon McNeil: Yeah. They weren’t broke because they weren’t trying, they were broke because the system set up in a way that exploits artists.

Raquel: yeah. and it’s gotten worse over the years. We’ve experienced, uh, a lot of writers have talked about this, A lot of novelists have talked about this, the death of the mid list. So a lot of publishers have a sort of blockbuster mentality, kind of like the big movie studios too. It used to be you’d have your big blockbuster authors and then a lot of tiny indie authors, but in the middle you’d have what was called the mid list.

People who didn’t sell a ton of books, but they could, they reliably turned out a decent profit. They reliably sold a decent number of copies and more and [00:19:00] more books publishers are kind of ignoring the mid list, not really putting the effort into pro, into promoting the mid list authors and letting it go.

And that’s drying up. And instead publishers are focusing all their energy and promotion all their resources into selling the books that they think will be a mega hit.

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you put more resources into promoting a book, obviously it’ll be more likely to succeed. And what’s determining what you think will be the successful book? Well, I, I’m sure a lot of bias goes into that. I’m, I’m– not all bias, but I’m sure a lot of bias and favoritism and shit goes into that.

Simon McNeil: well, you know what else is happening though is I, I, I’m seeing the start of a trend where publishers are picking up self-published books and then buying up the rights and, and printing their own run. And in that case, what they’re doing is they’re literally waiting for the author to show that they can sell the book anyway. And then just inserting themselves and saying, Hey, we’ll give you some legitimacy.

Raquel: [00:20:00] So the writers gotta fucking do everything to start off. The publisher’s not doing all that much. It’s, it’s bleak.

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: It’s bleak. And I, I hope someday it’ll change just as I, I get the feeling that in cinema, looks like we’re having the first hints of maybe mid-budget movies coming back, which would be wonderful.

I, I fucking love– mid budget is where the magic is. So it, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gonna be like this forever, but that’s what it’s like now.

Simon McNeil: And part of what’s gonna change it is people actually trying to make changes.

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: Ultimately it’s gonna be up to writers and, and other artists in the, in the publishing industry to start pushing and saying, no, we deserve more.

Raquel: Yeah. So we’ll get to that, uh, later,


Simon McNeil: Yeah.

Raquel: We’ll get to that near the end. But at the

Simon McNeil: I got my wind up me there,

Raquel: we’ve we’ve talked about the profit well or lack thereof [00:21:00] of a writing career. Let’s talk a little bit about the cost of succeeding in a writing career. So writing, publishing as an industry, unfortunately, despite a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion, very much favors people who come from affluent backgrounds very, very much. And again, that’s not saying it’s impossible to make it, but it sure helps as a lot. Like MFA programs, those, even if they’re not, even if you’re getting a scholarship, keep in mind you’re sacrificing two years of earning potential. is not necessarily easy to do. I’m gonna focus more on genre writing just because that’s my wheelhouse and that’s what I’m more familiar with.

But in Sci-fi Fantasy publishing, there are a, a group of workshops that while they don’t guarantee success, they sure do help. People who attend these workshops are a hell of a lot more likely to get a Hugo or a Nebula Award. They do have a slight edge in getting [00:22:00] published. I know of at least one person who went to one of these workshops and got a Tor book deal out of it because an editor, an acquiring editor at Tor Publishing was also at that workshop and they made friends.

So there’r ways, really useful ways to network and to get to know people and kind of maybe skip past the slush pile to the secret submission portal where a venue that seems like it’s closed is actually getting people, or maybe it’ll be easier to get an agent if you’ve been to one of these.

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: But here are some of the big workshops in sci-fi fantasy. There’s Clarion and Clarion West. Those are six week long summer workshops. They cost $5,000. And to me it, the cost of tuition isn’t the biggest thing, but the loss of six weeks of work. Most of us cannot afford to take six weeks paid vacation.

Most jobs do not offer six weeks paid vacation. This is America. It’s hard to get [00:23:00] maternity leave for six weeks, much less, you know, can I go to nerd summer camp? I’ve, I’ve spoken to some people who’ve attended it and I asked like, “how did you do it? What did you do? How did you get the time off work?”

And they said, “I quit my job.” And I was like, well, most people can’t afford to just sort of quit their job. Just like, whatever.

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: That is a big deal.

Simon McNeil: And, and while there may be some people who are among that, that full-time artist set that I was mentioning before, who also attend these workshops, um, what’s happening is they’re eating ramen for six months to be able to afford the tuition. And that’s with a scholarship.

Raquel: yeah. And I don’t

think it’s, it’s shitty to ask someone to do that

Simon McNeil: Exactly.

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: Especially since that’s just kind of feeding up the pipeline a little bit back to more successful and established writers or towards editors and publishers.

Raquel: and I can’t stress enough. These do confer an advantage. Arley Sorg did a column about this in [00:24:00] an issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science fiction I think a year or two ago. It was called By the Numbers. And he found that over the past four years, from between one third and two thirds of the slots in the finalists of nominations for the Nebula and Hugos were two Clarion and Clarion West grads, like a full third to two thirds in some years.

Simon McNeil: yeah.

Raquel: that’s a wildly disproportionate amount. I mean, Clarion takes like, what, 12 people a year. There are thousands of SFF writers scribbling away at, at the very least you could say, there are hundreds getting published. So that is a massive disproportionate amount. And he only looked at Clarion and Clarion West.

He didn’t look at some of the others, which includes Odyssey, uh, which is, that one’s online. So it’s more accessible. It’s online now, and I think it’s like $2,000 now, uh, for a few weeks. And then Viable [00:25:00] Paradise. Viable Paradise is one week. So, you know, that is doable to get a vacation, a week of paid vacation.

However, the tuition for this one week is $2,450. And you must also pay housing fees. Housing is available for about $300 a night.


Simon McNeil: not including the hotel.

Raquel: yeah, that housing is not included. You gotta pay extra. And uh, yeah, that’s a lot of fucking money.

Simon McNeil: Yeah, I

Raquel: that is a lot of fucking money.

Simon McNeil: that’s, that’s, that’s stretching the word viable a little bit.

Raquel: It’s not viable for most people. It’s not viable for


Simon McNeil: and, and I think it’s nothing against authors collaborating or working together to build their crafts. Certainly nothing against mentorship. Those are all good things. The concern is just how, how these cost barriers are created and how those are used basically to, to kind of funnel money out of starting writers.

And these are in ways that aren’t gonna show up in Writer Beware. These aren’t the open [00:26:00] scams. These are part of the culture that’s been established.

Raquel: No, and, and I wanna stress consider the fact that people of marginalized backgrounds are going to have less wealth than people of privilege . On average, women have less money than men. People of color have less money than white people. Queer people have less money than straight people, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So when you’re doing this kind of financial gatekeeping, you are effectively as, as, as a side effect, also making it harder for diverse writers to succeed. I’ve looked at photos of the Viable Paradise workshops from year to year. You know, here’s the face of the graduating class, and they’re overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly white.

Simon McNeil: at, I betcha they’re also overwhelmingly degree holders as well, which creates all kinds of class barriers too.

Raquel: massive, massive class barriers.

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: and that’s no good. And it’s especially frustrating for me to see it in an industry that touts itself as ” new and improved. And we [00:27:00] celebrate diversity and #OwnVoices.” Well, okay, but only if you’re rich. And, and on top of that, on top of these workshops, there are also writing retreats and also conventions.

In geek circles, in sci-fi fantasy, you’re more likely to sort of succeed if you are part of the community. And to be part of the community, it really helps to go to conventions. And again, that costs money. Not just con fees, but you’re paying for a hotel for a couple of nights, maybe you have to pay to travel, maybe you have to buy a, a plane ticket or something

Simon McNeil: I published my novel. I published my novel with a small press that I met at a pitching session that they set up at a convention.

Raquel: Mm-hmm.

Simon McNeil: these are great people. But like that’s just if you’re not part of the community, then you wouldn’t even know that they were looking for people.

Raquel: Yeah. And conventions aren’t cheap.

Simon McNeil: No, they’re not. I


Raquel: not . It’s a whole ass vacation.

Simon McNeil: yeah, when I was going to [00:28:00] conventions and living in Toronto, that was my big vacation for a lot of those years, was going to a hotel in Markham

Raquel: Yeah. I went this past summer, I went to NecronomiCon and you know, I shared a hotel room with some people and I, I didn’t really go crazy, but like, holy fucking shit, it, it punched me in the wallet pretty goddamn hard.

Simon McNeil: Yep.

These become really important networking events, especially, and those are especially important if you can’t afford to go to things like, workshops and retreats, because these are the places where you’ll find the professionals and make the connections you need to actually get an agent or get a publisher, because

a lot of

Raquel: enough how much help the connections help with getting published too,

Simon McNeil: they


Raquel: getting mentorship, getting people to help you kind of beef up your writing, getting people who will, who will place your writing in their publications.

Simon McNeil: mm-hmm. , it’s very much a referral based industry.

So you’re, you’re gonna get [00:29:00] referred to somebody and then they’ll pay attention to you.

Raquel: When it comes to awards, it, it’s really, really chummy. It’s groups of friends voting for each other. You don’t need many votes to get on the Hugo ballot. There are, there are items on Hugo Ballots with like 12 nominations. That’s a tiny amount. That’s you and your Clarion buddies.

that’s all it fucking takes. And I, I really can’t stress enough how much of a clique it creates. The attendees of the 33rd Clarion West Workshop actually got matching tattoos.

Simon McNeil: Oh wow.

Raquel: They, yeah, I swear to fuck cuz uh, one person who attended was complaining about it later and they went on this long Twitter thread talking about how it was kind of an unhealthy isolating environment and felt like it was supposed to create a herd mentality.

And then in one tweet they mentioned, “and so I’ve been removing the workshop’s matching tattoo.” And I’m like, what? yeah, they got matching tattoos and because it was the 33rd [00:30:00] annual Clarion West workshop, they got the alchemical symbol for the 33rd element on the periodic table, which happened to be arsenic.

I feel like when you and, and the rest of your class are like getting an arcane occult symbol for poison tattooed on your bodies to match, you’re in a cult now, man. You are. This is not normal behavior. This is, this is weird.

Simon McNeil: That’s pretty wild. I will say that. Um, but, but I mean,

Raquel: crazy.

Simon McNeil: there are also even, even more healthy versions. So back when I was living in Toronto and I, living in culture cities is gonna come up a lot. That’s where I met everybody I know.

Raquel: Yeah. Living in a culture city is another one. Like so much of publishing is still in New York City, which is wildly unaffordable.

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: New York City is obscenely expensive and I understand that Toronto is, is just absurdly expensive now

Simon McNeil: yeah, there’s a reason I live in PEI

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: My, [00:31:00] my work is remote. I, I work from a home office and, uh, so I could potentially live in Toronto if I could afford to. I’m well paid by my day job. So when I say I can’t afford to, I mean I don’t even know how a lot of people do it at all.

Raquel: yeah,

Simon McNeil: But that’s where you’ll find readings and colloquia and conventions and all those other things that let authors get to know each other, that let authors get to know editors and publishers.

My hope– my critique group, who are some of my best friends to this day, I still stay in touch with them all the time. I met them at the Chiaroscuro Reading series, which was a series of horror readings that were being held by a publisher in Toronto.

Raquel: yeah, yeah.

Simon McNeil: Living in a culture city is how you get to know people. Otherwise, you’re basically just stuck with Twitter, and that’s not the

Raquel: Which is not great for very obvious reasons. It’s not good.

Simon McNeil: no,

it really

Raquel: I, I, I have made a, I genuinely have made a lot of really great connections via [00:32:00] social media, but that’s tough. And you gotta be careful because so much of, of social media of so-called book Twitter is really fucking awful. It is a, it is a sewer, it is terrible.

It is really, really bad. And it’s kind of hard to do when you’ve gotta– being that online is not great for your brain either.

Simon McNeil: no. It really isn’t

Raquel: It’s wild though. It’s so, it’s, it drives me crazy how much effort people in put into hiding the fact that they get connections. We still wanna pretend that publishing is a meritocracy when it’s clearly not.

And I feel like my favorite example of it, is that of Sam Sykes. So Sam Sykes is, a fantasy writer, I think, who got canceled for being a sex pest or something like that. But he, he was interviewed. Because he had a story in, it’s called the Dragon Book Anthology. So I’m just gonna, I’m just, I’m just going to quote from this, from this interview.

Here’s the interviewer. ” You have a story in the [00:33:00] recent, the Dragon Book Anthology that you co-wrote with Diana, uh, Gabaldon,” who’s like a well-to-do, well-known editor in the industry. ” How does a young, as yet unpublished author find themselves working with one of the most successful names in the industry?

What was the process like working with Diana?” And here’s Sam’s response. “We have the same agent. It was quite a fun process. Mrs. Gabaldon has an immense amount of talent and clout, and it was quite an honor to work with her for as much as we did.” Okay. So secret, um, Diana Gabaldon is his mother

Simon McNeil: Hold on. Diana Gabaldon’s Sam Sykes, his mother.

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: My goodness, I did not know that.

Raquel: Yes. Yes. And like that blows my mind. ” We have the same agent, Mrs. Gabaldon.” Mrs. Gabaldon? That’s your mom! That’s your mom. “Mrs. My Mommy and I have same agent.” Motherfucker.

Simon McNeil: Wow. I

Raquel: You little Nepo [00:34:00] baby. You little. The Eragon guy is a Nepo baby too. There are a lot, there are a lot of Nepo babies.

A lot of nepo babies.

Simon McNeil: Yeah. Weren’t his parents like publishers?

Raquel: Yes.

Simon McNeil: Yeah.

Raquel: It’s frustrating cuz I’ve seen his, his book get to his success, get touted as like a rags to riches as anyone can do it. You know, inspiring story. It’s like, no, his, his parents were publishers. That’s how we could get a book deal at 15. That’s all

Simon McNeil: Yeah, I mean, to a certain extent the arts is always gonna be the arts, and there is some, you know, who you know ism. And certainly some family connectionism in the arts because the people who are nuts enough to actually get into the job, or usually people who come up from within it in some way, shape or form.

Like my dad was a painter,

um, he’s retired now. But uh, it just makes it that much harder if you’re coming in new.

Because that’s, that’s what you’re gonna be facing is that sort of people who know the rules kind of come from within to a certain extent. [00:35:00] Or they literally have family who give them a helping hand or, or close friends from school.

So just keep in mind that that social element is, if you’re looking to get into writing, it’s gonna be a key part of your career in networking is gonna be a big part of your job. There’s a reason why S one, one of the big jobs that a lot of authors take as, as their main work is marketing. And that’s partially because marketing has a lot of money, but partially because they’re already doing all the networking stuff that marketers have to do as well.

Raquel: Why don’t we talk a little bit about what it means to be a hack or to sell out? Because we’ve been talking about money and the realities of it, and I’ve definitely seen some, I dunno, I’ve definitely seen discussion about selling out, about being a hack, so on and so forth.

On the one hand, there can be a real naivete to the idea of like, “oh, you’re selling out.” Like, yeah, I need to fucking eat, you know? It is a very nineties old-fashioned idea [00:36:00] that there’s something wrong with you for selling your, your values in exchange for money. But on the other hand, I do think there is a sort of value in art integrity, right?

So what is the difference between work, let’s say, what is the difference between working for money and being a hack? Because you and I, we write in exchange for money. I mean, we don’t write just to make money because we’re not crazy enough to think like, “I can make a living off of this.” We write and then we get some money in exchange for it

sometimes when the planets are aligned.

Simon McNeil: Yep.

Raquel: But I don’t think I could re, we could really call either of us a hack.

Simon McNeil: Nah, I mean, I, I, I don’t publish anywhere near frequently enough to be a hack. I don’t think, um,

Raquel: So where do we draw the line?

Simon McNeil: I think to a certain extent it’s a matter of, the question being whether you’re taking money for the art that you wanna make because it’s the art you wanna make, or whether you’re taking money for art that you’ve made explicitly, because it’s what we’ll sell [00:37:00] best.

It’s, it’s the question of whether you’re deliberately commodifying your own work, basically,

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: like that, that, that’s where I would draw that line. You know, like Kevin Feige is a hack. That fucker doesn’t care about the quality of the movies he produces. He just cares about selling as much as he.

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: And I think that’s kind of where I put it, is like I, I don’t want, I want artists to be able to eat, but I don’t want the art that they produce to determine the extent they’re able to eat. I don’t like it being commodified. I like it being the good benefit of having artists in societies that you get art.

I think when, when you’ve got people that at least kind of carry that in their hearts a bit, they’re, even if they’re going after money, even if they’re trying to get that bag, that’s fine. They’re, they’re still making what they, they would make regardless. They’re just trying to get paid for it.

It’s when you, it’s when you care more about getting paid than making art that you care about.

Raquel: yeah. When you care almost entirely about getting paid and about making art. And I, and I’m not gonna blame any artist for doing that every once in a while. [00:38:00] I know a lot of really great filmmakers have a one for me, one for you mentality. Uh, Guillermo Del Toro has done that for a long time. He would go back and forth between Mexico and the United States. And in the USA he’d make a low budget schlocky kind of stupid movie in order to get enough money to fund a project that he would work on in Mexico and then make an actually good movie that was really meaningful to him in Mexico.

So he’d make some kind of trashy schlock in the USA and then go somewhere else and then make like The Devil’s Backbone or like a legit, really fucking great movie that was meaningful to him. And I, I don’t blame a person for doing that. Um, I,

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: have heard the argument that selling out that talking about selling out is an idea of privilege.

Cuz you know, if you can afford to keep your, your integrity then obviously you’re not on the verge of starvation. If, if, if you’re willing to turn down the expectation of money, then maybe you’re not that desperate. [00:39:00] But I don’t know, I, I, I’m not sure I totally buy that cuz on the other hand, like who’s more likely to get bought out? And it’s probably someone from a well-to-do background, I feel like it would be easier for like a cis het white guy to become a hack. Just because who’s gonna give, who’s, someone’s got to offer you the money, and they’re more likely to offer someone like that money, you know?

Simon McNeil: The other thing is I’m not likely to give somebody who is struggling to live shit for being a hack. It’s like saying, oh, this art isn’t perfectly authentic. That’s, that’s not the worst thing you can say to a person. And while I might have a lot of scorn for rich guys who have monetized the arts, if you’re somebody who’s just barely getting by and you’re doing commissions for stuff that you don’t really love, just because it, it pays the bills.

That’s, that’s,


Raquel: That’s fine.

Simon McNeil: do what you gotta do.

Raquel: Yeah. Yeah. I, I, yeah. I think there is a big difference whether you’re wealthy and [00:40:00] whether you’re surviving, and also what’s your attitude for it. If you’re extremely sensitive about being called a hack, when you’re doing hack work, I have no fucking respect for you.

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: um, if you’re open about it, like, uh oh, Michael Caine, he was so fucking funny.

This British actor, Michael Caine, he’s done a lot of hack movies for money and he doesn’t pretend that he’s, he doesn’t get mad when you call him a hack, though. He was famously interviewed about his part in Jaws the Revenge, which is an infamously terrible movie, and someone asks him, ” have you even seen Jaws The Revenge?”

And he says, his answer was, ” I haven’t seen it, but I have seen the house it bought. And it’s very nice.”

And I, I do respect that attitude. I , I think it’s just when someone’s a hack and doesn’t wanna own up to it and gets really, really mad when you accuse them of that, like, “how dare you? I’m no different from you. You’re writing for money too.” It’s like, yeah, but I’m writing good stuff for money. You’re writing shit [00:41:00] you don’t

care about.

Simon McNeil: It’s, and, and

Raquel: use, to use a very un-PC analogy, it’s the difference between moving in with your partner so that– you know it’s cheaper. You can afford to pay the bills and when you’re living together married people will talk about finances and exchange finances. And chances are one person earns more money than the other so that the bigger earner is probably gonna have to spend more money on rent and, and bills and shit like that.

It’s the difference between handling finances with your loving partner versus like stuffing money into a stripper’s g-string. Both of these relationships involve money. Both of these relationships involve sexuality, but in one instance it’s purely transactional. And in the other instance, there’s like a meaningful loving relationship involved.

That, I think is the difference between being a writer who sells your work versus being a hack.

Simon McNeil: And this kind of gets back to something a bit more positive about [00:42:00] why we put up with all this nonsense and, and write anyway. And, and that’s because it’s about love.

Raquel: It is,

Simon McNeil: if, if you’re gonna get into this business, if you’re gonna become a writer, do it because you need to write, because you love to write because it’s this thing that you’re gonna do regardless of if you get paid for it or not.

And if you can get paid for it, that’s great, but

Raquel: yeah.

Simon McNeil: you can find better ways to make a book.

Raquel: Yeah. Don’t, don’t go into writing for money, . Even if you go in there with the hopes of, “I’m gonna sell out and make lots of money, I’m gonna figure out a way to beat the system and a way to follow the algorithms and make a lot of money.” I’ve definitely seen previews for YouTube channels promising

“here’s how you can make tons of money right on Amazon, Kindle and Unlimited.” Your chances of success are still incredibly low.

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: And to me, there’s nothing sadder than trying desperately to sell out when no one’s fucking buying. Cuz now you’ve sold, [00:43:00] you’ve compromised your values for nothing. I’ve also gotten nothing out of writing, but without compromising my values.

Simon McNeil: I got a TV outta writing.

Raquel: Yeah, I’ve, I’ve gotten a couple of do, yeah. I, well, I’ve got this, I’ve got the, the Patreon for this, for this podcast earns me consistently way more money than I get from writing. And we’re not, ma, I mean, we’re making a decent amount, but certainly not enough to live on. I mean, I’m very happy. I love all my subscribers.

You’re all beautiful. You’re all gorgeous and brilliant people, but you know, it’s not, it’s not enough for rent money. It’s more like, “Ooh, this is nice. All right.” You know?

Simon McNeil: Yeah, publishing income for me is a nice surprise when I get

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: and it makes me happy. Uh, but it’s not something I budget around and

Raquel: okay, maybe I can buy a new jacket, or, oh, thank God I can pay for my car repairs,

Simon McNeil: or like I, I, this time it was, I paid for half a week, half of a week of my daughter’s summer camp.

Raquel: Okay.

Simon McNeil: yeah, [00:44:00] like, like

Raquel: All right.

Simon McNeil: that. That was the last time I got paid for writing what I did with it. It went straight into her summer camp fund. And I mean, because I’m coming from this as a perspective of somebody who does have a, a really good day job that pays me well.

It does give me a certain amount of comfort where I can just be happy with getting those occasional little checks, but as if I was depending on it to live on, I, I wouldn’t be,

Raquel: no, that I, oh God, I couldn’t, that I couldn’t handle it. I could not handle the stress of it. I, I did briefly write for money. I was a blogger for a terrible online magazine and it was incredibly stressful and draining cuz I was, I was writing like listicles and shit, you know, it was a Buzzfeed type of thing.

And the money is bad and you’re not, and you’re not getting to do anything really creative. And it was at the end of the day when my shift was over, I just didn’t have the energy left to write anything that was meaningful to me. And it was just fucking.

Simon McNeil: I, uh, also used to have a job that involved writing. I was, when I said that a [00:45:00] lot of, people, like a lot of writers go into marketing. I was one of the writers who went into marketing. I don’t do it anymore because I couldn’t write while I was a marketer. At the, the amount of copy I had to churn out, like press releases and web copy for social media posts and all this stuff.

It just, it used up a lot of my ability to get words on the page.

Raquel: yeah. You’re, it’s at the end of the day, you’ve run out of words or something. Like, I got no words left. No more words. I’m done. I’m gonna play a

video game.

Simon McNeil: yeah, it was only really when I left marketing went into an entirely different career where I spent most of the day looking at spreadsheets


Raquel: Same. Same. I look at Excel spreadsheets all day.

Simon McNeil: And then the writing’s a nice treat.

Raquel: Yeah. Then the writing’s great. So I don’t understand people who are like, “writing’s so hard. I hate it. I hate writing.” I’m like, this is fucking great. I’m not looking at at an Excel spreadsheet right now. This is awesome.

Simon McNeil: Well, the only thing I have to say to those people who, who don’t want, who seem to not want to [00:46:00] actually do the work of writing is

Raquel: Get good.

Simon McNeil: Yeah. If you don’t wanna do it, that’s fine. Do something else. Anything else? Honestly,

Raquel: streamer.

Simon McNeil: Yeah.

Raquel: You, you’ll you’ll make money. More money and get a probably more prestige than I will make writing. Just go fucking be a Twitch streamer. Do dances on TikTok. I don’t fucking know

Simon McNeil: honestly, anything , like the, the no matter, unless writing’s the thing you wanna do because you want to write it will be the worst option available to you.

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: That’s what it comes down to.

Raquel: Yeah, you gotta love it.


Raquel: So let’s move on and talk about a specific issue related to writing and related to money. Disney Must Pay. I’m gonna lean on you [00:47:00] because you are rearing to go about this one. Let’s talk about the Disney Must Pay controversy.

Simon McNeil: So everybody knows I’m a Disney hater, but, um, this

is actually part of the, or origin story for why I’m as much of a Disney hater as I am. Because what happened was when Disney bought out, the Lucas Film, properties, one of the things they bought was the back catalog rights for, novels that had been published in the, Star Wars extended universe.

Now Alan Dean Foster, who’s, was it Alan Dean? It was Allen Dean Foster, right.

Raquel: yeah. Was Alan Dean Foster.

Simon McNeil: Thank you. Alan Dean Foster, who was a, a very well-known and very well-respected author of books, some of the, the most famous books in the Star Wars Extended Universe, realized that he wasn’t getting paid anymore for his writing.

It just kind of surreptitiously the payment stopped coming. So when he looked into it, he found out that Disney had made the decision that they owned the asset but not the liability. So in other words, they owned the rights to publish the book, but did not own the req, the contractual requirement to pay the [00:48:00] author. Um,

Raquel: Okay, sure. Bye.

Simon McNeil: yeah, then it turned out they’d been doing this to a bunch of people, , not just him, but like a whole bunch of people that they just basically decided they didn’t have to pay. And a task

Raquel: not supposed to do that when you, when you buy, when you buy the contract, you also get the responsibility.

You’re supposed to pay the person. That’s not how this shit works.

Simon McNeil: Yeah. The difference is that Disney can afford lawyers, whereas Alan Dean Foster couldn’t.

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: And this is somebody who is a well-respected late career author who was a full-time author, and he was then being faced with being penuried and having his income cut off, and he’s not a young man. This upset me quite a lot for a variety of reasons.

Yeah. Yeah.

Raquel: not like Disney can not afford to pay him. They can fucking afford to pay him.

Simon McNeil: Yeah. It’s, it’s, honestly, it’s not that much money, guys,

Raquel: It’s so

Simon McNeil: could get, you could get like three seconds of Thor animation for that, like just pay the [00:49:00] man please. But, uh, a task force was struck up, with some cooperation from SFWA um, that

Raquel: being.

Simon McNeil: Science Fiction Writers of America, which is a, a, a professional organization that serves mostly American professional authors.

You have to have certain publication standards to get in and in exchange they provide you with networking opportunities. They provide you with access to health insurance, I believe, which is something that a lot of people in the United States really need. And they, they provide you with access to their forums, which includes things like Writers Beware, which is a, a very good resource.

Raquel: eligible to vote for the Nebula Awards. I think

Simon McNeil: That’s right,

Raquel: another thing.

Simon McNeil: yes. You can become eligible to vote for the Nebula Awards. And Writers Beware is a very good resource. Um,

Raquel: Oh, they’re good.

Simon McNeil: it’s, it’s, uh, a listing of fraudulent publishers and other scams that target new writers. And that’s a useful thing to have. And I will say, especially if you’re living in the United States, then access to health [00:50:00] insurance that you might otherwise not have as an independent, worker as a, a freelancer, that’s, that’s an important thing.

So I’m gonna probably say some negative things about SFWA before the end of this discussion, but I do wanna start off by saying that I think that they do serve an important role in the current constellation of, of publishing. And that, while I don’t think they’re perfect at all, and I think that they should be changed pretty significantly, I do wanna take a moment to start by saying there are some, some things they do that are good, but their handling of the Disney Must Pay campaign wasn’t one of them.

So this task force was struck up. A lot of it was in collaboration with SFWA. I’m not certain that the board of directors that eventually formed was actually officially SFWA associated, but it, it hads support from SFWA and it had a list of demands as far as how it wanted people to advocate for these authors to get their money back.

But one of the demands it made [00:51:00] is something that really bugged me and it bugged me then it still bugs me now. And that was, they demanded that people not boycott Disney.

Raquel: Hmm.

Simon McNeil: That their argument being that that would only hurt paid workers that are working for Disney if there were a boycott. I

Raquel: would hurt the, the, the workers that Disney is not paying anyway.

Simon McNeil: no, they, they were saying it would hurt the dis workers that Disney still was paying.

Um, yeah, that was their, their position. But I mean, first of all, that’s not necessarily true, because most of the workers aren’t being paid on a percentage basis on a movie.

Raquel: Yeah. You get like, here’s, here’s the money in your contract, and that’s it.

Simon McNeil: Yeah, exactly. If you’re a gaffer, I mean, not that Disney hires that many gaffers, but if you’re a gaffer , you’re, you’re, you’re not getting percentage.

You’re getting your fee for your time that you’re

Raquel: You’re, if you’re the caterer, you’re not, you’re not seeing the gross,

Simon McNeil: yeah.

Raquel: you’re not getting royalties on this shit.

Simon McNeil: And, and for every person you see on a movie screen, there’s 10 people who are [00:52:00] gaffers or caterers or editors or production assistants just kind of running around and doing jobs to make movies work. So the truth is that no, the most of the workers who work on Disney movies would not be directly harmed by a boycott unless the boycott was so powerful that drove Disney out of business.

Raquel: Which is just not gonna happen.

Simon McNeil: yeah,

Raquel: no

Simon McNeil: they’d rather be, if they decided they’d rather go to business than pay Alan Dean Foster, than really what’s going on in the world. But, but no. So they, they asked not to boycott, and that’s something I, I really strongly didn’t agree with. Because I think boycotts are one form of collective action that are available to people. The other is that we can also use strikes where

Raquel: Hmm

Simon McNeil: empl, where authors who are part of an organization will refuse to do work with an outlet if there is a labor dispute going on. And that was also not a tool that was available to this task force. Because [00:53:00] one thing that SFWA is not a union,

Raquel: Yeah. It’s a professional organization, but it’s not a labor organization.

Simon McNeil: right. That’s an important distinction and, and that’s what writers really need. And it’s, I know like, because you don’t have one shop, it’s not like back in the day with, with steel workers where you’re all going to the factory and you punch your union card. And so, so people wonder how that might work.

But the thing is that sectoral unions are a really old thing. They started, there was an organization, they’re still around. They’re great people and I would strongly encourage anybody that is in a big enough city to have a branch to connect up with them. That’s the iww,

uh, which is the industrial workers of the world.

Raquel: They’ve been around for at least a century. They rioted. They were, they’re, they’re cool. They’re.

Simon McNeil: and they’re still on the front lines against fascists and against all kinds of the worst stuff that ha is faced by poor people in, in

Raquel: a wobbly. The Wobblies have a long storied history fighting fascism and [00:54:00] totalitarianism.

Simon McNeil: Yeah. I, and, and so I, I, I really wanna highlight the fact that first of all, the IWW are still around, and this idea comes out of the milieu of them. But we do have actual workers unions in entertainment that deal with freelancers such as the Screen Actors Guild, the Screenwriters Guild, and IATSE.

Raquel: right.

Simon McNeil: So like, these organizations exist.

Raquel: they’re not perfect, but they do exist. It is possible to sort of herd cats a little bit. Like the Screenwriter’s Guild has gone on strike before. They, they went on strike a few years ago because I’ll make a long story short, um, the age of streaming kind of fucked with the way writers were being paid royalties

Simon McNeil: Yep.

Raquel: and, you know, to, to actually sum it up would take a super long time.

And I didn’t bother to do the research, but, but there have been writer strikes there [00:55:00] and, and a lot of people in the Screen Actors Guild also went on strike in solidarity, which is pretty fucking cool.

Simon McNeil: That’s right. And that, that ability to take collective action is what gives people the ability to push back against all this exploitation we’ve been talking about. Because we’ve, I, I’ve spent, we’ve spent a long time talking about all these ways that publishing is broken, but it doesn’t have to be because we can all get together and say, “no, no, no.

The rules are different now, cuz otherwise you don’t get any writing.”

Raquel: Yeah. So what do you think the S F W A or SFWA a could or should do about this Disney situation? What, what more could we do? You mentioned a, a boycott of Disney.

Simon McNeil: Yeah, well, yeah. First of all, we should be boycotting Disney products until all ongoing labor disputes are concluded. The second thing is, I think Disney should be listed on Writers Beware.

Raquel: Hmm.

Simon McNeil: Um, they’re a predatory publisher[00:56:00] who aren’t paying people. That’s something that should be there with all the other scams.

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: Um, but also now this is something that bugs me. SFWA’s gotta stop honoring Disney at their own industry awards

Raquel: Yeah, I’ve noticed that the Hugos and the Nebula Awards every year give out a couple of awards or nominees, nominations to Disney products to… individual episodes of the Mandalorian have been nominated for, for like screen writing or whatever.

Simon McNeil: Yeah, I, I

Raquel: of Disney things get nominated for shit,

Simon McNeil: I left the Hugos alone here because they’re fan awards, and that’s, that’s a little different. But, but the Bradbury, which is offered through the Nebula Awards and is a SFWA award, that’s, that’s, that’s different. That’s an industry award. And SFWA could just say, no Disney products aren’t qualified for these this year because of the ongoing labor dispute.

But there, in, since 2020, since the start of Disney Must [00:57:00] Pay, there have been a total of six nominees of Disney episodes for a Bradbury Award. There was an episode of the Mandalorian, an episode of Loki, the film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings, the entirety of Season one, of Wandavision, which actually won the Bradbury Award, the, the animated feature Encanto.

And then this year, an episode of Andor.

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: So in one year, in 2021, which was the year where there was the most actual activity on Disney Must Pay, four of the nominees for the Bradbury Award were Disney products.

Raquel: Oh God.

Simon McNeil: And like, it’s just like

Raquel: That’s pathetic.

Simon McNeil: with the Hugo’s. Okay. Yeah. You know, whatever fans vote for what they vote for, it’s, it’s an open nomination.

Anybody can vote. But with the Nebula is where there’s some control. You would expect at least enough solidarity to say, while we’re in the middle of a labor dispute, we’re not gonna be heaping accolades on this studio.

Raquel: Yeah. Yeah. I, I think it could at least get some attention, or at least [00:58:00] I, I don’t know if it would hurt Disney or

Simon McNeil: Oh, it wouldn’t.

Raquel: But I– probably wouldn’t. But I do think it would send a really good warning to sci-fi writers saying like, “Hey, these guys won’t fucking pay you.


careful.” Or at the very least, when you’re negotiating your contract, don’t depend on getting royalties from these people.

Negotiate just like a really, really big fat flat fee because they will not pay you royalties. At the very least,

Simon McNeil: Yeah.

And, and

Raquel: be a warning to do that when you’re negotiating your payment with them.

Simon McNeil: and, and, and, and that’s the thing. Disney doesn’t care about the Nebula Awards. I, I, I haven’t looked, but I’d be shocked if a representative of the company showed up to accept the award.

Raquel: no. I mean they get accused of like way worse things anyway. Several, several major political leaders are like accusing them of stealing children’s adrenochrome or whatever the fuck right now. So I don’t think they’d worry too much about this little nerd award, but

Simon McNeil: [00:59:00] But it, it would, as you were saying, and you were exactly correct, it would communicate a message to the writing community that lets them know that this is a predator in their midst. It’s showing solidarity.

Raquel: Yeah,

Simon McNeil: I know, I know that sounds harsh to the people who are working on those products, I’ve heard very good things about Andor,

Raquel: I’ve heard it’s pretty good.

Simon McNeil: I haven’t watched it because it’s Star Wars and I don’t really watch that anymore, but, but I’ve heard good things about it.

It might be a very good show, but you know what, maybe it’s a show to visit after the labor disputes are resolved

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: and, and with apologies to the people who are making it, but they’re working with a company that is screwing over their coworkers.

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: You know, so

Raquel: All

Simon McNeil: But yeah, the other thing that, and this is now getting into things that fans could do, but you can

Raquel: Okay.

Simon McNeil: not put Disney things into panel topics at

conventions. So like, Don’t do a [01:00:00] Marvel panel, just don’t do a panel about trailers or, uh, about post credit sequences. Just exclude it from the conversation. Except when you’re talking about the fact it doesn’t pay its employees. Talk about the exploitation of graphic artists. Talk about the, the, the writers who aren’t getting their, their royalties. Talk about those labor issues and the, and how these big companies that are predating on artists are like, how they’re going about that predatory process.

Because that sort of spreading of awareness is about the only thing that people really need to know about these, about these companies right now.

Raquel: yeah, yeah. I think every, every sci-fi fantasy writer should know that you need to be aware of Disney because they’re not gonna pay your, they’re not gonna honor their contract to you. Mm-hmm.

Simon McNeil: Yep. And, and Disney’s just a case study here. I don’t wanna say they’re the only, [01:01:00] like, they’re not the only bad player.

Raquel: Of

Simon McNeil: there’s so many bad players.

Raquel: but they’re, they’re a big one. And as an industry leader, they have the power to set an industry standard.

Simon McNeil: Exactly.

Raquel: the idea that this major, major company would just straight up say, “yeah, we’re not gonna pay you.” That is deeply troubling

Simon McNeil: It is, and the, the pettiness of it is part of what makes it so troubling, because

Raquel: they have the, they have the money to pay Alan Dean Foster. They can fucking

afford it.

Simon McNeil: what they owed him was not a lot of money for Disney. It was a lot of money for an elderly author.

Raquel: Yeah. A lot of money for him. Just like pocket change for them it’s fucking,

Simon McNeil: Yeah.

Raquel: you know, coins between the couch cushions for Disney.

Simon McNeil: Now I understand eventually he did get paid, but not everybody.

Raquel: Yeah. And I, and I think that was because he had a lawyer. I, I don’t think it was because the Disney Must Pay task force wrote some tweets.

Wrote some tweets. Hashtag Disney Must Pay in between saying, [01:02:00] “oh man, did you see Baby Yoda on the latest Mandalorian? He’s so cute.” Motherfuckers. It made me so mad to see a couple of people who were on that task force in between writing about it.

Also posting like animated gifs and screenshots of Baby Yoda. I’m like, motherfuckers, motherfuckers. You, so you guys, come on, come on.

Simon McNeil: just literally dancing. Funko Pop.

Raquel: It’s just embarrassing.

Simon McNeil: When I was a child, I loved Star Wars, but that’s the thing, it was when I was a child.

Raquel: It’s, it’s weird cuz I remember the, the nineties where it was kind of cool and fashionable to hate Disney and make a lot of edgy parodies of Mickey Mouse, and they were really corny and hokey and Banksy shit. But now I’m like, you know what? Banksy is cooler than these people. As cringe as Banksy is, as incredibly cringe as he is.

He, he’s right.

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm. . And I just, when I, when I talk about hackery, that’s the things that companies like [01:03:00] Disney and Warner Brothers do, or Electronic Arts in the video games sphere. That’s, that’s hackery, that’s when you stop caring about that’s why you end up with things like Elsa face happening because you focus grouped everything to the point where you go, “Nope, that’s the face we should put on this protagonist.”

Not “is that the face that this character in this piece of art should have.” but just, just, ” this is the one that, that focus tested best.”

Raquel: Yeah.

Simon McNeil: And I just find it very soulless.

Raquel: Yeah,

Simon McNeil: And then I see stuff like that, that horrible piece of advertising. I don’t even know what they were thinking. Where Taika Waititi and Tessa Thompson were taking the piss outta the anime, the the graphics

Raquel: Oh, that made me so mad. That was so crummy. They were


laughing at, at the ba admittedly bad computer graphics in their movie. But that was, that came out at the same time as a big report came out that these artists were working under horrible working conditions for very crappy money and just being set up to fail because under the conditions they were working, no one could make a, could [01:04:00] make a good product.

Simon McNeil: that’s right.

Raquel: And, and it just felt really mean spirited, like punching down on some computer animator who’s putting in 16 hour crunch days

Simon McNeil: Mm-hmm.

Raquel: just getting paid dog shit.

Simon McNeil: So, so I did actually see that Thor movie. My daughter, I promised a movie

Raquel: You crossed the picket line. You son of a bitch!

Simon McNeil: Well, well, so here’s the thing. Actually,

Raquel: Simon!

Simon McNeil: Fault because it’s kind of your fault because I asked you if I could take her to see, see. Nope. And you said, you said, “oh, I don’t think, Nope would be good for a kid her age,”

Raquel: It’s my fault. And Jordan Peele’s. My And Jordan Peele’s fault.

Simon McNeil: the two options playing at the drive, the drive-in, which is where we went, were either Nope. Or the Thor movie.

Raquel: Yeah. And I– Nope would traumatize a child. 100%.

Simon McNeil: she

liked M3gan, um,

Raquel: Hell yeah. Hell yeah.

Simon McNeil: but yeah, Nope, was a little bit harsher than M3gan

Raquel: Nope, Nope. Was, yeah, Nope. Was not as fun.

Simon McNeil: But, uh, but.

Raquel: It, Nope was great, but it was [01:05:00] very upsetting.

Simon McNeil: Yeah. , it was, I love Nope. That was one of my

Raquel: The scene. The scene in the thing. Oh fuck. Oh fuck.

Simon McNeil: oh, yeah.

Raquel: It’s bad. It’s bad in


Simon McNeil: and the people inside start screaming

Raquel: Oh, the sounds, they’re bad sounds. I don’t like them. They’re upsetting.

Simon McNeil: That, that was a very good movie. I

Raquel: Oh, fuck. You

Simon McNeil: That was, that was one

Raquel: anything happening. You just know like, oh, this is bad. I don’t like this.

Simon McNeil: But no, the Thor movie did have terrible special effects. It’s true. But you gotta take a step back and look at the, the situation that led to that, which is that all the animators that are working for Disney are in a constant state, state of crunch. Disney is notoriously indecisive about their designs. They come back for redesigns regularly. They expect rapid turnaround on everything, which means that renders are, are sloppy. It’s exactly the same problem we’re seeing a lot of, of aaa, AAA video game space, at least a lot of really bad AAA video games is that they’re being expected to do too much into little time and they’re burning out.

Raquel: Right.

Simon McNeil: These are the things people need to know [01:06:00] about these big media conglomerates. If they’re, if you’re at a convention, this is the stuff that you should be communicating to people, not, “oh, yeah. Did you catch that Easter egg?”

Raquel: yeah.

Simon McNeil: Well, so the guy in the bee suit

Raquel: Yeah. It’s frustrating because as much as the field of sci-fi fantasy fiction has gotten professionalized,

Simon McNeil: mm-hmm.

Raquel: It hasn’t, um, the idea that this is labor and that there’s any kind of way we can stick up for ourselves and negotiate, that hasn’t been communicated with it in, in the way that it might be in a profess, in a, in a real professional environment.

Simon McNeil: And, and that’s one thing I really want. Whoops. Ow Oh my goodness. Remember when I said I might be ambushed?

Raquel: yeah. Did, did your neck come? Did your little kitty come?

Simon McNeil: Yes. Oreo is

Raquel: You have a shoulder friend? Yes,

Simon McNeil: I have a

Raquel: yes,

Simon McNeil: um, suddenly shoulder friend. Um,

Raquel: yes.

Simon McNeil: friend. He’s a good boy. It’s, there’s, it’s one thing to, to recognize that, you [01:07:00] know, like, that you’re a professional, but it’s another thing altogether to recognize that you’re a worker.

Raquel: right,

Simon McNeil: And I think that’s, oh, yes. That’s what I want for artists to recognize is to realize that as long as we live in a capitalist economy, an artist will always be a worker.

Raquel: right.

Simon McNeil: And as long as we’re doing art, that’s, that’s where our allegiances should be.

Raquel: Yeah.

Yeah. . So that’s good. I think. I think, why don’t we wind it down? Cause we’ve been talking for about an hour, but in conclusion, uh, fuck Disney. Fuck Baby Yoda. Baby Yoda’s the devil. Fuck him.

Simon McNeil: and power. Then there’s power in a union,

Raquel: There’s power in a union. That’s right. Before we go, is there anything that you would like to promote?

Simon McNeil: Yeah, actually I do have an article out recently. It’s in the most recent issue of Seize the Press.

And it’s a lengthy review of one of the possible endings of the From Soft video game Elden Ring, where I’m digging [01:08:00] into how Elden Ring constructs economies and the relationship between economy and faith using a fair bit of the theories of Italian philosopher named Giorgio Agamben.

So it’s a fun piece. It’s a fun piece that, is a bit of a head spin.

But that also gets into the thorny question of what parts of Elden Ring were written by George R. Martin.

Raquel: Ooh. Interesting.

Simon McNeil: That’s and Seize the Press.

Raquel: All right, I will, I will look for that and try and include a link to it in, oh, there it is. Des Constituent Power and and Divine Economy in Eldon Ring.

Simon McNeil: that’s

Raquel: I’ll put a link to that at the bottom of the show notes.

Simon McNeil: It’s a, it’s a fun one. It’s a bit of a lengthy read though. I’ll warm people.

Raquel: Oh, good. Oh, good. That sounds great. Okay, well, thank you so much for coming on and talking to us about money,

Simon McNeil: Thank you.

Raquel: and thank you all for listening. If you like what you heard, please head to and [01:09:00] subscribe. Until next time, keep writing good.

(header image via Roman Oleinik with alterations)