business of writing,  Publishing,  rants,  the writing life

Real Writers Get PAID

Back in 2004-2005 I put up a page on Author’s Den. If you don’t know what that is — it’s basically a website that hosts writer information, blogs, etc… And since there are millions of writers out there (literally) most every author you’ll meet likely has a page there. Or at least that was true 5-6 years ago.

Anyway, it was because of a profile I posted to this site 5 years ago that I opened my e-mail this morning to the following “offer” made by a person who genuinely thinks he’s doing me a favor by making this “offer”. He said he found my profile on Author’s Den and figured I’d be a good fit for this book. The offer was this:

Pay us $1500+ and we’ll give you the privilege of publishing an article in this compilation book we’re putting together (with some unnamed bestselling authors – allegedly).

Umm, yeah. Don’t do me any favors.  Naturally, being as blunt and politically incorrect as I am, I immediately sent back a note that said:


You do realize that in the real world authors are the ones who GET
PAID, right? Sorry, not falling for the scam, but thanks. I haven’t
paid anyone to have ANY of my writing published and I don’t intend to
start now. Good luck.

S. J. Reisner

Okay, so I figured it was a done deal, right? Wrong. The guy proceeds to send me another e-mail telling me that I was being rude, antagonistic and defensive. Then he went on to tell me that “I need to research the current world of publishing” because this is how things are now being done. According to him – all writers are *paying* to get published. And evidently publishers routinely contact writers (whose work they’ve never even seen) and invite them to write articles for a book.  ::red flag::  It was something like five or six paragraphs of trying to “justify” charging authors thousands of dollars to have an *article* included in this book.  Then he starts talking about his publishing model again and how the way his publishing company does it – each author will make $6-$19 per book. Huh?

Now with regard to the modern author paying for publication – to some degree I suppose this could be true. I’ve known writers who took a smaller advance in order to get more marketing support from their publisher. A lot of publishers are moving toward “self-publishing” and author services as a side income. Other authors are choosing to go Indie and are paying editors and cover artists to help them put out a good book.  And in all fairness – people who get into self-publishing do invest money and time and some never recover that expense. But it’s NOT the same thing…

I, however, am a smart businesswoman, or at least I like to think I am. Some of my stuff is small press (where I make money and I don’t invest in anything) and some of it is self-published. But when self-publishing I never invest more than I know I can (realistically) make back. I’ve always been this way and perhaps that’s why I’ve been so successful with self-publishing my NF. 

Then this guy started telling me it’s “exposure” that I’m really paying for.

Really? I know of about 50 eZines right now who will electronically print any article I give them and not charge *me* a dime. As a-matter-of-fact — some of them will even pay ME because my work will draw more readers to their website. Imagine that craziness! There are people out there who still pay writers!

It all comes down to math. Math will serve you well, even as a writer.

So let’s take a look at this *offer* from a business perspective and do the math.  

I pay them $1,500 to publish a 1500-3000 word article in a 400 page book (likely very overpriced and under-edited) — how do I recover my investment? 

When you’re splitting your profits between publishers and authors, clearly you’re not making a great deal per copy sold. Not to mention how, exactly, do you convince your readers to buy a book (again, probably overpriced) wherein only one article is yours?

Also, where does this “initial” investment go?  Into printing costs? Is it an actual print run? Or is it POD? Because I know for a fact that there are several POD services out there that will publish your books for free (or the cost of a proof) and one can purchase expanded distribution for under $50. I also know ISBN’s only cost $25 each or $250 for a block of ten (I’m not new to the whole publishing thing). See, I know this because I own and operate DB Publishing and I’ve published books about Demonolatry this way.  Guess what? I don’t have to charge my authors anything. I actually PAY THEM. Wow. See how that works?

Now I’m not saying editors don’t deserve payment (I get paid by DB Publishing for editing books, as do other editors who edit for DB Publishing). 

I’m just saying if you have 25 authors (for this example) each paying $1500 (to be published in a single book), that’s $37,500 the publisher is getting up front. Does that money go to the editor and publisher? Because I’m betting it isn’t going to a print run since POD is so much more practical for a project like this. Then, authors only make on the high end $.50 per copy sold (that’s an expensive book if you have to pay 25 authors + publisher + your retail partner). That means just to pay your authors the base prices of the book has to be at least $16.50 ($4 printing costs + $12.50 to cover all author royalties). Next the publisher has to make a cut. Then, add 55% for your standard markup so the retailer can get their cut. Let’s say the publisher only makes 10% of that initial 12.50 (we’ll pretend they really are a good faith publisher) giving them a generous 1.25 per copy.  So we’re up to $17.75 per copy. Now let’s add the retailers 55%.  That’s another $9.75. So your 400 page book (just for this example) now retails for $27.50 a copy. 

Clearly the book’s target audience is going to be the authors’ collective fan base (or family and friends). Since we’re probably not dealing with any real bestselling authors… (if they are – does the noob writer’s investment go toward paying those writers for their articles? He didn’t say. His explanation of what that initial money was used for was dubious at best.) 

Keeping this in mind let’s say each author has 50 friends who buy a copy. 25 authors x 50 =  that’s only 1250 copies.  Now this is awesome for the publishing company. They’re making $1.25 per copy  and will at least get $1,562.50 out of the deal (on top of the initial $37,500). Hell, once they get the initial money – they don’t have to sell a single book because they’ve already made their money!  I suspect the editor of such a tome is only making (at best) $1,500 of that – maybe $2,500 if they’re really good friends of the publisher. Of course this also means that if each author was making a mere .50 per copy –  1250 x .50  = $625. Yep – each author would only make $625.  Ah, but you’ve invested $1500. This means each author still lost $875. If you paid for one of the more expensive “publishing packages” – you’ve lost even more. All for a single ARTICLE. (This isn’t even vanity publishing your book people – it’s a fucking article!)

It looks to me the ONLY person benefiting from such a deal would be the jackass who put the whole thing together to begin with. He walked away with over $30K and has no reason to give a shit if the book goes to print, sells copies or not, lives, dies, or conveniently falls off the face of the earth.

Now back to what this publisher claims. He told me (as a last ditch effort?) that each author had the potential to make $6-$19 per book sold. Well if that’s the case — how expensive is this damn book? 25 authors multiplied by $6 each = $150.00. So if your book’s initial printing cost was $4  and your publisher gets a mere 10% (for example) $15 per book – then the base price of the book BEFORE retail markup is $169.00 per book. Mark it up 55%  – add $92.95 to that cover price bringing it up to $261.95 per book retail.  Unrealistic is what that is. No one is going to pay over $200 for a book of articles about spirituality. No one (unless they are not mentally sound).

Bad investment. Period.  An author could get more exposure putting an ad on Craigslist for $25 and they could save themselves the $850 (or more) they’d lose in the above scenario provided the books sold and the authors actually got paid. 

Save your money and if you’re going to invest in self-publishing anything -write an entire damn book, edit the hell out of it (hire an editor if you can, it’s a better investment), then put the book out yourself. At least that way you’ll REALLY know what your royalties are (publishers who are charging you that kind of money to publish an article aren’t honest to begin with, folks!) and you’re investing in a project you’ve put a great deal into so if it doesn’t pan out – you won’t feel as cheated.

People get away with stuff like this because they mention that it’s really the “exposure” (i.e. advertising alongside bigger name authors) that you’re paying for. People die of exposure.  There are free and PAYING options for publication out there. Exhaust those first and ignore the “pay-to-publish” route unless you’re hiring editors and cover artists to self-publish.

Steph is an award winning and bestselling author of thrilling steamy and paranormal romances, dark urban fantasy, occult horror-thrillers, cozy mysteries, contemporary romance, sword and sorcery fantasy, and books about the esoteric and Daemonolatry. A Daemonolatress and forever a resident of Smelt Isle, she is happily married and cat-mom to three pampered house cats. Her muse is a demanding sadistic Dom who often keeps her up into the wee hours of the morning. You can contact her at


  • Morgan Drake Eckstein

    Yeah, I can think of much better ways to spend $1500 dollars. This reminds me of the so-called Who Who directories that business people are supposely consulting, and for just fifty dollars you get listed in it and a copy of the book. Basically, it is the most expensive book you will ever buy—unless you are a collector of rare books—and again, I can think of better books to buy with the money. But I just love how he tried to justify the charge; you can tell the size of the crook by how loud they yell when you accuse them of the crime.

  • Shelby Cross

    Did you mention to this guy you’re a very successful author already, and hardly in need of his “exposure”? Maybe you should have facetiously offered to put an article of his in your book. Give him some “exposure.” If he pays you, of course.

  • Steph

    @Morgan – yeah, he sure did howl. I was considering turning him in to Preditors & Editors and Writer Beware. @Shelby – you know, I considered telling him I was well aware of how publishing worked and sending him links to all my books – but I didn’t. lol! It probably would have just encouraged him to try harder to convince me he wasn’t a crook. 🙂

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