Though I’ve only sold one short story in my life, I’ve had a great many stories rejected. Moreover, I’ve been getting rejected long enough to feel a certain amount of confidence in my ability to parse submission guidelines and the rights that magazines/publishers are looking to buy. In a recent attempt to find a home for my fiction I came across Starburst Magazine. After reading their submission guidelines I feel fully confident in saying the following:
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTNACES SHOULD ANY WRITER SUBMIT A PIECE OF THEIR ORIGINAL FICTION TO STARBURST MAGAZINE.
At the time of this post, Starburst continues to accept submissions for original fiction. For the sake of convenience, I’ve reproduced their guidelines below.
Would you like to see your original fiction featured in the pages of Starburst Magazine or online at www.starburstmagazine.com? Then you’ve come to the right place! We’re currently on the lookout for sci-fi, fantasy and/or horror themed short stories, so if you’d like to submit yours for consideration, email it to:
Stories must be 100% your own material, previously unpublished, between 800 – 1600 words in length (for print) and categorically NOT about the zombie apocalypse. (Seriously, we love a good zombie yarn as much as the next person, but the amount of these things out there right now is frightening. And not in the good way.)
Please note: If published, Starburst will retain copyright, but any further use beyond the above will be subject to renegotiation. Additionally, while every effort is made, the demands of the submissions process deem it difficult to offer critiques on all material sent in.
I see two problems with these guidelines. First, they don’t talk about payment. Even if a magazine doesn’t pay, it should say so in the guidelines. More troublesome though is the final paragraph.
“Starburst will retain copyright?” What? That’s not right. By those terms a person submitting their fiction to Starburst is not offering it for sale but surrendering the ownership of said story.
I reached out to Starburst for clarification, assuming this was all just a mistake on my part or a typo on theirs. Here’s my email.
To the editors,
I am writing regarding your submission guidelines for original fiction.
You do not list any per-word or flat rate for payment. At this time are you offering payment for accepted submissions?
You also state that Starburst will retain copyright upon publication of a story. This suggests that you are buying the story outright and in perpetuity. Is this an accurate interpretation?
Starburst responded with the following:
Thank you for your interest in Starburst Magazine. At the current time we are not offering payment. When and if published Starburst will own the rights to the fiction, but this can be renegotiated in the future if needs be.
I hope this clears up any confusion
For the record, reputable magazines do not bring up copyright except to reaffirm that it remains in the hands of the author. A sample contract from Lightspeed Magazine illustrates this previous point. A magazine buys, or is given, certain publication rights. Starburst’s guidelines are on par, if not worse, than what we’ve seen recently from scummy publishers who try to gimmick neophyte writers into surrendering all rights until the sun explodes. At least in those cases the author is still the legal owner of the work in question.
Though I am not a lawyer, it seems to me that these these guidelines are so poorly written that they may not even be actionable under the laws of gods and men – at least not without a highly unconventional contract to support Starburst’s ownership claim on printed fiction. Regardless, the publishers of Starburst Magazine, either out of slime-bag malice or colossal ignorance, have set up a system which appears to appropriate the work of the artists they purport to showcase. This will not do at all.
I encourage all writers, readers, and interested parties to boycott Starburst Magazine, and share any outrage they may feel with the magazine’s editorial team until such time as Starburst’s submission policies reflect a more responsible and equitable approach to publication.
Contacts at Starburst Magazine
Jordan Royce firstname.lastname@example.org
Kris Heys email@example.com
Phil Perry firstname.lastname@example.org