Can literary journals ask for a reading fee?
August 22, 2009 7:32 PM   Subscribe

There is a literary journal currently asking for a $1 "handling fee" to fast-track submitted stories. Is this okay? What really, is the point of asking for a dollar?
posted by uans to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
For the same reason Matt charges $5 for Metafilter accounts.
posted by birdherder at 7:45 PM on August 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Perhaps it's to prevent people from flooding the system. A while ago someone (Bill Gates?) suggested charging a fraction of a cent to combat spam. General users would be minimally impacted, but someone sending millions of e-mails would be financially deterred. Some people giving away pets on Craigslist ask for $20 as a good faith gesture that you won't abuse the animal (the thought being that people looking for dog fighting fodder will seek out free pets). Maybe it's something along those lines? maybe the $1 helps separate the wheat from the chaff.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:47 PM on August 22, 2009


Perfectly stated, birdherder.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:50 PM on August 22, 2009


That sounds right--but also, the journal says it will reply in 45 days. All the others take 4 to 6 months, and often more. Does one dollar really separate out that much chaff?
posted by uans at 7:59 PM on August 22, 2009


Came in to say what birdherder said.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:04 PM on August 22, 2009


It's a bad, stupid, abusive practice. Money flows TOWARD the writer. Always.

You do not pay to be read.

You do not pay your agent.

You do not pay your publisher.

The only thing you should pay is entry fees to legitimate contests.

Don't do this.
posted by headspace at 8:16 PM on August 22, 2009


A few legitimate markets do this now, and I honestly don't mind contributing to their continuing afloatness in that way, but I suppose it could also be scammy. Do you mind saying which journal this is?
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 8:17 PM on August 22, 2009


It's a bad, stupid, abusive practice. Money flows TOWARD the writer. Always.

That's the general rule, yes, but there are exceptions. The Missouri Review, which is long-established and well-respected, charges $3 for online submissions now. Their website explains that the fee is meant to cover printing and other administrative costs. There is also a huge difference, in my mind, between a $1 reading fee and the $20 reading fee Narrative Magazine is trying to charge, which is transparently inappropriate.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 8:30 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The journal is Rosebud.
posted by uans at 7:39 AM on August 23, 2009


A few legitimate markets do this now, and I honestly don't mind contributing to their continuing afloatness in that way, but I suppose it could also be scammy. Do you mind saying which journal this is?
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 8:17 PM on August 22 [mark as best answer] [+] [!]

The journal is Rosebud.
posted by uans at 7:50 AM on August 23, 2009


The Missouri Review, which is long-established and well-respected, charges $3 for online submissions now.

The Missouri Review still takes physical submissions for free, that being the main difference. If you want to toss three bucks into their pockets so you don't have to pay for postage, that's great. But you do NOT have to pay them to submit to them.

It doesn't appear that you can submit to Rosebud WITHOUT paying the fee for prose, period. What kind of fast track can it possibly be, if everyone has to be on it?

Money flows toward the writer.
posted by headspace at 7:59 AM on August 23, 2009


Wow, that website sure is...something. It looks like the answer to your last question is on the third page of the submission guidelines:

As writers, all of us are dependent upon magazines which publish our work. And, these magazines depend upon us. If we don't buy, read and promote them, they cease to exist. This is particularly true of periodicals like Rosebud that are open to submissions from new voices. We are a non-profit organization with no outside affiliation, grants or subsidies. Send in your manuscripts, but also send in your subscription. Let us work together to create a new kind of writing/publishing success.

Bold mine. They write that they're a nonprofit staffed entirely by volunteers, so I would guess that they're barely treading water, financially, and the so-called Fast-Track Initiative is an attempt to offset that. (That's where the whiff of shadiness seems to be coming from: the promise that your work will be fast-tracked. This may not be intentional; it could just be clumsy phrasing.) Would I submit to them? Probably not. But is this an ten-year-running scam? I doubt it--the lack of furious internet chatter to be found when one runs a search on "rosebud magazine scam" is one good indicator of this, considering the longevity of the practice and the bloodhound nature of writers where that sort of thing is concerned. Scams tend to be more brazen--see the $20 fee required by Narrative Magazine--and less forthright about their motivations. Is it in the best taste? Maybe not, but again, these little magazines are primarily concerned with their continuing survival. It's up to you to decide whether you feel it's an appropriate market for your work, and you seem inclined to think it isn't, so problem solved!
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 10:03 PM on August 23, 2009


Then what about this: Fiction has "instituted a policy of accelerated response to subscribers......You are encouraged to identify yourself as a subscriber in submitting." It is a lot classier than asking for a dollar, certainly, but is it so very different?
posted by uans at 8:26 AM on August 24, 2009


So, disclaimer: My partner is a full-time writer. She is published by major publishers and has an agent. She has also been an editor of zines, newspapers and anthologies (and websites).

I don't agree that money always flows toward the writer.

I get where folks are coming from with "Money flows toward the writer". It's true that with major publishers and major publishing arenas that fees and commissions are structured so that writers don't write checks for most things. Not all things. But for the stuff that headspace listed, it's true.

For instance, if you have an agent who brokers a publishing contract for you with a publisher, the advance and royalty checks get sent to the agent's office. There they take their percentage and then they cut you a check for the rest of the proceeds. The writer's not writing a check here. The agent's taking a cut. But it's still money out of pocket. I agree that agents are a good thing, by the way, and a good agent is worth the cut.

"Money flows towards the writer" is a great guideline that will keep you out of trouble with slimy fake agents and slimy fake publishers (who sometimes try to juice prospective authors up front for made-up fees for writing/publishing efforts that never come to fruition).

At the same time, if you are an author with a certain kind of publisher (even a major one) or a certain kind of contract (and even if you have an agent, please become familiar with contract law and do your own reviews of the paperwork before you sign), you may be expected to write some checks.

Common checks even in big publishing?

- If you are editing an anthology and you had planned to pay contributors, you'll be the one writing those checks.
- If you are planning to include pictures in your book and the publisher has okayed this (and get it in writing, please, that they plan to do pictures, and that they'll refund you the fees if they change their mind), you may be responsible for negotiating licenses for the images and will likely be responsible for writing those checks.

Common things you will pay for if you go self-published (even with a reputable publisher)?

- Everything. (i.e. copy-editing, layouts, proofs, proofreading, indexing, binding, shipping, handling, etc.) Because of the high cost of these processes, many self-publishers avoid them and they can end up looking bad/turning out a poor quality product because of it.

In the zines/magazine/anthology/contest market by contrast, it's an editors/publishers market. Most of the free or paying (the author) publishers are swamped.

Publishers charge a fee for entry or a fee for expedited handling (if they do) because it tends to cut down on the really poorly written pieces by first-time authors who are really sensitive about critiques about or drastic editing to their work.

When you are publishing in magazines, zines, anthologies or writers' contests, you are really working a thin line between overhead and profitability and sometimes the slush pile (submissions pile) can get pretty huge and oppressive. You want to come up with as many effective strategies as you can to narrow that submissions pile down to something practical to get through in order to build your publication.
posted by kalessin at 2:02 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am in publishing. Kalessin's post is spot on.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:03 PM on August 24, 2009


Thanks, ocherdraco.

All the above said, I had a little conversation with my partner, and she said that the $1 fee the OP was talking about sounded fishy because it's not really enough to be money-grubbing (which it could be) but it isn't free, so the price-point is a little odd. It doesn't seem to be that intuitive precisely what the publisher's looking to do with the $1 fee.
posted by kalessin at 6:14 PM on August 24, 2009


I remembered another reason that the $1 fee is atypical.

There are plenty of other tricks of the trade to reduce the submissions pile. Some of the most common:
- Invite-only journals/anthologies/magazines/websites.
- Have very strict and complicated submissions guidelines (i.e. cover letter, specific fonts and formatting requirements - line spacing, margins, etc.). Any submission that doesn't fit the guidelines gets tossed.
- Have limited submission periods (e.g. a couple of months a year, and strictly enforce that)
- Have submissions ONLY come through agents (which not only cuts down on the submitting population period but also involves the agent and the agent's reputation - which e may care about)
- Have very difficult to please sub-editors or submissions editors.
- Have only portions of content be specific to a certain magazine department (like the New Yorker only has had poetry open submissions - this may be old news but was true at one time)

So anyway, yeah, a low fee for expedited handling when normal handling is available IS fishy, but neither of us can figure out why they're doing it, because traditional reasons don't really make sense - money grubbing doesn't because the fee is too low, and narrowing the submissions pile also doesn't because a non-fee submission is still available.

Anyhow, good luck.
posted by kalessin at 3:35 AM on August 25, 2009


So disclaimer: I'm a full-time writer with an agent, a Pushcart nomination, and a novel on the shelves.

- If you are editing an anthology and you had planned to pay contributors, you'll be the one writing those checks.

You are no longer a writer in this situation. You are an editor. And you will note you are writing checks to the writer.

- If you are planning to include pictures in your book and the publisher has okayed this (and get it in writing, please, that they plan to do pictures, and that they'll refund you the fees if they change their mind), you may be responsible for negotiating licenses for the images and will likely be responsible for writing those checks.

You are no longer a writer in this situation. You are licensing someone else's work. And you will note you are writing checks to the writer/creator.

Common things you will pay for if you go self-published (even with a reputable publisher)?

You are no longer a writer in this situation. You are a publisher.

Money flows toward the writer is a good rule of thumb, period. Your agent takes her cut. Your film agent takes her cut. Your lawyer takes her cut. The IRS takes their cut. But you're still not PAYING someone else to publish you or consider you. The only reason you pay to enter contests is because your fee becomes the prize money.

As you note, there are plenty of ways for reputable companies to keep submission piles manageable. Publishing houses require agents. Agents require arcane rules of submission. Magazines have strange and twisted submission periods.

Fact is, Rosebud charges a dollar because they can get away with charging a dollar. It's not enough to make people freak out. It sounds almost reasonable.

But a magazine that is charging a dollar just to read your submission- that's how they're making their money. If they charge 1000* guys a month a dollar to read their submissions, knowing they're only going to publish 10- their non-profit is making a profit of 990 bucks a month.

There is no incentive for them to limit their submissions in any other way, because they are raking in cash on a magazine that has A) no printing costs B) very little overhead C) sells advertising a) And most importantly, doesn't even pay professional rates to the pieces it does buy. This magazine that wants to charge a dollar just to read your story isn't even a guild-qualifying sale!

In traditional publishing, money flows toward the writer. Equivocating about stuff like this is why authors get screwed.


*A random number, but Agent Nathan Bransford takes in 500 queries a month and that's for novels. I bet there are a lot more people who finish stories than finish novels.
posted by headspace at 7:32 AM on August 25, 2009


Thanks, everyone. This discussion has been very helpful.
posted by uans at 10:24 AM on August 25, 2009


I think you're coming on a bit strong, here, headspace, considering that everyone participating in this conversation appears to be well-credentialed (whatever that means.) No one is in possession of ultimate authority on this subject--the fact is that contest fees and nominal reading fees occupy a gray area, and it is up to individual writers to decide whether to take a principled stand against them. I personally believe that we benefit from having more litmags, not fewer, even if they can't afford to pay us guild-qualifying rates. (There is no indication that uans desires to belong to that or any other guild.) You write, "If they charge 1000* guys a month a dollar to read their submissions, knowing they're only going to publish 10- their non-profit is making a profit of 990 bucks a month." Except for the fact that Rosebud pays a flat fee of $30 for stories, as you acknowledge just a sentence later. That money is going to authors, there's just less of it than other markets are capable of paying. It's almost exactly analogous to a contest reading fee, except that contests charge a lot more. It's not unusual to see contests require a $10 or $20 fee for single poems and stories, yet offer prizes of only $100 or $200.

I'm writing this not as a defense of Rosebud, but out of a belief that small magazines are not out to screw writers, as a general rule. The editors of small magazines perform a largely thankless service, out of a love of literature and a desire to see it brought to a larger audience. They are not the enemy.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 4:10 PM on August 25, 2009


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