Since the recent Tin House announcement asking readers (NOT requiring them to do so, mind you) to purchase a book from an independent bookseller (“Buy a Book, Save a Bookstore“) and use the receipt as their “ticket” to submitting work to the magazine as well as its contest, a slew of discussions have started about publications “charging” writers for submissions.
Brevity is asking its readers whether or not they should charge, and the nearly 300 responses run the spectrum of opinion on the matter.
The issue of charging for submissions is nothing new Narrative charges writers a “nominal” fee of $15-20 for all unsolicited submissions, and the The Missouri Review charges writers “a small fee” of $3 to submit their works electronically (I’m sure there are others, but this is who comes to mind at the moment). TMR Editor Speer Morgan in his discussion at this year’s AWP (Session 179 – The Future of the Literary Magazine) made no apologies for charging writers this fee (and they seem not to be lacking in submissions). He felt it offered at least some means of screening submissions and lessening the mass-submit phenomenon available to writers who use e-services (sending to as many publications as possible without familiarizing themselves with the publications content).
It also reminds writers that there is a cost to these literary endeavors – magazines are not staffed, printed, or able to maintain an online presence/e-mail submissions out of the kindness of this society’s heart – it takes cash, which the loss of several long-standing publications each year proves. I heard it’s “Robin Hood robbing the poor to pay the rich,” but I’m not sure I get that one, because anybody who think literary endeavors are rolling in it (esp. lit mags) is out of touch with reality (or needs to intern with a lit mag). I think it’s more like, “You have a nickel and I have a nickel, so let’s rub them together” – and hope we can keep this lit mag afloat another year.
Missouri Review also offers readers the option to send via traditional mail, which – remember – also costs money. Could not allowing submissions via electronic medium constitute a submission fee? I suppose you’ll have to take that one up with the post office (which will soon be raising those fee rates).
I don’t think this initiating act, which on the part of Tin House means encourage support for the literary community, should be the matter of contention. Sort of like playing Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots with yourself (“Yeah! I knocked my block off!”). “Just going through this list of independent bookstores,” NewPages Managing Editor Nicole Foor adds, “I can’t believe how many of them have closed.” Tin House is dead on with their effort. Buy books from indie bookstores and small presses, and buy/subscribe to literary magazines. Support the grassroots literary community – at their roots. That’s the point.
Still, this subsequent conversation – whether or not to charge cash fees for submission – is a good one and worth ongoing consideration. Michael A. FitzGerald (author of Radiant Days, co-founder of Submishmash) offers a more writer-focused perspective on this matter here: Reading Fees From a Writer’s Perspective.