Wednesday, November 20, 2019

My First Royalties: Why It's a Big Deal

This week, I officially received my first ever royalty payment!

And it's a big deal.

See, the very first time one of my stories appeared in a publication was April 2013. The first time a story of mine appeared in a publication for which I was supposed to receive a royalty was April 2015. It's been four-and-a-half years since I sold my first royalty-based story, and I've just now been paid.

It wasn't for that original royalty-based publication. It wasn't for my second royalty-based publication. (Or the third, which was in the same book). It wasn't in the fourth one, which never saw the light of day, and for which I've just recently gotten the full rights back so it can be published for the first time.

Nope. Six years after my first publication, I finally received a royalty on my fifth royalty-based sale. It took that long for me to find a publisher honest enough to make that happen.

The timing is interesting, because there's been quite a bit of drama in the horror community in the last week, due to a publisher who has spent years cheating their authors. In my case, all these publications were short stories. But for those people published by this publisher, they were both short stories and novels.

I'm not going to name the publisher here, and as Dr. Phil might say, I have no dog in this hunt, but if you'd like to read about it, you can click HERE.

My point in this post is to put information out there for newer authors looking at submitting to publishers. This is why when I post links to open calls I put a disclaimer asking that people do their own due diligence before submitting. A search online might show issues that have previously come up with those publishers.

Then again, it might not.

There's only so much we, as authors, can do to protect ourselves. It's considered bad form to bad mouth a publisher. The fear is that outing your grievances publicly will get back to those publishers and/or find their way to possible future publishers, resulting in being blacklisted. So we keep our mouths shut. In doing so, we protect ourselves, but then people considering these publishers have no way to see that there are issues. Right now, that fine line still exists. The above mentioned publisher is an exception, because this situation broke out in a big way online. The author who first spoke out about it WAS, in fact, mistreated and maligned because he stepped up and aired his grievances. He ended up being "lucky," in that others with the same grievances came out with their own after things had blown up and it looked like he was done with publishing for good.

While I can't tell you what to do in the future, you have options:

1. If the royalty is small enough, you can let it go. 

This is what I did with the first royalty paying publication. In that case, it likely wasn't dishonesty, so much as lack of income. The contract stated royalties would not be paid out until they had reached a minimum ($10). The publisher did a lot of other things for their authors, and I was happy with what I got for it. They ended up going under.

2. You can contact the publisher with a polite inquiry. 

This is what I did for the second and third publication. I wasn't the only one. Several of the other authors published in the same anthology contacted the publishers. We followed up multiple times. Though we were repeatedly promised we would be paid, including multiple emails to all of us in the publication saying the payment was incoming, we still haven't been paid. The book was published in April 2018. There was no minimum payout involved, and we were to be paid quarterly. But so far, zilch.

3. Report it to professional organizations you belong to and/or Writer Beware.

I haven't done this yet, because the publisher I've been cheated by is local, incredibly small, isolated from the larger community, and run by people I know personally, which further complicates the issue. I've spoken with the other people impacted privately. I'm not dismissing the possibility for the near future, though. As a member of the HWA, I can report it to them. SFWA, MWA, and RWA, plus other organizations, offer this to their members, as well.

4. You can call them out publicly. 

This one's completely up to you. You have to take the possible damage to your career into consideration. It's easier to do when you have the backing of other impacted authors. It's also easier to do if you're somewhat established. Someone like Stephen King calling out a publisher publicly would likely go differently than someone like, say, me doing so.

I have to state, as I have in the past, that my experiences with publishers have been overall positive. I've met some truly wonderful people, who care about the writing community and always do right by us. I'm able to call some of these publishers friends, which is wonderful. Issues like the ones outlined above shouldn't keep you from diving into the publishing world. Just be sure you go in with the understanding that there will be bad experiences mixed in with the good. Royalty-based publications aren't the only ones who don't pay. I've had three publications not pay me when they were supposed to pay a flat fee. Two of these went under before I could query them, so that money's never coming in. The last one has been queried about the payment, so we'll see how that goes.

It's important to keep track of your publications and expected payments so you can follow up in whatever way you deem fit if you don't get paid. Don't be afraid to stick up for yourself. You can be polite and still ask for what you're owed. Many of these small presses are run by one or two individuals, so mistakes or delays might happen. Only you know how far you're willing to let it go before pursuing your payment.

To end on a positive note, even the situations where I've been cheated in some form were ultimately worth it. They taught me valuable lessons concerning the publishing world, and I'm sure I'll learn plenty more going forward. In addition, I enjoyed getting to see my stories in print, and for those same stories to get in front of new people. I still love the world of fiction publishing, and refuse to let the few bad experiences destroy it for me. I hope that the information in this post informs without deterring. We all have our place in publishing.

Now for some links. Bear in mind that I'm not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.

Accepting Submissions:

Stormdance Publications is seeking submissions for Grumpy Old Gods, Volume 5. 3000 to 4000 words. Pays in a royalty split. Deadline December 1.

Slice Magazine is seeking short stories, flash fiction, essays, and poetry with the theme Persistence. Up to 5000 words. Pays $100 to $400, depending upon submission type. Deadline December 1.

Speculative City is seeking horror short stories, poems, and essays for their 7th issue. Up to 5500 words. Pays $20 to $75, depending upon submission type. Deadline December 2.

The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts is seeking fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, mixed media, and more. Pays $50. Deadline December 15.

Malefaction is seeking stories with the theme Femme Fatale. Up to 2000 words. Paying market. Deadline December 16.

Have you had experience with not being paid? What actions did you take? Do you have recommendations not mentioned here? Are any of these links of interest? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.


Nosmoke (dollar signs) by OCAL
Shoosh Shoo Smiley by OCAL
Writer Beware logo from their website
Megafonim by OCAL


  1. That's a lot of published stories before someone paid you. Writers do need to confirm with other authors if a publisher pays on time (or at all.)

    1. Definitely. The only real option we have is to ask those we know who've been published by various publishers.

  2. Congratulations on getting paid for your work. Finally. What a shame people have to be like that.

    1. Thank you! And yes it is. Even worse when it's a friend.

  3. It's good of you to share this information. I think my writing started from stress pure and simple. Pouring my type A work ethic into writing soon made me come to the conclusion that I had the cart before the horse.

    All of the writing books I first acquired detailed how to sell your work. Little did I know how long it would take to learn the craft, and money is not a reasonable goal in writing. But giving your work away is not a smart idea either.
    Thanks Shannon.

    1. You share valid points. I'm Type A, as well, and I pour that part of me into organizing the business aspects.

  4. Congrats on receiving your first royalty!

    It sucks that you didn't for the others though.

  5. Hi Shannon - congratulations on receiving that first cheque - good news. But appreciate your previous 'publishing life' - I guess now - if we're in a group as we are here - we can at least ask around and check ... good for you - cheers Hilary

    1. Yes, asking around is definitely a good idea. I'm always willing to be honest about my experiences.

  6. First payment after all of these years? Wow. I can understand a threshold if they mail a check, but DLP sends all royalties via PayPal, so they go out to the author no matter how small.

    1. That's one good thing about the flat fees I've been paid: always by PayPal. The publishers who failed to pay me had asked for my PayPal information, and just never sent the money. It's unfortunate.

  7. Congrats on the first royalty payment. Sorry it took so long to get though.

  8. Yikes. I was all ready to congratulate you on your royalty payment, but it sounds like it was waaaaay over due and I'm sorry it took so long. At least you got it now.

    1. Yes, thanks! So glad to have been paid. On the flip side, I've already been paid for a March publication that's a flat fee.

  9. I have a real problem with America's culture of silence. It's not just this, it's everything.
    Sexual abuse in the church.
    Sexual abuse in the boy scouts.
    Sexual abuse by film producers.
    And a "president."
    And, you know, not getting paid.

    1. I understand that, and agree. It's a culture where saying something can often result in a terrible backlash, which isn't how it should be.