Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading Adjustment Day January 18, 2016 - 11:48am

I know this has been discussed before, w/r/t sub fees at lit mags. But what about presses wanting a sub fee to read a manuscript? I was thinking of sending a query for my collection here: https://redhenpress.submittable.com/submit

and noticed the $20 USD fee. I realize it's a non profit press but this still doesn't quite sit right. Is this common?

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 18, 2016 - 3:07pm

Outside of competitions, I don't believe it's common.

That said, these days nothing should surprise. There is no more 'industry standard.' Everyone is doing whatever makes sense to them, and I'd expect things to grow increasingly disparate over time.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 18, 2016 - 3:25pm

Money flows to the author is the rule.

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 18, 2016 - 4:53pm

"Money flows to the author" is the goal.

"Nobody wants to read your fucking story" is the rule.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 18, 2016 - 5:40pm

Nope. If I write it, I'm not paying someone else to read it period. Unless they're editing or something.

#racket

Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading Adjustment Day January 18, 2016 - 5:48pm

yeah... I mean, if they were offering notes or something, but otherwise it seems ridiculous. Same with the $3 reading fee a lot of lit mags are charging. Even contests charging $20+ seems like a scam. You get 1000 entries and offer a $5000 prize, then who's pocketing the $15K?

Max's picture
Max from Texas is reading goosebumps January 18, 2016 - 7:15pm

Never pay to submit your work.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies January 18, 2016 - 7:18pm

If a press is asking for manuscript submissions and is charging $20 to submit, no, don't do it. If a press is willing to give you any sort of CRITIQUE for $20, that's actually a great deal. I charge anywhere from about $200-$1,200 to edit and critique. I rarely pay fees to submit a story. I've done it before, I think the Missouri Review charged $3 to submit or you could mail it, but I don't like paying. I paid $20 to enter a Tin House contest, with a big prize, but I got a subscription, so that was worth it.

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 18, 2016 - 11:31pm

Thuggish, I didn't suggest you pay to have anyone read your fiction. I meant to suggest that you disabuse yourself of the illusion that "money flows" at all in the short story/lit mag/small press world.

Case in point: Red Hen Press. 

So I just looked around the website of the small press that started this discussion. They are a non profit. One of their main imprints is dedicated to literary fiction and poetry by lesbian writers. How much profit do you think there is in lesbian poetry? How much attention do you think the big presses give lesbian poets?

They also support a school outreach program "Writing in the schools," to teach writing in what appear to be disadvantaged neighborhoods (they employ authors with experience in juvenile detention centers).

Richard mentioned paying a fee and receiving a subscription to Tin House, a fair and common trade. A lot of people would also like to support school outreach programs and a forum for diverse, under-represented voices. "Never pay to submit your work" is too black and white, I think.

Do your research and support those you think worthy of supporting. I do not pay to submit my work. However, I think Red Hen Press has a very worthy mission and it's the kind of organization I would think about donating to, and therefore would consider submitting there if I liked their imprint for my work.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 19, 2016 - 9:57am

Okay, I should rephrase.

Money flows to the author, rather than away from.

(Except for editing, critiques, etc., of course.)

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel January 19, 2016 - 10:50am

I'm an assistant editor for BrickHouse Books, and we require a reading fee for submissions, $10 for first 50 pages, 50 cent for each additional page, maximum fee of $100. However, this guarantees your work will be read in its entirety and you will receive thoughtful critiques of your work, regardless of decision. The majority of all reviewers have a degree or are actively pursuing their degree in English. A couple are professors.

I understand that money should flow toward the writer. But, it is one thing to shoot and fire with no expectation of response and quite another to receive confirmation that your work was read and given true consideration. Otherwise, you have no clue if the reviewer read all of it or just 1, 5, 10 pages.

This may be where there is a significant difference.

 

Note: Should being reviewed by a person with a degree matter? I think it does, but as much as I can argue my side, I'm positive I can provide a compelling counter-argument as well.

Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading Adjustment Day January 19, 2016 - 1:24pm

as long as you're getting a thoughtful critique, then $10 for 50 pages sounds like a bargain.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel January 19, 2016 - 1:49pm

We generally provide around three to five critiques per submission, depending on staff availability. Sometimes more, very rarely less.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 19, 2016 - 2:39pm

Well, if it's a reviewer, like I said, things are different.

But here's the thing- if I'm sending to an editor and they don't get past my first page, I didn't grab them, I won't grab a potential reader either, so be it. If I get nothing but form letter rejections, I'll know that's what happened. I shouldn't be paying you to look at it and see if you like it, I should entice you into reading it and liking it.

DrWood's picture
DrWood from Milwaukee, WI, living in Louisiana is reading A different book every 2-5 days. Currently Infinite Jest January 19, 2016 - 5:43pm

I hate to pay $3 submission fees, but have a few times. A $20 fee is higher than many competitions with awards of $1500 and greater.

Jake Leroy's picture
Jake Leroy from Kansas City is reading Jesus' Son, by Denis Johnson, and Hot Water Music, by Charles Bukowski January 19, 2016 - 7:12pm

A contest is ok, especially if you get a perk, like a subscription. Whoever above said that things are changing rapidly is right on. There are always exceptions to every rule. It just depends on the exact circumstances.

I believe that magazines should keep track of what percentage of acceptances came through their slushpile and disclose that number to submitters. Some magazines publish fewer than 5%, possibly even less than 1% of accepted pieces from the slushpile. The rest are all proffered or solicited. Nothing immoral about that, just docked it yo writers so they'll know before they submit. 

There's one particularly egregious magazine that I won't name that charges $20 for every submission and then publishes the vast majority of their stories from established writers who never went through the slushpile. I think that's morally wrong. 

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories January 19, 2016 - 10:02pm

Narrative.  There, I said it. 

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel January 19, 2016 - 10:03pm

Yes, and TOR is no longer taking unsolicited short stories under 17,500 words. They are looking for novellas, 30k to 40k, a little above or below is fine. 

Just FYI.

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 20, 2016 - 2:19am

But your chances to publish in Narrative would surely skyrocket if you purchased the editor's book on writing, A Poetics of Fiction. It's a virtual steal at $225... 

http://www.salon.com/2015/12/17/let_the_writers_eat_cake_this_225_writin...

What? Don't you believe in your talent? Not willing to go all in to chase your dreams? 

Tom Jenks appears to be a scumbag. But it's worth noting, unscrupulous scumbags in the lit-mag industry are few and far between. The economics of the industry just don't lure that brand of entrepreneur.

It does lure a lot of optimists with poor business sense and skills, who might well be compelled to take a wrong turn. But you'd be hard pressed to find many (any) lit mags not born of a love of fiction, an admiration of writing, and a desire to promote and support writers; or any that are not staffed by people who'd be financially better served spending their time elsewhere (Narrative notwithstanding).

Not paying to submit for budgetary reasons is natural. Not paying to submit on principle, if you scrutinize what that principle would mean, is a bit ignoble in my opinion.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 20, 2016 - 3:39pm

someone remind me to pirate that $225 book. not to read, just on principle. 

Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading Adjustment Day January 20, 2016 - 3:59pm

I think it's good to have principles. Even if you can afford to shell out $3 per submission times say 10,15, 20 markets, what about the writers who can't afford it? You're squeezing out people who may be deserving.

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories January 20, 2016 - 6:23pm

I read somewhere that when journals charge submission fees, they actually see the number of submissions go up---like there must be a perception that the fee might have 'turned away a less determined' writer or something, so folks think the odds might end up better in their favor.  But really, in my opion, worse than the fees is that most of the literary fiction journals seem to be part of some MFA prof, lit journal editor circle jerk. I mean, I pick up lit journals periodically for a buck or two at used book stores, and frankly some of what is published would get crucified if they workshopped it here. But then you go to the author info and it turns out they have an MFA from whatever and teach at whatever U. I looked at a copy of the newest missouri review---the story The Witch--it is pretty terrible, if you ever get a chance. It is set at college, and features a guy who wants to, gasp, be a writer! And he likes a girl, but she has a boyfriend, then his mom gets CANCER and then he stands outside of his childhood home. The home is, *snicker*, a FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT designed house and he thinks it looked like gingerbread. The only way I felt moved was to move the journal to the trash. The author teaches at BU. I get that anecdotes are not data, but if the sample size is big enough, it does become data.

Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading Adjustment Day January 20, 2016 - 6:38pm

That sounds a bit crap. I picked up a copy of TMR a couple years ago and wasn't blown away. To be honest, it's only the Tin Houses and New Yorkers where I find I'm consistently impressed.

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories January 20, 2016 - 7:26pm

A public space is hit or miss, which I think is fine. They publish a larger variety of styles. 

DrWood's picture
DrWood from Milwaukee, WI, living in Louisiana is reading A different book every 2-5 days. Currently Infinite Jest January 20, 2016 - 7:39pm

hmm. I've only read a couple issues of A Public Space, but the stories seemed very much on the literary end of things.

 

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel January 20, 2016 - 9:33pm

I worked on a Lit Journal during my undergrad. For me, it felt like there were always too many cooks in the kitchen. And everyone had a "valuable opinion." Yours truly included. I found stories that told a similar narrative--mother gets cancer, boyfriend cheated, kind of stuff--but the work was solid. They were good quality writing on known material. They still had a fresh feel. But, since they didn't want to do the known good stuff, we went with things that had zero plot or character progression, but were "cool" because they talked about sexting or Wittgenstein. 

 

And a Public Space is good. I dig a good portion of the stuff they produce. I also like American Short Fiction. It's more of an independent press rather than one with institutional ties. 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 20, 2016 - 10:29pm

I read somewhere that when journals charge submission fees, they actually see the number of submissions go up---like there must be a perception that the fee might have 'turned away a less determined' writer or something, so folks think the odds might end up better in their favor. 

What if this was ghost written by an owner of a journal that was upping their submission fee..?

 

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories January 20, 2016 - 11:25pm

Likely not---it makes me want to pay submission fees less. If you pay and have more competition, that seems like a raw deal.

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories January 20, 2016 - 11:34pm

Jose---I didn't mean to imply that nothing good can come from 'known material.' Dead babies are a good example of something that a lot of writers write about--and some really reinvent it and it stabs you. And others use it for shock value or the work cannot rise above melodrama. Cancer, cheating. I've read some really fine treatments of both. I've also read some terrible stories about fishbowl belly pregnancies that also suck. I don't expect a particular lit journal's work to always wow me. I don't like all of my favorite authors' books, my favorite bands have produced some terrible terrible music (and yet I forgave David Byrne for that Take Me To the River song...). But there really are times I wonder, "hmm, really? in the 4000 submissions you got, this really was the best you read?" 

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 21, 2016 - 2:38am

Getting stabbed by a dead baby! I think you should run with that Scriv.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel January 21, 2016 - 5:54am

@TheScrivener: I understand that, and I did not mean to imply the opposite, or that your assessment was lacking. I basically just wanted to get in the conversation. I'm so lonely. lol.

 And round and round we go always trying to be polite.

Jake Leroy's picture
Jake Leroy from Kansas City is reading Jesus' Son, by Denis Johnson, and Hot Water Music, by Charles Bukowski January 21, 2016 - 12:27pm

@TheScrivener and @Thuggish, it was actually the editor for The Missouri Review who said that, after they instituted a submission fee, the number of submissions went up (so I'm not outing anybody). I think this is a fascinating study of psychology on how we human beings determine the monetary value of a thing. TMR can get away with it, well, because they're TMR. Maybe lesser known lit mags could, too, but I wouldnt want to test that theory with the pub I'm affiliated with. 

I believe in free markets, but I also believe that knowledge is power for consumers. If TMR derives whatever percentage of their published pieces from their slushpile and everybody knows that percentage before they pay and submit, then I'm okay with it. Caveat emptor. What I find distressing is that this is happening under the cover of darkness in a lot of places. Practically speaking, emerging or unknown writers have almost zero chance of getting published from the slushpile of top-end lit mags, not because those lit mags get so much unsolicited great writing, but because they almost never accept slushpile submissions no matter how great the writing. 

Meanwhile, many wonderful but lesser-known lit mags are struggling to stay alive, despite editorially wanting only to publish the very best work they can get their paws on. To stay around, any business has to operate at a surplus, not in the red. This is especially true for nonprofits who don't have wealthy owners/backers behind them. It's a tough, tough business, and unlike other industries, there isn't any single path to green. They must be good at all the core competencies of running day-to-day operations. I want to honor those pubs trying to do it the right way. 

The only way things will change is if we as writers demand they change, since we become business partners of lit mags when our work is accepted by them. You want me to pay a fee to submit? Then you'd better disclose what I'm really getting for my hard-earned money. 

I'll get down off my high horse now. 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal January 21, 2016 - 8:59am

This is like when you put a couch on the sidewalk with a sign that says "free" no one takes it. Ask for twenty bucks and you'll sell it in a day.

I should add that another way it'll change is when enough people just stop paying to submit. Especially if enough talented people do so, thus providing these mags with nothign good to publish. When quality tanks, so does readership, profits, and the business...

I still maintain that even if the magazine isn't doing it out of dishonesty or shadiness, they're doing it wrong. (Reviews, paid contests, etc., notwithstanding.)

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money January 21, 2016 - 11:04am

I too find the psychology behind charging a fee boosting submission rates interesting... mostly out of self-interest with regard to the magazine I worked for that struggled for a few years and then eventually had to shut down for lack of submissions, and we didn't charge a submission fee. (though not to say we didn't have other problems as well, but that was an avenue we didn't even think of trying...)

And I agree that the whole principle of "money flows to the author" is too simplistic to be strictly adherent. Maybe as a generality to find help find things to be skeptical of, sure... If it "violates" this principle, then we do some research and see if it is worth it to us, fine.

But using it as a rubric to determine if publishers are "doing it wrong" ignores practical and historical facts about the industry that we claim to want to be a part of. Three things jump out at me: it pretends that publishing is a one-way relationship (which Jake points out is simply not true), it ignores the existence and role of agents (who should be much more concerned with the implications of this practice than writers), and if we make an exception for contests then the whole principle is self-defeating. What is the submission process if not a contest with other writers to get published? And similar arguments could be made for reviews and even copies.

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories January 21, 2016 - 12:44pm

Jose---I'm happy to stop being polite. If you don't mind that is. hehe.

In all honesty though--one of the things I like about litreactor is that people are somewhat less polite and more likely to say what they mean. 

 

Jake--totally agree. I have a small obsession with duotrope. I love looking at the recent responses. I sort of have a Rain Man-esque memory for submission periods, so when I was scrolling through them I thought it was pretty interesting that the Iowa review had a '4 day' acceptance when the submission period had been closed for a couple of months already. Maybe someone inputted their information wrong, but I wonder if it was a solicited piece or what. 

What I really don't get with some of these journals is why they have a slush pile at all.  I mean, the ones that have decided to get a few bucks per submission I can get, but what about tin house? It is free to submit. The new yorker has some email address you can send pieces to--though it might feed straight to a spam folder, who know? But really, why keep up the charade? I mean, sure I'm a bitter old woman who writes shitty stuff so maybe (ha, more like totally) that feeds into my overall distrust and dislike of the lit mag culture, but why have a slush pile at all? Is it so these sad, sad wannabe writer kids will keep buying and reading and fawning over their magazines? Think that buying that Narative butthole's two hundred dollar book will give them the 'secret' to great writing? 

I mean, if it really were just about the writing, wouldn't all the submissions be read anonymously? 

Jake Leroy's picture
Jake Leroy from Kansas City is reading Jesus' Son, by Denis Johnson, and Hot Water Music, by Charles Bukowski January 21, 2016 - 1:54pm

@TheScrivener, we have blind submissions for that very reason. We want the best words.

Haha, I think you're on to something with what you saw on Duotrope.

Sometimes we're approached by somebody we know and occasionally we'll ask for a story, but that's not the norm. If it's the norm for a magazine to have 100% solicited or proffered work, cool. Then why have a slushpile at all? If it's the tiny exception to print something from the slushpile, there's a way to word that in the guidelines so that writers understand it's a "slim or none" proposition.

To address the lack of transparency in submissions, we've created an index which discloses how many of our acceptances came through our blind submissions process over the previous 12 months. We call it the PAS index (Pecentages of Acceptances from Slushpile). I'd love it if every publication adopted it. Once again, run your magazine the way you want, just disclose what you're doing for the people who are attempting to do business with you. 

Regarding your own writing, I hope your comments are humor or trying to be humble. No writer can survive without believing in their ability. We all write bad stories. All of us. But we have to know when we've written a pretty good one, too. I love Ray Bradbury's view on this subject. Write a story a week. It's impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row. 

To your last point, it really isn't all about the writing then, is it? This is a business attempting to monetize art. A gallery can't showcase every painter who shows them their work. They only put artists in their gallery and promote them if they think they can sell them to make a buck. It's the world we live in.

Some lit mag publishers have figured out they can sell copies to MFA students and writers trying to get published in that market. If we fail to have broad appeal, that's pretty much it, absent a couple competitors who want to see what you're doing and a maybe a few libraries. 

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money January 21, 2016 - 2:38pm

What I really don't get with some of these journals is why they have a slush pile at all.

If you accept unsolicited submissions, you have a slush pile. That's what a slush pile is, despite the rather negative connotation. So perhaps you're asking about these magazines in particular? Well, for Tin House at least, that answer is in their masthead, or what counts for a masthead these days:

“I wanted to create a literary magazine for the many passionate readers who are not necessarily literary academics or publishing professionals.”

Perhaps most indicative of the magazine’s mission to stake out new territory and showcase not only established, prize-winning authors is its commitment that every issue include the work of an undiscovered fiction writer and poet.

If you want to publish undiscovered writers, you have to allow them to submit. If you don't know who they are, being undiscovered, you can't solicit the work. You have to have a slush pile.

I don't know why the new yorker would do so, but it is probably for similar reasons.

Is it so these sad, sad wannabe writer kids will keep buying and reading and fawning over their magazines?

Actually, if we tone the language down a bit, this is at least part of it. Don't forget there was a time when every famous/pro-rate/professional writer you know was a sad wannabe writer kid. And though not all of them were reading and fawning over lit mags (instead going for romance, or pulp, or comics...) enough were that magazines were able to find and foster some actual talent... So it's a little of both, yes they want people to read their magazine and an implied promise of possible future publication could be a draw for that, but also important is the dream of many sad wannabe editor kids, who want to be the next Gordon Lish, discovering the next Raymond Carver...

I mean, if it really were just about the writing, wouldn't all the submissions be read anonymously?

Well sure, and some do. And we can express that sentiment here in this community because that is what we focus on and many people aren't even using their names, but for a slush pile what functionally is the difference between a name I don't know, and no name at all? And if it is a name I might recognize, it probably hasn't come through the slush pile. It came from an agent, or it was specifically solicited.

But ultimately it isn't just about the writing, is it? I can't remember the last time I bought a book at random without at least having heard of the name of the author... unless it's part of a collection with other writers or an editor whose name I do know, which is why I like collections and anthologies. Now, how I heard the name, or what pushes me over the line from "having just heard of" to "having just bought the book" is probably very different from other readers, but if name recognition weren't important to this endeavor/business, we wouldn't put the names of authors on the covers of their books. We do it because it is important, and because it works.

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 22, 2016 - 8:54pm

Well if the high horse is idle, I'll take it for another gallop.

For a basic case study I'd argue Glimmer Train vs One Story. Both established, respected magazines with different business models.

Glimmer Train holds a series of regular contests with comparatively high fees. One Story offers free submissions. I'm on both their mailing lists; GT sends regular contest updates, and OS sends regular "We need your support," NPR style requests, and appear to operate largely on donations with a list of donor-options.

There's a disturbing undercurrent of entitlement in refusing to support a structure, yet demanding that it support you. They need our stories to exist, but our stories are not HOW they exist. If you support OS and condemn GT, you're asking others to bear the cost so that you might reap a reward.

There is very much a benefactor system at work--large and small donors, grants, school funding--and many magazines' survival depends on it.

And people are not donating because they're dying to read another small-town grifter story. Many of these small magazines exist because people believe their existence benefits our society, our culture, and more grandly, our Democracy. (I will again tout Red Hen Press, because I think they were unjustly vilified, and a fine example of these very best hopes).

And the great irony of people against fees is that submitting has never been cheaper. If you never experienced submitting in the no-fee snail mail days, IT SUCKED! It cost money, AND was an incredible hassle and time suck. Never in the history of writing has it been easier. It's free. Off the top of my head: Mid-American, Ninth Letter, One Story, Gargoyle, Slice, Cincinnati Review, Confrontation, Harpur Palate... there are hundreds of magazines to submit to for free, more than enough stepping stones to dance on at no expense to oneself. 

Some writers seem to be under the impression that they are sitting in their bedrooms monetizing blank paper every night. That lit mags are profiting from our valuable commodities, and incompetent when they fail. There are profitable magazines, but the factors that went into their establishment can't necessarily be replicated. They are not the rule, they are the exceptions. Back to the above point: everyone is experimenting with business models right now looking for some way to make a literary magazine work. Most fail. Short stories are not jewelry. You often can't give them away (how easy is it to get reads in the workshop?) You have to put them in a box and learn how to sell the box, and it's not an easy trick to pull off.

We could all boycott Glimmer Train and put them out of business. Red Hen Press too. Is that what we want? Is that a better world? More selfishly, if we brought down every magazine that charges a submission fee, do you think establishing a professional writing career would become easier, or more difficult? It's a question worth asking.

(Full disclosure: My high horse is a crack-addicted shetland pony named Al. He'll kick, bite and shit on your shoes, but I'll let you ride him for a $3 fee).

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories January 23, 2016 - 1:01pm

I'm not against submission fees, for the most part. Narrative has already been called out, though, and I do stand by that. I am, however, against the lack transparency of how many stories from the slush the journals actually publish. Paris Review is free to submit to, so long as you don't mind using the USPS--but why do they accept these submissions? Do they ever publish from it? And yes, Tin House, metioned above, does occasionally publish from outside the lit journal establishment, but typically these authors are still reasonably well known--that is, I would hazard, not from the slush. I like some of the stuff I read in Tin House, and my reading it wouldn't change if they stopped taking slush submissions. Fair enough if they want proven commodities for publication--and more than that, I think a lot of what they publish is straight up good. 

Glimmer train charges a lot to submit to their contests, but they do appear publish from that pool. I don't care for a lot of what they publish--I go to a cafe that has a subscription so I thumb through it every once in a while. But I'll give them this: a lot of the author bios really do appear to be 'emerging writers.' They have their esthetic, and that's cool with me. 

I have submitted using the mail, and it costs about 1.50 for postage for a 15 page manuscript, the cost the paper, the toner, the two envelopes and the 49 cent stamp. Yes--three dollars on submittable is easier and about a wash for total cost, and cheaper if you factor in one's time. But a three dollar submission for a service that does not cost three dollars (unlike the postal submission where there are concrete costs) does feel a little off when you figure some of those journals are likely publishing very little from the slush and are not open about it. Some of them at least admit they would probably go out of business without the submission fees, then I can view it as a little donation. Missouri Review charges, but they also give out lots of personal rejections---passing on nuggets from the readers. Pretty nice actually. GT and OS are pretty transparent with their models. Both have published unknowns. Not all lit magazine are equal.

Granted if I'm a shitty writer, then I'm a shitty writer. But if on some chance I ever had something really good, I would hope it had a chance. I mean, who wants to play the lotto if there never is going to be a winner? 

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 23, 2016 - 6:27pm

@TheScrivener, I agree completely with a need for transparency, as Jake also detailed above, and think this is the battle that needs to be waged.

And in making a case for the fee system, I'm in no way defending individual operators. Inequitable or abusive editors/magazines need to be outed and shut down.

If you're paying a $3 fee, magazines should be obligated to share their statistics and methodology. Some do--I always get a kick out of the magazines that offer the little "we are very discerning" deterrent in their guidelines--but the vast majority do not.

And agreed, the cost is a sleight-of-hand. You're not paying for that particular service. While the cost is perhaps a wash 1 to 1, the modern author is still able to shoot a story off to thirty markets in one day, choosing to pay for one or two favorites--there is no way to argue it has not been a financial boon for writers. And conversely, if magazines submission piles increase exponentially under the electronic system, it would be a financial bust for magazines--who wants hours added to their work week with no additional compensation?

Another interesting consideration on costs: if we want anonymous submissions, we also have to accept that we are asking magazines to be less profitable. If I demand a magazine choose my story over Stephen King's story on merit alone, I have to accept that it might literally cost them thousands of dollars in potential sales.

There's a lot of absurdity in the economics, when it's all broken down.

If we're really trying to work toward an ideal system, it must be transparent, and built on good faith.

A profit-driven literary scene is inferior to a donation based model. If we want diversity and equal opportunity, instead of Hollywood, we should be willing to pitch in.  

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 23, 2016 - 6:40pm

Some good points above. I wouldn't mind more transparency from lit mags, but I don't believe I'm owed it.

I do wonder though if cottage industries / labors-of-love operate on free market principles. If a magazine isn't ever in danger of making money, nor its leaders meaningfully geared towards such a goal, they aren't really "competing", are they? A reader might see it that way: "Why should I read this one over that one?" But unless the magazine is actively trying to broaden its readership or increase revenue, that's not their concern.

If I were younger and had never before looked into submitting nor read criticisms & defences of such fees, would I think it unjust to be asked for a reading fee? Maybe, maybe not; leaning yes. Either way, I'd probably look for magazines which didn't require them. As it is today, I've never paid a submission fee. I'm not sure what would make me want to, apart from feeling as though I had a really good chance at a really good publication.