Chill Subs co-founder discusses money and profits in indie-lit publishing
Only just saw this, but the real issue is the ouroboros problem that we mention in the NFT article this week. Poetry was the spearhead, as it's been this way for many decades, but when the only consumers are producers, the only economy possible is one that eats itself, which is just a Ponzi scheme, moving any wealth from the bottom of a pyramid to the top. In a world of universal literacy and too much competition from other forms of entertainment, reading and writing literature has become a hobby, and all we can really do is play musical chairs. I've been looking for a solution to this problem for a very long time, and I'm not sure that there is one.
Anyway, I'd be wary of the data in the links here. Similarweb.com lists Duotrope's income as 1-2 million, but it lists Rattle's income as 5-7 million, and that's utterly absurd and off by 20x (you can guess the direction).
Outstanding piece that captures the problems most indie writers face. But possibly does not go far enough into the fact that so few people read anything at all these days. Thank you.
Thank you for the mention! I actually had already started to put together the notes below, before I reached it. This is really compelling article and I have a couple of thoughts in no particular order:
1. There is actually one High School lit journal that I know of, and they do seem to have decent funding and seem really cool: https://levitatemagazine.org/
2. Both Reedsy and Submittable, are run on the start-up funding model, and both very much have silicon valley roots. I'm not saying they aren't run by writers, but their focus/mode is very different than a lot of writer run companies because of where their funding is coming from (or came from initially - I did a deep research dive on this about 5 years back, but I can't remember what I came up with at the time and it's probably irreverent now.
3. I think it's important to note that a lot of the lit journals run by Discover Art LLC do seem exploitative not just in terms of contests, but in terms of where they are getting their labor. I'm not sure about all of the magazines which seem to function differently, for example I know Uncharted has a long history of not paying their writers (thanks to The Grinder which you also mentioned) , but at least two of the major journals they run do not pay any of the masthead staff including the head editor. And at least one of these magazines where you can pay a huge fee for personal feedback, that personal feedback is actually not given by anyone linked to the magazine, but by outside writers/editors, who are paid, and coordinated/hired, not by the editor of the journal but by someone higher up in the company.
wonderfully written post. as a high school student who's submitted to a lot of free lit mags and managed to earn $50 through that, this article both fascinates and scares me. i want to pursue journalism & creative writing in college and actively contribute to changing the current status quo.
This is why I draw a hard line: never pay to submit, never submit to any publication that doesn't pay.
I highly recommend this rule to all writers, as it not only simplifies the process but also does wonders for your self-respect, as paying to submit work others should be compensating you for often makes the author feel like a chump.
"Editors, consider linking to contributors’ books on your magazine site." This is an important suggestion that doesn't cost anyone anything. I never understand why magazines, particularly online ones, cannot find it in their hearts to create a contributors page with all links to their authors' income-generating works or give us a little more space in our bios so we can add the links ourselves. Transparency is key: Where does all the money go? That is the most crucial question that you ask in this piece. Thank you for doing all the math!
Sobering article. I feel kinda used right now
I do not submit to contests or litmags that charge a fee. I know I can be rejected for free. I am also an editor for two litmags that do not charge fees. (I don't get paid either, obviously). I write for the love of writing, and I edit for the love of writers and their writing.
Thank you for this--I had joked before here about if I wanted to be a con artist, I'd start some fake lit mags, charge reading and contest fees. Now I see I could do it all legally and still make a log of $$$s.
Thank you for this article. However, I just read an article in today's Washington Post about "analog trends" popular with, well, people younger than me. Print books and the publication of new magazines were specifically mentioned. Given this, might there be an opportunity here for lit mags?
BRILLIANT! Great points, excellent call-outs, especially appreciate the point about all anyone wants to do is fight about it.
Thank you for this--your work is vital to the writing community.
"Writers are willing to pay for any hair-line crack at success."
Even to the extent that some wanna-be writers will use AI!
What is it that makes one want to be what they are no willing to train themselves to be?
Becky and Ben:
You are doing such a service to writers--a service long overdue--by raising these questions. I don't mind a $3 fee for submissions. However, as of late, as fees for contests have risen to $20 and beyond, I've wondered whether the money is worth investing when winning is such a long shot. What your work is doing is putting power back in the hands of us writers. With a little organization, we can boycott journals that charge prices we deem exorbitant. Too many editors and people in general think writing is a hobby for which we don't mind not getting paid. That's crap. Writing, like plumbing, is a skill that takes years of training. Pay a plumber? Pay the writer.
Useful summary, Benjamin, but , as J W Wood suggested, you gloss over the industry's dirty little secret, namely that the number of readers is declining and the number that are willing to pay to read is declining even faster. This is why the analogy of athletes, actors etc doesn't wash. Those professions are based on paying backsides on seats, either in the stadium/theatre or on the couch being served ads paid for by companies seeking those markets. I don't believe citing industries where people are willing to pay to be entertained has any bearing on the writing 'industry', where mostly they are not. That's why, for most writers, it is not an industry in the true sense of the word. We've got supply up the wazoo with very little demand. Solve that problem and we've got it made. ;-) Anyone up for Flash Fiction Cage Fighting? On a more serious note, how about corporate/foundation sponsorship of payment for poetry/flash on cereal packets/milk cartons that are going to be printed anyway and will reach millions over the breakfast table?
All true. What happens to a lot of writers is a regular job to raise a family or make both ends kiss, and writing - still a passion and/or an obsessive requirement - happens in the side hours. So we give in. "Oh, okay, 5 bucks, no big deal." We move on and say no more, trapping ourselves in the pay to play mindfuck only to find out not only does nobody read but the government wants people stupid anyway.
Thank you for mentioning Writer Beware, and best to you each morning!