Monday, September 30, 2013

Writer Pay Options

In searching for contests and publications taking submissions, I come across a lot of different ways a writer can be paid (or not). The most common types are:

1. Per word payment
Author is paid per word in their piece, sometimes varying per length (as in, one rate for short stories, one rate for poetry, one rate for novellas). Duotrope breaks it down into token (<$ .01/word), semi-pro ($.01-.049/word), and pro (>$.05/word).

2. Flat payment
One flat monetary payment per piece, no matter how many words. This flat payment usually varies per overall story length (i.e. short, flash, poetry, novella, etc.), but doesn't take into count exact word count. Example would be $25 per short story.

3. Royalty-based payment
Typically, you are promised a % share for the amount that comes in for the sale of the book or magazine. Some do a tier system, while others offer all authors in the piece an equal share. This is after costs of publication are met, and means you will only be paid if a profit is turned.

4. Charity
With this option, you submit with the understanding that your piece will make you no money, and that all proceeds go to a charity that has been pre-selected. If no charity is selected, and it just says that it will go to charity, I recommend avoiding it.

5. No payment
This is often found with upstart magazines that are trying to gain a foothold in the market. They may promise exposure, free advertising, your name on their website, etc., but you will not receive money. Some may state that they will revisit lack of payment should they bring in enough money.

There are many other options and mish-mashes of the above (for instance, I recently found one that paid a small flat rate to start, followed by royalties should any be received). So far, my personal experience has been with a charity anthology, a per-word magazine, and flat-rate per article payments. I haven't submitted to anyone saying they pay by royalties yet.

I'm seeking opinions and experiences with the various types of pay. If you've worked for royalties, how has that gone? Do you prefer one of the above methods of payment? Which one, and why? What way(s) would you never consider submitting to?

May you find your Muse.


  1. I've contributed to two anthologies for charity and have three books that generate royalties. So far I'm happy with my choices. Especially as the royalties have been beyond what I imagined. (Which was rather small anyway.)

  2. I've had flat payments for articles and now have a royalty based contract with my publisher. I did some per-word work but never get too far with it. I definitely have a long way to go to be able to make a living writing LOL.

  3. Royalties published thru others [other than myself], I've yet to see any.

    I received a flat payment for a short story recently. I wouldn't mind doing that again.

    I've submitted for charity with no pay. Exposure is always good.

    The royalties I make on my own depend on the project.

  4. Alex, glad to hear you're happy with your choices. :)

    Julie, me, too! That's for sure.

    Mary, that's exactly what I was wondering. I've been pondering some short story anthologies that are royalty based, and I'm simply not sure I'll see anything for them.

  5. I received royalties for my novels. I would write for a charitable cause and have a poem published in an anthology where all I received was a free copy. I think writers should try to find paying markets. Even small paychecks gives one acknowledgement of professionalism.

  6. Hi, Shannon. Great information on the different ways a writer can receive payment.

  7. My experience has been that markets that are willing to pay you something up front are generally more stable and professional, although I *have* had good experiences with ones that pay royalties. There doesn't seem to be a difference between flat and per-word payment as far as that goes.

    Charity markets vary. A lot of them go belly-up before moving to publication. If your charity market is run by people who have published things before, you have a better chance of your story seeing the light of day, but a lot of times volunteers with no experience will muck things up and publish things in the worst possible way, if they publish them at all.

    No payment: I'd say...go ahead, get ONE thing published at a no-payment market. Build your confidence. But move to places that pay, like, five bucks after that. No-pay markets are just WEIRD. They're all over the place, and it's a minefield of unprofessionalism, usually. A lot of the time they want you to invest in their "community," which means you spend a lot of time blathering in obscure forums and reading other people's submissions. No. Your time would be better spent writing new material. You can't invest in a new community every time you try to get a story published--unless you really, really like to write fan fiction, but that's another discussion entirely.

    In fact, when you hit a pay market that demands that you become part of their community (and review other people's stuff or jump through some other, time-consuming hoops) before you can submit, then leave. If you were applying for a job and the interviewer said, "Before we can hire you, and we're not saying we will, you need to work for us for free for, oh, 8-16 hours, and we're only going to hire you for another 8 hours if we do decide to hire you," you'd walk, because you know the owner is cray-cray.

    After that first time, I'd walk every time someone wants you to work for free. People who want you to work for free have a poor business model and probably either a) don't know what they're doing, or b) are out to screw you over. I've only had ONE case of working for free working out in my favor overall, and that's only because I like slushing and feel I learn more from it than I put into it. Otherwise? Not worth it. If you're good enough to publish on a free market, you're good enough to publish on a five-dollar market, and you'll feel better about yourself and work with people who are a ton easier, more polite, and less flaky to work with.

    In all cases: READ THE CONTRACT. Do NOT give away more than a) first publication rights exclusive for up to 2 years (but one year is ideal), b) non-exclusive reprint rights (if it's a reprint), or c) first or non-exclusive audio rights (if they're doing audio).

    They do NOT get movie rights, development rights, or anything else. And if they want exclusive rights, there has to be a limit on them: two years max, but ideally one year. If it's non-exclusive, you have to have the right to ask them to take it down after at most two years (in case it's part of a property that gets bought out by someone who wants exclusive rights, like Avon or something).

    Pro and semi-pro markets tend to have decent contracts (but still read them; I ran into one that wanted to pay me 2c a word for all rights in all formats without a Token and free and charity markets tend to flail around although there are some really sharp people working token markets.

    The thing is, contracts are there to be negotiated. We're so used to EULAs and things that that we don't realize that all it takes is often to say, "I want to strike XYZ out of your boilerplate contract," and usually the publisher will say, "Okay." Really :) I've requested and gotten changes to a dozen short story contracts, and only had the problems with the 2c/word one mentioned above. I walked on that one. C'est la vie.

  8. Susan, I've heard that before and tend to agree. Writers shouldn't be writing for free.

    Susanne, thanks!

    DeAnna, wow, you DID write me a novel! A very helpful, detailed, knowledgeable novel. Thank you for the information. I'm quite new at all things publishing as far as implementation. I don't think I would have thought to change anything in a contract, though I've done it on rental contracts, so maybe I would have? No idea. Really good to know, though. I know you've had a lot of experience with publishing shorts, so it's a great help.