Submission Fees are Classist as F***
September 22, 2017 8:19 AM   Subscribe

It makes your “we encourage diverse voices” statement utter bull** You say you want diversity, which means POC, members of the LGBTQ+ community, women, and folks without MFAs living paycheck to paycheck in tiny rooms…but you want money to read their work? You’re a hypocrite. (Warning, curse words used. Many.)
posted by Toddles (55 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
> you needing to make money is your problem, not ours

Hahahahaha.
posted by durandal at 8:34 AM on September 22 [8 favorites]


> Writers aren’t in this game to make money, and you shouldn’t be in it for that reason either

later:

> Newbie authors: you get paid, you don’t pay. It’s as simple as that.
posted by durandal at 8:34 AM on September 22 [9 favorites]


Great piece. Personally I won't submit anywhere that charges fees (even optional fees for "expedited responses" or some such crap). It's possible that this prejudice is stopping me from becoming a world-famous multimillionaire poet, but that's a risk I'm willing to take.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 8:35 AM on September 22 [8 favorites]


> Writers aren’t in this game to make money, and you shouldn’t be in it for that reason either

later:

> Newbie authors: you get paid, you don’t pay. It’s as simple as that.


These statements aren't incompatible. I know my writing isn't going to make me rich, and I still write. I would write even if I knew I would never get paid for it again. That doesn't stop me from believing that my work is worth something, and that a publication that charges people to read my work should pay me for writing it.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 8:51 AM on September 22 [30 favorites]


$thewholearticle > QFT
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:00 AM on September 22 [2 favorites]


Submission fees are the mark of a scam and the self publishing industry. "Legitimate" people in the industry need to be dissuaded from trying to get in on this grift.
posted by deanc at 9:04 AM on September 22 [13 favorites]


The motives might not be the same but this is essentially no different than graphic designers working on spec or academics paying to get published in journals. Both are exploitative and scammy.
posted by AFABulous at 9:12 AM on September 22 [7 favorites]


There's a similar debate amongst my playwright friends. A number of fairly reputable theatre companies, contests, and festivals have a submission fee. I personally avoid making those submissions—because the odds aren't great, hah— but it feels less shitty than journal/book publishing... maybe because all know theatre festivals/companies aren't really making any money either? I don't know.
posted by Zephyrial at 9:15 AM on September 22


What I hate is the goddamn pay-to-play contests, I wrote before I r'dtfa. It's so obviously a pyramid scheme, I continued, having assumed that tfa was going to be about MFA program application fees. Pay $20 or whatever it is these days and you might win $200 and publication in West East Northridge Chasm Literary Review of the Plains, whooooooopdefuckindooo, I yarbled to the uncaring void, unconsciously quoting the alcoholic boyfriend character in Crazy Ex Girlfriend. A gnat flew by, and I resisted the urge to snatch it out of the air. Live and let live, I counseled myself. It's a hard world for the little things. Anyway, why waste the energy when very likely the dotard and the rocket man will get into it and atomize us all, gnats included, before this little creature's two-day lifespan runs its course. I returned my attention to my fetal comment. O, Jesus, I thought. I have failed to RTFA. They will tear me limb from limb. Hastily I clicked. What ho, this guy is in Austin? Whaddaya, nuts? I heard the rent is too damn high up in that B. Oh, he IS talking about the fucking pyramid schemes. Oh, my god, thank god. I have hated that shit for years.

In conclusion, never pay to play.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:18 AM on September 22 [13 favorites]


Right off the bat, I think submission fees for literary journals are gross.

However, I was the poetry editor for a lit journal for one year in grad school, and we did not charge submission fees, and the result was a huge amount of submission spam, and the attendant administrative labor that goes with it. I think submission fees are the wrong way to deal with the workload that goes along with that spam, but my perception is that a lot of journals use fees to weed out those time-wasters, rather than from a profit-motive, since the majority of lit journals are enormous sinkholes of money and time with zero hope of ever breaking even.

To sum up: submission fees suck and are gross. I only take issue with the perception that they are instituted for the sake of profit.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:22 AM on September 22 [16 favorites]


One way I've seen this dealt with is companies who say "Every season we will read 500 plays." and then they periodically update their website ("We've received 392 / 500 submissions.") so they don't agree to read more than their capacity. I'm sure that doesn't cut down on people submitting crappy work, but as TFA points out, neither do submission fees. At least that's one way of honoring your organizational capacity.
posted by Zephyrial at 9:25 AM on September 22 [15 favorites]


After dropping a couple hundred on application fees during grad school, and hardly getting into anything, I decided to avoid almost all festivals/exhibitions/whatever with application fees. I seem to do better with the free-entry places anyways, for whatever reason (which could be that the expensive places I was applying were more traditional film festivals...)
posted by pinothefrog at 9:25 AM on September 22 [1 favorite]


Having read this, and having no prior opinion on the matter, it seems that the issue should be the amount of the submission fee, and not the existence.

A small amount (say, $5) at least cuts down the spam. A small amount also means it's easy for someone to charitably pay for the submission fees of the truly indigent.

Anyone using submission fees as a primary source of revenue, though? Die in a fire.
posted by explosion at 9:30 AM on September 22 [7 favorites]


Honestly, I feel like the "writers don't do it for the money" one of the most pernicious myths about writers. Many of them do or did! Many of the greats that we now study in school we're trying to eke out a buck, and that's why their originally serialized books are so long! It's totally fine!

Also the idea that any profession isn't in it for the money is the fastest way to paying them crap. You see it with social work, with teaching, with writing. And it's probably part of the idea behind inflated submission fees.
posted by corb at 9:33 AM on September 22 [32 favorites]


> "... it seems that the issue should be the amount of the submission fee, and not the existence."

No. When you're submitting to 70 different places, it's not $5 anymore.
posted by kyrademon at 9:37 AM on September 22 [13 favorites]


What I see is submission fees for using Submittable (which costs money for the publication), and waived for using postal mail, which of course is not actually free on your end but usually employs materials already paid for. I also tend to see them more often for poetry rather than prose. Whether this is because poetry is, as elsewhere observed, abundant and of low value, I would hate to say.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:39 AM on September 22 [2 favorites]


Also the idea that any profession isn't in it for the money is the fastest way to paying them crap.

And somehow, too, the fastest way to treating them like crap in non-financial ways. Like, you might think that the next step after "they're not in it for the money" is "...so I'd better offer them respect or mentorship or genuine promotion or kindness or whatever else they're in it for instead." And some organizations do take that next step, but a lot seem not to.

Like, I get it, we're so habituated to treating someone's pay scale as a measure of their worth that we can't break the habit even when we've explicitly taken pay out of the equation, but fuck that's a shitty set of habits to live around.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:41 AM on September 22 [7 favorites]


For those of you wondering why this is a big deal, imagine if every time you submitted a job application, you had to pay a fee to the business you were asking to consider you.

Think for a minute about exactly who that ends up being unfair to.
posted by kyrademon at 9:42 AM on September 22 [12 favorites]


Also the idea that any profession isn't in it for the money is the fastest way to paying them crap.

"It was just as I had expected. No money, but a fine gold watch... what one needs on a journey is money; and, let me tell you, I now have five watches."

Mozart, 11.13.1777
posted by mr. digits at 9:42 AM on September 22 [31 favorites]


I mean, it's also the case that kindness and mentorship are labor too, and people can't be expected to give that out uncompensated. The whole thing just blows. Capitalism is bad for art and bad for kindness.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:43 AM on September 22 [5 favorites]


Personally I only enter pay-to-play contests if the prize is something I really want, which is rare, less than once a year. But then later on I go around feeling like a failure because I don't have recent awards to my name.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:44 AM on September 22


Submission fees are the mark of a scam and the self publishing industry.

Paying to be published is the mark, at best, of vanity publication and at worst of a con. I can imagine circumstances where that might be an author's best route to seeing their work in print, but, yes, generally not to be recommended, particularly to any one who wants to make a career out of writing. I'd put submission fees in the same category. And while I can imagine circumstances where submission fees might help sustain some publication, I wouldn't blame any author for refusing to pay them.

That said, the author's attitude of "you're not in business to make money, I'm in business to make money" is pretty precious. And I have no idea what the picture of the stripper was doing in there.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:55 AM on September 22 [4 favorites]


I don't like submission fees, and agree that lower-income writers just can't afford to submit a piece of writing to 12 or 15 different magazines at even $3 each, but just to say that submissions fees are bad... doesn't really do anything to address the lousy economics of running a literary magazine, or a literary contest.

There is essentially no reader demand for literary short stories. (Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the majority of readers of most literary magazines are people who want to get published in that magazine). If that's your situation, and you aren't making money from subscriptions, or from Patreon/Kickstarter, or from donations... well, it's very cheap to run an online literary magazine. You don't need to use Submittable for submissions if it costs too much. You can run a magazine on Wix or Weebly and have almost no overhead at all.

But the lack of readers does mean that the "money flows toward the writer" paradigm doesn't work the same way. There is no money flowing anywhere. You are not making a product - either as an editor or as a writer - for which people are willing to pay money.

That doesn't mean "therefore, submission fees are okay." It does mean that there would be a lot fewer contests with $300 prizes and impressive judges if they did not have submission fees, because who else but the submitters is going to subsidize them? It does mean that we need to figure out new models for funding literary fiction. It means that we need to rethink the economics of literature, and the place of literary fiction in society given that it is such a small niche. Or we need to figure out how to get people to read small literary magazines.

So... submission fees are, certainly, a symptom of our failure to deal with any of that. But a world that's filled with quasi-vanity MFA-credit-mill magazines (which is, to be clear, the one we've got now) and a world that lacks any venues for literary short fiction publication (because they're just not profitable) both seem like systematic failures.
posted by Jeanne at 10:05 AM on September 22 [23 favorites]


A small amount (say, $5) at least cuts down the spam. A small amount also means it's easy for someone to charitably pay for the submission fees of the truly indigent.

This is an argument I especially expect would have some purchase on Metafilter.

Literally, even.
posted by wildblueyonder at 10:10 AM on September 22 [20 favorites]


Short stories are often seen as basically working on spec to show that you can write, and therefore that you should, in the future, be given a book deal, or a job, or at least have your next short stories published in journals that pay. They're an art form, not qualifying rounds, but that's how a lot of people treat them.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:30 AM on September 22 [5 favorites]


This is an argument I especially expect would have some purchase on Metafilter.

Moreso maybe if there were hundreds of MeFi equivalents, membership in at least one was an important career building block, and your $5 didn't guarantee you membership.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 10:45 AM on September 22 [9 favorites]


Also the idea that any profession isn't in it for the money is the fastest way to paying them crap. You see it with social work, with teaching, with writing.

And this is one of the big reasons that despite knowing I would be good at it and multiple people suggesting I should, however burnt out and morally compromised the private sector may make me, I will not get a teacher's cert. Educators get treated like shit.

You should do your job because it gives you access to material resources you need to live. Everything else is secondary to that - not unimportant, but if you don't clear the 'food and rent' hurdle it doesn't matter how much you 'love your work.'
posted by PMdixon at 10:45 AM on September 22 [8 favorites]


No. When you're submitting to 70 different places, it's not $5 anymore.

This belies my misunderstanding of the publishing/writing world. I can't fathom submitting my work to 70 different publications. I had figured that a writer would identify 2-4 best candidates for their work, and submit to those.

On the other hand, if writers are regularly taking this shotgun approach and submitting to 70 different places, then it means editors are positively inundated with submissions, and probably need some barrier to submission to discourage the folks who'll send their work to just anyone.
posted by explosion at 10:56 AM on September 22 [8 favorites]


There's some value in the notion that a submission fee filters out all the wackos who can't write coherently but send their horrific stream-of-consciousness screeds to any available market. However, that filter could be established with "send us an actual, paper postcard with your return address on it; we need it for legal/accounting reasons."

This got discussed elsewhere, and it was mentioned that slushpile screening is an excellent skill for interns to learn, and that they can learn it better if it's explained as, "you will be learning evaluation skills; this is an ability that will serve you well in all forms of business" and not "help us find the good stories." Assume every story is excellent in the author's head, and you are looking for the ones that get that story across to the reader - starting from the first two paragraphs.

A publisher that can't figure out how to make money off short stories should not be attempting to publish short stories. The digital marketplace has changed enough that they're marketable indivually now, not just in collections, and print-on-demand means not needing a run of 5000 to make it worth printing. The cost is higher, but the option does exist - a publisher isn't limited to what was marketable 40 years ago.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:02 AM on September 22


On the other hand, if writers are regularly taking this shotgun approach and submitting to 70 different places, then it means editors are positively inundated with submissions, and probably need some barrier to submission to discourage the folks who'll send their work to just anyone.

There are tenured professors who have federal work study students whose only job is submitting that professor's work to literary journals. Then there are retirees who spend every day doing the same thing for themselves. Submitting to 70 different publications would be a low estimate for people in those categories, and those people are absolutely a big part of the problem.

Submission fees are still gross, but as usual with most human endeavors, a small-ish cohort of bad actors are a large reason for policies that end up negatively impacting everyone.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:08 AM on September 22 [5 favorites]


> This got discussed elsewhere, and it was mentioned that slushpile screening is an excellent skill for interns to learn, and that they can learn it better if it's explained as, "you will be learning evaluation skills; this is an ability that will serve you well in all forms of business" and not "help us find the good stories." Assume every story is excellent in the author's head, and you are looking for the ones that get that story across to the reader - starting from the first two paragraphs.


Relying on interns for free work is just another form of labor exploitation.
posted by Ferreous at 11:17 AM on September 22 [5 favorites]


> "I had figured that a writer would identify 2-4 best candidates for their work, and submit to those."

Well, first, people generally write more than one story in their lives.

But second ... wow, no, that has not been my experience. A fair number of magazines have an acceptance rate of less than 1%. Giving up after 4 tries seems pretty pointless.

I will note that there are other ways to diminish "shotgunning" besides charging -- one generally accepted barrier is that many publishers refuse to accept simultaneous submissions (i.e., you can only submit to one place at a time.) There are pros and cons to this, but that's a different discussion.
posted by kyrademon at 11:32 AM on September 22 [6 favorites]


A publisher that can't figure out how to make money off short stories should not be attempting to publish short stories.

I mean, not to be rude, but...lol. Nobody, and I mean, nobody, makes money off short stories, at least not the literary kind this guy is writing. The magazines he's submitting to are funded, at a loss, by universities, with the occasional exception, like Tin House, that's funded, at a loss, by eccentric billionaires. If the guy gets enough stories published in these magazines, he might eventually get a book contract for a collection. At that point, the book will either be published, at a loss, by a university press, or, also at a loss, by a mainstream press, where they'll either be gambling that the loss will be worth it to build name recognition for his upcoming novel, or else as a more general bid for prestige for the house - but either way, it'll be subsidized by the profits of John Grisham and Stephen King. At no point will this literary short story writer ever live off money that people pay him for writing short stories. Nobody cares enough about short stories to pay for them...not even people who make a living writing short stories. The token amounts he's getting paid at this point have nothing to do with "earning" money in the true capitalist sense; they're more like charitable donations - or to put it in a more familiar way, patronage - from entities that consider it intrinsically valuable to fund the arts.

What this guy is gambling on is a university teaching position. To get that job, he needs to have a certain number of published stories + a collection on his CV, which is why he's willing to spend years writing stories that no one cares about enough to pay to read. He's correct that it is a barrier to diversity, and unfair, that each little entry on his CV costs a couple of hundred dollars in submission fees. But should he eventually get that tenure track teaching job he's angling for, and get paid a living wage for teaching students how to write short stories, he'll only be moving a couple of spots up in a predatory food chain that feeds equally off of the unpaid labor of the idealistic young and the seemingly endless pool of free-flowing student debt that funds pretty much the entire enterprise.

Good times!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:39 AM on September 22 [33 favorites]


I would be happy to end all free internships. I can see a value (not just to the employers) of below-min-wage learning internships, mostly in situations where the intern is also receiving school credit for the work, but I'd love to see internships be required to match all the other elements of regular employment: overtime pay, sick leave as required by law, and so on.

(If internships switched from "can be free" to "must be paid at least $1/hour," their use would plummet, because the paperwork alone would make companies reconsider. The hourly wage is not the only cost employers are dodging by having unpaid interns.)

Slushpile-sorting would be an excellent task for paid interns; it would give them a solid look at an important aspect of the publishing industry, and the answers to questions they'd have to ask would help them get a sense of how the industry as a whole works.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:39 AM on September 22 [3 favorites]


Nobody, and I mean, nobody, makes money off short stories, at least not the literary kind this guy is writing.

I don't know about "literary" short stories. (I did look at his bio, and "literary" is not the word that comes to mind to describe his writing.) I know that plenty of SF and fantasy authors are making solid amounts on self-pub short stories. (Let's not get into the erotica market.) I maintain my belief that publishers who are selling things nobody wants to buy are in the wrong business - we don't need huge collections of writing whose sole purpose is to bolster some other career, or to show off as training exercises for the "real" writing of novels.

What this guy is gambling for is a university teaching position. To get that job, he needs to have a certain number of published stories + a collection on his CV, which is why he's willing to spend years writing stories that no one cares about enough to pay to read.

If a corner of the publishing industry isn't producing works anyone wants to (pay to) read, the problem is that participation in it is required for a university tenure track, not that it charges submission fees. Is that how (part of) academia works? Publish things that only a small sliver of academics care to read, in order to prove that you have the skills for a career that has nothing to do with writing content that people want to read?

That sounds like the diversity problem isn't in submission fees; it's in requiring activities that have little or nothing to do with the career itself, which shuts out a whole lot of otherwise qualified people.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:00 PM on September 22 [3 favorites]


we don't need huge collections of writing whose sole purpose is to bolster some other career, or to show off as training exercises for the "real" writing of novels.

Who's "we"? Because I'm getting a real "The food at this place is terrible. And such small portions!" vibe here.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:22 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]


I maintain my belief that publishers who are selling things nobody wants to buy are in the wrong business - we don't need huge collections of writing whose sole purpose is to bolster some other career, or to show off as training exercises for the "real" writing of novels.

It is fine to think this, but literary magazines have NEVER been a path to financial viability for authors, in any era, regardless of the brokenness of academia. This isn't a shift in the market. Publishing for prestige rather than income has always been A Thing.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:23 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]


when i hear the word culture, i reach for my CV
posted by pyramid termite at 12:26 PM on September 22 [4 favorites]



I maintain my belief that publishers who are selling things nobody wants to buy are in the wrong business


By that logic nobody should try to give a voice to art forms that aren't immediately profitable, to which I say: PHHLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLBT!
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:33 PM on September 22 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the lesson here isn't "publications that don't make money are bullshit." Like-minded artists making commercially nonviable stuff in small batches for each other's enjoyment is a thing that's been going on since the dawn of time, and it's great. I wish there was more of it. I wish there were more small presses, even if the only people reading their books were other writers, because it's cool when people who are into the same shit find each other and do that shit to amuse and delight each other.

The lesson is "when your favorite art form is captured and turned into a professional credential, it fucks up the whole situation for everyone for a long time."
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:37 PM on September 22 [6 favorites]


Like. Professional writers who sell a million copies and turn a profit are great. Aspiring pros who want to sell a million copies are great. Amateurs who don't care about selling a million copies are great. Aspiring amateurs who don't give a shit but accidentally sell a million copies are great.

Having this weird category of quasi-pro writers who might or might not care about sales or readership, but it doesn't even matter, they desperately need to inflate their list of accepted pieces just because a fat CV is used like a taxi medallion in the business they're in — that is fucking warped, and warps everything else around it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:47 PM on September 22 [8 favorites]


What they said. I don't mind at all if authors are writing only for other people in their particular academic niche, regardless of commercial viability. Don't care if it's intended to be for money, or for enjoyment, or for learning purposes. More writing, yay. More communities with shared interests, yay.

I dislike that being turned into some weird professional status symbol that has nothing to do with either wanting to write or wanting to be read, but is a checkbox on the list of requirements for some other career.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:38 PM on September 22


some weird professional status symbol that has nothing to do with either wanting to write or wanting to be read, but is a checkbox on the list of requirements for some other career.

That's called a dissertation. And nobody likes them.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:42 PM on September 22 [3 favorites]


I edit a fairly prestigious SF magazine, and at least once a week one of the editors winds up writing an answer to an author query, and that answer reads SUBMISSION FEES = SCAM; MONEY SHOULD ALWAYS FLOW TO THE AUTHOR. It isn't literally all-caps, but that's how we feel about it.

The problem is that there are two kinds of people who wind up paying submission fees: the academic types discussed above, who may or may not feel that the fees are a reasonable price to have skin in the game, and who may or may not be right; and those who, for one reason or another, do not know anything about the intricacies of publishers and publishing culture. This can be because of anything from total naivete to geographical lack of access to the information (though that's getting a bit better with the internet). Many of these people don't know enough to know they don't know what they're doing.

Because, like any business, there are a lot of fine details here. For instance, yes, you absolutely should have a list of every single publication that would be relevant for your work, and you should have several pieces making the rounds of those inboxes, and you need to track who accepts simultaneous submissions and who does not; but also, you learn over time things like "at this market, my story having been sitting in their inbox for three weeks past their estimated reply time means they've kicked it upstairs to the editorial team and it has a good chance, whereas at this other market it means they threw it down a well and I should query posthaste, whereas at this other market entirely it just means they are swamped". You learn things like what kinds of query are good questions and what merely annoy the editors, you learn all the tiny ins and outs of professional etiquette-- you learn SO MANY THINGS. Many people who have been interacting with magazine publishing for years have not learned everything that would truly make their paths the smoothest and most enjoyable for everybody. Some people I've published haven't, as first acceptances can throw you a truly steep learning curve.

And you know what? The vast majority of the people who come in totally naive with a manuscript and a dream are never going to be published. Getting published requires a combination of picking up on what's marketable right now, listening to editorial commentary so you know what needs to improve, timing, luck, and radical ability to cope with rejection. We wade through piles and piles of the unpublishable and some of it is totally dire. Some of it is morally offensive. Some of it is that guy who keeps sending chunks of the King James Bible in all-caps interspersed with fire-and-brimstone warnings about how we are all going to hell, and I have no idea what he believes he is achieving here.

None of them deserve to be preyed on.

So we don't prey on them. Things that cut down on spam sufficiently for a magazine to survive:

-- no simultaneous submissions
-- we do not accept the submission if the story goes even one word over our posted upper limit, and I don't mean we reject it, I mean we won't put it in the system
-- open to submissions only at clearly specified times which are announced well in advance
-- you must use our electronic submissions portal and anything anyone attempts to submit via email will be deleted unread and a note sent back saying so
-- a large and able staff of volunteer first readers who handle the vast majority of slush before passing the rest up to the editors

And note I said volunteer. I'm a volunteer, too. Content creators get paid, but nobody else does at our magazine, and we run an Indiegogo fund drive yearly to keep the lights on. If we were paying any of our staff, we'd pay our first readers, but we aren't and we can't, so we don't. That's one reason we don't need submission fees as an income stream. The other is that we're in a subfield, science fiction/fantasy, which does contain people willing to throw money at us once a year; also, we don't do print publication, as the overhead costs would just be prohibitive, whereas server space is manageable.

In conclusion, I deeply disapprove of this sort of scam, because it preys on one of the dearest dreams many people have, and in a way that can make people think they're moving along the track to fulfilling that dream when they are not. That's an extremely hurtful thing to do to people, and it harms the community.

TELL YOUR FRIENDS: SUBMISSION FEES ARE ALWAYS A SCAM.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 4:23 PM on September 22 [24 favorites]


Submission Fees are always a scam, but if you have that quirky desire to see your short fiction printed on paper, then you'll probably have to pay to play the game, in one way or another. I view the small literary journal contests as fundraising drives (and desperate attempts to add to subscription lists).

There's a quip about aspiring writers spraying out 70 random fiction submissions like random job applications, which implies that they don't actually read the submission guidelines (which always say: read our magazine first, and then see if it fits in with our style). And that's partly why submission fees exist. The other reasons? Greed? Well, publishing literature on paper is not quite lucrative, so if you venture into this realm, you'll be dealing with some interesting people.
posted by ovvl at 6:26 PM on September 22


First this:

Nobody, and I mean, nobody, makes money off short stories, at least not the literary kind this guy is writing.

Then this:

I know that plenty of SF and fantasy authors are making solid amounts on self-pub short stories.

I have a strong suspicion, the proof of which would require more effort than I am willing to make, that there is a non-trivial correlation between the economic viability of a short story genre and its general distance from academic respectability. Which is why you can still make money writing erotica and SF/F shorts, and not so much literary fiction shorts. I also suspect (but again am not willing to put in the effort to prove) that genre authors tend to be much more willing to admit that there's an economic component to their writing drive than literary fiction authors -- lit fic authors would say they want to make art, while genre authors would say they want to sell. Mind you, generally speaking both want to do both -- what I'm talking about it what they would lead with.

I do also think that these general tendencies help explain the lit fic willingness to accept submission fees where genre writers are all "what the actual fuck" about them. It's not coincidence that Yog's Law ("Money flows to the writer") was coined by a genre author (Jim Macdonald), nor that the greatest proponent of "Fuck you, pay me" is Harlan Ellison. If part of your writing ethos is that your writing has economic value equal to or exceeding its artistic value, then the idea that you'd spend money on its consideration rather than receive it is borderline offensive. I mean, I certainly feel that way. I'm not going to pay money just to get fucking rejected. I can get rejected for free.

But if you've internalized the idea that your writing isn't what you make money on (and indeed it's a bit gauche for one's work to be directly commercial), but is rather the mechanism by which you gain employment (as, say, a professor or lecturer, or as an editor, etc), then the submission fees are no different than any other service fee you might pay.

Which doesn't change the fact, as the original article notes, that submission fees are classist as fuck. But then, academia is kinda classist as fuck, too.
posted by jscalzi at 3:00 AM on September 23 [17 favorites]


I know that plenty of SF and fantasy authors are making solid amounts on self-pub short stories.

because they write porrrrnnnnn
posted by Sebmojo at 7:06 AM on September 23


There's nothing wrong with porn. It takes just as much skill to write a well crafted erotic short as it does to write a well crafted literary short. The only reason they occupy a lesser place is, as jscalzi says, money, and also the fact that we have internalized shame about our desires from thousands of years of finding them sinful.
posted by corb at 7:21 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


From thousands of years of being told they're sinful, you mean.
posted by ChrisR at 7:56 AM on September 23


"because they write porrrrnnnnn"

As noted above, there's nothing wrong with porn. But I don't write it and still I do pretty well with my short fiction. I know several non-porn-writing SF/F folks who do.
posted by jscalzi at 8:46 AM on September 23 [3 favorites]


It's possible that the only reason people can make money from writing porn is the stigma-- there's less competition than there would be otherwise.

Would it make sense for there to be sites for people who like writing literary short fiction to just share it for free, considering that there's no market? Or do those sites already exist?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:41 AM on September 23


The day after this OP was posted, I sold a poem for actual money (my second in a month, yay!). Almost immediately after I tweeted about it, I was followed by one of those scammy vanity presses that charge to print poetry collections, charge to review poetry collections, charge to be your "agent" (poets don't need agents), etc., etc. I must admit, being able to say "I don't pay, I get paid" feels good.

Anyway, that reminded me of another problem with submission fees. While publications that charge them aren't scamming writers, exactly, they are muddying the waters so that novice writers will be less likely to recognise scams when they see them. After all, they'll think, paying to get published is normal ... isn't it?
posted by Perodicticus potto at 1:22 AM on September 24 [5 favorites]


Yaaaay, congratulations, Perodicticus potto!
posted by Don Pepino at 8:09 AM on September 24 [1 favorite]


Late to this thread, but I'll weigh in, since this is a topic I really can't shut up about. I'm a writer, and I run a small press. I could make BANK charging submission fees: if I open to submissions, even with my "no sim subs" rule, I'll get between 20 and 50 a day, which would certainly drop if I charged a fee, but I'd still be making a fair penny on them. And that's a problem. Publishers are in the business of selling reading to readers. Submission fees put publishers in the business of selling being published to writers, and that's a very different endeavor. It warps your relationship to the writers, who ought to be your partner in producing art and entertainment, for which they receive a reasonable cut of what little profit there is, not your customers (or only incidentally your customers, since of course writers are also readers).

And, as Perodicticus potto (Congratulations!) says, fees provide cover for straight-up greasy-as-fuck exploitation.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:19 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


Some thoughts from Room Magazine on how submission fees work for literary magazines in Canada.

"Writing contests fuel increased subscriptions, which improve paid circulation numbers, which lead to grants from arts councils, which pay for the day-to-day operations, which make it possible for literary magazines to exist at all."
posted by oulipian at 10:01 AM on September 27


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