To Fee or Not to Fee?


Yesterday, I spent the day researching markets for my writing and sending out some pieces. (Wish me luck!) It is an arduous process, the least favorite of my writing career–well, let’s say second-least favorite. Receiving rejection notices is my least favorite.

First, let’s talk about submission guidelines. Some are very specific: “All manuscripts should be in 12-point type, with at least one-inch margins, and sequentially numbered pages. Fiction and nonfiction should be double-spaced. Poetry should be single-spaced. The author’s name, address, telephone number, and email address should be typed at the top of the first page.” (Narrative Magazine) or “Upcoming premises (target themes) and deadlines for submission [postmarked]: Dancing in the Wind [November 1, 2017]” (Thema) Others are rather vague: “There is no set theme and no entry fee.” (Pockets) Some magazines only accept electronic submissions, others only postal mail. Very few want emails, but still there are a couple. Submission guidelines run the gambit, and writers do themselves a disservice if they do not read them carefully (and follow them).

Simultaneous submissions is another area of differentiation. Some magazines do not accept simultaneous submissions; others do. There are some, too, that say they do, but in a way that makes you think that they do not really mean it. Take, for example, The Gettysburg Review‘s stance on simultaneous submissions: “Should you decide to engage in this practice, indicate in your cover letter that your manuscript is under concurrent consideration, and notify us immediately if said work is accepted elsewhere.” What the site says is the standard line about letting the magazine know that the work is being considered elsewhere and the reminder to let them know if it is accepted elsewhere. These are standard industry practices. However, the “should you decide to engage in this practice” leads this writer to believe that they discourage such action. The onus is on you, the writer, who makes the decision to do such a thing. On the other hand, the Colorado Review states, “Simultaneous submissions are accepted; writers must notify us immediately if the work is accepted elsewhere.” Notice the difference. Here the emphasis is on what the review does–accept simultaneous submissions–rather than what the writer does–submit simultaneously. And then there are the magazines that do not say one way or the other, leaving the writer in a quandry: submit simultaneously or not? My favorite notice on the topic though comes from Narrative: “Simultaneous Submissions: We accept multiple submissions, since we feel that it’s unreasonable to expect writers to give a magazine an exclusive look at a work unless the magazine can respond within two to three weeks. We want writers to have every possible opportunity for success, so we’re willing to risk losing a story we want when someone at another magazine may have done their reading before we have, and in that case we’ll be sorry to lose the piece but happy for the writer.” They are right! It is “unreasonable to expect writers to give a magazine an exclusive look at a work” for three, six, nine months. They do understand the hard work of finding a market and the difficulty of waiting for months and months before hearing back and being able to send the story out again.

Then there’s the BIG QUESTION: Do you pay a submission fee or not? As you writers out there know, some magazines charge a nominal fee to submit. Years ago, these were called reading fees and highly frowned upon. In fact, writers were often advised to avoid markets that charged a reading fee, saying that such markets were perhaps not reputable. But those days have changed. In the age of electronic submission and and the advent of electronic submission sites like Submittable or Submissions Manager, many highly regarded, reputable sites are charging, not reading fees, but submission fees. And I get it. The magazine has to pay for the use of the submission sites, and need the organization and computer safety that they offer. And these literary magazines are run on shoe-string budgets. However, so am I. While most of these fees are small, usually $3.00, they add up. It is not unusual to send a good story to ten different markets before finding a home for it. That’s $30 spent finding a home for one story. What if you are sending out poetry? You might send out four or five poems at a time, but if it takes ten tries and the market takes one of the five and pays you $20 for it, you’ve lost $10.  Is it worth it to have been published? to have been published in that particular market? I don’t know. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this practice.

One final thought on submission guidelines and the like: How much does the market pay? Frequently, the websites and guidelines do not say. Perhaps you will get paid; perhaps you will get contributor copies. And yes, many markets indicate the latter, but just as many indicate nothing. And some of those that do not say, charge the submissions fee. Should I pay a fee with no guarantee that I will be paid for my work should it be accepted? Should I submit to markets that are clear that they do not pay at all? These are burning questions. I hope some of you will engage in a dialogue here about submitting your work.

A friend of mine writing his memoir once said to me, “I expect to publish and I expect to get paid for it.” Why shouldn’t we?


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