In Defense Of Giving It Away:
Why you should always accept any offer to be published anywhere.
I read an article entitled “Exposure is NotPayment: Why You Should Start Respecting Yourself as a Writer”.
The author of the article hates my guts and it’s tough to like someone that hates you, but my intention is not to write a response piece just to provide a counter-point or break his balls.
My intention is, knowing that some aspiring authors are going to read that article and, looking for any kind of advice to help with their writing career, are going to take his opinion as advice and follow that advice, which is, in my opinion, bad advice.
Building Your Resume
When you’re trying to establish yourself as an author, you’re building a brand. You and your writing are your brand.
The purpose of establishing brand recognition is to try to get people to recognize you and your work favorably, so that when they have tried and liked some of it, they will look for and consume more of it.
One of the problems with establishing your brand is that until you’ve been published, you have nothing for people to base their opinion on, and unless you have been published before, it’s difficult to know how to go about getting published.
It’s like the classic “can’t get a job without experience and can’t get experience without a job” conundrum.
As with employment, your compensation sometimes reflects your experience. Being published for free is an easy way to build your resume as an author. It’s like when someone does an internship in the career field they want to work in to get some work experience. You can get four or five publishing credits under your belt, establishing your brand and building a fan base, and using each new publishing credit as a lever to try to sell your back catalog and your future books.
Market statistics strongly suggest that the more books you have in print, the more of each title you will sell, because each book helps to sell the other books. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
This is why, as an aspiring author, or one that is trying to bolster their brand, I don’t see any kind of problem with submitting to and being published by “FTL” or “For The Love” anthologies.
Fighting For Readers
According to five minutes of Google research, there are over 800,000 books available through Amazon. It’s not a matter of readers having limited choice, it’s 800,000 books fighting for the attention of potential readers.
I don’t know the statistics on how many books the average reader reads each year, but if they only read ten books a year, I want one of my books to be one of those books. Hopefully all ten of them, but, realistically, I’d settle for one or two.
The benefit of being published without compensation is that hopefully you’ll find some new readers. The new readers will like what they read and go out and try to find more of your writing. It’s like a taste test. It’s why movies make trailers. It’s why food brands pay people to stand in supermarkets and hand out free samples. And it works. Not only does it work, but “free” is a multi-million dollar industry.
I’m not saying that you should aspire to not be paid for your writing. Being paid is always better than not being paid. But, as Henry Rollins has been known to say, “Pal, I’d rather be heard than paid.”
I’m willing to have my work published wherever anyone wants to publish it. I always give out free PDF copies of any of my books to anyone that wants to read them as long as they promise to stop by the Amazon listing when they’re done reading it and post a review. More reviews increases the likelihood that you’ll show up in more related searches which increases the number of potential readers that might by your book.
It’s “social proof”. “Well, if someone else likes this, then maybe I’ll like it too.” It’s how most people figure out how to spend their money.
If someone wants to include one of my stories in their anthology, I’m always down as long as they let me know so that I can promote its inclusion. Again, social proof.
The theory is also that if you give someone something for free you establish a rapport and enter into the social contract. The process where if you do something nice for someone, they’ll do something nice for you because that’s what nice people do. It’s the “golden rule” and the key to how I used to make more money than anyone else when I was a merchandise vendor at horror conventions. A lot of vendors would try to skip the foreplay and get right into your pants. I would ignore the fact that I was there to make money and just chat with people and after the conversation naturally started to dwindle, most people would buy something because I was a nice guy and didn’t try to start off selling them something. I made a lot of new friends and made thousands of dollars a weekend.
It doesn’t always work when giving away your books for free, but if they weren’t going to pay for your work anyway, if you get one sale from every ten PDF copies of your book you give away, it doesn’t cost you anything, and that’s another sale that you wouldn’t have made if you hadn’t given them something for free.
On The Other Hand…
Never pay to be published. Never pay to be considered for publication. If you’re paying to be published, the money is moving in the wrong direction. It doesn’t cost anything to publish your work through Amazon.
If a publisher is interested in publishing your work, they should think that your work is good enough that people would be willing to buy it, and the time and effort they put into reading, editing, formatting, designing a cover, publishing and promoting your work is what they’re offering.
If you can handle the editing, formatting, designing a cover, publishing and promoting your work, then a publisher doesn’t have anything to offer you and you should probably consider publishing your own work if you’re that confident in your writing.
That being said, you should have at least one or two of your friends that are experienced readers read your book before you publish it.
Why I Created My Own Publishing Imprint
I always liked reading. I’ve read thousands of books. I’m the kind of person that will almost always try to read the book before I see the movie.
I’ve read thousands of books. Good ones, bad ones, dictionaries, and at least one set of encyclopedias. I had an acquaintance that was putting together a horror genre magazine. I offered to do movie reviews, but anyone can do movie reviews. So I offered to write book reviews instead. I looked up the contact information for the publishers that publish books by the authors that I liked and asked them for books and the books started coming in and I started writing reviews.
Since then I’ve written hundreds of reviews and been appeared in most horror magazines.
One of my reviews resulted in my being offered the opportunity to write a book.
I thought what every author probably thinks.
A book contract meant an advance and I would use the advance to live on while I wrote the book.
Maybe that’s how it works for the big names, but for my first contract the deal was, they told me what kind of book they wanted, I went off and wrote the book, I sent them the book without any kind of advance payment, they published the book and then I waited for them to tell me if it sold any copies.
It retails for about $12.50 and sells about $25,000 a year and has been doing that since it was published in 2007. From that $25,000, I get a check for about $1,000 a year, so, over the past eight years I’ve made about $8,000 from that book that I wrote for free without any kind of advance payment. Not enough to quit my job and write full time, but that’s $8,000 I wouldn’t have had if I had followed the advice of the author of the article that inspired this.
If I had told them that I wouldn’t write them a book without being paid they would have told me that’s not the way it works and offered the contract to the next aspiring author.
Based on that first book, I was a published author.
I didn’t make it the only thing I ever talked about.
There’s people I know that don’t even know that I have written several books.
I’m not one of those “I’M AN AUTHOR!” authors.
But, if I’m talking with someone and we start to talk about books, I mention it.
I met some other authors at conventions and they asked me if I was interested in submitting short stories for consideration for anthologies they were putting together.
I wrote stories to compliment the themes that they were putting together and the stories were usually accepted without much editorial comment.
The compensation was usual an honorary sum between $5-$25 and a contributor’s copy of the book or either or both. Sometimes I got what I was promised. Sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes the project fell apart or was never published. But it didn’t cost me anything to write new stories.
The stories have been published and re-published in other anthologies and after writing stories for about a dozen anthologies, I had enough stories to put together my own collection of short stories including tried and true stories.
I had an idea for a novel so I wrote it.
When I was finished, I submitted it for consideration to all of the publishers accepting publication.
I received mostly deferential, polite, responses letting me know that their publishing schedule for the year was full, but they would add my book to the pile of books to be considered for publication.
I let things stand for a couple years, thinking that someday one of the publishers would read my novel and recognize its potential and offer to publish it.
I realized that since the publishers of the anthologies I had appeared in were able to publish their own book projects so I spent a few days figuring out how to publish my own book.
It grew slowly till I made between $300-$500 a month from that book. So that was between $3,600-$6,000 a year on top of the $1,000 a year I was making from my first book.
Still not enough to quit working a wage slave shift job, but better than not having that money and proof that the more books you write and publish, the more books you will hopefully sell.
Granted, your results may vary.
Why I Publish Anthologies
I publish anthologies because I can.
It doesn’t cost me anything except the time and effort it takes to edit, format, designing a cover, publish and promote the anthology.
I appreciated when the publishers that published the anthologies asked me to submit stories and accepted the stories I wrote, and I want to be able to provide that experience to other aspiring authors trying to build their writing resume.
I like coming up with an idea for an anthology and designing the front cover and putting it out into the world and seeing what kind of stories that I get in response to my call.
I came up with themes for and published four or five anthologies last year.
What You May Not Know About Publishing Anthologies
I make all of my calls open calls, which means that anyone can submit stories for consideration.
I usually receive between 60-100 stories in response to each call.
I’m only looking to put between 10-15 stories in each anthology unless I get too many truly exceptional submission and can’t narrow it down to just fifteen.
I think that kind of kicks the whole “Since these anthologies aren’t overflowing with submissions, and the cost of publishing you is literally zero dollars (assuming there is no contributor copy offered, on top of no payment), there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to receive an acceptance.” thing in the dick.
I don’t think that the author of the article was targeting me or my publishing imprint.
There are publishers that will publish anything and use aspiring authors as cash cows.
But I think it shows the reality of how many submissions a publisher has to consider for inclusion. A hundred stories may not seem like a lot of reading at between 3-9 pages each, but it can be unless you have a process.
I can usually get through between three and five stories a night, giving them my undivided attention, and editing for spelling and grammar and providing editorial comment when appropriate.
It takes me about a month to put together an anthology, and my plan was to put out one a month last year, but the time and effort wore me down until I burned out and have been sitting on the last anthology since last fall.
It takes about an hour a story to read a story, edit it, figure out if it will work to compliment the theme of the anthology and if I should accept it, put it aside for reconsideration, or decline the story.
If my time is worth, say $10 an hour, then I put about $1,000 of my time into considering 100 stories. Time that I could be doing my own writing or putting in hours at a job where they give me money for showing up.
I don’t begrudge the time or effort, because, as I said, I like putting together anthologies and giving aspiring authors trying to build their brand and their writing resume the opportunity to be considered for publication.
Why I Don’t Pay Upon Acceptance
I do all of the work on the anthologies myself, outside of writing the stories, obviously.
For the latest one that I’m working on, I shopped out the cover design because my concept for the cover was beyond my Microsoft Paint bootleg Photoshop skills.
Each of the anthologies usually sell between 10 and 100 copies.
I try to have around 10-15 stories for each book if I can find 10-15 worth including from the 60-100 submitted for consideration.
That way the price for the book usually falls around $10.
Of that $10, Amazon keeps 30% and I get 70%.
For all of my anthologies, I offer a 50/50 royalty split.
As the publisher, I keep 50% and split the other half between all of the authors.
If I let myself have a story in the anthology, which I don’t always do, I don’t take an author share.
If it sells ten copies, there’s $70 to split between 10-15 authors.
If it sells a hundred copies, there’s $700 to split between 10-15 authors.
Let’s say it does well, sells a hundred copies and there were fifteen stories and I didn’t have a story in it.
I keep half ($350) and the other half ($350) split between 15 authors is 23.3infinity which I would round up to $23.50
So if I had paid out $25 (which is considered an approximate baseline industry standard for acceptance payment for short stories) I would have lost $22.50, on top of the $1,000 of time I put into putting the anthology together.
If it doesn’t do that well and only sells 10 copies, it breaks down to $70 / $35/$35 I’d round it up to $2.50 and if I had paid $25 upon acceptance I’d be out $350
If I sent out contributor copies instead of paying upon acceptance, at about $10 each (including shipping) it would have cost me $150 and I’d be out $115
I always try to pay out royalties promptly, sending out a statement with a screenshot of the back-end of my profiles on the publishing platforms that I use after the first month of release, because that’s when the anthologies sell the most copies. While the authors are still excited about being published and the book is fresh in the minds of potential buyers.
The principle is that fifteen authors, all promoting the same book will sell fifteen times as many books than if you had published something featuring any single author and each author would be introduced to the readers of all of the other authors and any other random buyers of the anthology because it looks awesome.
And it does work, kind of, except nobody is getting rich off of the anthologies I publish.
I have a standard policy that if the anthology sells a hundred copies, in addition to the royalties, I’ll send pay out of my share to send out complimentary contributor copies as an incentive for the authors to promote the anthology because if it sells well, then everyone does well.
Again, it works, in theory, but I’m still making less for my time and effort than if I just went out and got an extra part-time job.
So why do I put together anthologies?
Because I like doing it, and I like being able to give other aspiring authors the feeling that I used to get from being published.
I’ve been the first royalty payments that many of the authors that I have published have received and that’s really a nice feeling, although I kind of feel bad for giving them a little taste when the book business is so competitive these days.
Sometimes they think, “Hey! If I made this much for a short story, then imagine how much money I can make if I wrote a book of my own!”
Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t.
I wish everyone the best of luck.
One thing that I do agree with the author of the other article on is that not distributing digital copies of the book to all of the contributors is fucked.
It only takes a few minutes to paste a JPEG of the cover into the Word document of the proof for the interior and convert it into a PDF. It doesn’t cost anything to distribute ARC PDFs and, realistically, if the friends and family of the authors really want to read their story without buying the book, I wouldn’t blame the author for sending them their story.
Obviously, I’d prefer that the authors didn’t give away the book to potential customers, but the way that I distribute royalties, if they’re giving away the book to a potential customer they’re hurting their own back end and the royalties of all of the other contributors. But if the people they give a free digital copy to weren’t going to buy the book anyway, I’d rather that they give them a free copy to read and review because that way at least everyone hopefully gets their story read and reviewed which helps to contribute to the “social proof” on Amazon.
As Henry Rollins has been known to say, “Pal, I’d rather be heard than paid.”
A Guide For Writing And Submitting Stories For Consideration
When I used to help run a horror film festival, we would get around a hundred films for consideration each year.
There was a submission fee, and it was quite profitable.
We made between $3,000-$5,000 a year.
Don’t think that you should just go out and start your own horror film festival.
Like putting together the anthologies, if you’re trying to make some extra money, it’s easier to just get an extra job when you consider the time and effort that you put into putting it together, so if you’re not doing it because you love doing it, then don’t do it.
The main festival that the horror festival was a sub-festival of would take away all of our submission money and leave us about a tenth of the money to put on the festival.
Whenever there was a hot horror film that was popular in theaters, the next year we would receive a bunch of derivative knock-off shorts and features based on that film.
The year after Shaun Of The Dead came out, we received dozens of zombie comedies.
The real stand-out films were the ones that went their own way and explored a new and interesting theme.
I totally understand wanting to pay homage to the things that you liked, but if you liked a movie about a serial killer, it doesn’t meant that if you went out and made a movie about a serial killer, that it would be as good and make as much money.
Since The Walking Dead is popular these days, there’s a lot of writers writing about zombies. So I get a lot of short stories about zombies to consider for the anthologies. But, since I get so many stories about zombies, your story has to be really exceptional to stand out against all of the other zombie stories to be accepted for inclusion in the anthology.
We’d all like to think that anything we take the time and effort to write is exceptional, but if you’re writing about vampires, serial killers, zombies, demons, or anything Lovecraftian, then you’ve got a lot of competition.
I know that it seems like everything has already been done, and it’s impossible to come up with a new idea, but if you write from your own experiences in your own “voice” hopefully you’ll come up with something different enough to make the editor include your story in their anthology.
As with the film festival, I can’t stress enough that you should READ AND FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS.
If we couldn’t watch the media you sent in, you didn’t get into the film festival.
If I can’t open the document you sent, you’re not going to be included in the anthology.
If the editor mentions a certain word count parameter and your story is longer or shorter than the word count specified, then you can contact the editor and ask if they will consider stories of your length.
I’ll usually consider stories if they’re a couple hundred words above or below the guidelines, but if I’m looking for short stories and you send me a novel for consideration, you’re going to wait until after I get the anthology put together before I look at your novel.
For the anthology I’m working on, I asked that the documents be titled “Story Name by Author Name - # Word Count”.
I asked for this, because when dealing with 100 stories from 100 authors with 100 different e-mails you have to have a system to keep it all organized or it’s easy to loose track of things.
Of the stories I received, maybe half of the documents were titled in the manner that I asked that they be labeled for submission.
I went in and fixed all of the files, but the time and effort that took was time and effort that I could have been reading your story if you had read and followed the submission guidelines.
Also, I can totally tell when you’ve got a pre-existing story from the short story folder on your computer and you dust it off and send it in. It usually clashes with the stated theme and will probably be declined, so save us both the time and effort and read the call for submissions and write something new.
Use the submission call as a writing prompt to write a new story.
Worst case scenario, you’ll have another story for that collection of your short stories you’re putting together.
Who Do I think I Am?
So who am I that I think that I have the right to judge which stories are the best of those submitted for consideration and where did I get the balls to start my own publishing imprint?
Well, I’ve read thousands of books, reviewed hundreds of books, been published several dozen times and made several thousands of dollars doing what I do, so if I was bad at it, I think the world would know.
I think I get the balls from my father’s side, and anyone can start their own publishing imprint, but now that you know how much time and effort it takes to roll the dice, I don’t know why you’d want to.
It’s easier to just work a few overtime shifts at the job that you’d rather not be working.
I still work on my own books and submit new short stories for consideration in response to anthology calls for other publishers.
I like the challenge of trying to write a story for someone else’s anthology and write to meet their submission guidelines.
Also I use it as a quality test to make sure I'm not buying too much of my own bullshit.
Half the time I get accepted. Half the time I don’t.
But I don’t get hung up on it either way.
Being accepted doesn’t mean I’m amazing. Just better than the other stories that were submitted.
Being rejected doesn’t mean that I’m terrible. It just means that I didn’t send them what they were looking for and at least I have another story to add to the next edition of my short story collection.
I don’t ride my e-mail and wait to hear from the editor.
I just send in my story and if they’re interested or not, they’ll respond or they won’t.
That would be my final piece of advice.
Don’t hassle the publishers with follow-up e-mails asking about your submission.
I make it a point to send a “confirmation of receipt and ability to open” for each submission, but not every publishers take the time and effort to do so.
In fact, in my experience, most don’t.
You just shoot what you’ve got into the dark and sometimes you’re lucky and your bullet finds its target.
Scott Lefebvre can write about whatever you want him to write about.
Mostly because when he was grounded for his outlandish behavior as a hyperactive school child, the only place he was allowed to go was the public library.
His literary tastes were forged by the works of Helen Hoke, Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, and H. P. Lovecraft.
He is the author of Spooky Creepy Long Island, and Condemned; and a contributing author to Forrest J. Ackerman’s Anthology of the Living Dead, Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction, The Call of Lovecraft, and Cashiers du Cinemart.
His reviews have been published by a variety of in print and online media including Scars Magazine, Icons of Fright, Fatally Yours and Screams of Terror, and he has appeared in Fangoria, Rue Morgue and HorrorHound Magazine.
Check out his publishing imprint Burnt Offerings Books here:
Check out his electronic music here: soundcloud.com/master_control
And here: master-control.bandcamp.com
Check out his Etsy here: www.etsy.com/shop/ScottLefebvreArt
Stalk his Facebook at: www.facebook.com/TheLefebvre
E-mail him at: Scott_Lefebvre@hotmail.com