Monday, August 29, 2016

Show Me the Money!

By: J.T. Evans

We recently had a member get approached by a publisher with a request for $4,000 to publish her short story. To be more clear: the publisher wanted the author to pay them.

This is not how the publishing industry is supposed to work. Money should flow toward the author of the work, with a few exceptions. I'll cover these exceptions at the end of the article.

The practice of the author paying for the privilege of getting his or her work printed via a publisher is called "vanity publication." It preys on the author's vanity and desire to see their word in print. Many "green" authors fall victim to the urge to get their words printed, and making a naïve move is something we're trying to get folks to avoid.

The practice of requiring the author to pay money is entirely predatory and abusive. When an author is approached with a deal along these lines, they should not walk away…they should run away.

There are a few resources online to check out publishers if there are questionable practices going on. Some of them are:

·       Preditors and Editors
·       Write Beware

The practice of requesting money from an author is not limited to these nefarious publishing houses. Disreputable agents (who are rare) may require their clients to pay "editorial fees" or "marketing fees" to them for development of their work. This is not how agents should work. Whether or not the agent does development work on a piece before submitting to publishers is up to the agent, the author, and their relationship. However, the agent should not charge the author for these efforts. The agent should only collect their agreed-upon percentage when the author receives payment from the publisher.

To check out agents, I recommend viewing comments from authors on Query Tracker or see if they are listed in the membership of the Association of Authors' Representatives.
If a deal with a publisher or agent comes across your desk, I highly recommend hiring an independent attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights to review the contract before signing away.

It's a great thing to receive a contract! However, take a day or three to sit back, breathe, consider the contract, and get in touch with an attorney before moving forward.

At the start of this article, I mentioned some exceptions to the "money flows toward the author" rule. If you are self-publishing, then hiring a professional editor, cover artist, layout expert, marketing guru, and other masters that will make your book better will cost you money. However, these folks are ones who you approach and hire on your own. They work for you in their area of specialty.

Like with self-publishing, if you are chasing down the traditional publishing deal, hiring a professional editor to assist you in polishing your work before submitting to agents and editors is not a bad idea if you can afford it. Again, this has a cost and will cause money to "flow away" from you, but this is entirely your choice and within your control.

Unfortunately, Pikes Peak Writers doesn't have an attorney on staff or within our volunteer ranks, so we can't offer specific legal advice on contracts. Regardless of our inability to offer legal advice, we can at least point out areas where contracts can be abusive or predatory toward our fellow authors.

Best of luck with your work, and happy writing!

J.T. Evans writes fantasy novels. He also dabbles with science fiction and horror short stories. He is the president of Pikes Peak Writers. When not writing, he secures computers at the Day Job, homebrews great beers, spends time with his family, and plays way too many card/board/role-playing games.


  1. Replies
    1. I agree, Shannon Lawrence. Smart man that J.T. Evans.

    2. JT... you all but made an amazing suggestion. Maybe we should have an attorney on staff.. Perhaps some of the members could pay extra to create a retainer for advice they may need in the future. :) CO Gold had the amazing transaction attorney, Susan Spann, as a speaker addressing these issues. She's amazing. Hope to see her again in April. Karen Lin


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