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.

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14 thoughts on “Submission Fees: A Manifesto of Sorts

  1. Hear, hear, Marie! It’s bad enough that in order to get one’s book manuscript read at all these days, one has to pay between $15-30 to various contests. If journals want writers to pay for the “privilege” of the possibility that a writer’s poems may appear in their pages, that’s just morally bankrupt. And I don’t think it’s going to really offset a journal’s costs.

  2. Great post, Marie! I agree wholeheartedly – we write because it is part of who we are. We try to publish perhaps to share with a broader audience. Most poets submitting to journals don’t make their living through their writing alone. To assume paying for the privilege of a rejection (which statistically comes more often than an acceptance) is absurd. And who will be published at these magazines? Not necessarily the most interesting writers, but the ones with the deepest pockets.

  3. Until sometime in the last year, I had no idea literary journals had “reading fees.” The *one* I with which I had contact didn’t, but it was limited to a geographical region that couldn’t afford such fees (the Appalachians).

    Scientific journals sometimes charge a publishing fee. My fields are computer science and mathematics. In those fields, there is a charge for color printing and a charge for going over a set page limit. But those journals are supported by conference attendance charges, grants, trusts, and library subscriptions. And reviewers are “volunteers.” Reviewing submissions for free is expected of researchers.

    The economics of poetry publishing (and, I’m guessing, literary publishing) are utterly different. It’s very interesting. I wonder… Does anyone know of a survey of publishing fields? Comparing and contrasting different fields (“genres”?) could highlight avenues of support.

  4. I love literary journals. I have subscriptions to a small number of them. I’ve been reading them as long as I have been writing poems. But I think the whole system is outmoded.

    The situation at the so called “good journals” (Ploughshares, Poetry, et al ) is disheartening. Editors are publishing certain names on instinct — and the argument is “How could we not publish ___ ______?” Maybe they have a point. Maybe they can’t NOT publish their friends, or students of their friends, or people who just won the Major Doo-Wop Prize outta Yale or whatever. If this is truly the case, I say we stop supporting them. It means the whole she-bang is broken.

    These aren’t the ramblings of a disappointed poet. I spend at least $50 a year on journal subscriptions and visit lots of online journals as well. I won’t pay to have a poem read any more than I would pay any stranger to read my poems. Thank God that’s nothing at all.

  5. Hmm. I’ve never paid a reading fee, but I can imagine doing so. The writer, after all, gets “paid” by the potential gratification of seeing his or her writing featured: how are the editors “paid”? They’re putting in at least as much time as most writers. Their internet connections and hosting fees don’t get paid magically either. If the readers (and the traditional supporters of literary journals, the libraries) are not going to pay for online literary journals — and they emphatically are not — then who will?

    I understand the grumpiness, here, but we’re talking about a system with *no* natural cash inflow. Possibly the general readers. if they exist, “ought to” support the journals, but they won’t, and your argument about deep pockets works in the other direction too — are literary journal editors *only* to be people who are willing to work for free and to pay hosting fees out of their own pockets?

  6. Dale, if “the writer gets ‘paid’ by the potential gratification of seeing his or her writing featured,” then the editor gets “paid” by the potential gratification of producing & becoming known for his/her fine journal. Prestige works in the other direction, too.

    Reading fees equal charging the content providers, who are already providing their content FOR FREE. If editors are unable to raise funds via subscription drives, donations, [insert creative fundraising endeavor here], then yes, they should fund their projects themselves.

    I co-curate a reading series here. We can’t pay the poets — those of us involved do not have deep pockets. However, we’ve managed to get a few local B&Bs to donate a room now & again for visiting poets, and local restaurants to occasionally donate meals to the readers. To help make up the rest of our costs involved, we have a donation box, apply for grants, and host one large reading event per year that functions as a fundraiser. It’s time-consuming, hard work, and we all do it for free. And because we’ve worked hard, we have virtually no out-of-pocket costs anymore.

    What we don’t do is charge a fee to the participating poets!

    Thanks for your thoughts, but I’m not convinced.

  7. I came back to remark that I didn’t have any idea what I was talking about, a totally boy thing to do. Mindless abstract opinionating. Sorry!

  8. Ha! No worries, Dale — it’s always good to have someone playing devil’s advocate. Say two Hail Mary’s & drop a quarter in the donation box on your way out…

  9. Marie, I just found this post and think it’s very well said. In a way, journals already ask for our money (but without enforcing it) by asking us to buy an issue and read it before offering our own work. While I understand the reasoning behind this, I – like you – couldn’t afford to buy a copy of each journal I’d like to submit to, anymore than I’d be willing to pay them each $3 to read work that has a 10% or less chance of being accepted due to the volume of submissions they receive. My own solution to this dilemma has been to offer my work to fewer journals, mostly the ones that I already read and love.

    Another elegant solution to this question is the huge number of online journals popping up everywhere. Since they don’t have printing, storing, and mailing costs, I imagine their overhead is lower (though there are still costs for website maintenance, of course). The editors work for free and labor for love, but the content is also available for free, so they save themselves time by letting me read their journal before I send work so I know whether it’s a good match.

  10. Thanks, Kat — I think another solution, and one that’s been mentioned elsewhere on the blogosphere, if your journal, online or print, is simply overwhelmed with submissions, stop taking unsolicited submissions for a time, have reading periods. You easily control the flow w/o penalizing the ones providing you with material to publish.

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