I get asked to answer a number of Quora member questions. I pick only the ones that are interesting or need a critical eye to answer. This one came to me yesterday, and is from the Quora member, Ashley.


How do I know if my publisher is scamming me? I am to pay +$500 to be published in a series called “Letters of Love.” (3000 words) added to a compilation. Including 5-10 other author’s, whom all have to pay. The publisher is noted on cover as author.

Let’s look at this logically:

  1. Your publisher is charging you $500 to be in a collection of stories that have about 3000 words each
  2. 5-10 other authors are being published along with you
  3. They will be listed as the author on the cover

There is an old saying–if it looks like a duck…

You are paying a publisher to publish you, and the price is $0.16/word. That is about what a professional writer receives for a short story. So, yes, your publisher is scamming you. Let me break this down:

Payment for Publication

There are several companies that charge you to publish your book. Most of the companies are praying on new writers who lack the knowledge of how to publish their work. They are called Vanity Presses. Most charge exorbitant fees per book that would make you cringe if you were a traditionally published author.

Here is the pay scale that most authors go by when submitting work for publication in a collection:

  • Amature -$0.01-0.02/cents a word–new authors never published or published periodically in small presses
  • Basic – $0.03-0.05/cents a word–an author with publication credits spanning 20-50 publications
  • Intermediate – $0.07-0.10/ word–an author with substantial short story publications but no standalone novels
  • Advanced – $0.11-0.15/ word-an author with substantial short story publications and standalone novels
  • Expert – $0.16-0.35/word-an author with substantial short story publications, standalone novels, and writing awards

As you can see, there are no options for writers who pay to be published.

Let’s put it another way :

I’ve published and have been published in different anthologies. For these I’ve been paid between $0.05-0.18/cents a word when I had a short story published. The funds are based on my expertize in writing, being a seasoned writer with multiple short stories published, my editing background, my publishing experience, and the fact I edited an award-winning memoir (Realizing River City by Melissa Grunow). As an editor, I get paid around $0.75/325 words (about a page). When editing, you can kill a page in about 30 seconds, and that is a deep dive read (for the mathematically challenged, that’s about $90/hour).

In your scenario, 5-10 authors paying $500 each means the publisher is getting $2,500-5,000 for editing (if they even do that), compiling, and publishing the collective works. Now, what happens if it sells? Do you have a contract that will pay you royalties from the sale? Are the royalties a base payment per copy (digital or print)? Or are you getting a percentage of the profit based on your contribution to the publication? Is your contract specific or a boiler plate one that is maybe a page in length? Does it spell out what your responsibilities are and the responsibilities of the publisher? If not, run. You’ll never see anything from the money you spend, nor will you get any royalties.

The author contracts I see are around six pages. They outline everything from timeline to copyright, to payment schedules. Don’t get caught up in a scam like the one you have described. Protect your hard work (writing is hard, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). Protect your name, for being found out as a paying to publish author can be scandalous if you start making a name for yourself. Most traditional publishers won’t touch a paid to be published author.

Concerning the attribution of the work, all publishing platforms allow for the listing of every author who contributes. If the publisher lists themselves as the author, they are trying to make an end run around your copyright. Refuse it. It’s okay to list the publisher as a publisher, but not a contributing author unless they actually have their own work in the publication. When the anthologies I’ve been involved in were published, the editor was listed as the editor on the cover and in the copyright. It’s the right thing to do.