Wednesday’s WIP: On the Subject of Submission Fees

dollar-sign-mdOver on Grub Street Daily, Becky Tuch has a post about something we’ve surely all been noticing: “Increasingly, it’s the norm for lit mags to charge reading fees, anything from $2 to $5, in some cases $20 or more.” Tuch references a related Writer’s Relief post on “Literary Journals, ‘Reading Fees’, and You” and then shares what she discovered when she looked for what other writers are saying about the subject. “Are writers paying these fees? Are they resisting them? Why? Why not?” She collected a range of responses, which you can read for yourself.

The end of Tuch’s post asks: “What do you think, dear hardworking writer? Is it fair to have to pay to play? Will all lit mags eventually charge reading fees? Will you never pay?”

I was tempted to post a comment, but the comments were closed when I last checked. So here’s my response:

First, let me address this in the context of my own writing practice. I think that reading fees–also called “administrative fees,” “submission fees,” and “processing fees”–are unfortunate (although I’m not necessarily prepared to call them “unfair”). I certainly hope not all litmags will eventually charge such fees.

When I am seeking to place my own work, only rarely will I pay to try to do so. And I pay only if the fee is small (if it’s larger, as for a contest, there’d better be a subscription attached), if the journal pays its contributors, and/or I believe the work I’m trying to place is especially strong and/or suited for a themed call/opportunity for which contributors/winners will be paid.

In general, though, I’m resistant to fees. I’m resistant because these days I’m submitting more poems and brief essays than long(ish) stories or novel excerpts, so the mathematical argument–that I’d be spending the same amount of money to print out and mail my manuscript, a cover letter, a SASE, etc., doesn’t necessarily compute (especially when so many journals that take postal submissions no longer mandate a SASE but offer to respond via email instead). I’m resistant because, at the moment, one of my poems has accumulated 35 rejections (and counting, I suspect). Imagine if I needed to spend $3 each time I sent it out. I’m resistant because I don’t believe it’s the submitters’ responsibility to fund any magazine’s online submission system, as some of the arguments defending these fees go. And I’m resistant because, somehow, the practice just seems…icky.

But enough about me. Or enough about my own writing, at any rate. Where I have staked out a more forceful position on this is right here on the Practicing Writing blog and in the monthly Practicing Writer newsletter.

In both places, I provide news and information about writing contests/competitions and calls for submissions of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. And as many of you know, I share ONLY those opportunities that DO NOT charge fees to submitters/entrants AND that pay their writers–and say so up front, in their guidelines/on their websites. (One note: I do share info from journals that charge fees for online submissions but also provide an option for those who wish to send their work via postal mail. And of course, those journals and magazines must pay their contributors as well.) And while I’m pretty lenient when it comes to the definition of “paying,” the amount must reach double digits. At least.

I think of my blog and newsletter as forms of literary citizenship or community service. I don’t believe the world would benefit much from yet another site or “resource” that tells writers where they can pay to have their work rejected or lose a contest. Similarly, I don’t believe I’d be adding anything by replicating announcements from nonpaying journals. I frequently send my own work to journals that don’t pay at all, and I’m proud to have had work published in many such venues. But again, nonpaying publications are easy to find listed in any number of directories, websites, listservs, etc. If I’m going to give my time and energy to my blog and newsletter, I want them to be special. Limiting the listings as I do is a way for me to meet that objective.

So, that’s what this hardworking writer has to say. What say you?

40 thoughts on “Wednesday’s WIP: On the Subject of Submission Fees

  1. Yi Shun Lai says:

    Until recently, I was the fiction editor at a literary magazine. We charged a reading fee. Editors at literary magazines often don’t get paid, so where does the money go? I’ll tell you: Our magazine was a print publication, perfect bound, with solid distribution and great literary clout. Our reading fees went to defray the cost of publication and mailing. Our editors do get a certain amount of clout from having their names affixed to the masthead, and that often begets speaking and teaching gigs, so while I’m not arguing the point that it’d be nice for the editors to get paid, it wasn’t top of mind while I was editing. That’s the argument from a print pub’s side, as far as this editor is concerned, and, as a writer, I’ll happily pay a reading fee, even for an electronic publication, if it means my work will be represented well and get the distribution it deserves from a publication that is charging me the fee. Buyer beware, and all that–do your research, obviously. Thanks for another well reasoned post, Erika!

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks so much for chiming in, Yi Shun. You help raise a crucial point: It’s important to have choices. People should be able to choose to volunteer to edit a magazine, just as they can should be able to choose to pay submission fees (to get back to Becky Tuch’s question regarding the possibility of an all-fee litmag world).

      I confess that I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a print magazine depending on writers’ submission fees to fund its publication, especially if the magazine is charging (as I assume it is) for subscriptions and individual-issue purchases, and ESPECIALLY if it doesn’t pay its writers. Far better for said magazine to generate institutional, grant, and/or philanthropic support in addition to subscription fees and related revenue.

      1. CD Mitchell says:

        During this recession and a time of increasing budget cuts, funding for literary journals has become a much easier target to cut than eliminating trips or raises for faculty. Every journal in existence is scrambling for every available penny, and even some of the best funded journals and most prominent journals are now charging a nominal submission fee.

        The costs of processing and printing hundreds of submissions is staggering.

        You argue that sending a poem in the mail doesn’t cost you 2 bucks. But postage for the stamp to mail it is what–around fifty cents? and the return postage is what–around 50 cents? The cost of the paper, the two envelopes (including the SASE) and the ink to print at home? So paying the submission fee actually costs you a dollar? I leave more than that for a tip for a cup of coffee.

        I served for years during my tenure as an MFA student as an editor(Student, Creative Nonfiction, Assistant, and Managing Editor) and as a contributing editor after graduating of a prominent lit mag. While you may feel it is unfair to be charged $2.00 dollars for your one-page poem, I promise you the printing costs of the plethora of twenty plus page stories and poems make up for any “profit” you believe the journals are making from your submissions. The submission fees I paid were in fact a benefit as it would have cost me more to print, package, and mail my story and essay submissions. The student editors at most of these journals work hours long past their obligations for the meager scholarship and stipends they receive. They do not get a penny of your meager two dollars. Most people leave that much for a tip at lunch without even thinking.

        Your comment about lit mags funding their publication through submission fees is misguided and uninformed. For the most part, submission fees do not even cover the costs of submission. When prominent journals such as the Missouri Review charge submission fees, then it is time to simply accept them as part of our chosen profession.

        The ever growing list of journals that have been forced to publish online to save costs, or even worse failed and ceased to publish is disturbing. Journals provide a valuable service to the reading community, to established authors, and to new authors who seek to validate their writing by being able to include a publication in the Missouri Review or Shenandoah on their CV. I actively subscribe to a half-dozen journals now, and I am determined during the next year to skip one meal out and subscribe to a new lit journal every month.

        It seems to me that given the benefits we receive from publishing in literary journals that paying a fee for submitting–albeit a nominal fee–is like complaining about the pain of a shot that saves out lives.

        1. Erika Dreifus says:

          Thanks, CD. I appreciate your taking the time to respond. For the record/to clarify: my comment about funding through submission fees was a direct response to Yi Shun’s explanation of how her former magazine utilized the fees collected from submitters: “Our reading fees went to defray the cost of publication and mailing.”

          Again, I think it’s good for us to have choices and space to have different views (for example, I don’t quite buy the immunization comparison).

          I think my record shows that I value the work and resources of all kinds that all of us–writers, editors, and readers–put into this literary culture of ours. And I, too, subscribe to at least a half-dozen journals. I’ve been known to buy subscriptions as gifts. And, as I say, I have in the past and will likely in the future pay occasionally to submit my work. But for it to be a rule? And for me to stop believing there’s value to finding and sharing opportunities for others that don’t charge fees and do pay writers? I think I’ll stick with my m.o. for now.

          Thanks again for the comment.

          1. CD Mitchell says:

            No one is complaining about your MO–at least for now. Most of what you post is second hand information already available to those who know what they are doing, but you do occasionally post an opportunity I have never heard of, and for those nuggets I compliment you. I also wonder how you find the time to post so many blogs! You must not be teaching. But I admire you work ethic.

            I have subscribed to your newsletter, at least for now, and obviously have read it. And I am not suggesting that every journal should charge a fee. The journal I worked with has never charged a fee for regular submissions and doesn’t now. Whether you get the immunization analogy or not doesn’t change the fact that it appears this is a lot of whining about a tiny bit of pain that provides an overwhelming good for all. The fees are small and help the survival of the journals. I have posted my comment on my Facebook page and the conversation is overwhelmingly in favor of the fees, with one exception. If you cannot afford the extra dollar to submit, then you should continue to follow your practices, or If you have a moral objection to the fees, then certainly send your submissions elsewhere. I am sure your writing will always find a good home! I do agree with you on that.

            But describing the fees as “icky ” though simply does not seem right. I am fortunate in that I am not submitting to journals right now, but the journals I submitted to were carefully chosen, and if they charged a fee I paid it. I understand why it is charged, and I don’t complain about it or treat the journal is if it is a second class citizen for charging the fee.

            The Missouri Review and Shenandoah both charge fees, as does the Virginia Quarterly now if I remember correctly. Many top journals are charging fees, but that hasn’t changed their status as premier literary journals. There are plenty of journals out there who still accept free submissions, and I have never had to pay more than a couple fees in a month of submissions, but it is the nature of the beast for literary journals. I understand , however, that Playboy Magazine–a top literary market–pays 5 grand, the New Yorker pays thousands as well as the Atlantic. Those wanting to be paid should consider submitting to those magazines. Literary journals have traditionally been a non-paying market, with a few exceptions.

            On this one we will have to disagree. All I ask is that you consider the truth and reality behind the NEED for charging the fees, regardless how you feel about them. I simply sought to explain the reason for and the need for the fees.

            Let me clarify I never apply for contests that charge reading fees, and I never submit to any magazine that charges more than 3 dollars for a submission /reading fee. I agree that fees can be too much.

            But once again, literary journals are not paying markets. After reading comments here about cost benefit analysis, if you are applying such a technique to submitting to literary journals, it will never pay off, and you completely misunderstand the nature of the market. You need to buy a Writers Market Guide and identify those paying markets and submit there.

            In the end, the market will determine if the fees continue. But when journals continue to receive hundreds of submissions a month–fee or not–you can expect the fees to continue. Perhaps a boycott of fee charging journals should be organized to see if this trend can be changed. Good luck with that one if you choose to pursue that option.

            Still, there is nothing wrong with hearing BOTH sides of the debate. I hope I have been respectful here, and if I said anything that offends I certainly apologize.
            Please keep up the good work!

            1. Erika Dreifus says:

              CD, I can’t respond point-by-point–although I don’t teach, I do have a full-time job and a busy life, and I remain efficient by minimizing drawn-out exchanges such as the one it seems could quite easily develop here.

              Please do rest assured that this particular issue is NOT my raison d’être. I have much bigger fish to fry (or “complain” or “whine” about, as you may see it). I was merely seeking to respond to a question raised on another blog and give readers here an opportunity to weigh in.

              I do thank you for stepping forward–I appreciated the chance to learn a bit about you/your work by visiting your site. I thank you as well for subscribing to the newsletter and for the apology toward the end of your comment.

      2. Diane Bechtler says:

        But who pays us? I have seen some submission sites wanting as much as 15 dollars per submission. Do the math. Let’s say somebody submits 10 pieces a week and it’s 3 dollars per submission. That’s 30 dollars now extrapolate and do a year. It will make us all be very careful where we submit at least some places have something in return. Ploughshares has free submissions for subscribers. That’s a better deal. At least I get something for my submissions. I could rant and rave all day but I don’t think it’s going to stop the practice. However, I do is seek journals that don’t require submission fees. I’m not making any money. I don’t understand the whole concept. I thought that literary journals were a labor of love on the part of the publishers. But maybe I live in a fairytale world

        1. Erika Dreifus says:

          Diane, yes, I think it’s a good sign when a fee-charging publication waives the fee for subscribers. And you’re right–in the end, “ranting and raving” is unlikely to change anything. I hope that my post isn’t that.

          Also, you’ve reminded me about a point I wanted to make re: CD’s allusion to “this recession and a time of increasing budget cuts.” The economic climate may not be friendly to journals, but it’s certainly not friendly to writers, either. Having to pay to submit seems additionally unfortunate in this context.

      3. Yi Shun Lai says:

        Even with all of the grants, and with the backing of a press behind it (ours was a not-for-profit endeavor), there wasn’t enough funding. It takes a lot of money to print and publish a lit magazine. Maybe it’s worthwhile to get some solid numbers and break down the costs before embarking on further debate.

  2. Phyl says:

    Hi, Erika,

    Thanks for the post. I appreciate and share your perspective. I guess I’m also ” misguided and informed.”


  3. Phyl says:

    I’m misguided and misinformed, not informed. I’m the opposite of informed, I guess.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:


  4. Phillip Larrea says:


    You nailed it on all fronts. A $3 reading fee for a journal that pays its contributors, makes some sense to me. I don’t love it, but I get it. Practicing Writing is one of my favorite sites because of your screening criteria. Ultimately, one wishes that there was more grant/fellowship support for literature not driven by academia. This is not a knock on academically funded enterprises, just an observation that this is the only game in town for the most part. Good work!

    Phillip Larrea
    Author: We the People (Cold River Press)

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks, Phillip–and thanks for the support for Practicing Writing!

  5. Alicia Beale says:

    The only time I paid a submission fee was when I submitted a story to Carve Magazine because they stated that they give individual comments on 15- 10% of their rejection letters and pay contributors. It felt like a fair deal to me. After submitting so many times with so many rejections following, how can it not feel like throwing money into the air especially for ridiculous $20 reading fees? Also how can writers who can’t afford even a dinner out or their next month’s rent afford this life saving shot? When literary magazines went electronic, it seems a moment when the literary world found an equalizer for those who couldn’t afford sending SASE, printed manuscript, and postage out widely for submission. I suppose the literary world will only be represented by those who can afford to support it.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Alicia. I wonder about those individual comments–did you receive them, and were they extensive/useful? I’ve been lucky to receive comments on a number of my (fee-free) submissions, but I know that there are some venues that charge somewhat hefty fees (much more than $2-$3) and promise a full critique in exchange.

  6. R Klempner says:

    I laughed when I read the title of today’s post, because I’m usually the person who avoids any publication or contest that charges a reading fee, but last week, I submitted to a contest with a fee because it is well-regarded, 100% legit, and in the completely unexpected and unlikely event that I win, the top 3 prizes pay well enough to justify my time.

    If the pay will be decent, I can see paying a reading fee on occasion. The costs the editors above elaborate are reasonable.

    But there is no way I would ever submit somewhere that charges a fee AND those authors whose pieces are published will get remuneration for less than 10 cents a word for prose or $25 minimum for each page of poetry. It’s just not a sound business practice for any writer doing a cost/benefit analysis. (Even if I don’t think I’ve ever submitted a piece 35 times–wow! that’s some persistence!)

    Certainly, I’m sympathetic to concerns about the financial backing necessary for literary magazines and so on to continue. If the system hasn’t been working, something will have to change. But reading fees might not be the best way to go.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Rebecca, I’m with you. Whenever I talk about contests at writing conferences/seminars, I also address the importance of considering any competition’s reputation, legitimacy, and prize purse.

      On the fee/possible prize ratio I phrase it like this: You need to consider what seems acceptable to you–I’m personally a lot more likely to submit to a contest that charges a $20 fee and provides a $1,000 prize (and ideally a subscription, if appropriate), than I am to even consider sending a $20 fee for a $100 prize.

      And not to go off on a tangent, but I appreciate contests whose organizers are transparent about the judging process. I’m not a big fan of contests that award prizes based on “likes” and “votes,” so I typically don’t enter or endorse those.

  7. Avo says:

    Submission fees are just hobby taxes for hobby writers, aren’t they? Why do hobby writers feel entitled to have their hobby subsidized by literary magazines that aren’t profitable and are only read by fellow hobby writers?

    If writers wrote stories that ordinary readers were willing to pay for, magazines would be happy to pay such writers and skip submission fees. But writers don’t want to write stories that people are willing to pay for, and the people who work for free at literary magazines (fellow writers) don’t want to publish stories that anyone wants to pay for. That’s fine, but if you don’t want to create something that has a monetary value in the marketplace, you’re a hobby writer and it’s silly to think someone should spend the time reading your hobby story without at least a token fee for doing so.

    Nobody has pushed writers into the hobby ghetto. Publishing in one form or another is still big business, and profitable. But everybody and his dog is a writer with a blog now, and even writers themselves read few literary magazines except to submit to them, and fewer still subscribe to them, which is why they’re unprofitable. Nothing wrong with hobby writers choosing to write only for writer-editors instead of readers, but the cost of ignoring ordinary readers is that writers have to pay for their hobby themselves, like all hobbyists.

    What’s unfair about that?

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks for taking the time to share your perspective.

    2. Jo says:

      I don’t know how you define “hobby writer,” but if that definition includes “writer who has a day job because she’s developed an unfortunate fondness for having a roof over her head and food on her table,” I suppose there are many of us who qualify. I certainly do. Having failed to plan well enough to be born independently wealthy, I must earn my living, and this affects my ability to write full-time. If this makes me a hobby writer in your view, so be it.

      If I’m understanding your post correctly, you consider those who submit to literary journals to be hobbyists and those who submit to magazines read by “ordinary readers” to be . . . what, exactly? Real writers? I certainly can’t speak for all writers, but I suspect that many who submit to literary journals would dearly love to be published in magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review. Alas, the likelihood of such magazines publishing work by an unknown and unpublished writer is slim, to say the least. Is it possible? I’d like to think so. Is a writer more likely to have a piece accepted by The Atlantic if she can point to a list of publications in respected literary journals, and perhaps a couple stories from those publications which have been anthologized? I suspect so. Whether we like it or not, credits matter.

      It’s not clear to me why you feel the need to dismiss as hobbyists those who choose to submit to periodicals which apparently don’t appeal to you. You may wish to bear in mind that for those of us who write fiction, the list of magazines for “ordinary readers” which would publish our work has shrunk over the past few decades, and it continues to do so. This is one reason that fiction writers submit to literary magazines: they’re practically the only ones who will publish our stories. That doesn’t make us hobbyists. It makes us realists.

      1. Avo says:

        Well, a hobby is done for pleasure, not reward. A professional writer works for compensation, by definition. Nothing wrong with that distinction, or hobby writing. Everybody needs a hobby.

        Here’s the etymology of the term: hobby
        1298, “small horse, pony,” later “mock horse used in the morris dance,” and c.1550 “child’s toy riding horse,” which led to a transferred sense of “favorite pastime or avocation,” first recorded 1676. The connecting notion being “activity that doesn’t go anywhere.”

        Nothing wrong with litmags or litfic, either. I like litfic; I subscribe to litmags and subscribe to Duotrope. Nothing wrong with some litmags having a 33% or 66% acceptance rate, either. It’s just that litmags don’t aspire to reach paying readers, and writers don’t either. Essentially, litmag writers are writing for each other, or for themselves. That’s the essence of a hobby activity, isn’t it?

        Universities didn’t have any creative writing programs until the 70s. Now they turn out 160,000 MFAs every five years as a major profit center, and almost none of these write for readers, either. They’re the reason there are 8000 free non-paying litmags, as a place for those hobby writers (among others) to put their stuff that nobody wants to pay to read. I don’t dismiss hobby writers–it’s a perfectly legitimate activity-for-pleasure. I just question the objection to submission fees, as if somebody else should subsidize hobby writing that has no marketplace value.

        The virtual disappearance of a market for paid short stories in commercial magazines is just a market reality that reflects how people’s continued passion for storytelling is met now in the plethora of media alternatives available. Certainly litmags don’t even attempt to fill the gap: they’ve abandoned paying readers as a target market. So have hobby writers. Nothing wrong with writing in a ghetto unread by the public. As you say, what’s important to hobby writers is that they get published somewhere, not that they write something the public wants to read. No reason to subsidize storytelling that doesn’t bother to appeal to paying readers, though.

        Building up litmag credits to enhance chances of getting a story in the New Yorker isn’t being a realist. Fiction editor William Maxwell used to average one unsolicited story per month in the 40s; more recent New Yorker fiction editors have acknowledged that the average success rate for stories from the slush pile is zero per year. That’s reality now.

        They don’t charge submission fees to reject you, though; they do that for free.

        1. Jo says:

          Anybody who’s bought a subscription to a literary journal (or even a single issue) is a paying reader. The journal may not have an enormous circulation, but that doesn’t mean it has “abandoned paying readers as a target market” or that it doesn’t “aspire to reach paying readers.” It may aspire, but not succeed. Or it may become the next Ploughshares. The fact that the journal isn’t found on the newsstand next to Time or Popular Mechanics doesn’t mean the editors aren’t interested in reaching more readers. (You should also bear in mind that not everyone reads Time or Popular Mechanics, either. If everyone liked to read the same kind of material, we would only need one periodical.)

          As far as I can tell, your definition of “hobby” appears to include any writing that doesn’t earn money for the author. Such a definition leaves no room for the writer who has not yet reached the point where story sales are regular, predictable, and lucrative. Such a writer may spend years submitting to small journals that cannot pay, not because he has no interest in payment or does not take his writing seriously, but because he he has not yet advanced to a level where the larger journals (with the larger paychecks) will consider him.

          There are probably a dozen or more other reasons (apart from hobby writing) why an author might might elect to submit to smaller journals that pay little or nothing. The author may be working diligently on his craft and appreciate a venue where he can experiment with form or content that larger magazines might not accept. He may be building a platform so that when he is ready to publish on a larger scale, those who like his kind of story are already familiar with his name. He may submit to a particular journal because he has already enjoyed a certain level of success and he wishes to support that journal, especially if it’s a new publication. He may simply be new to the world of published writing, and so he chooses journals that seem to be less intimidating or appear to offer a higher likelihood of success so that he can get a much-needed bit of encouragement in a field where rejection is so prevalent.

          I don’t dispute that some writers who submit to literary journals may write as a hobby, but dismissing all authors who publish in such journals as mere hobbyists does them a tremendous disservice. Unless you’ve consulted all of them, you can’t possibly know their motivations.

          As far as the issue of paying submission fees goes, that’s a business decision for the writer. If the journal charges a fee, the writer has to decide whether he is sufficiently interested in being published there to justify paying the fee. I don’t happen to be fond of submission fees, but then, I’m not yet at the point where I’m earning enough writing fiction to be profligate with my money. I expect the journals understand that there may be writers they’d like to publish who will refuse to submit work on the basis of such fees, and that’s a risk they’re apparently willing to take. Again, it’s a business decision.

          1. Erika Dreifus says:

            Jo, so much of what you’ve written here articulates some of my thoughts, too. Especially the following:

            “Anybody who’s bought a subscription to a literary journal (or even a single issue) is a paying reader.”

            “I don’t dispute that some writers who submit to literary journals may write as a hobby, but dismissing all authors who publish in such journals as mere hobbyists does them a tremendous disservice.”

            So thanks for doing that hard work for me!

            On a related note: So few people get to the point where “where story [or, I’d add, poetry/essay] sales are regular, predictable, and lucrative.” Which is why so many writers have day jobs. Or “sponsors,” as noted in Ann Bauer’s post on BTM today (as I noted you’ve seen).

            1. Jo says:

              So true. I recently read a comment by Ann Patchett about how she’d begun writing essays and memoirs because her fiction career wasn’t particularly lucrative. And this is the woman who wrote “Bel Canto”! I think that unless I find one of those wonderful supportive (employed) husbands like Ann Bauer’s, I’m going to be working two jobs forever: the day job and the writing career.

              And yes, I do consider writing to be my second job. I’d love to say it’s my first job, but I fear that would make the mortgage people nervous.

          2. Sure, Avo shouldn’t dismiss all lit writers as hobbyists, but he or she is right to say that it won’t blaze a trail to the NYer, and I also think it’s correct to say that litmags are NOT effectively targeting the paying public. Sure, they have subscribers, but as I’ve said elsewhere who knows how many of them actually open their mail, let alone read the journals (lots of people don’t even keep up with their NYers). Especially as the journals get behind, condense issues and get thicker… sometimes you get volumes that have thirty or fifty stories in them. It’s crazy. Editors are not focused on the BUSINESS of running a journal, typically. Often they’re writers themselves, and sometimes professors and parents and god knows what else. It’s rare to have an editor whose job it is just to run the magazine, and to have a staff under him or her who do the other types of editing jobs exclusively (and not in addition to teaching etc). So who is really thinking about what format readers want to receive the journal in? How to drum up more subscribers? How to make the content stand out from all the other journals’ material? (Because you always hear that writers should read a journal to get a feel, but when I do they mostly seem like FM radio to me–the same contributors turn up everywhere, and it’s more or less the same mix of semi-experimental and traditional content.) Remember when those first mailers from GlimmerTrain and The Sun started to come out? That was radical. That was engaging. Esp with GlimmerTrain, you felt like there was something really NEW out there. That’s been copied–Tin House, etc, as a marketing device, but there hasn’t been a new approach in a long time.

            IMO it’s because most journals really HAVEN’T targeted readers. They’ve targeted writers. It’s like expecting athletes to support pro sports. Instead editors should be out there getting the same people who go to games excited about reading.

            That might mean accepting totally different stories.

            It might mean a lot of things.

            1. Erika Dreifus says:

              Fair points, Claudia. Thanks.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      A man of few words, I see! 😉

  8. Sandra says:

    This has been an interesting discussion. While many of the points raised have merit, I stick with Erika. With very few exceptions, I also oppose reading fees as “icky” (read that “patronizing.” In the case of “donations” to worthy journals, I make several each year, but I should have the privilege of choosing where to park my cash. Mixing professional relationships with donor/support relationships, in my view, is not good business for either party. A journal has no content without authors; we should be respected enough to be treated as professionals, not as hobbyists. Thanks.

  9. I don’t understand the need for perfect binding and other expensive printing costs. For a journal like Camera Obscura (which does not have a fee, btw), sure, they have to have big production costs, but even the Paris Review does not need perfect binding. What is anyone going to do with these journals when they are done with them? They are hard to recycle, and no one has room on their shelves. Sometimes I can pass them on to friends, but few people read as much as I do and most don’t have time after one or two issues.

    I remember one of the eds of Prairie Schooner saying to his managing ed (I overheard this), “Let’s face it, we don’t have half the circulation we report. You and I both have piles of journals we subscribe to that we never even get around to opening. The same thing is happening with Prairie Schooner–it’s just sitting in people’s foyers. Who has time to read all these journals?”

    It’s true. There are TOO MANY journals out there. Some of them NEED to fail. And they are overproduced. It would be find to send them out as broadsheets, or in simple magazine format like the NYer. Iron Horse has a nice format that’s in between. It’s hard to argue with One Story as well.

    Make them easy to open, spread out on your breakfast table, make notes on, smear eggs on, spill coffee on. Easy to recycle, guilt-free. Easy to leave behind at the doctor’s office, on the bus, at the coffee shop–you might get more subscriptions that way!

    And that’s cheaper.

    Shake it up. Think differently.

  10. Contrary to Avo’s statements, it is possible to make some sort of income from litmags – they are the source of around half of mine (with the other half coming from comp wins and royalties. It’s not a big income, but I can live on it). I manage this by NEVER paying submission fees, and sumitting often to litmags that pay writers. When I say often, I mean around 300 times per year. If I paid even a $3 submission fee each time, that would be $900 of outgoings before I’ve sold a single story. That’s not a good plan for a professional writer.
    Exposure kills people and doesn’t pay the bills.
    I support litmags by subscribing to some, and singing the praises of ones I like. This seems fair to me.
    The argument I find most spurious is the one that says that sumission fees are the equivalent of the postage and wrapping paper that used to be necessary when submitting work. No – the expense of our our computers and broadband fees are the equivalent of that. Both are the media via which we get our work to litmags.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Cathy, it’s always good to have your input. And this is really impressive–half your income, with the other half from comp wins & royalties? Wow.

      1. Basically, Erika, I’m a hack. 🙂 If it’s free, then I’ll enter it or submit to it!

  11. Willow says:

    I remain very torn on these fees. Never for a non-paying online journal. Never. With small presses this is the only way to get your ms read, so I have coughed it up. However, last year I also paid a $25 reading fee to a very reputable press during an open reading period, which proceeded to ignore my submission for 17 months. Queried multiple times, no response. (This was through Submittable. So it’s not like they lost it.) Third query got the editor in chief’s attention, and rather than actually looking at the submission, she offered to refund the reading fee. I have yet to receive my refund. So having been burned this badly, I must confess that I wonder about the ethics of these fees. As far as I am concerned, they do entitle me to a reasonably timely response. In this case, the editors literally could not even be bothered to hit the Decline button when I queried. Have a few short stories out for more than a year at fee-charging journals. Needless to say, I will never submit to them again.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Sorry to hear about these experiences, Willow.

  12. Glenn I says:

    Thanks for the discussion of fees. When I was a baby writer submission fees were considered unethical. It’s been a strange transition to find such fees have become almost the default, even an indicator of professionalism. Simultaneous submission was taboo those ages ago, too. I like that that turned around. When you have to wait eight months for any kind of response, it’s a little less wearing when the work is already out to another place.

    I hate fees. I have paid a few contest entry fees over the years, and I think of it like buying a lottery ticket. The chances of my winning are terrible, but the prize is impressive. But I can’t justify to myself ponying up fees as a matter of course. Commenter Avo uses the term “hobby,” knowing it’s a belittlement, though the argument put forward isn’t totally off. Model train building isn’t taught at university in classes required for graduation. Maybe it should be? Literature / art has always been hard to make a profession of. All those poets and novelists praising their patrons in the olden days weren’t just exercising their tonsils.

    Fees add up. Fast. Just as postage used to. As a baby poet I couldn’t afford all the postage. The expense seriously limited my submissions. Commenter CD’s sneer that people don’t notice the money they drop on tips to the barista reveals little consciousness of the reality of working class writers.

    I sympathize with literary magazine editors. Their expenses are no joke. I suppose it’s a labor of love for all of us. Editors and publishers choose what to champion — out of their own personal aesthetic — what “fits” with their project. Nice to subsidize their vision?

    This rich nation could afford to slosh a little of its wealth onto art and literature. Aram Saroyan deserved his $750.

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