Pay to Play Anthologies

Vanity anthologies are a popular way for unscrupulous companies to make money on writers’ hunger for publication. By far the most common vanity anthology scheme is the free contest scheme, in which writers are enticed to enter poems or stories in a competition, and then pressured–though usually not required–to buy the anthologies in which their work appears. I blogged about one of these a while back: Eber & Wein, a company that is allegedly run by a former employee of the granddaddy of all vanity anthology schemes,

A less common, but often much more expensive, vanity anthology scheme is the pay-to-play anthology. In this version of the scheme, writers must pay upfront for inclusion in the anthology, usually by buying large numbers of finished books or other merchandise.

Pay to play anthologies typically are nonfiction, usually on subjects of general or inspirational interest, and actively capitalize on their superficial similarity to successful series like the Chicken Soup books (which, by the way, not only don’t require payments or purchases, but offer a small honorarium to contributors). Writers are often targeted by spamming, but also by legitimate-looking calls for submission on the anthology companies’ websites, on the Internet, and in writers’ forums and communities. None of these solicitations mention that a cash outlay is involved–you usually have to dig pretty deep into the submission guidelines to find that out.

For instance, the Wake Up…Live the Life You Love series requires contributors to buy up to 500 books at a cost of several thousand dollars, and boasts that its anthologies include articles by such well-known figures as Dr. Wayne Dyer and Tony Robbins (likely, these are articles that the series owner has bought a license to re-use). The anthologies published by Inspired Living Publishing require contributors to pay thousands of dollars for marketing packages that include not just large numbers of books, but various promotional aids of dubious effectiveness.

The companies make a big point of emphasizing how much profit writers can realize if they sell the books, since they’re purchasing them for less than list price. But for someone who doesn’t already have a captive audience, it’s not so easy to flog several hundred books (and where to put all those boxes?). It’s likely that many, if not most, contributors will never get their money back.

Pay to play anthologies tout themselves as an opportunity for entrepreneurs and business owners to enhance their professional images by presenting themselves as published authors and using the anthology as a kind of business card. For someone with plenty of money to spare, might this be a reasonable form of publicity?

Possibly, given that the general public has no idea that these schemes exist and won’t know you bought your publishing credit–and assuming that the anthologies are professionally produced and edited (not a guarantee–this is definitely a case of try before you buy), and that the anthology company will actually send you the books you purchase. But if you’re seriously considering paying for something like this, ask yourself whether it’s worth laying out several thousand dollars just to be able to say you got published in an anthology series no one ever heard of–and whether you really want several hundred books that you’ll either have to hustle to sell, or stuff in a dark corner of your basement.


  1. Before this became a "scam," I did win the thousand dollar grand prize–really. The check came in the mail the day my car needed repairs. It was from The American Poetry Association. The poem was published with the other winning (excellent poems) in the anthology. (The poem had also won first place in George Mason University's poetry contest where I was a graduate student.) This was in 1988. I'll never forget that day!

    How the world has changed, in so many ways.

  2. What is funny, or worse about these pay to play anthologies: Staples offers book binding options for every budget.

  3. Visual artists have been scammed for years with vanity galleries, pay anthologies, pay to this and that.

    I didn't know this existed in the publishing biz.

  4. Thousands of dollars to be part of an anthology? If it smells like a Rip-off tastes, like a Rip-off then it's a rip-off.

    That costs more than a POD publisher, Lulu or even self-publishing with an offset press. It's crazy how many hustlers take advantage of writers who don't know what's going on.

    If I sell rights to be in an anthology I expect to be paid, plain and simple.

  5. Publish America's Alphabetical volumes of "anthologies" entitled "Why We Wrote" is a prime example of this topic raised. I am not sure if the writers had to pay to be included but if not the idea is every writter featurd will buy at least one of these volumes ( the one they are in) the average reader would never be interested in something like this.
    The books are POD, so no money spent by the printer until the book is ordered.

  6. One question is, DO the people who edit the anthologies actually choose professionally written and edited works? Because you can have a great article or whatever, but if some of the rest are amateurish, you will be known by the company you keep.

  7. I'm happy to contribute to anthologies, but if money changes hands then it's way better to receive than to give.

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