Submission Fees: A Manifesto of Sorts

C. Dale Young has a poll going on at his blog asking what, if anything, we various and varied poets would be willing to pay to submit poems to a journal electronically. The comment stream is long and full of thought-out and reasoned opinions. Based on the results of the poll, an overwhelming majority would be unwilling to pay any fee at all. I lean that way myself, and I’m trying to organize my thoughts to explain why.

  1. One argument for fees is that $3 is what you would pay for a postal submission anyway, why not put that money toward supporting a journal? To which I say, Wha?! Maybe in your spendthrift universe, but not here!  I just bought two reams of paper for a penny per, and I’ll make them last, too. Toner was more, but still purchased at a bargain.
  2. And if you want to argue that time is money, it’s actually quicker to print up a hard copy submission than it is to copy & paste different poems into a single new document to upload to a submission manager or attach to an email. I do it because it saves me money in postage.
  3. And what makes submitting online so free, anyway? I’m paying a goodly amount per month for my internet connection, more than I ever spent on stamps. I do so because it makes my job and home office possible, and endlessly enriches my poetry community. It’s a necessity these days. But it’s sure not free.
  4. The idea of paying a fee for the honor of a form rejection rankles. A lot.
  5. Would this mean that journals would start paying for poems in cash money instead of comp copies? Somehow I doubt it. I’ve never minded receiving comps as payment for my poems — I’m a fan of the journals that publish my poems. To my mind, it’s a deal we’ve struck: I won’t charge you for printing my poems, and you don’t charge me for reading them. Without submissions, a journal would have little to print.
  6. Subscriptions and donations are how a journal should raise money. Reading fees are coerced donations and feel predatory. And punitive.
  7. And for those of you who say, But $1-3 isn’t too much to ask to support a journal you like, $1-3 adds up! How lovely for you if you can afford to spend money on air, but when I send a journal a check, I like to receive an issue in return. For those of you who have that marvelous, ephemeral thing known as “discretionary” or “disposable” income, I’ll put that $1-3 in perspective for you: my 18 month old’s primary food group is yogurt, he eats two 6 oz. containers a day. On a sale day I can find his favorite for 49¢. For $1 I could put him in yogurt for a day, for $3, three days. That’s not nothing to me.

I love literary journals. Anyone who’s been a reader here for a while knows I subscribe to many. But I won’t submit to a journal that raises money on the backs of writers who make little or nothing for their work as it is. I probably wouldn’t subscribe to one either. If you need to raise money, get creative: print up some broadsides from poems you’ve printed, have the poets sign them, &  sell them on your website. Hold subscription salon parties. There are many journals making a go of it without university support, and they do it with great heart and without taxing would-be contributors.  I suggest the folks at hard-up journals have  good long conversations with those editors if they want to keep on keeping on.

We’re all on the side of the angels here. What happens next could change everything.