Over 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. [UPDATE: COMMENTS NOW ENABLED.] 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?