Reading Fees From a Writer’s Perspective

06/15/2010

No one can argue that publishing hasn’t changed drastically in the last few years. Subscriptions are down. People have come to expect content for free. Amazon and the box stores control distribution and prices. Universities are no longer supporting their publications financially, forcing journals to fold or go exclusively online. And advertisers are spending their dollars online where every cent and click can be tracked.

On top of this, publishers are deluged with submissions. Everyone is a writer and no one is a reader.

Just a few years ago, the submission process involved finishing a story, hoofing it down to the post office and happily handing over $30 so that we could grace our 10 favorite journals with our genius. We didn’t think twice. Now, the process is: we surf around the internet every night after our spouse has fallen asleep and then, basically, spam publishers. The process is effortless and free, and can be done with a glass of wine in our hand.

Charging $20 seems excessive (http://www.narrativemagazine.com/) and straight-up capitalizing on the dreams of the inexperienced. But, for the most part, publishers don’t like charging. No one goes into indie publishing thinking… Oh, and then I make a living off the backs of poets! They find their way into publishing because they want to support and spread the work of the authors they admire. I think we’re all aware that a few are changing excessive fees– and most writers I speak to have generally lost respect for them as publishers– but there’s a huge difference between charging $20 and charging $3. Missouri Review, Sonora Review, Mass. Review, etc… these places obviously aren’t in this to get rich. They’re just trying to survive and slow the flow of inappropriate submissions. Most indie publishers work for free (or at a cost). Most editors are also writers. They know exactly what they’re doing when they decide to charge. And none of them come to that decision easily. To me, it makes a lot of sense for indies to charge $2-$3 per submission.

Here are a few reasons:

1) Small independent publishers are dying. (Story, TriQuarterly, Shenandoah, Eyeshot, just last week Pindeldyboz). We write more than we read. We don’t buy their products and then we crush them with submissions. If something doesn’t change, indie publishing will go away.

2) Paying a small submission fee makes me write better stories. When I had to print out every story and put $3 on the envelope, that story was polished. I worked that story to the bone. Now, I just attach and send. Sometimes without even printing it out. It makes me lazy and, as a result, a lesser writer.

3) Submission fees gives my stories a better chance. I’d much rather my story was sitting in a pile of 200 other stories being read by a somewhat happy editor, rather than a pile of 2000 submissions being read by a miserable increasingly-cynical editor who can’t possibly read more than a page or two. I love that I can pay the editor a little something for their time. I value what they are doing. If they have time and motivation to give me feedback then it’s money very well spent. If you don’t want to support them, then don’t send them your work. I think most serious and experienced writers understand the economics and the time spent in putting together a publication.

4) I like print publications. I like holding the journal my story lives in. The second piece I ever published was in Issue #2 of Swink. The issue sold out and for a while you could get it on Ebay for over $100. (One of the contributors was a celebrity film director.) Subsequent issues sold out as well. But still the magazine has moved to online-only. I don’t know the particulars with Swink, but if I’d spent $3 when I sent that story in and it would allow them to still exist as a print publication, it would have been the best $3 I’ve ever spent.

Thanks!

-Michael A. FitzGerald (author of Radiant Days, co-founder of Submishmash)

Michael FitzGerald

Michael lives in Missoula, MT, with his wife and two sons. He’s the CEO and one of the founders of Submittable and the author of the novel Radiant Days.