Friday, May 24, 2013

Is Literature Succumbing to Greed?

Creative literature, like most everything in our society, is not free. It’s troubling, though, to watch more and more magazine publishers charge a fee to read individual works of poems or prose. It alarms me that poets in particular, who have no way to make money from their art, are now forced to pay from $1.00 to $5.00 to submit a few pages of their work. Most of the fee-based journals have academic ties, though sometimes even the smallest press expects payment. I fear that the trend is for these fees to become the rule rather than the exception.  As a long-time literary editor, I understand that presses must seek ways to fund their projects and operations. It’s not a profitable business, whether you are the publisher or the writer. In my opinion, however, there are boundaries we should not cross.

I must hasten to say that I have no problem with fees for contests. I also understand and support those presses that charge reasonable fees for reading a book submission, which takes considerable time and manpower to evaluate—not to mention the costs of publishing and marketing. But should they charge a poor poet five bucks to submit a few poems for an issue of their magazine? That sounds like good old greed to me.

In the case of some magazines, "established” ones in particular, I believe there is a bit of snobbishness and exclusion at work. It’s like they are saying "we are the elite; only those serious enough to pay need apply.” On the more benevolent side, perhaps, it’s also an attempt to curb the avalanche of submissions that some of these magazines receive. However, there are better ways to accomplish that task. For one, just close your doors to submissions for as long as necessary. I also worry about another motive: Charge a fee, get some funds, and reject the unknown poets who you’ve already decided have no chance in hell of getting into your publication. That smacks of con game to me.

To be fair, some fees are in place because the journals use online submission systems such as Submittable. These systems charge the journals a monthly fee for their services. However, the cost is comparatively low and in most cases does not justify the reading fees charged for submissions.

If fees become the norm for individual poems and short prose, I fear literature will become more divided and ultimately impoverished. In our society the gap between rich and poor is widening. So too in literature, publishing opportunities may be limited by the gap between elitist publications and the rest of us. Many of us poor poets and writers won’t be able to buy our way into those magazines, and those magazines will never have the opportunity to discover fresh new writing. I wonder, however, if they care. The literary world has always been a fraternity, but it is disturbing that it seems to be moving toward becoming a completely closed society.

4 comments:

Bob Grove said...

Amen, Robert! I have taken the position of ignoring publishers who profiteer by charging a reading fee, and submitting to the more ethical publishers who are willing to look at good works without charging. It doesn't take more than a couple of minutes for a prospective publisher to know if a submission is what he or she is looking For.

Maren O. Mitchell said...

Robert, I too am turned off by the greed of a reading fee. Recently I did submit to a journal that required pay. One poem was "an almost," hinting at a rewrite, which would have cost another fee. I sent the poem somewhere else.

Susan Gabriel said...

If they charge $2 or $3, I figure it covers the cost of postage. A few also have an open submission month, where writers can submit for free. I try to take advantage of those.

I think its the contests that are really taking advantage of the inexperienced and naïve writer. But it seems to be how the "world," including the writing world, is set up. I would guess 99% of those paying $15 or $20 to submit, don't have even a remote chance. That seems unethical to me.

Susan Gabriel
author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (starred review by Kirkus Reviews and voted a Best Book of 2012)

Glenda Beall said...

It seems that it is hard to find a place where you don't have to send a reading fee these days. I just don't submit to those places, especially if it is more than five dollars. I am beginning to think I can't afford to be a writer, even as a hobby, anymore.
Susan, I love your website. I visited tonight.