Suspend Your Disbelief

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Payment vs. Good Karma

At the Coachella Review, Steve Almond makes a case—through his email exchange with an agent—against contributing to an anthology for free:

Mark –

I may be willing to do this, but I’d really like to know: who IS getting paid, if not the contributors? I contribute to a lot of anthologies, and almost without exception, they offer to pay contributors based on the advance, or a small percentage of the royalties. The idea is a great one, and the contributors are top-notch, so this book could make real money. Why wouldn’t the people who provided the material for the book get some of that money?

Not trying to give you a hard time. These feel like reasonable questions.



Now, as an emerging writer, I’m sometimes approached to participate in projects for free. And because I’m an emerging writer, often the trade-off in publicity is worth it for me. I’ve had agents contact me, and editors solicit work, as the result of such projects. But for Almond, whose career is more established, the calculus may be different. And more importantly, as he points out, if the anthology’s editors aren’t even willing to offer their contributors an honorarium or a tiny percentage of any future royalties—but are pocketing the full advance for the book themselves—something does feel amiss.

This whole exchange brings up a larger point, though. Are there projects that don’t pay, but which writers might want to contribute to for the “good karma” alone? Well, I think so: Fiction Writers Review, for starters. Unlike the anthology in Almond’s post, there are no advances involved here; FWR is a labor of love for us, and not one of our editors, nor our web designer, Marissa, makes any money from the site. In fact, we often buy books and send them to contributors at our own expense. We do it because we think fiction matters. We want to call attention to the great emerging fiction writers out there, and that goal is important enough to merit our time and effort.

Nevertheless, we hope to be able to pay our contributors in the future: we’re all writers here, and we believe your work is valuable. Until then, we offer our heartfelt gratitude to our reviewers, interviewers, interviewees, and essayists. This site wouldn’t exist without you, and we thank you for accepting good karma as payment—at least for now.

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