Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Reading fees: Not even once.

Posting this makes me feel a little like a cranky Luddite, but this new trend of magazines charging reading fees for submissions is really terrible. I get why contests do it--it's why I don't enter contests, but there has to be some pool from which to draw the prize money. But regular publications? No no NO.

This crab with a plastic fork conveys my feelings.

Here's the thing: writers generally write on spec. At least that's the case for beginners, and for a lot of the rest of us who don't have a multi-book contract. We have to put in a whole heck of a lot of work, up front, with no guarantee of payment. That's the burden of risk the creator bears in the market.

Editors and publishers have to sort through all the not-awesome submissions to find the ones that are both wonderfully written, and fitting for the publication. Slogging through the slush pile is not the most fun part of editing (and I say this as a former slush-pile-slogger) but that's part of the burden of risk the publisher bears in the market.

When a publisher charges a writer to read their work, that's shifting more of the burden of risk onto the writer, who is already bearing enough by working without any upfront pay. It's a crappy thing to do, and unprofessional. STOP IT.

And writers, do not pay these fees. Revenues should flow to publishers from advertisements, crowdfunding, and subscriptions. Not from the writers. The implication is that somehow you'll get a more fair read by paying for the privilege, but I wouldn't count on it. If you want to sink more money into your craft, take a class. Go to a convention and network. Hire an editor and a cover artist and publish your own work. But don't pay someone to do their job. If they can't make it work without your fees, they're probably not ready for the big leagues anyway.


  1. How do you feel about magazines that charge a reading fee that is a subscription to the magazine? I am slightly more sympathetic to those since one should be reading the markets to which one is submitting.
    Increasingly--just as poets are writing mostly for other poets--I find that the readership of a lot of the literary magazines out there are other writers or wouldbe writers. Unless one is writing for the New Yorker, there aren't a lot of 'civilian' readers anymore. As magazine buyers have dried up-gone to the Internet or video or etc--the old model of readers paying for writing is no longer applicable. Without a large readership, a magazine cannot attract advertizers. Without buyers and advertizing, or a community committed to crowdsourcing...magazines are over. So although I object to reading fees, and won't submit to anywhere that requires them, I am a tiny bit more open to the idea that I should be a member of and support the community surrounding a particular magazine...that being a subscriber is maybe a reasonable demand? Not sure. But I know that I am often submitting to markets when I don't subscribe, and sometimes feel a bit guilty that I want others to read my stories when I don't read theirs...

    1. That's a good question. I mean, at least the writer is getting some value for their money. It still feels kind of coercive--I understand editors asking that potential contributors read an issue before submitting--though to be honest, I've sold a lot of stuff for actual money, sight unseen. And I've contributed to crowdfunding for projects I'm interested in submitting to, but only if it's the kind of thing I would want to read even if my stuff wasn't included. As with any writing advice and opinions, your mileage may vary. You need to do what works for you. My main point with that blog post is in calling out editors and publishers who seem to be taking advantage of writers, especially new ones who maybe lack confidence or who don't understand the rule about money flowing *to* the writer for their work.