To Fee or Not to Fee?

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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?

To Be Present

As I was walking across 33rd Street the other evening, I was struck once again by the number of people texting while walking. The sidewalks of Manhattan are crowded enough with tourists, window shoppers, marathon walkers, moving business meetings, late commuters, and the like; we certainly do not need to add in the oblivious.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of technology. There are devices and apps to make our lives easier, and usually, they do. My students submit their papers via email, and I grade them online. I can search for new crochet patterns online and order my yarn without leaving the house. I certainly “type” my stories and poems, and most are submitted via submittable these days. Even my oil painting is affected. The last few works have been based on photos that I viewed on my Kindle as I worked in the studio. And of course, there’s this blog. But there comes a point when we need to put the devices away and be present. Artists of all media have long been the conscience of society. They see world either more clearly or from a different perspective than those around them. They have a reputation for pointing out the ills of society or for imagining  a new society free from those ills. We cannot continue that tradition if our eyes are forever cast downward towards our phones and tablets. Yes, we can read the news on our devices and stay informed, but sometimes we need to lift our eyes and see the world without the intervention of a screen.

We need to be present in our own lives. This is not a new call either. There are columns and posts galore about putting down the phone and being attentive to the people around us, about banning the phone from the dinner table. We’ve all heard stories of seeing people out on dates or in group activities who interact with their devices rather than with each other. But I challenge you to go one step further. Put the phone away when you are by yourself too. Be present for yourself. I rarely look at my phone while walking (I’m just not that coordinated–in fact, no one really is), but that day on 33rd Street, I made it a point to really look and notice the world around me. Now, 33rd Street is by no means the most gorgeous street or the most interesting. It is a city street very busy with much construction and many people; the many bars along the street spill smokers into the flow of traffic trying to get to the train; one store regularly has promotions which leads to people camping out on the sidewalk outside; there is a food cart on the sidewalk too and sign holders hawking a local eatery, and of course, there’s the Empire State Building; yet, taking the time to just be present to my own surroundings centered me. After a full day of work and a rush for the train to head home, I still felt calm as I sat on the train and began the work on this blog.

Be present to yourself in 2016; feed your soul and your creativity. Then share it with the rest of us. Happy New Year!