Into the rabbit hole we go...
Great work, Becky! Too late for this year but this really should be an AWP panel.
Thank you for this excellent article! I knew some of this, and some of it was new to me.
I will say, having published it, that the Authors Publish Shame list article is from 2018 (we are working on re-adding publication dates to the website), and we haven't updated the article, because of the amount of hate mail we received because of it, including threatened legal action that never came (and death threats - oh joy!). We haven't removed it either, because even though small details have changed, the majority of the article remains true, and we still know of authors who have benefited from it. That said, after I updated that version of the Shame List, I received a lot of thoughtful feedback from authors who had submitted to C&R and had waited years for their submissions to be opened. Some had frequently petitioned the editors and still hadn't received any response. Many had simply given up, one after almost 5 years of waiting.
This is great information! I have a lot of experience researching company owners and entities, so I thought I'd see if I could use public records to confirm the relationship between Sullivan and Gosslee (I can). If you look at the terms and conditions on the Litbreaker website, they list North Carolina as the jurisdiction. In visiting the NC Secretary of State website and searching business registrations for Litbreaker, you can see that Andrew H. Sullivan is, indeed, attached to the entity. Furthermore, if you search their records for all entities associated with Andrew H. Sullivan, you find that he is also associated with Gos+Sul, LLC of which John Gosslee is also a member. He has a Pennsylvania address listed but Pennsylvania records do not appear to allow you to search on the registrant, just company names (so I wouldn't know where to start).
I was the guest editor for three of PANK’s queer issues under Roxane and Matt Siegel’s leadership/ ownership. One part of this story that keeps getting left out because I think most people were not around then or have forgotten, is when, immediately after his purchase of PANK, Gosslee posted, as the submissions page, a vile polemic against anti oppression and identity politics that instigated a huge outcry - the page was quickly taken down, but many of us have stayed away from Gosslee’s version of PANK for years because of this. I think there should still be screen caps of this screed floating around social media from the mid-2010s. Its sad that the PANK legacy from its first iteration has been destroyed by this man.
Wow, what a service you've done us all and congrats on the sleuthing. I have long felt that this "I'll help you publish for $200 an hour" was a scam, and feel particularly bad for seniors, many of whom want to tell their life story for their kids, but are totally intimidated by a simple word file. I haven't had any problems with publishers other than lack of communication and 5 month wait times, so I've changed my submission tactics. But it can be bewildering for someone new to the publishing game. As a scientist I've watched open access publishing be taken over by predatory publishers who manipulate untenured or job-seeking scientists (new PhDs, adjuncts, etc.) out of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately there seems to be little regulation or interest in regulation given that most predatory scientific publishers are located overseas. I used to get an email a week from predators asking me to be on their editorial board, mostly for journals that covered subjects that I had no expertise in. Grasping at legitimacy. We're back to the wild west of the late 19th century, but with no good sheriffs.
What a service you have done us all, Becky! Here's what my Duotrope records reveal for me:
PANK - $5 for 5 poems, rejected in 614 days. Have stopped submitting there after your previous reporting.
C&R Press - chapbook $20 out just 4 days now, will wait a year and if no response, report it as such
Steel Toe Books - collection $25 out just 2 days, same as above. I will consider the fees a dead loss.
Showcase Magazine - $3 for 3 poems, rejected in 34 days, average 25. Weird outfit, won't submit again.
American Poetry Journal - $5 for 5 poems, pending after 906 days (forgot it), will just let Duotrope know "never responded" and leave it at that.
American Poetry Journal Chapbooks - $15 for chapbook, pending after 354 days, queried Jan 23, 2023, no response, average 545 days, will report as never responded.
I will be in touch with Duotrope and reference your article here. They are pretty good watchdogs and sometimes recommend one not submit to a listed publication for whatever reason they give.
In contrast to the above, I queried Four Way Books about a collection I entered in a contest and had not heard anything after a year. I queried and editor Ryan Murphy wrote back right away to apologize for the submission going into the wrong queue and not being read, and offered to refund my entry fee. We corresponded back and forth, and I said if they read the submission they could keep the fee. They will probably reject it (it's been a hard sell), but they were responsive, did the right thing, and deserve my support. Its bad news about the scammers, but I just wanted to say there are good guys out there, too.
This is great journalism Becky! Thanks for exposing these troubling issues.
I had a manuscript of short stories accepted by PANK in June. They never responded to my 3 emails on submittable. Then when I posted about this on Twitter, they finally reached out, sent me an email to set up a zoom time, but then didn't respond to my two emails back. It wasn't until I reached out on Twitter that they finally called, but no apology was ever given. It was all blamed on technology and they claimed to never receive any of my correspondence. They were then supposed to send a contract two days later. It was never received and they stopped responding to my DM's on Twitter. I took screenshots of all of this. Not to mention they don't do any cover design, they don't offer any royalties until 250 copies are sold. I contacted Victoria at Writers Beware about this and she said it's called Back End Vanity Publishing, if you ever get that far and actually receive a contract. I know another writer whose book was supposed to come out with them later this year and she recently pulled it because of their unresponsiveness and the other problems I mentioned. Thank you for this Becky. You are doing the work of the people right here!!
Scams abound in the arts. Film festivals have gone through the same "business model" of accepting submissions and fees from aspiring unknowns when the organizers only take .001% for screenings. That submission money is like a slush fund. Recently read about it at Sundance even. It's not illegal. It's unethical. Capitalizing on people's dreams. The argument in a court of law is the same as smoker's. No one made you pay us $1,000. Except hey! What about a return on services? Lesson being hold onto your money and only pay real people you can see/trust.
Wow, Becky. You put an enormous amount of work into this, reflecting you dedication to the writing world.
As an emerging writer, my take home is to be very careful to consult with experienced writers before engaging in any publishing activity that will cost significant money or time.
Thank you, Becky!
Facts matter. When poorly researched articles like these appear, they libel authors at small presses as well as small press endeavors trying to survive in a market dominated by Big 4 publishers, while competing for attention with over 500 other publishers. Becky did not reach out to me or, it seems, other recognized authors published by C&R Press. As a creative writer with an extensive 30-year publication history, and as a former art journalist and small press publisher, I would have appreciated the chance to speak on topics raised in this article. Had she done so, I would have responded thusly:
(1) Fees: A quick search on Poets & Writers shows how many reputable publications like Academy of American Poets, North American Review, Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, University of Georgia Press, Yale Review and many, many more, charge reading fees for contests, some over $35. It also is common for a journals, e.g., Agni, American Poetry Review, Michigan Quarterly, New Letters, Seneca Review, to charge a reading fee and/or ask that you buy an extant issue. I've paid reading fees for years, long before Submittable and Paypal existed.
(2) Sales: If everyone who submitted to a journal or entered a contest purchased a book or journal from that publisher, fees might not be necessary. A writer who submits to 50 journals a year probably does not purchase 50 journals a year. If you do, you’re a hero.
(3) Publishing is expensive. A short-run traditionally published book or journal costs anywhere from $500 to $5000, depending on whether the publisher did all of the layout, design and spec work. If the book or journal is published through on-demand (e.g., Kindle) then profit margin is greatly reduced, as the on-demand company either charges and upfront free or takes a significant percentage of royalty off the top. Physical books and journals must be mailed, costing postage and supplies. If the publisher has a distributor, then they must pay sometimes hefty distribution charges. There is also the concern of warehousing backlists. If a publisher wants a presence at major writing conference (e.g., AWP or MLA), they will have to pay for a table, transportation, hotel, meals, etc., often running upwards of $3,000.
(4) Small publishing doesn’t pay. The idea that small, independent publishers earn big (or any) income is, sadly, ludicrous. Publishing houses situated in universities may receive funds from their respective university and/or grants, though grant sources are also shrinking. If you look at the mastheads, an editorial staff typically consists of students supervised by a faculty member. Small presses who have not (yet) filed for nonprofit status cannot receive grant monies; even then, the competition for funding is fierce, and publishing endeavors without a decades long history rarely if ever get funded enough to stay viable. I invested $5000- $10,000 a year for 8 years of my own money to run my small press and never took a salary. I did not charge reading fees, but completely understand presses and journals who do. In hindsight, perhaps I should have done so, because:
(5) Publishing takes time. Unless a publisher has a large staff, each person will spend many hours a day keeping the company afloat. Before, during and after conferences, I worked 12- to 16-hour days, seven days a week. Consider what goes into creating one book or journal: Design, layout, production; editing, proofreading; marketing; bookkeeping; shipping; correspondence; royalty reports... I recall a few instances when my response time to writers lagged or, in one case, failed entirely. A review of my own Submittable submissions show that I’ve experienced major journals and book publishers not responding within 6 months or, in some cases, at all. Publishers, regardless of rank, are human.
(6) Business diversity is not uncommon. Publishing companies that have the fortitude to diversify may have a better chance of surviving. These range from absorbing other presses, offering editorial services, holding conferences, operating magazines. A few examples: Catapult absorbed Soft Skull and Counterpoint books, offers classes and consultations and operates a magazine. Dzanc Books runs the Disquiet Literary Conference in Portugal and Unsaid Magazine. Deep Vellum has 3 imprints, runs a bookstore, and merged with Dalkey Archive. There are many rabbit holes to go down, but my experience is that nothing nefarious resides at the bottom.
(7) My C&R experience. I have always published with small presses, from New Directions/WW Norton to Coffee House Press to FC2/University of Alabama to Black Scat Books to C&R Press to Kernpunkt Press. Most small presses are labors of love—emphasis on labors. They tend to be risk-takers run by people (often but not always writers) whose own writing and interests explore literature as art rather than merely commerce. My editor was John Gosslee, and my experience with him was terrific. We worked together well on my hybrid memoir, Selling the Farm, which is structurally complex and thus required complex formatting and multiple proofreads. C&R awarded me $1000 for their Nonfiction Award, and I also received significant banner advertising of the book in notable publications like The Paris Review, through LitBreaker. As I recall, the reading fee was the standard $25. I submitted the manuscript to about 20 small presses, and paid just under $400 total.
(8) I agree that transparency is important in any field or business, and thhink that C&R should do better, or at lease mirror other well-established publishers who have their fingers in multiple pots. Linking their ventures might actually help solidify their reputation.
(9) Facts do matter. I can’t speak for other C&R authors, nor do I wish to. Rather, it’s important that Becky’s readers understand that she has done a disservice to small publishing and, consequently, small press authors whose reputations are damaged by what amounts to casting aspersions on their publishing resume. She has also, it seems, by way of the previous comments, misled many aspiring writers who do not understand, or understand superficially, the publishing industry. Journalism 101 demands that the reporter investigate all facets of the topic. Becky did not, which is to everyone's detriment.
[This comment reposted on newest conversation]
Well I shouldn't have made that sound like it's a complete shift. Really the only area I can comment on is poetry (70+ poems published in the last 2+ years in 36 reviews) I don't submit to journals that won't accept simultaneous submissions, unless the editor is a friend (1 case). I try to submit to places my colleagues have submitted to sans problems. I'll submit three sets of poems and if nothing gets accepted I cross that review off my list, unless there is a future editorial change. If an editor suggests a small change in text I pretty much always accept that, especially because they've almost always improved the poem. I haven't been able to crack the BTP (Big Time Poet) reviews yet (Threepenny, Rattle, Ploughshares, Poetry, Sheila-Na-Gig, Poet Lore, Southern Review) and I'm not sure I will, although I have current subs out at Ploughshares and Sheila. I try to publish in reviews that have been publishing for at least a few years, especially now that so many are online--just to ensure that my work stays visible. If a review has my work for 4 months I write and ask for a status update and if I don't hear anything I withdraw the work, even though that might be a bit premature. I like reviews that make fairly quick decisions (i.e., within say six weeks) and frequently have problems with those that take 3+ months because my poems get accepted elsewhere first (right now I have two submissions to good reviews that only have one poem left (out of five or six) for their consideration. I always submit to quality reviews that have published multiple pieces I've written (Verse-Virtual, MacQueen's, The Knot, Medusa's, J. Radical Wonder, Last Stanza...), although I try to submit to new places as well. I've started to use Chill Subs (free) as a place to research possible places for new submissions--they have a really useful search engine. I belong to Duotrope but have never taken the time to really utilize its features. I'll likely cancel this year. Okay, I apologize for the brain dump, and I hope that at least some of this is useful to you. I really only know what works for me and my own work and frankly, my personality. We also could chat on FB or via email.
Wow, Becky, thanks for doing all this research. We used to, at Cleaver, make $100 or more a month from Litbreaker before Jason sold the company. Now we get deposits of under a dollar, and often under .50, if anything. Last year I paid them $500 for ads for our workshop series and I got a statement saying there were 268,876 ad impressions (an absurdly high number) but I saw scant referrers from them on Statcounter. Also, I never saw a for our series on our site. I don't know whether or not they were running the ads, but I'll never advertise with them again.
Holy smokes! This made me sweaty. Thank you so much for this valuable information.
Deeeeeeeep bow of thanks for this reportage. It is chilling to learn how Sullivan/Grosslee/Fischoff are intertwined in so many publications and literary services with questionable results. You made quite a mitzvah today. Thanks, too, for references to Writers Beware and the Authors Publish shame list. This blog gives tremendous support to the argument against fees, the disheartening need for wider research before submission, and perhaps, the need for submittable, duotrope and other organizations to report any nefarious clients to legitimate poetry organizations (poets.org, poetry foundation, etc.) Surely, if Sullivan/Grosslee etc are screwing the poets, they're also screwing submission vehicles too. Again, many thanks for pursuing this story. I'm confident you will continue to add valuable information in future issues of LitMag.
Sharing this letter from Joan Frank, fellow C&R Press author. Make up your own minds instead of going by this farrago of insinuations and Internet-fueled conspiracies.
This is a passionate defense of C&R Press, with whom I've worked for the past couple of years and who, based on my DIRECT experience with them, deserve nothing of this recent, bizarre, long, inchoate attack. My short novel JUNIPER STREET won C&R's literary fiction prize a couple years ago--and from that moment they worked assiduously and ULTRA-CONSCIENTIOUSLY with me to produce and publish a very beautiful little book of which I will always be exceedingly proud. They managed this while working with umpteen other entities on umpteen other projects. I felt NO impingement in any way by their parallel projects, let alone duplicity (zero), nor did I EVER have reason to feel they were acting other than in service of getting good literature out into the world—albeit on a shoestring, which is of course the case with almost all small, literary presses. I have worked the entire time directly with Andrew and John, who've consistently and solidly been full-tilt, stand-up guys: responsive, thoughtful, reasonable, and upfront about all activities. They're generally overwhelmed with work, but what small press is not? I paid a reasonable fee (to me) to enter that literary competition: in my experience fees have had to become a fact of submitting, and authors who object to them should go elsewhere. When JUNIPER STREET won I contacted other, excellent authors who've been published by C&R, to gather anything about their experience with the Press. Their responses were unilaterally positive and satisfied. I would recommend C&R to any author considering offering work to a small press, and I would never question their fees, nor their methods. They're important contributors to the world of brave small publishers bringing out literary work that bigger houses routinely ignore--and they give themselves completely to the task. There is NOTHING nefarious or scammy about them or their methods or their products. I'll gladly speak to anyone who wants to consider them. Please remember that viciousness and horrific attacks and accusations have a way of viraling themselves into getting ethersphere attention, drawing toxic energy, and sounding reflexively true and irrefutable once uttered, in the manner of "Have you stopped beating your wife yet." I'm here to refute those ugly attacks. Please be ultra-wary and ultra-skeptical of such viral poison. Please join me in supporting and defending the good work and people of C&R. Best, Joan Frank