Lit mag editor addresses the issue of submission fees
Wow! This is a pretty harsh assessment, and quite a stereotype: "Alas, the writer’s personality consists of the yin and yang qualities of self-hatred and self-aggrandizement." I stopped reading after that, which is too bad, because I had some sympathy with the author until that point.
This is another false equivalency and specious argument for fees. No one submitting a novel or book of poems or book of short stories to a legitimate publisher pays a fee unless that publisher is a "vanity press". No one. No one submitting story ideas or stories to niche or general interest magazines pays for that. No one. ONLY literary journals ask for fees to be rejected or accepted. That's because few journals will do the work it takes to find patrons, sponsors, advertisers or other means of support. It is egregiously wrong headed that some universities are scrapping previously strong departments of literature, the source for student workers on university-sponsored journals. This not only harms the growth of literature teaching, it harms the principles of foundational and broad education for the immediate lure of departments for purely financial reasons vs reasons to support learning in the humanities. That's a whole other discussion. Will a lot of journals close of poets and flash writers stop paying fees? Yes, and that's fine. The number of publications now hovers near 3000, far too many to be financially feasible and many are vanity projects for the publishers and editors. I implore journal staffs to approach their publications like all professional publishers and seek financial support via advertising, grants, and sponsors. Be creative and wild. Think of it as saving the arts and humanities of this part of our culture. And, pay the writers! Pay the staff. Otherwise, you're hobbyists, not business people, and publishers ARE business people, creating exciting reading for people to enjoy.
Reading this during the WGA writers strike is ... really something. What's at stake is not really the submission fees, it's the lack of recompense at any point in the process. To expect writers to pay to have their work published, pay again for a copy of the publication, and never receive a measly cent in return amounts to giving the work of writers a negative valuation (even before figuring in the cost of a computer, word processing program, internet, etc.). I wouldn't have thought to apply the word "pirate" but now that you mention it...
As a contributing editor at a little magazine, as well as a publishing poet, I agree that the $2 submission fee won't put anyone out on the street. But many writers submit a lot, to a lot of journals - this being largely because the chances of having your work accepted anywhere are rather low - and these small fees ($2, $3, $5) can add up to quite a bit over time. Every writer is different. Some of us research the journals we submit to rigorously, while others submit more promiscuously. All are welcome, barring those who are abusive or dishonest. When a journal implements a submission fee, writers take notice. Some will continue to submit in order to support a journal they like, or because they can afford it, or because they really want to get their work read by that journal. Others will, quite naturally, decide that journal is no longer for them. As long as they are not shouting abusively at the editors, I don't see that this is a problem. All of us - writers, editors, publishers - do tons of what amounts to pro bono work. We may have different reasons for doing what we do. Most of us will never make money, as you point out. But many of us will continue doing what we do - writing, editing, publishing - despite that. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Genna. Have you considered a free option for those who really need one, or a sliding scale?
Genna, I don't think you will like my comment, but to be fair, I will try to be honest about myself as well [that 's always the hard part.] You are intelligent and I admire that you ran your lit mag for years without charging fees, but your ranting here--and yes it is ranting, much like watching an intelligent person get drunk, start using four letter words (which I object to only because they are boring) and lose balance-- and this is not balanced at all.
So please let me give you the side of us 'word-seeders': submission fees are onerous because they're are options, like snail mail. I don't mind paying for a stamp or two--that was the way after all it was done back in the 19th and 20th centuries. Or use the internet--it's free! You seem disdainful both of rich capitalists and us 'poor' (by comparison) writers, and breezily say 5 bucks ain't nothing [to paraphrase rather meanly---yes, I'm not always nice]. But take some late blooming old poet who in the first 6 years of his 8th decade and to his true amazement, gets published in almost 150 lit mags, some more than once so the total is over 250 times; but to do so he's submitted at least a 1,000 times. Now at 5 bucks a pop, that would have taken almost 5 months of his magnificent social security checks [after medicare, before taxes]. The old guy doesn't mind not getting paid for most of his work--and you are right, writers are exploited. He won't complain even about buying the print copy when it is published in print [and being ancient, he loves print], but he deeply resents the idea that he must pay a bribe to even get someone to read it-- a living person presumably though AI may soon take over here too. And so he makes a point to thank those editors who still have the integrity not to charge us poet-peasants.
And yes, you are right about the 95% of submissions being 'boring' --I've been asked to be a reader/editor [unpaid] for a print mag, and yes, much of it is tedious-- but is this a business or a calling? That applies to both publisher and editor--and yes, I wish it were still like the good old days, when Longfellow could sell a single poem for $3,000--enough to but a modes house then. The most I've been paid is 50 bucks --barely enough for lunch for my wife and I. But then we live in a soulless time...
Question for editors out there: Why did most journals flock to Submittable? There is an older, cheaper alternative out there, Submission Manager. It is still used by a few journals such as The Southern Review and Missouri Review. This isn't a pointed question. I'm genuinely curious why cash-strapped journals would choose the more expensive option.
This was entertaining to read. I get it loud and clear that running a small lit mag is an extremely frustrating and financially dubious endeavor, but doesn't it come off as a little less than sympathetic to tell writers, who's work you mostly despise, that we need to put up and shut up because in addition to providing the entire content of your enterprise we also must support it financially with taxes, or else it'll go away and we'll all be doomed? Speaking of working within the constructs of this irritating capitalist society we are all forced to participate in... maybe if you can't market your work to enough readers to support your magazine financially, you don't really have a viable business and you ought to go under. I'm no proponent of neocapitalism but maybe you're looking at the wrong source for cash and it's prohibiting you from innovating in ways to get funding from actual readers and maybe, just maybe, we aren't morally arrogant cry babies out here in writer world. Maybe we're pointing at the effects of this business model and how it damages the future of the industry. Yes, that means inventing a brand new business model but that's our point, isn't it? Find your readers and ask them for money. If you can't afford to read the volume of work you receive, cap it off until you have the readership to justify the workload. Easier said than done OBVIOUSLY but that's why we're here, having this dialogue.
My objection to submission fees is that most submissions are rejected and in order to have something published, the ordinary unfamous poet has to pay a fee many times over and it does add up.
Thanks for providing this needed perspective on the part of small indie litmags!
Very detailed defense of the practice. I understand about the submission fees. Maybe if writers subscribed to lots of journals fees would not be necessary, but who can subscribe to more than a couple/few? Where I am less certain is the practice of asking a contributing writer to purchase a copy of the journal. My gut tells me that is wrong.
A subject the regulars here know is near and dear to my pocketbook. First, if I could find litmags charging 2 bucks to submit, I would submit all day long. Today it's easily 5-10 bucks and up, so it gets costly. I had a conversation yesterday with a man I just met who indie book publishers, writers and other artists hire as a consultant for all things social media and press releases etc about the world of fees to submit to lit mag. He was adamant that no writer should pay to have their stuff read. Now maybe he is old school thinking, but that's what he said any of the big publications will tell you. But here's the funny part. When we started discussing what you need to get an agent, etc for a book deal. He says unless I have some publishing credits, don't even bother. I tell him I've been published now 28 times by literary magazines and online theater and music critic sites and he says wow, that's the kind of thing an agent would be looking for. Well I got about half of those publications by paying a reading fee to a lit mag, I told him. Yeah he was quiet after that. So while I will always pay the fee if the mag is good enough, the other side of the coin is, we writers are providing FREE content to keep these magazines a float. So that part seems really unfair. I think the best formula is charge a reading fee but then budget in paying the writers. I've been published 3 times this week, a first for me- an essay, a theater review in an online site and a music review for an online music site and I made exactly ZERO! Now granted none of these I had to pay a fee with, but I really think these lit mags need to build in a small stipend for the writers who are keeping their magazine alive in the first place. If I got 20 bucks for an essay I would be happy and would probably be happy to pay the fee. I'm sorry but I looked into starting my own literary magazine and if you keep all on line, trust me it's not as expensive as you think.
Oh please. Explain to me in very small, non-condescending, non-arrogant terms, just exactly why the "literary" micropress is privileged enough to charge submission fees when their genre, just as "literary" in tone, equivalents don't. Or else go to Kickstarter to raise the funds to support the latest issue. Why are *you* so special?
Comments such as this:
"Alas, the writer’s personality consists of the yin and yang qualities of self-hatred and self-aggrandizement. It is the latter quality that so often comes into play when they submit a piece. They think their writing is special or “god’s gift” and that it should therefore not only be immediately accepted, but that the publisher should waive any fees for the sheer pleasure of reading their work."
honestly make me wonder just why you're in the business of putting out a small press magazine. It certainly doesn't seem to be for the writers if you are someone with that sort of attitude toward the writers you work with.
Because here's the deal. Money should--*always*--flow to the writer. Otherwise, what you're advocating is nothing short of vanity publishing.
An extreme statement? Perhaps. However, I also don't think that "literary" magazines are the special snowflakes of publishing that somehow are entitled to submission fees for the privilege of being barely read. Furthermore, I'd sooner pay for the formatting program, the cover design program, the editing expenses, and the promotion expenses of putting out the story myself. That way, I might stand a chance of recouping my investment as opposed to the so-called "privilege" of appearing in a magazine that is perhaps only read by a handful of writers who have bought contributor's copies and paid submissions fees.
The issue of lit mag submission fees is a conundrum with no obvious answer. Many lit mags run on a shoestring, passion and hard work. But many writers don't want/can't afford to spend hundreds of dollars, pounds, euros, whatever, on submissions that are likely to be rejected, because most are. Could lit mags could offer free submission to a first time submitter, and after that they have to pay? I imagine that would be a bureaucratic nightmare, and could result in a deluge of first time submissions, but it would help some people get a foot in the door. Also, I know how much work it is to give feedback having done it for Bandit Fiction (sadly no longer with us in its previous form), but I do like the model of paying more for feedback, which I see as a win-win situation.
Great to hear this perspective.
I never think any less of a publication for charging submission fees (unless they're way behind on responses, or take very little from the slush pile, or other reasons along those lines) but I nevertheless choose not to submit to places that charge. It's not personal, I just don't want to.
I also don't include them in my newsletter because frankly I don't have time to vet who's taking fees in good faith and who's just accumulating cash because they can. It's tough out there and writers need to be on their guard - for me it's this wariness, rather than the self-aggrandizement, that drives an aversion to fees.
There is another aspect of submission fees that end up making the publication elitist:
Writers in many foreign countries will not be able to submit, as paypal (and other such platforms) do not work in ther country. In fact, paypal does not have full capabilities in over 130 countries.
And while $2 may seem like not much for writers in the "developed" world," it is a huge chunk for many of us barely surviving in other countries.
I know this was supposed to be a humorous take, but it's not funny. The editor is looking down upon the writers, which makes a sensible experience and take be taken with much resentment.
I've run a publication, but I vowed myself to never have the writers, who made my publication, pay for anything. There are ways to go about it as not to lose so much money on operating a publication.
-Don't use Submittable. Find another system that won't cost a dime to keep track of the Submissions. On gmail I was able to do that no problem.
-A site costs if you buy the domain and other perks you get with it, but you can also just run a site without buying a domain.
-Opt for an online publication over print, so you don't charge anyone for anything.
-If you must fund your publication somehow, seek grants and angel investors or crowdfund.
-If you must have submission fees, make them valuable to the writer, so an expedited response can be attractive to a writer who's too impatient to wait, or a feedback submission, so they know how they can improve, or a tip jar, which some supporters will be happy to pay because they believe in what you do.
There are so many wonderful publications that don't charge fees or waive fees and people submit to them time and again because of how gracious and humble they remain over the years.