I can’t quite put my finger on whether Chris Haven’s article Why I Must Charge People Fees For Their Own Art about the state of the state of writing is sadly funny or just sad, but I know it’s accurate.

these are like your folks' 8-tracks

I also kind of don’t mind that reading fees are now being charged.

Here’s why:

1. Quality Control: I know for a fact that when I had to shell out money for postage, I spent a lot more time studying the journals my work might fit best.  Never mind that I was never once accepted to one of those journals.  I was choosier.  I didn’t have much money those days, and I still don’t have many discretionary funds. It’s certainly easier to make my hopeful publishing transactions for free.  However, it’s no secret that when writers are choosier about where their work goes, the reading load lessens for the editors on the other side.  This means more interested eyes are available for my work.

With a submishmash account (or basic access to the internet; let’s just be real) and duotrope, I (the unpublished writer) have the ability to just blitz the hell out of fifty journals in one night.  People do.

2.  Possible Pay for Everybody: A small reading fee (not much more than the postage I’d once pay to send a story out), increases the likelihood that if I am accepted, I’ll be paid.  If not, maybe my soon to be published story will be housed comfortably and available to new readership for years to come.  Maybe the editors are to be paid a small stipend for partnering with me for a week or two until we both look good on the screen.

3.  The Future is Now:  Paper is on its way out.  It’s uncomfortable to admit, given my difficulty adjusting to the Kindle, but now when I visit the shelves of any book store, I’m starting to get the same nostalgic feeling previously reserved for the CD collection at Half Price Books (and powerlines).  The books are going to start stopping.  This is the cut-off decade (for CDs, it’s the ’90s), and soon we’ll just be looking at shelves filled with a million used copies of Stephen King and Jodi Picoult and Janet Evanovich – the same way I run smack up against Poi Dog Pondering, Sophie B, Hawkins, and Dave Matthews Band every time I head to Half Price to scratch a cheap music itch.

If paper is disappearing, the traditional ways of paying and getting paid for paper will be changing.  If paying a small reading fee helps the publishing world make the shitty transition from paper to e-reader/screen with a little less damage done to the writer, editor and publisher, then count me in.

5 thoughts on “Alms

  1. Erin says:

    The link to the Haven article is broken. Regardless, it’s a wash to charge people for submitting. Perhaps magazines could charge their slush-pile readers $3 for every story that is read and that will make *readers* more careful in their selections, raise money to pay the writers, and get rid of excess publications that flood the waves.

    If a magazine cannot function without charging its potential contributors, then that should be taken as a sign that either the magazine should go defunct, write up a grant proposal, have a bake-sale (ha!), or the magazine should return to the old system of postal submissions.

    Just as state lottery systems work to take money from the most impoverished population in order to maintain basic services (education, for example), it’s unfair for magazines to live off the backs of rejected writers. If a submission fee inhibits a writer’s ability to submit, and it will (even if the writer has an excellent story but, say, also lost their health insurance this semester due to a cut in adjunct work), it should not be the case that money is what is used to weed out writers–that’s the editors’ job. And, after all, many magazines already do well in weeding out writers by not offering any form of payment to contributors to begin with. Let it be that that weeds us out, not the former.

    And look (, it’s free to be on submishmash and get 200 submissions/month. Cut off submissions when they hit 200 each month. That seems reasonable and perhaps that would encourage a more thorough reading of those 200 submissions and, thus, better magazines finding jewels that looked like stones on speed reads. With the postal system, a magazine couldn’t tell the mailman to stop delivering. Now it can. If that’s not a good solution, then there’s another one.

    Just as people should not pay to submit their job applications to employers, writers should not have to pay to submit their stories to employers.

  2. Jack Kaulfus says:

    Hey Erin,

    I see where you’re coming from – especially here:

    If a magazine cannot function without charging its potential contributors, then that should be taken as a sign that either the magazine should go defunct, write up a grant proposal, have a bake-sale (ha!), or the magazine should return to the old system of postal submissions.

    I just don’t see magazines operating the way they used to, with postal submissions and a print run that pays in contributor copies (and/or a nominal stipend). Many places now only print on demand, and some even charge folks to read their online magazine. I have a feeling that nobody, save for family members and writers themselves, really opt for either.

    I think maybe that the core of this idea of not minding the reading fee comes from the feeling I have that the publishing world has turned into something more of a community than a set of employees and employers, what with the dismal readership of any literary magazine or publisher out there. Maybe I’ve grown too resigned to the idea of writing for the rest of my life and never being able to make a living from the wages earned from publication, but no one has ever accused me of being an optimistic person.

  3. Erin says:

    Heya Jack,

    Community seems to be the problem, I agree. It’s likely (or seems to be) a bleed-through from the MFA mentality that “we’re all buddies here” and, as such, writers should feel honored to be published rather than that the magazines should be honored to publish such writing.

    But even if magazines move into electronic format, now that there is such a thing as electronic readers (whereas earlier an online journal really was only on the screen of a desktop/laptop computer), that seems like something to subscribe to. So, once again, the magazine has subscribers. But really, as writers, this isn’t our problem–revenue is the magazine’s issue. If there’s not money to cover submissions, then there’s something wrong with the magazine not readers and not writers. If a solution to not charging reading fees is for an online magazine to accept only postal submissions, and that works, then there’s an answer.

    Even if magazines don’t pay their contributors, which is its own bucket, they don’t have to charge their contributors, either.

    Thankfully, the majority of magazines aren’t charging and hopefully it will stay that way because too many ethical questions are raised when a magazine charges reading fees. The problem will be, I would think, the constant influx of writers in and out of MFA programs who are scrambling to get publications to add to their C.V. in order to try to get out of adjuncting . . . the level of desperation will determine the way of submission fees, I think.

    Right now, at least in the genre of literary realism, the power lies with editors and not with writers. That is, the disparity between the two is vast. Most writers have a lot on the line when they write and submit a story (job security, careers, etc.); many editors have very little on the line when they publish a magazine–esp. if the magazine doesn’t live by a subscriber base or on reputation. I was once at AWP with a writer who went to talk to a magazine that had recently published his work; he was cordial to the editor and just wanted to say, “Hey, thanks for respecting my work,” and what happened was that the editor acted as though he himself was too cool for school and like the writer was trying to suck his coattails.

    Maybe that’s not a representative example (and I hope it isn’t), but I’m reminded of it every time I run across another magazine whose submission guidelines have more to do with how cool and savvy the magazine’s “editorial” board is and less to do with formatting, contact information, reading periods, etc. I mean some magazines have even decided that they’re too busy to send rejection letters. Come ON.

    And I know someone might say, “Well, then, don’t submit to them.” Of course, of course don’t submit to them. I’m talking about the creeping attitude that is seeming to appear and that submission fees seem like a symptom of that.

    Your turn.


    1. Erin says:

      Okay, the link to the Haven article worked–must be the computer I’m on, or the wireless or what-EVER.

      So, his article is on contest-reading fees, but you and I have been back-and-forthing over plain magazine reading submission fees–I hope.

      But in terms of *contest* entry fees, one of my questions is why it is that some celebrity writer has to be the judge. It often seems disingenuous when magazines use some such judge since, after all, it’s the magazine that reads the majority of the submissions and decides the width of the appointed judge’s playing field.

      I suppose that as long as one is thinking of a writing contest like a fun gamble, a sort of, “I’m game, if you’re game, let’s put our money in a bucket and may the best winner win”, then sure, why not?–it’s gambling, of course, and the magazine editor is functioning as the bookie. There’s a number of magazines, like Glimmer Train and Narrative–the sort of biggest casinos on the block, who seem to be fleecing their players, though. That is, if those entering the contests aren’t aware that that’s how those magazines do “business”.

      It just seems that one would want his or her writing to win a contest whose purpose was to honor the winners instead of whose purpose is to pay the bills. Have a contest when there’s money to burn, not to get money to burn.

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