Last month, I got entangled in a long twitter conversation about submission fees. The author Nick Mamatas took issue with The Offing magazine—an exciting new offshoot of the LA Review of Books focusing on promoting marginalized writers—deciding to charge a $3 fee for submissions. You can read Mamatas’s storify plus this follow-up blog post to see his side of things. Here’s a defense of fees from Nathaniel Tower for the other side. In general, the literary world is far too shy about talking about money, and publishing can be quite closed to marginalized voices who can’t afford unpaid internships, reading fees, and other entry barriers. This is a conversation we need to have. Overall, I agree with Mamatas that there’s an ethical issue in charging submission fees. We never instituted them at Electric Literature for Recommended Reading, Gigantic, or any other magazine I’ve worked on. Plenty of journals barely take any work from the slush, but even a magazine that only publishes slush is likely only taking 1-2% of submissions. So the majority of unpublished writers are funding the minority of published, which isn’t a great foundation. Imagine if every worker had to pay to get a job interview? (Or, since most magazines don’t pay, maybe the analogy is paying to get an unpaid internship.) The defense of submission fees is that the fee is pretty small, perhaps only as costly as snail mail postage. But $3 adds up quickly. I’ve often heard the average story gets rejected twenty times before an acceptance. 21 x 3 = $63. The Offing pays $20-50, meaning you’d expect to lose between 13 and 43 bucks per story. Literary writers can’t expect to make much money from quiet short stories about cancer and obscure poems about birds, but surely we don’t need to actively lose money to get published! I’d like to note here that The Offing is hardly the only magazine to charge a fee. Missouri Review, Sonora Review, Crazyhorse and so many others charge that when I asked about this on Twitter, I was told it would be easier to make a list of those who don’t. And the fact that The Offing pays $20-50 already puts them ahead of the vast majority of lit mags who pay nothing at all. As an editor, I do understand why magazines want to charge fees. Lit mag editors are typically volunteering their labor, and even with fees nobody is getting paid. The Offing said the fees would go to contributors and I have no reason to doubt them. So it’s hard to feel like you are exploiting anyone when you don’t get any money from the exploitation. (My counter would be that small fees, magazines that don’t pay, and the like all have ripple effects that combine to help devalue writing and make it easier and easier for even big corporations to not pay artists for their labor.) Sticking to lit mags though, much of the problem stems from the fact that lit mags all have two major problems: 1) no money and 2) far too much slush. Here’s why The Offing initially closed submissions and reopened with a fee: Re: submissions. We like you too, a LOT. But we got almost 1000 submissions in a week, so we're closing for just now to catch up. — The Offing (@theoffingmag) March 19, 2015 1,000 submissions in a week! If you’ve ever grumbled about lit mags taking too long to respond to your submission, here’s why. Let’s be honest about the situation at lit mags: most are funded out of the editors’ pockets or else given a small budget from a university, most have unpaid editors (often MFA students getting a year’s experience), and most receive far more submissions than the editors could ever read. And if we are being really, really honest, most magazines don’t even have much of a readership, so no real way to raise money by charging readers. I’m not talking about the top magazines like The Paris Review or Tin House, but the above holds true for your average [City/Animal] Review or [Random_Phrase].tumblr.com journal. When talking about these issues, I think we have to separate them into two categories: a) the question of funding a magazine (and the related question of finding readers) b) the question of the slush pile (and the related question of overworked editors) a) is a topic for another day, but this discussion has made me wonder if it’s time for literary magazines to rethink how we do slush. Most magazines work like this: submissions are always open, the magazines gets carpet-bombed with work, the pieces are read—likely skimmed—by inexperienced undergrads/MFA students/volunteer readers, and writers get their rejection six months later. The problems here snowball quickly. Writers understandably can’t wait six months to hear back, so they submit to as many places as possible simultaneously. This leads to more slush at every magazine, which leads to longer wait times, and so on. (It doesn’t help that writers submit to magazines without even the briefest skimming of the magazine’s website, leading to science fiction poems in the queue of the Personal Essay Review and romance novellas in Crime Poems Weekly.) So if an always-open, always-growing slush pile is bad for both writers and editors, what can be changed? Here are a few thoughts: Reduce Slush Without Charging First off, there are ways to limit submissions that aren’t monetarily exploitative. You can shorten the submission window drastically (Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading does one month, but I’ve seen even shorter windows at some magazines). This helps narrow your slush to writers who actually read—or at least pay some attention to—your magazine. Some magazines also limit the number of submissions a writer can submit, even to one or two a year. That helps force writers to target their subs, sending only the work most appropriate to the journal in question if they want to get in. When I was a young writer, I always grumbled about the magazines with short windows or other restrictions, but it did force me to send my best work to those magazines when the windows opened. Solicit Emerging Writers I also think there is a problem in relying so much on random submissions. Most magazines spend their soliciting efforts on big name writers, which makes sense, but very few bother to solicit emerging writers. Why not? It would likely be more fruitful to read a dozen small magazines and find new writers who excite you than to read 1,000 slush submissions. Or email other editors, reading series curators, and professors whose tastes you trust and ask for the best emerging writers they’ve seen. If editors had less slush (see above), they’d have more time to search for new voices elsewhere. Worried the above would make you miss out on completely unpublished writers? Have a sub period for unpublished writers only. The great One Story magazine ensures a diverse range of writers by never publishing a writer twice. I would also add that soliciting young writers might go a long way towards fixing the gender imbalance in lit mags. Every time VIDA counts come up, there is talk about the gender imbalance in submissions. Part of that is men submitting way too much—every magazine has had their man-subbers who send a new piece within minutes of rejection— and part of that is that women writers perhaps not submitting as much as they should. Editors tend to fix the imbalance by soliciting big name women writers, but that doesn’t help emerging women writers. (Editors would similarly have less excuses for painfully white contributor lists.) Define Your Tastes Lastly, if we want writers to be more thoughtful in where they submit a piece, editors have to be up front about what they want. Most lit mags just say “send your best work!” and “we’re open to everything as long as it’s great!” Those guidelines may even be true since many lit journals have not defined their aesthetic vision, even for themselves. Too many lit mags are totally interchangeable in content. As a reader, I vastly prefer magazines that try to publish a unique collection of work instead of the same stories and poems that could fit anywhere. And as a writer, I actually know what work to send where. Admittedly, some of the above suggestions run the risk of favoring already published writers or writers with MFA/lit world connections… but, then again, that is already the case. And if none of those suggestions work, well: Tinder for fiction subs. Send one sentence. If editor wants more, they swipe right. Writer knows when reader lost interest. @TheLincoln — Kelly Luce (@lucekel) April 3, 2015 49 Responses Colette Sartor May 18, 2015 Such great suggestions. I especially like the idea of reducing the submission window since it would reward writers who actually read the mag, or at least make the effort to familiarize themselves with the magazine. My first piece of advice to my students who are starting to submit to magazines is to read them in order to make sure that the magazine is right for their work. Reply Nichole L. Reber May 20, 2015 Agreed about the windows concept. Many journals are going to this, and it’s perfectly understandable– in fact impressive. If the reader’s following that mag, even by watching Facebook/Twitter posts, s/he’s more likely to know that. Cheers Reply Jenny Ruth May 21, 2015 Another voice of support for limited submission periods. Forces a writer to be judicious in their submission strategy. Discourages the mad dash to send something off into the world the first time it’s “done” rather than taking time for thorough revisions. Surazeus Simon Seamount May 18, 2015 I suggest making one slush pile for everybody, a website that works better that submittable in that poets make an account, submit poems they want to submit, and then editors from all the journals browse through poems available and pick what they want. Reply Jessica May 19, 2015 In the playwriting/theater world, that’s the vision of the New Play Exchange, which launched last year: https://newplayexchange.org Reply Tom C. Hunley October 27, 2015 Great idea, Simon! Reply Elanna May 18, 2015 As far as I know, The Offing had always planned to charge a reading fee. They stated that after a certain cut-off date, right after they launched, that they would start charging $3. It wasn’t until after that that they temporarily closed submissions before re-opening them. They were always up-front about it. Reply claire May 18, 2015 Can we acknowledge once and for all that the idea that writers should find what journal fits best for their work is kind of bogus? Every literary magazine tells you to read an issue before submitting, but this is just because they want you to actually read their magazine–and you wouldn’t otherwise. There is no aesthetic “aha” moment that you are going to have that will influence whether or not you send the story to that magazine. Once you’re writing the type of literary fiction that gets published, that literary fiction can get published anywhere. What are these nebulous aesthetic considerations (other than basic ones of what genres the magazine publishes and if they take genre fiction) that are supposed to be governing a targeted submission process? Reply Colette Sartor May 18, 2015 Claire — I agree that if you’re writing literary fiction, your work may be right for many journals. I also agree that journals advise you to read an issue or two before submitting because they want to be read. But they also want you to understand what they’re looking for. Because not all literary venues are looking for the same kind of “literary” stories. I’ve learned from reading tons and tons of mags that there are certain journals I greatly admire where I’d never send my work because it’s] not right for their aesthetic. For instance, any journal that’s looking for humorous and quirky isn’t gonna be interested in most of my stuff. The only way to come to those kinds of conclusions is to read and read and read. Reply Kelechi Njoku September 25, 2015 Exactly, Colette. It’s only polite to read a magazine’s back issues before submitting to them. I too know a couple of magazines that could never – I think – be interested in my work. Whereas there is one other magazine I would be grateful to have work in. Matt May 18, 2015 I don’t completely disagree with you, but I think there are at least some aesthetic distinctions under the umbrella of “literary” that make it worth investigating a magazine before submitting. The most obvious distinction to be made might be between experimental writing and realism, though both of these terms are fraught and complex. Other lines might be drawn around style and content. What’s more problematic to me is when a magazine won’t take chances on work that *doesn’t* fit with what they normally publish. I think magazines would be far more interesting if they went out of their comfort zones. I’ve gotten feedback from editors that work caused “heated debate” before rejecting–maybe just a polite thing to say, but it seems to me that if work causes that kind of passionate reaction, it’s worth publishing. Luckily, I’ve found homes for those pieces, but it does suggest to me that even adventurous journals tend to publish the same kinds of stories over and over again. Reply Miami Dolphin Long Snapper John Denney May 18, 2015 i keep a tiered list of approx 300 lit mags ordered by pay, appearances in prize anthos (o henry, BASS, pushcart, best of the net, million writers), and other factors. on this list i mark mags that charge for all submissions. the following ain’t comprehensive cuz i don’t check every mag every year, but it probably covers most mags that require $ for unsolicited submissions (ie, they don’t even offer a free window or let you submit [sans fee] via snail mail): American Short Fiction Five Points Witness Crazy Horse Gulf Coast Mississippi Review The Common Post Road HOW Arts & Letters New Orleans Review Fugue StoryQuarterly Hunger Mountain Sonora Review Drunken Boat Chicago Quarterly Review Western Humanities Review Calyx Event Drunk Monkeys this was as of december 2014. usually i have to add a couple of names to it every year. also, a lotta the time when i see a mag start charging through submittable but keep free snail-mail subs open, within a year or two they’ve closed off snail-mail subs and begun charging for all subs. Reply Janet Long May 18, 2015 I understand the resistance to paying submission fees, but where else, exactly, is the money supposed to come from to fund magazines that are expensive to produce, carry almost no advertising, and have very small subscriptions? Yes, slush piles are too large and there aren’t enough editors to even skim the pile with justice and authors whose works are selected are not paid what they deserve. But if merely reading an issue or two before submitting is asking too much, how much less likely is that author to actually subscribe–that is, support the magazine with a little life’s blood? Lit mags tend to have high price tags and annual subscriptions can be out of range for some writers, especially if the writer wants to subscribe to multiple magazines. But take another look at the $63 figured by the OP as the cost for submitting a story 21 times at a rate of $3 a pop. Just exactly how much time do you want the slush reader to spend with your story? And what kind of a salary do you think they should get? The whole system works on the expectation that someone working for nothing should read every one of those 1000+ per month stories and give each one the consideration it deserves. I don’t like submission fees, but I understand the need for revenue. Reply Lincoln Michel May 19, 2015 “but where else, exactly, is the money supposed to come from to fund magazines that are expensive to produce, carry almost no advertising, and have very small subscriptions?” Well, traditionally customers pay for things and not workers, so the readers are where money should be coming from (if not some non-profit kind of source). That said, 99% of submitters aren’t really the workers of a magazine. Most are submitting work that doesn’t have a chance of being included. I’ve started and funded–or failed to fund–multiple lit mags, so I know how tough it is. But I do think there’s a question of whether the world needs an expensive-to-produce lit mag with no readership though. What’s the value there? In 2015, it is fairly simple to create a web magazine or cheaply print a zine-like lit mag. If a magazine doesn’t have the readership to support the printing costs, they probably should rethink how they publish. You make a strong point about submission readers. It isn’t a good situation where everyone on the lit mag side is unpaid either. Reply ace May 23, 2015 “and have very small subscriptions” And, you have hit on the reason why I no longer bother submitting to these magazines. They have very few real subscribers. Generally speaking, the only people who read little literary magazines are people who hope to be published in said magazines. So you can forget about “exposure,” as the tiny readership is self-serving and not truly interested in reading your story. And you can forget about getting paid. So – no money and no exposure. What is the point, exactly, except to list the “credit” when trying to get published by a different little literary magazine? Reply LSM May 18, 2015 These suggestions for ways to reduce the slush pile are good, but honestly, why would editors want to reduce it? If that’s where they get a chunk of their funding and the slush readers are free… Even if it’s a discussion for another time as you say, funding is the real issue; until magazines can afford to drop reading fees, they won’t. And really I think there’s a need to be honest with ourselves. If nobody is buying the magazine, maybe we’re missing something important in terms of what we’re publishing and what we’re doing to promote our work. Reply Lincoln Michel May 19, 2015 “If that’s where they get a chunk of their funding and the slush readers are free…” A lot of editors tend to insist they don’t get use it as a funding means. It’s worth noting that submittable takes $1 plus 5% from every fee, so if you are charging $2 bucks you are getting $.90 and if you are charging $3 you are getting $1.85. So it’s not a terribly reliable source of money for a small magazine that only gets, say, 600 submissions a year. Reply Luke McGrath May 19, 2015 Really interested read and a great discussion here. I’m in the early stages of planning to launch an online magazine and this has started some new ideas flowing. Lincoln – would you be happy to chat through some of these ideas over email? I’d love to get your thoughts on starting a magazine from scratch. My thoughts on submission fees – they don’t make sense. For me, the writer is producing the content that sells the magazine. Why charge them to help you make money? I know it isn’t as simple as that and the economics of lit magazines say so, but I can’t have anyone put off submitting because they can’t justify the cost. Reply Kelly Lynn Thomas May 19, 2015 A few years ago I started a small chapbook publishing venture called Wild Age Press. This year I expanded to having an online zine. For chapbooks, we never charged a reading fee, but could only pay our authors in copies (which they could then sell). When we started the zine, we decided to switch to Submittable and tried charging a reading fee to cover that cost. After a few months of this, I went back to free submissions, for many of the reasons stated here. I’m not paying my writers, so how can I charge them to send me their work? Plus, Wild Age Press has a focus on marginalized writers, so how could I justify potentially alienating the kind of writers we want to publish? I’ve been thinking about ways to fund my press so that I can pay my writers, but so far I haven’t come up with any brilliant solutions other than simply selling a ton of books (which is difficult for me to do since I also have a full-time job to pay my own bills and for those submission fees to other lit mags…) But what’s worse: Not paying writers or not publishing anything at all? I have obviously decided on the second one, but I’m not saying that’s the right answer. Reply Street Cred: Our Favorite Reads From Around The Internets | East Second May 19, 2015 […] Is it Time for Literary Magazines to Rethink Slush? […] Reply Leigh Shulman May 19, 2015 I go back and forth with choosing to pay to submit. What I’ve finally decided is that I only pay to submit to places that I truly love to read. I also go back and forth on whether I’ll submit to magazines that don’t pay at all. Again, only if they’re publishing writing — including mine — that I love. What strikes me in this article, though, something I generally try not to think about as I submit my own work, is how freakin’ big is that mountain to go from unknown to emerging to big name and thus paid to write. Bottom line, writing for free and paying fees to submit may well be part of that. Although Twitter and other social media could also be helpful. Get to know editors before submission. Also, I’m kind of in love with that Tinder idea. Reply Lorraine Berry May 19, 2015 I’m one of those writers who, despite lots of publication creds in “small” magazines but who hasn’t hit the big time (whatever that means), I’m still in most journals’ slush piles, so I frequently pay submission fees. I also work at a small magazine, http://talkingwriting.com where we charge $3 to cover the cost of what Submittable charges us. As someone who is on both sides of the issue, I agree to a certain extent with many of your suggestions. I agree that lit mags need to be a lot more honest about what they’re looking for. I recently attended a panel at a fairly big conference where one of the editors of a magazine (whose initials are EL) said that the first thing he looks for are the letters “MFA” in a cover letter. If he doesn’t see those, he’s less likely to even consider what’s been submitted. So, why not say that? Why not post something to the effect that, while the editors are open to everyone, really, they only want to see work from someone with an MFA? It’s a lot more honest than pretending that editors think those of us who have advanced degrees in other fields that are not MFAs (but who spend every hour outside of work working on the craft of writing), are as capable of writing good prose as someone who had the good fortune and the money to attend an MFA program. The second is painful to talk about. I was responsible for sorting through the slush pile and felt awful for those people who had been told that they were good enough to get published. If I had been honest, I would have sent them back a rejection that would have suggested working hard for at least the next year on craft before submitting again, but I was loathe to hurt feelings. So, I chickened out with a standard rejection that was value-neutral about the work. That was my bad. There are some people out there who cannot write, and who do not show an inkling of creativity buried under undeveloped prose. So perhaps it is up to editors to be clear what they are looking for. If you believe that only a person with an MFA is capable of writing the kind of work that you want to publish, then say so. If you really are interested in publishing the marginalized, then say that. If you want economic diversity in your submissions, then put people on an honor system of a sliding scale and ask people to pay what they can to submit. And perhaps, worst of all, put up a paywall so that only subscribers can read what you’re publishing. That way, consumers are paying what they’re getting for free. I love the idea of the web where all information is available regardless of ability to pay, but the problem remains that the people writing that content are laboring for free, expected to do it because we are passionate about writing and can’t imagine doing anything else. It allows writers to justify to ourselves that writing for free is paying our dues, and that someday, when we make the big time, editors will come to us, hat in hand, and offer to pay us for our work. It’s yet another version of the American dream, which convinces the factory worker that if s/he just works hard enough, s/he too can one day own the factory and be another American success story. It’s hard to admit that I’m one of the suckers who continues to support the system by paying for the privilege of having someone judge my work (even if my submission to acceptance rate is actually quite respectable). But, in the meantime, I write because it’s all I want to do. And so, I must get off the web and go write. Thanks for letting me comment. Reply Colette May 20, 2015 Beautifully stated! I wish there were a “like” button. 🙂 Reply Andrew O. Dugas May 20, 2015 I do not understand the issue of a modest reading fee of 2 or 3 dollars. I’m old enough to remember snail-mail-only submissions. You had to pay for round-trip postage, two envelopes, plus photocopy charges. Your costs could easily exceed $2 adjusted for inflation, and that’s not including the time to purchase and organize all those materials. When submission costs real $$$, the writer is greatly encouraged to carefully target submissions. And I’d rather see those fees benefiting the journals rather than the USPS, while saving some trees at the same time. Some will argue that marginalized writers can’t afford even such modest fees. Maybe journals can have an option to request that such fees be waived. Or the writers can stick to many of the journals that do not (yet) charge fees. Or they can borrow the money from a benefactor, a writing professor who believes in them. Perhaps writers who find success thanks to being published can pay the journals back by donating X number of submissions by writers who cannot afford the fees. Reply Andrew O. Dugas May 20, 2015 Another solution some magazines is the no-simultaneous submissions policy. You have to REALLY want acceptance by that journal if you’re willing to pull a story off the open market while you wait 6-12 weeks. Reply Nichole L. Reber May 20, 2015 Your ability to humorously rename journals rocks. Has anyone asked you to name their baby? Reply Jessica Piazza May 20, 2015 This is really a fantastic piece, and absolutely brings up a conversation we need to have about slush and solicitations in lit magazine culture. As for question a, though, I truly hope that you’ll check out http://www.poetryhasavalue.com. The point of the site is to consider this literary world in which poets do not get paid for the work that they do and publish. The question of submission fees has come up over and over in guest posts from prestigious writers and interviews with editors of paying magazines. You glanced at the subject when you mentioned that some magazines that charge fees don’t even pay their writers. I think that is actually a huge part of that question at hand here. It’s one thing if you’re charging in order to compensate those who make your magazine possible, but it’s another if you’re charging and those connected with the magazine (writers and editors, mind you) aren’t seeing anything. Reply Nathaniel Tower May 20, 2015 Michael, great article (and thanks for linking to my devil’s advocate piece about submission fees). A quick point regarding the average submission getting rejected 20 times. If there’s any truth to this number (I think you and I both know it’s a great exaggeration), then it’s only because so many writers send out their fiction in such a willy-nilly fashion. While there’s certainly something to be said for lit mags changing the way they read slush, I think it’s even more important for writers to change the way they submit. Years ago, I used to have stories rejected 10 times or more on a regular basis before finally getting an acceptance. More recently, I decided to actually think about where I was sending my work. Although I rarely submit these days, my acceptance rate has skyrocketed during the past couple years. Very rarely will one of my stories get rejected more than once or twice. Believe me, it’s not because I’m an amazing writer. Rather, I just take some time to submit to places that are actually a good fit. Sure, it’s a numbers game in part. A good fit when there are 1000 submissions in a week might mean nothing. But if every writer would show more care with their submissions, then we wouldn’t have many of these problems. Reply Dear James: CAT MEME EDITION | The James Franco Review May 21, 2015 […] You can read an article about it over on Electric Literature. […] Reply Friday Finds for Writers | ErikaDreifus.com May 22, 2015 […] a conversation topic again this week. See Lincoln Michel’s reflections (and suggestions) on Electric Literature. Then, you might revisit this post. And who knew about this (black)list of fee-charging […] Reply Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 5/18-5/22 - Publishing Trends May 22, 2015 […] Should literary magazines stop charging writers to submit their work? […] Reply Laura May 22, 2015 This is a great post & the comments are thoughtful and thought-provoking, so I’d like to add my all-time pet-peeve to the mix: the literary magazine that charges a submission fee ($3, I think) yet the editors do not have the common courtesy to email a rejection. You find out you’re rejected when you check submittable a few months later and see the “denied” status. Seriously? Has this ever happened to anyone else out there? Otherwise I haven’t minded paying a small fee because I do remember the cost in postage, time, xeroxing, etc.. This is an important discussion because it seems to me that the whole point of my day job is to support my writing (fiction) habit for which I haven’t been paid in almost fifteen years. I did once get paid! I’ve seen one or two magazines that don’t charge fees but will offer a faster reply if you “donate” a fee, and that seems reasonable. I also wonder how many people actually refrain from simultaneously submitting if a magazine says “no simultaneous submissions”. The Tinder solution takes care of it all! Reply Andrew O. Dugas May 22, 2015 Good points. I don’t know if it is an option or a setting, but I think Submittable automatically sends a rejection when a submission is rejected. I might be wrong. I do know that every time a Submittable submission gets rejected, I am instantly notified. Reply gdub May 22, 2015 I don’t mind paying small reading fees, as I just can’t afford subscriptions to all the lit reviews I’d like to get. And I admire the ones who don’t charge. Being published in good journals is paying dues. Theirs is a labor of love, heavy on the labor–and they all should be applauded more. Pay attention to the rules–they have ’em for a reason. Reply » Is It Time for Literary Magazines to Rethink the Slush? | WiseNotes May 23, 2015 […] via » Is It Time for Literary Magazines to Rethink the Slush?. […] Reply Jason Makansi May 25, 2015 Wonderful article, thank you! Discounting the monetary support, literary publications have the same problem as academic journals – they have come to exist almost exclusively for a closed community, those who need to publish and not perish (and to a lesser extent publishers and their agents seeking new talent). There was a time when “mainstream” readers read and delighted in high quality fiction. One recommendation I have is that literary publications, whether as paid position or interns, appoint a “reader ambassador” whose mission is to reacquaint, from the grassroots, actual readers with the joy (but also effort required) of great, high quality fiction, discover and nurture such souls, and pry open the community. Writers will feel much better that they are reaching actual readers, not just their own kind. Go where these readers can be illuminated, the classrooms, the libraries, the coffee houses, and the bookstores. Ten actual readers, with no agenda other than to enjoy great writing, beats one thousand writers seeking another notch on the belt. Yes, it’s an intensive rebuilding effort but otherwise the present system will continue to collapse in on itself. Reply Highlights: Writers' Resources, June 2015 | Colette Sartor June 4, 2015 […] his post “Is It Time for Literary Magazines to Rethink the Slush?” Lincoln Michel takes the debate about whether lit mags should charge a submission fee one step […] Reply Sixfold Lit Journal | Big City Sasquatch June 8, 2015 […] approach to the slush pile problem that has plagued us for years. On the whole, I recommend this brave expose of the problem by Electric Literature’s Lincoln Michel (@TheLincoln). It’s worth a […] Reply Aleyna June 22, 2015 I enjoyed this article and am glad someone started this conversation, but I think you only hit on part of the problem. As a college junior, I’m a bit new to the literary journal world, but I don’t particularly like what I’ve seen so far. I’m of the unpopular Flannery O’Connor opinion that the university doesn’t stifle enough writers. There are simply too many people publishing okay fiction (maybe hitting all the MFA-approved literary tropes, but not really changing anyone’s lives) in magazines that nobody really reads. People like to tout the sudden increase in independent literary journals as a renewed cultural interest in the short story, but I don’t think the hundreds of tiny journals have done the short story any favors. If anything, it’s turned a lot of writing into white noise. I’ve noticed many people in the comments remark that the only readers many small magazines get are people looking to submit, so I’ll say it–what’s the point? What’s the point in publishing in a journal whose barely-existent readership consists of people who, in all likelihood, probably don’t care about your story, but merely want to see if your aesthetic matches theirs so they can submit and have another publication credit to their name? What we have is an endless cycle of stories being sent out in the world only to wither and die an anonymous, lonely death. And if we’re being honest, most of them aren’t that great. They just aren’t. And believe me, I know, because I’ve been published a few times and I’m just an undergraduate. I know my writing isn’t great. It has potential–and I’ll even say (and I mean this without conceit) that it’s unusually good for college work–but I know most of it isn’t publication-worthy. So why do I continue to submit? Because I want to get an MFA, and MFA programs want to see publications on my resume. I feel a certain guilt when I send out my stuff: since I’m still in the more formative years of my writing, I know I’m not going to be published anywhere with an actual readership, so I submit to the little guys (okay, I’ll admit it: sometimes I submit to places like The North American Review and One Story just to see what happens [I’ve gotten a few surprisingly flattering rejections, which have made me substantially happier than my acceptances]), knowing full well that nobody is really going to read my story and pretending not to care. Right now, I’m only in it for the publication credits so that when I send my best work to, say, The Georgia Review, or when I send my application off to Iowa or Vanderbilt, they’ll know they’re dealing with a Published Writer. I’m very aware of how horrible that sounds, but I very seriously doubt that there aren’t other people out there who feel exactly the same way. So, my suggestion? Level the playing field. Cut out the magazines nobody reads. If you aren’t good enough for the big leagues, then maybe this field isn’t for you. Harsh words, maybe, but ask yourself this question: why do you write? Better yet, why do you publish? Is it so your work can languish on an unread page in a struggling literary journal? I’ve always wanted to be a writer because, dare I say it, I want my writing to change the world, because I want my voice to be heard. But with so many literary journals, you can’t hear anybody. Reply Luke June 22, 2015 Hi Aleyna, I like the way you write and your points ring true. It can feel like an echo chamber out there. Do you have any links to your work? Luke Reply Aleyna June 23, 2015 Thanks, Luke! I appreciate it. I just went back and read my comment and realized that it might come across as offensive–or worse, snobby–a tone I definitely didn’t intend to use. I would like to add that there are a handful of small lit mags that I genuinely enjoy and appreciate; it’s just easy to get disillusioned by the whole thing. Anyways, if you look up Black Fox Literary, I had a creative nonfiction piece in their 10th issue, which you can read online. Liam Sarsfield and Jessie Jones on lit submissions service Literisticthe Town Crier June 24, 2015 […] articles on publishing from around the web. One piece that caught my eye recently was this piece in Electric Literature called “Is it time for literary magazines to rethink the slush?” Submission fatigue is at least […] Reply White Privilege Gets You Published: A Fisk | The Catholic Geeks August 17, 2015 […] should tell men to submit less. Pitch less. Especially white men. You are already over-represented. Most literary magazines are drowning in submissions. Instead of making things even harder for overworked, underpaid editors, let’s improve the ratios […] Reply law degree August 29, 2015 I precisely needed to appreciate you again. I’m not certain the things I would’ve sorted out in the absence of the type of ways contributed by you directly on that problem. It was actually the challenging setting in my position, however , discovering your professional manner you treated it forced me to weep over delight. I am just happier for this guidance and even wish you know what a powerful job your are carrying out training many people by way of a web site. I am certain you haven’t got to know any of us. Reply Pixel Scroll 9/20 Scroll My Tears, The Would-Be Contributing Editor Said | File 770 September 20, 2015 […] Lincoln Michel in “Is It Time for Literary Magazines to Rethink the Slush” on Electric […] Reply Areteo October 6, 2015 I will not submit to anyone who feels my work has no value (without having even read it), therefore I will never submit to any market that tries to charge me to submit to them. It’s unethical, and if all other writers adopted the same stance, they would be forced to change their policies. My job as a writer is to write as well as I can, not to figure out a successful business model for someone else’s publication. Also, all of you who are so quick to dismiss a $3 charge as negligible must lead very privileged lives. Do we really want to limit our literature to a population of economic elites? Reply Kate Rusmiselle December 24, 2015 Since I have officially entered the submission phase I find myself thinking more about the “charge for submission” debate. I like another article’s suggestion to pay if it goes towards keeping the magazine afloat (For example, paying the edItors/readers). Personally, I think a submission charge should guarantee a copy of that issue. That way the magazine may gain a future subscriber (who probably isn’t reading enough anyway) and the writer has the chance to become familiar with what was chosen over them (therefore helping them avoid the slush pile next time) Boom. I love you, fellow writer friends, but unless my name is the byline I will not be paying for a copy of your work hehehe. *in Yoda voice* Selfish I am, money I have not. I’m not proud of it, but UNTIL I have money, I would feel much more comfortable paying for a single issue rather than take my chances on a subscription. Reply Round-Down: Rounding Up the Submission Fee Debate | The Ploughshares Blog December 29, 2015 […] Literature last May, Lincoln Michel covered both sides of the argument in his comprehensive “Is It Time for Literary Magazines to Rethink the Slush?“, offering an array of perspectives and opinions. Michel discusses the question with care […] Reply Why I’m Taking a Break from White Male Writers ¶ Alisha Ebling January 11, 2016 […] Gabbert’s advice was simple: keep writing, keep seeking publishing, but do it less. She writes, “Instead of making things even harder for overworked, underpaid editors, let’s improve the ratios in the submission pool by reducing the number of inappropriate, firebombed submissions from men. You – white men – have all the advantages here, so you should work to solve the problem of imbalance, instead of putting all the burden on women, POC, and LGBTQ to fix it themselves.” In this, Gabbert is referring to editors who claim the imbalances in publishing stems from the face that they receive far less submissions from women and POC than they do from white men. Some claim to have received submissions from white men who send another story immediately after being rejected. […] Reply Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.