The question is more literally “How much is your writing worth?” but since art is in effect a piece of you that you have offered for the consumption of others, I think it’s a fair question.
In the last day, there’s been a minor blow-up about Random House’s new Hydra imprint. Simply put, the contract is horrifically awful. Cory Doctorow pointed out you’d be better off self-publishing through a site like Lulu.com. Scalzi said the contract would make any good agent’s head explode, and later dissected a contract from the sister imprint Alibi. Random House has now written the SFWA a letter about this matter, and the SFWA has responded quite negatively. If you are someone who hopes to some day publish a novel, you should read these posts. You need to educate yourself about this, because there are people out there (apparently including in big publishing houses who should know better) who want to exploit your work.
And if you’re a reader of fiction, you should pay attention to. Practices that hurt writers will ultimately hurt readers, in a myriad of ways. We depend on each other.
What really pisses me off about this entire thing is that it blatantly targets new, struggling writers. Because we’re desperate, and we may not understand how precious our rights are, and which rights we should expect to retain as a matter of course. As a new, struggling writer, I know how tempting it can be to grab at any offer that will get your book in print somehow, because then you get to feel like a real writer. Trying to get published sucks. It involves constant rejection. It involves waiting for immense periods of time just so someone can tell you no over and over again. It’s fucking depressing. And I know that the opportunity to escape that cycle of rejection can feel like someone’s thrown you a rope when you’re drowning.
Only sometimes, the rope is the tail of a poisonous snake. Or a hydra. (See what I did there?)
You ultimately have to ask yourself what is my work worth? Ask yourself what am I worth?
I can tell you right now, your work is worth more than giving up all of your rights and paying for the privilege of seeing your name on the cover of an ebook. You and your work are worth enough that you should not be paying production costs. You and your work are worth enough that you should not have every single right stripped from you for the full term of copyright. You’re worth way more than that. And your friends who are writers are worth more than that too. So tell them to avoid these imprints. Tell them it’s a bad deal. Tell them that in publishing, money should never come from the author, and we have to fight to keep it that way.
You are worth putting up with the rejection until you get a good yes. I know how it is, man. I’d do just about anything to get one of my novels in print. But I wouldn’t do this, because my work is mine, it’s me, and I’m a financial gravity well toward which money flows.