Should new writers pay reading or submission fees just for a shot at having their work looked at by a professional publication?
The simple answer – no.
Submission fees create a barrier between the writer and the literary community, not to mention it thwarts the community’s own efforts to be more diverse. To be infused with new voices, new works must be able to reach these publications for consideration. Submission fees make approaching these publications prohibitive for many new writers.
In a sad way, submission fees ensure that only a certain segment of writers, those with monetary backing or from a certain yearly income bracket (and possibly associated background) will be able to break through the publication wall. Not exclusively so, but it does absolutely thin out the diversity. And we need to hear voices from every walk of life to add sweetness to that chorus. Submission fees narrow that harmony to over-representation by the privileged or already comfortable.
Yeah, I said it. Because it’s true.
And I hate knowing that.
In previous years, any place that was ballsy enough to charge submission fees for publication consideration was viewed as being on the shady side and to be avoided like a plague.
This is no longer the case. An ever-growing number of legitimate publications are requiring reading or submission fees. Any wonder why there’s an upsurge of new writers maintaining blogs they’re struggling to monetize and taking advantage of online platform services to publish their new works themselves?
Despite traditionally accepted advice about targeting small literary journals and periodicals to begin building a reputation, as time goes on, a smaller and smaller pool of new talent is making it that far. Let’s face it, for the most part, similar to any other artist attempting to break into their field, beginning writers are poor. They spend hundreds and thousands of hours creating works on only the hope they may be able to sell them months or years in the future. Hope doesn’t buy groceries or pay the rent. The ramp-up on getting into a position of having some disposable income is years and even decades in some cases. And then there’s the odds. Lower reading or submission fees of under $10 wouldn’t be so prohibitive if there were better odds of having your work accepted within a couple of tries.
But that’s not the case.
Guaranteed, before you build a reputation, a single piece of your work is going to be rejected at least twenty times (conservatively) before being picked up – that’s a fact. Each of those submissions ultimately destined for failure comes with a reading fee for the privilege of receiving a rejection letter. The writer is in the hole right off the jump. Multiply each of those rejections by the submission fees and many new writers give up, because they can’t afford to continue.
Where’s the incentive to submit?
Many emerging writers already hold down a full-time job and in some cases also a part-time job to support their families. Writing time is condensed down to a bus ride to work, a lunch break, and at night after the kids are in bed making it difficult enough to be prolific. It also cuts into their available time and energy researching appropriate places for submission. If these writers then have to decide between buying something for the kids or spending that money on submitting to several hundred publications, if you were in that situation, what would you choose?
Vilifying small press or contests isn’t the point here, though. They’re not the entire problem.
Far from it.
Clueless new writers have contributed to this mess. They don’t have a sense of community and don’t understand how their actions will affect their fellow writers.
None of us exist in a vacuum.
With the advent of online submissions that take little effort to use, while efficient and extremely convenient for emerging writers, periodicals, contests, and small press have been inundated with unsuitable works. Unsuitable, because writers are not doing the research to seek out those publications that publish their genre or format. Instead, many writers are simply mass submitting to every publication under the sun. And to the point where submissions must then be closed off for months or even a year or more at a time just so the publications can catch up sifting through them.
These small publishing concerns are often run by only a few people who are drowning in the slush of submissions they can’t hope to get to with any efficiency.
We have a new breed of writers, ones who’ve grown up with the Internet their whole lives, who labour under the perception that everything you can read is free. They don’t understand that a lot of small press run on shoestring budgets and with very few hands on deck and more importantly, also rely on subscriptions to generate enough revenue to cover their operating costs to stay in business. Editors at these small concerns are often unpaid and continue to run them out of a love for supporting new writers. Their entire readership is usually small and their tiny advertising budgets don’t garner them much new business each year.
Previous to this, it was generally expected that if you were going to submit to a small publication, you would spend time researching what they published to learn if it was a good showcase for your work. You would most likely only submit to periodicals or other small press that you also had subscriptions to, because it made you part of the community. In this community, you not only enjoyed reading things in your own genre, but would want to keep up on trends not to mention keep an eye on your competition.
This is no longer happening.
the glut of bad fit content can be thinned out
In an effort to slow down the deluge of these unsuitable submissions, more and more small press as well as contests require nominal reading or submission fees in the realm of $3, $5, $10, or $15, though there are some that require $25, $50, or as much as $100. The hope behind this is to weed out those mass submitters, leaving the way clear for only the serious writers who would put forth that effort. It makes sense. If the glut of bad fit content can be thinned out, then smaller publications have a chance to weed through their slush piles and might actually have a hope of seeing your work and getting you published.
It comes down to simple economics. While there are still many publications that absolutely will not charge writers a fee to submit, more and more of them are struggling and will stretch themselves very thin in the next while attempting to hold that noble position. And then they will react. This trend of submission fees will continue to grow as publications become crushed under these huge slush piles. Or they’ll fold and there will become less of these entry points for newer writers to pursue. It’s already happening.
How can we change this?
The solution is in regaining our sense of community – we should remember to act like one.
The writing community on both sides needs to foster a mutually supportive atmosphere. While I’ve always been a big supporter of money should flow to the writer, there’s only one way this is going to change. That’s if writers are also cognisant of publications and contests having operating costs. If you don’t also support those publications in the way you expect them to support your work, soon there won’t be any left to submit to.
“only target those publications that are a good showcase for your work”
Writers, you should support those publications you admire most and spend your money wisely – you don’t need to subscribe to every publication. Do spend some money on yearly subscriptions and study your genre and your competition as part of the continued study of your craft. It will be money well spent. Resist the temptation to mass submit and only target those publications that are a good showcase for your work. At the same time, if publications all offered subscription discounts to writers, they would, in fact, gain more inbound revenue and would be better able to cover their operating costs.
Should new writers pay reading or submission fees? In a perfect world, no. In a world where serious writers are competing against ill-informed writers who don’t understand what it means to have a sense of community? It’s going to continue to happen.
Don’t be part of the problem.
If you’re not already, become part of the solution. If everyone in the community took the same stance, submission fees would, for the most part, become nominal to non-existent.