Greed or Need: Reading Fees for Literary Journals

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Greed or Need: Reading Fees for Literary Journals

Full disclosure: I hate reading fees. I’m telling you this so you consider the natural bias I’m fighting as you read this article.

First, let’s define “reading fee.” It’s not a fee that nets you any kind of editorial feedback. It doesn’t get you to the front of the submission line. It doesn’t guarantee that someone is going to read your work from beginning to end. In fact, it does absolutely nothing for you at all, except allow you to submit your work for consideration.

In short, it’s a rip-off.

A few years back, only a few highly esteemed journals charged writers to submit, and then for a nominal reading fee of only a few dollars.  Now everyone and their brother Bob seems to be jumping on the bandwagon, wheedling money out of writers wherever they can.

The oddest part of it all is that some of the journals who charge a reading fee are non-paying journals. Whuuuuut?

Let’s break it down a bit:

The Good

If you’re an indie writer you may be aware that everyone thinks they’re an indie writer. That means there’s a lot of drek writing out there. A lot. Setting a fee can help reduce the number of ill-suited submissions out there. After all, even a good writer is less likely to submit a story that’s on the edge of what the journal really wants if they have to pay to do it.

Let’s face it, if we were back in the age of dinosaurs we may still be sending out manuscripts with SASEs. That means printing out your pages and paying for postage — at least a few bucks in today’s printing/postal world.

This is about as close as I can get to justifying reading fees.

The Bad

A staff article from Writer’s Relief had this lovely paragraph in it. Sit down before you read it, or at least take your Xanax first.

Simply put: It costs money for journals to maintain websites, create issues, and use an online submission manager. Many literary magazines are non-profit and are run by volunteers. Those that are run by colleges or universities are dealing with ever-shrinking budgets. Do you subscribe or donate money to every magazine you submit work to? Maybe yes, but maybe no. By charging an administrative fee, struggling literary journals can continue to publish. 

Let’s distill this, shall we?

Poor literary journals are struggling. They charge writers, not consumers, in order to stay afloat. 

Uh, what about poor writers? Why in the name of Sauron’s Great Eye would anyone work for free so some literary magazine can keep publishing? If no one wants to buy what they’re publishing, then they need to change tactics or perhaps shut down.

Seventy-two percent of American adults read a book in 2015 and the average number of books per person each year was 12. Surely we read enough to pay authors, the people actually writing the books?

And this was from a website called Writer’s Relief. Seriously.

The Ugly

Some journals, like Narrative Magazine, charge reading/submission fees of upwards of $20, which is freaking ridiculous. At that rate, you’d spend your car payment* submitting a handful of stories. (*Not if you drive a BMW. I drive a used RAV4 — it’s definitely my car payment)

They’re capitalizing on the desperation of writers and we’re falling for it by continuing to pay the fees. Let’s face it: If no one paid the fees, these journals would find some other way to stay afloat (preferable) or simply shut their doors.

Reading Fees: Yes or No

Admittedly, I’ve skimmed over the details. If you want a good summary of the situation, read this article in The Atlantic or this somewhat opposing view. If you want my opinion, stick with the journals that charge no or nominal ($1-$3) fees. Support them by subscribing — after all, really good writers are generally readers as well. Click on the “Buy me a coffee” and other buttons on their websites.

But don’t pay exorbitant fees to submit your work. You’re better than that!

See you on the next page!

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