Years ago, I wrote for Toolband.com, the official website for the rock band Tool. It was a brief gig but I was paid through in-kind contribution: tickets and backstage passes, oh yes. My big contribution from that era was postulating that the “4:20 code” for smoking marijuana came from an H.P. Lovecraft short story. Good times.
But one of the best things I took from that experience was something Tool’s drummer, Danny Carey, said to me:
“Play for fun;
“Play for pay;
“But don’t pay to play.”
—Danny Carey (ca. 2003)
As a writer, I take Danny’s sage advice to heart. I refuse to pay to have my words appear in print. Sometimes I submit a piece to a non-paying market just to get something out there. Other times, I submit a piece to markets that pay at least something (token is fine). But I don’t submit pieces to markets that demand a publication fee.
Now, don’t get me wrong on this: if a market asks for money to publish a piece, is willing to pay the authors they do publish, and they offer a critique for authors who don’t get published, then I’ll consider it. If it’s a contest with a small entry fee, then I might consider entering the contest. Those are beasts of another color altogether—there’s something to be learned at the very least with a small entry fee.
But vanity is the Bain of art. Paying to see your work in print is simply vanity and it should be eschewed altogether. Paying to play implies that you don’t take your art seriously and making a product for all the wrong reasons. Don’t pay to play.