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More and more, literary journals are beginning to charge fees to writers who make online submissions. In fact, CLMP—the trade organization for literary journals—recently hosted a discussion with editors of various literary journals to determine which practices are ethical and which might not be. That way, literary journals affiliated with CLMP can make ethical choices.
It goes without saying that some writers are unwilling to pay fees associated with submissions; some even feel affronted, resentful, or begrudging. Throughout the history of literary journals, most have not required fees of authors who submit. So to ask writers for a fee is an adjustment.
Because we’ve been helping creative writers since 1994, we’ve observed that the way literary magazines operate has changed a lot in the last twenty years.
Here are just a few of the most salient points from CLMP’s submission fee discussion that illuminate some of the reasons for the practice.
1. Submission fees are minimal. Generally speaking, one to three dollars seems to be the accepted submission fee of the moment. An online submission fee of three dollars is less than what it would cost to mail the same submission by traditional post. So in a sense, making an online submission actually saves a writer money—even when there is a fee.
2. It’s not a reading fee. While most everyone agrees that reading fees are unethical, literary journals that do charge fees do not charge them as “reading fees.” Instead, they are administration fees.
Because so many literary journals have both online and print arms these days, administration fees have gone up. Literary journals that do accept submissions online must maintain websites and databases that make digital submissions possible. This costs them money. But—unlike paper submissions—online submissions don’t cost a writer a penny over what they’re already paying for their basic Internet.
3. Small fees can translate into more money for writers. The literary journals that are not using the fee to recoup money for the cost of their online submission platform are using them to actually pay their writers upon publication. Traditionally, the payment for publication in the literary journal is small or nonexistent. Minor fees associated with submissions could help change that.
4. Small fees curtail “inappropriate” submissions. In the CLMP round table discussion, Mid-American Review talked about a single writer who submitted online and sent seventeen different submissions at the same time. The editor pointed out that if there were a submission fee, it would have been unlikely this writer would have taken this step.
Because it is so easy for writers to submit online, and because it costs nothing, some editors report that the submissions they are beginning to get are inappropriate—they’re not right for the magazine. Writers can dash off their submissions now much more easily than they could in the past. As a result, editors are inundated by submissions from writers who don’t especially care about submission guidelines or editorial preferences. This wastes editors’ time. It’s also quite disrespectful.
Submission Fees And Literary Journals: The Bottom Line
The vast majority of literary journals don’t make money. Most are not-for-profit and they are staffed by a fair number of volunteers. Editors are seeing much-needed financial support decline at universities and colleges.
We think it’s fair to say that most writers do not subscribe to every single literary journal to which they submit their work. However, these same writers benefit greatly when a literary journal does accept them for publication.
We cannot take literary journals for granted. The work they do is important; writers depend on them. In a best case scenario, the relationship between writers and literary journals would be completely symbiotic—that is, mutually beneficial.
Would you buy an editor a cup of coffee simply to say thanks for all the hard work that he or she does on behalf of the larger writing community? We suspect the answer is yes.
And yet, the editors of journals associated with CLMP are not buying themselves cups of coffee with writers’ submission fees. They’re investing in online submission managers that can make the submission process easier for everyone and anyone who wants to submit.
Small admin fees can help struggling literary journals stay on their feet—and that’s good for writers. If a journal’s ability to stay viable is dependent upon charging a very small submission fee, then we at Writer’s Relief would support an ethical practice. We hope you will too.