Midweek Notes from a Practicing Writer

Three quick things:

1. Working intensely on everything that’s due to my publisher this month—including the final version of the Birthright manuscript itself. (It’s not that I am such a social butterfly, but I find myself turning down various invitations because I need to conserve as much of my time as possible.)
Cover image of Kevin Haworth's book on the work of Rutu Modan.
2. I haven’t yet finalized the syllabus for the 21st-century Jewish literature class that I’ll be teaching this fall (I know! It’s the top priority after I meet my publisher’s deadlines!). But I know that it will include some work by Rutu Modan, and so I am immensely grateful to have just read Kevin Haworth’s superb new study, The Comics of Rutu Modan: War, Love, and Secrets (University of Mississippi Press).

3. An interesting situation came up this week. Background: A poem of mine (and yes, it’s one that’s included in Birthright) was accepted for an anthology project. The editors have been seeking to find a publisher for the project, and in a recent update email to contributors, they suggested that one of the potential deals would not provide contributors with the usual complimentary copy (we’d be able to purchase copies at a discount). They wanted to know how we’d feel about that. I told them that especially when there’s no payment involved in the first place, I don’t typically submit my work to something that, in print, doesn’t offer me at least a copy. I’m curious: What’s your take on this?

16 thoughts on “Midweek Notes from a Practicing Writer

  1. Mindy Portnoy says:

    Regarding #3, I think that writers are exploited! I think that publishers still expect that a writer is financially supported by someone else (sometimes that’s true, but not always…..)

    Good luck with all your work!

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      I don’t know what the reasoning is, but it always seems odd to me that when it comes to a printed product, the writers whose work is at the heart of that product seem to be the only ones who are expected to give their work away. Worse, in this case, is the possibility that in order to own a single copy, the writers might have to buy one. (Am I likely to buy other copies, say, as gifts? Sure. But it would be nice to be offered at least ONE contributor copy that I don’t need to pay for!) Admittedly, I don’t know what the editors’ own arrangement would be in this case—royalties? a certain number of sample copies? Regardless, they wouldn’t have a book without the writers’ work. Yes, it’s wonderful to have one’s work validated/recognized with publication. But somehow, publishers, distributors, printing companies, etc. also get paid for what they contribute.

  2. I agree, Erika. The only time I would submit to a market that offered only “free copy” is to support a nonprofit or charity.

    They should have explored publishers more thoroughly before putting out a call for submissions.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that they needed to have the submissions to entice the publishers…so it’s a depressing cycle.

  3. Anne Anthony says:

    I’m in favor of giving contributor copies plus discounts for books purchased for friends and family or to sell on their own. Released an anthology last year and gave copies to both the writers AND the photographers included in the book. It was built into the planned budget. There would be no book without their contributions. I also worked with an artist friend who published a book of poems inspired by her artwork and she gave each one a contributor copy. Free.

    Writers (and artists) give too much away.

  4. Erika Dreifus says:

    Another interesting thing that came up in the message from the editors: Apparently, they’ve found that a number of presses might go ahead (and, I believe, provide the writers with contributor copies) if they (the editors) organized a crowdfunding endeavor to make the project happen. The editors seem to have dismissed this possibility, and I’m not sure why. I think that I will ask them.

  5. Diana Rosen says:

    Exploitation doesn’t begin to define this all-too-familiar pattern in publishing. Nobody wants to invest, much less take a risk, so they end up gouging the very people who create the product. And folks wonder why writers turn to self publishing! I was so incensed by one print journal’s hubris that I wrote a scathing letter pointing out the depth of their endowment. They now pay contributors! For those publishers or journals who do not pay, I suggest different business models: endowments, sponsors, advertisements, anything but submission fees!!!

  6. Sadly, exploitation of writers is rampant. As for anthologies, contributors should receive one free copy, at the very least and preferably more, unless the anthology is to raise funds for a charitable cause. In the latter case, authors should be given an extended biography at the end of their contribution.

  7. Sandra Soli says:

    This dilemma came up with the just-released anthology issued for Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday. I was pleased to have a poem included, but consider it a donation since I can’t send the poem elsewhere. I expected one copy, but that is not going to happen so I am not planning to purchase one and continue to stand firmly against paying to have work in print.

    My one exception is the anthology for Woody Guthrie festival, which I have strongly supported for many years, along with other Woody friends. It is a matter of personal choice. Now that submission fees are rising (one well-knownjournal now charges $5!), I am avoiding those “opportunities” as well. As for charitable causes, I choose those to support, not a market that dangles publication like a carrot.

  8. Anna says:

    As a former anthology editor (different genre, I know, with different publisher/commercial potential, but still), if I had been unable to offer payment to our writers, I would have purchased them each a copy of the book. Even if they see it as a token of gratitude for your contribution (as opposed to payment, which is also what writers should be getting). That is just insane to ask you to buy it yourself.

  9. Jean F says:

    This reminds me of charitable fundraisers for which artists are asked to donate a painting to be sold or auctioned off – and then expected to buy a ticket to the event if they wish to attend. The incentive is free publicity, but the only artists invited are those who are already well known in the area.

    Apparently the publishers of this anthology think the honor of being included is enough. Like you, I disagree. Their failure to make clear the uncertain status of the publisher when they solicited the poetry also bothers me, as does the way the rules seem to have changed since you made the submission. I might well withdraw the poem. If all the poets did this, they would have nothing to publish.

  10. I have to give you credit for changing my mind about not settling for my writing to go uncompensated. I am glad you continue to speak for so many of us who have grown weary of our work getting published, based on merit, but not monetarily rewarded. It is too bad that journals with enough resources continue to practice exploiting writers for their own gain. Thank you Erika for your perspective and logic on this matter.

  11. Erika Dreifus says:

    Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to share your reactions and responses.

    Erendira, it’s not that I *never* publish work that I’m not paid for (I try to keep those occasions few and far between, but it happens). But not even being provided a contributor copy seems to me a bridge too far.

    I realize that many journals and editors don’t have sufficient resources–it’s just not clear to me why writers are the ones who are expected to foot the bill. If there’s real demand and appreciation for the product, there should be other ways to fund publication—to include the provision of contributor copies!

  12. Mihku Paul says:

    Only one time have I submitted to an anthology with no form of payment or free copies. I was also asked to submit a list of “friends who might be interested in reading my work” and
    asked to pay a “reading fee” of $1.00 per page. I was just starting out and needed to build my publication list so I did it. It was a disappointment. I hadn’t read past issues and found my work alongside some content that was of questionable caliber/quality. Lesson learned.
    Not sure what the answer is to this problem. However my perspective is that with the varied options to print these days (like print on demand) it can’t cost all that much to give away some copies as a form of thanks and acknowledgement. It’s perhaps a personal decision. I chose never to submit to that publication again. And now I have found that the journal is putting out calls on our local writers organization list-serve. I just try to warn people. In close to a decade since graduating from my MFA program, I have not come across other writers/programs that are familiar with this journal. Not all publications are going to boost your credits.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      That’s quite a cautionary tale, Mihku. I do think that this anthology is going to be quite special. I just wish that the terms of publication could be better.

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