The big anthology con

I am going to get on my soapbox here and have a bit of a rant, so apologies in advance.

It seems to me, that there are an increasing number of calls for anthology submissions from small presses. Certainly, there are more listed on places like Duotrope, or within the various horror related message boards, than there were last year.

There are a few things that these anthologies tend to have in common.

1: They do not give contributor copies

2: They are all produced by sites like Lulu or Createspace

3: They either don’t pay their contributors, or provide a token payment of about $5 or 1.5c per word.

4: They all cost between $12 and $20 a copy.

Now, as a new writer, I was thrilled to get my first story included in a printed anthology. There was something exciting about having my story in a printed book. It made my progress as a writer seem more real somehow, than ezine publication. I bought myself a copy, one for my parents, and sent another to my sister.

Over the period of a year, I had another two stories published in antho’s – one in a “Best of…” edition, and another that I was asked to contribute to. I purchased my copy, and again, sent one to my parents (my sister lost out due to lack of funds).

Then the penny dropped.

These antho’s paid me a grand total of $10 combined (I donated my $5 fee from one of them to charity). I had spent roughly $100 buying my contributor copies. It was essentially costing me money to be a part of these books. I did’nt mind this too much as two of the antho’s were for charity and Toe Tags was being put together by a couple of writing buddies and I was happy to support it. However, this was not something I could afford to make a habit of.

Now, unlike some of my peers, I don’t have a problem in giving my work away for nothing. Free ezines gave me my start in writing, gave me the confidence to push on to bigger and better things, and gave me a core readership (although, admittedly, quite a small one). These sites are hosted, updated and maintained by people who love what they do, and some of the work on them is very good indeed. I am happy to support these places.

Anthologies however, are something else entirely. I have my suspicions that the only people who actually buy a lot of these books are the people that contribute to them, plus their family and friends. While the ezines are doing it for the love of the craft, these books are, in some instances, taking advantage of the authors. You give your work away for nothing, or as near to nothing as makes no difference. You then pay the publisher for the honour of having your work in print. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few good publishers out there, but there are also some really dodgy ones too.

So…what exactly is the difference between submitting something to an anthology, and just packaging up your various short stories and creating your own collection on somewhere like Lulu?

Out of curiosity, I ran the wizard on Lulu and the cost per book for a standard 300 page paperback came out at £5.50, or £7.10 for a larger book (A4)

That comes in at almost half the cover cost of many of these anthologies – so in essence, the publisher is making between £7 and £13 per book that you buy.

Doing the maths on this, assuming a 22 story anthology sells 2 copies per author, then the publisher is making £308 per anthology. Take off the £5 that they pay each author, and they have more or less £200 left over, with Lulu, Amazon etc taking the rest.

Hardly seems worth it to be honest. You have to wonder why alot of these guys bother.

There are, of course, some other publishers that pay a modest sum for the story and provide a contributors copy. Great! I’ll send my story to them instead I think.

I have submitted four stories over the past year to anthologies of this nature. I have had no rejections from any of these stories.

However, I have also had no acceptances either.

This is because, without exception, every single one of these anthologies has been cancelled, put on hold or simply vanished into the ether.

Three of the stories were reprints, so, to be honest, I did’nt care. I watched with amusement as the publisher announced a new anthology at the rate of around one a week, and announced that submissions were closed and anthologies were put on hold at roughly the same rate. Clearly I am not going to be wasting my time sending them anything else.

There was one, however, that I had high hopes for. It paid semi pro rates, and a contributor copy. My story was as polished as I could make it. The publisher, while a small press, had a good reputation and I was genuinely excited about the chance of inclusion in the book.

Acceptances / Rejections were promised by January. This was pushed back to March. Then I got a mail informing me that my story was shortlisted at the end of March, with a promise that a final decision would be made within the next three to four weeks. Updates were made on the publishers website, stating that acceptances and rejections were being sent out. It looked good. Then, in April, the updates stopped and nothing was heard, despite several of the authors prodding the editor on the forum.

Then, today, the editor announced that he was resigning from the project, and that the anthology may not happen at all. 8 months of waiting, checking emails and forums for absolutely nothing. Another anthology bites the dust.

So, my writer friends, consider this. If you want your work in print, then it will probably be cheaper for you to create your own book on Lulu that you can give out to your loved ones, and have lying around on the coffee table. The “for the love” antho’s are often vanity publishing that you are paying twice the going rate for. Sad but true.

Even anthologies from reputed publishers vanish up their own arses at an alarming rate, or at the very least, leave you waiting for months and months for any feedback.

Personally, I am not bothering with anthologies any more. My work will go to a mix of free ezines and some paying sites and magazines. If you do decide to submit your stuff to an anthology, I wish you the best of luck, but be prepared for it to hit you in the pocket, or for your story to vanish from the face of the earth for months at a time.

Rant over…as you were


~ by graemereynolds on June 7, 2010.

8 Responses to “The big anthology con”

  1. Fair enough rant, Graeme. Sadly, all of what you ranted about is true. I’ve had three stories at one publishing companty for three different anthos for a year now–as of June 1–and none of them have been cancelled, but none of them have shown any progress as well. I sent e-mails querying and have not heard back, yet their site is upated weekly, sometimes daily.

    I’ve since pulled one of the stories to send elsewhere.

    I’ve also had a couple of pubs that have folded after accepting a story, but I just shrug at those.

    Part of the problem is this: Everyone thinks they can just put together an anthology, but unless you’ve worked on one, well, most folks have no clue how difficult they are to put together. Also, if you don’t have the funds to either give a Contrib Copy or pay for the stories, the publication might want to stick with doing things online–much cheaper for all involved in the long run.

    Like you, I have no problems giving stories to for the luv markets since they helped me get on my proverbial feet. However, I am very select in which markets I give to.

    You’re a good writer, Graeme. Chin up and keep looking for the right markets. They are out there and I’m certain you will get paid more than 10 bucks in the future.


  2. Good rant, Graeme….and I agree 100%. I wasn’t too happy with the last antho I had to shell money out for, especially when it lacked any editorial work. The book was thrown together, and that’s exactly how it read. I don’t even want to show it to anyone. Steering clear of the anthos. Too much work for nothing.

  3. I think every publisher has to start somewhere. Most don’t start out paying their writers or providing a free copy of anthologies. However, publishers should evolve like writers. They should get better not worse. And publishers/editors that burn out weren’t meant to publish to begin with. Publications that spit out anthologies quick and fast will do so with either a large team of copy-editors, or with a large amount of typos. Unless they spend hours editing.

    I’ve always said I would rather see my fiction in an ezine where it has a chance to be read by 500-5,000 readers, while in a small-press anthology it will be read by 20-500 people (for the most part).

    Personally, I support all the small-press publications in the beginning. If they evolve and grow in quality, I continue to submit to them. If they don’t get better, I refrain.

    One thing you have to consider in figuring out pricing is the shipping and “royalties” PODs stack on. I know nothing about Create-a-Space, but Lulu books I do know. Static Movement Print Special No. 2 was a $10.00 anthology, with 204 pages, 9×11, and chock full of art for each story. We were supposed to make $2USD per copy. But add the “royalties” Lulu paid, and it was much less. Then Lulu charged a lot of shipping, so in the end most people buying it paid $16.00 for our $10.00 anthology.

    I honestly believe all small-press will only sell to friends and family without some sort of distribution plan. And they won’t get that without some sort of quality control based on copy-editing. And furthermore, if they don’t continue to grow, to reach for higher plateaus, to evolve in quality and proof-reading and copy-editing, and to ascertain ways in which they might pay their writers, then they will eventually stagnate.

    Liquid Imagination doesn’t pay. But we’re looking into many things right now to alleviate this situation for the webzine, things I don’t want to say openly. But we’re working hard at the prospect of making LI a paying market.

    Loved your rant.

  4. Hey Graeme,

    Excellent post. I do want to say though that there are a few things that need to be added to this from a publisher’s point of view.

    First, whenever Brian and I came up with the idea for TOE TAGS, we told ourselves that the only way that we were going to go through this was if we were bringing a good, quality project to the table that the writers would be proud to be a part of. We knew that we wouldn’t be able to pay any more than $5 a story because, well to be perfectly honest, Brian and I have families and simply cannot afford to pay pro payments – SO, what we decided to do was to make a piece of art to accompany each of the stories. We thought that it would be really cool for the author to see artwork that was based on their ideas. And it worked, the authors were all really stoked about the artwork and, in my opinion, the book came out looking very nice.

    TOE TAGS had 17 authors. We paid those authors $5 each for their stories, coming to a total of $85 out of our pockets. We also spent three months creating artwork – which forced us to buy materials, photo editing software, and not to mention our travel expenses to do these photoshoots. One photoshoot in particular was over 400 miles away (for Joshua Scribner’s pic). There were also four photos that we traveled over 100 miles to get.

    Also during this time, Brian and I edited all of the stories over and over and over again, trying to make sure that we caught most if not all of the errors. This takes A LOT of time, beleive it or not. And causes a lot of stress when we are taking that much time away from our families (remember, Brian and I both have full-time jobs).

    So, then it comes down to publishing time. We get the book and the art formatted exactly how we want it. We upload it to Lulu (because we have no money or access to any other printers). Lulu says that we HAVE to charge a minimum of $12 in order to sell our book through them. This is the MINIMUM – meaning that neither Brian or I will make a cent from any of the sales. So we decided that it was still reasonable to charge $17 for the book, since the book was enormous and was filled with amazing stories and great artwork. This gave us $5 per book sold THROUGH LULU. Any books sold through Amazon we would make less than $1 – Oh, and we had to split this between each other as well. So, Brian and I make anywhere from 50 cents to $2.50 per book each. You have to sell a whole slew of these books in order to make any money at all, which is damn near impossible when all the stories are written by small press authors. Like you mentioned before, most of the sales are from friends and family of the authors, so that leaves Brian and I in debt for several months. By the time we finally broke even, book sales dwendled. We haven’t had one book sell since the beginning of this year.

    Being completely honest, Brian and I didn’t make any money from TOE TAGS. We made all of our money back that we had put into it, thankfully, and we made a lot of friends, such as yourself. We even got a lot of praise for the book: as you know, it was requested for review by Ellen Datlow and even finished 3rd in Best Anthologies of 2009 on Preditors and Editors.

    In the end, no, we didn’t make money, BUT we made a hell of a book with fantastic stories and art that people loved. For the love. It is what it is. If we are ever in a position where we can pay more for the work, then we definitely would do so – no question. The authors DESERVE to be paid more. I hope that one day we are financially able to pay the contributors exactly what they deserve. That is our goal.

    So, my advice to writers – do your research before you submit to an anthology. See what quality work they publish. There are some bad ones out there. More bad than good. But there are also some honest people out there that just really love their hobbies and wish to share their talents with others. Those are the people you want to trust with your stories.

    I hope I made my point clear. I know it sounds like these publishers are raping their contributors, but it’s not like that at all – at least not with my projects. We just love horror fiction. We just love what we do. It’s as simple as that.


    William Pauley III

  5. Hey William, thanks for stopping by. I hope you realise I was not having a dig at yourself, Brian or Sam from HoH in this post. I have amended the text to reflect that. I knew what I was getting into with Toe Tags and the two HoH antho’s and was glad to be a part of them.

    However, there are a hell of a lot of other antho’s springing up of late that have neither your production values, or have the charitable intentions that House of Horror has. Some places produce garbage, some take advantage of new authors desire to see their work in print, some do both. People need to be aware of what they are getting into with some of these presses.

  6. Hey Graeme,

    No worries! 🙂 I figured as much, but I just thought I’d let others know that all anthologies are out to make a bunch of money off of your work. But I do agree with your post, there are a lot of those anthologies that are designed for just that – to pay the authors nothing and make a good couple hundred dollars. BUT, thankfully, those anthologies/magazines are easy to identify: they don’t edit their stories, the cover art is crappy (they don’t even try to make it look decent in the slightest – that would be too much work), and they publish pretty much every single story that is thrown at them. There are plenty of anthologies that I’ve read where I’m not even sure that the publisher themselves have even read. It’s sad.

    Just DON’T BE A SUCKER! Be a part of anthologies that you really want to be a part of, don’t just shovel your work to anyone that will take it. If your work is worth it, then you will find a good home for it eventually. Just be patient. 🙂

    Thank you, Graeme, for this great post.

    Take care,


  7. Hey William, I think you hit it on the head. Having been on both sides of the fence with anthologies, it is a lot of work and folks should definitely do their research before subbing to them.

  8. I want to add an addendum as well…My thoughts on anthologies are not aimed at House of Horror either. I think Sam does a kickass job on her zine and her anthologies. She defines “for the love” because that is exactly why she does it.

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