Thursday, February 9, 2012

This Should Frustrate Me Far Less than It Does

Full disclosure: Within the next few months, I'll be launching an ad-free online literary journal that pays its writers. Postal mail submissions will be available and free; electronic submissions will require a small submission fee.

My gripe: Mention reading fees, even with caveats, in a crowd of writers, and they'll likely chase you with pitchforks. I don't know how embedded the resistance is; I do know that the only people chiming in vocally are pretty damn self righteous.

1. If a journal offers a free postal mail option, an electronic option is a convenience. The electronic option is handy and, yes, commonplace, but all a journal needs to offer to receive submissions is a postal address. Therefore, it is within a journal's purview whether or not to charge for electronic submissions.

2. You cannot sensibly compare these fees to the fees charged by unscrupulous book agents and vanity publishers. The book agents don't actually place any books with publishers; they just live off the money they've conned out of you. The vanity presses are happy to take your money at either the beginning or the end of the publishing process, and they will give you books in return - but you'll almost certainly end up the poorer and remain largely unread.

Most of the magazines and journals charging fees for electronic submissions are promising writers only an alternative to postal mailings, and they are delivering on those promises. No such journal or magazine has a pay-to-publish model. Paying to submit electronically does not give any writer an edge. Furthermore, charging the fees allows a journal with no other income stream (such as a free online journal that does not accept advertising) to pay its writers. (I've twice read comments on other sites asking why writers who'd been rejected would want to help pay writers who had not. Frankly, that seems illogical and short-sighted to me. Do writers who have been rejected by the New Yorker stop purchasing the magazine? Okay, some might - but I think most good writers want to see good magazines and journals become and remain successful.)

3. If a journal is going to pay, it has to have a way of making money itself. It is unrealistic to think that anyone will buy a subscription to an online zine. And let's face it, unless a site is Facebook or Twitter or similarly popular, it can't sell ad space for anything approaching professional print rates.

4. Even if the fees become standard for good, paying zines, there will always be plenty of online zines for those who don't want to pay the fees. They'll be small, run on sites that are not eye pleasing or user friendly, and they won't pay - basically, they'll be the same as many online lit journals to which many of us are already submitting.


  1. Tracy,

    As both an artist and a writer, I think it's interesting that reading fees are so controversial in the literary world. Artists readily fork over submission fees which average anywhere from $20-$40 to have a jury consider their painting for a show. There's no guarantee of acceptance and if you are accepted, there's no guarantee you will win a cash or merchandise prize. It often costs another $100 for the shipping to and from the show.

    Blogs are free and anyone can post their work (both writing and paintings). But if a person wants outside recognition and feels that they have achieved a level of performance that will be valued by others, then I have no problem with legitimate fees to support the literary magazine, art show or whatever venue is appropriate, especially if there is the possibility of compensation.


    1. Thanks for commenting, Jan! It's good to know I'm not the only one who sees the issue this way.