Sunday, August 29, 2010

On The New England Review's and Ploughshares' New Creepy Practice of Charging Fees for On-Line Submissions

It seems that a possible new trend within the world of literary magazine is the charging of on-line submissions. Two magazines, New England Review and Ploughshares, have begun this practice, and with their huge reputations could impact other magazines to do the same. It should be said that if you are subscriber, you don’t have to pay. If you send by snail mail, you don’t need to pay. For Ploughshares, it costs three dollars. I can't find out how much it costs over at the New England Review.

Ploughshares claims they are charging the fee to be able to continue to give money to the authors of accepted poems. In other words: the people who don't get the pub need to pay for those who do. As they say on their website: "This fee will help us to continue to pay our contributors." This is shocking from a magazine that I respect and claims to be interested in social change.

Of course, the most significant argument in defending this practice is that the magazine could face definite extinction if it doesn’t find ways to increase revenue. It is an important fact. It would be a sad fate.

However, then the magazines have an ethical responsibility; they must ensure that at least 40 % (or more) of their contents include work by unpublished or emerging writers. I am defining emerging as a writer who has publications, but no book. If a magazine can’t at least meet that percentage, then they are engaging in unethical practices. Their chances of getting published should be reflected in what the charge for submissions is.

I am suspect of any magazine that does not include 40 % unpublished or emerging writers. If they are uninterested in supporting unpublished and/or emerging writers, they should not ask for submissions fees. Take Five Points. They only publish established writers. And usually their worst pieces! Which does provide for great entertainment. I hope they keep it up.

A popular train of thought is that magazines can do whatever they want. It’s their magazine after all. For me, this is such a cop-out. Magazine editors have a responsibility to hold themselves responsible for the way they treat potential writers, especially when claim they’re interested in submissions.

Some people say that it’s a “tiny” fee. I don’t know how much the New England Review's is. Ploughshares is three bucks. It may be a tiny fee if you have a tenure-track job. But when you are a graduate student or working-class, chances are it isn’t—three bucks add up really fast. You send to six different magazines with submission fees, and there’s eighteen dollars.

Let’s face it: graduate students make up most of the submissions. And most of them are struggling financially as it is. To take money out of their pocket, when they’re struggling means that you don’t have a conscience. The editors of these magazines themselves should be decrying the situation. They should encourage their publishers to go on-line, perhaps. It’s not the end of the world. But taking money from hard working students is. With the current depression, it is inexcusable.

Needless to say, these same graduate students are not in a position to argue—their future livelihood may depend on these reputable magazines. Who isn’t going to want to have a poem in the pages of the New England Review or Ploughshares? I’ve been sending to these places on-and-of for a decade or more. In the past month, I bought a gift subscription of Ploughshares for a friend. When I first came to Brockport for my tenure-track job, I immediately purchased subscriptions to Kenyon Review and the New England Review.

The literary community is small. Trust me. I’ve paid the price for opening my mouth on a blog I’m always surprised anyone would even glance at. People don’t like people who have opinions. And some editors would say in advance that, hey, they do so much work for nothing, keep them out of this. No one should be excused from the discussion. And also, it’s so prestigious to be an editor of a lit magazine. I would love if someone included me. I like finding new poets, new poems. But I don’t expect them to pay for our newly formed friendship.

Addendum: Since I posted this, I thought perhaps a submissions manager could be created in such a way that working class people and graduate students could identify themselves privately and be exempt from paying the fee. All others could pay perhaps even a slightly higher fee if this is a system that will come into play. I know I'd be willing to do that. I'm indebted to the literary magazines for my salary and health insurance and do my best, not all the times successfully, to purchase as many small press books and magazines as possible.

25 comments:

  1. Down the street from me there's a building that says, "$500 moves you in!" The other night some professor-friends took us to their favorite wine bar. It was down the street from a development that said, "$5,000 moves you in!"

    I really feel like literary writing has, in the past few years, started migrating to a fancier neighborhood. You might say, "Oh, the beers at the wine bar are only $2.50 more than at the bars in your neighborhood," but those $6 beers start to add up very quickly. I can't afford it.

    Which quickly turns into "I can't afford to be the artist that I was born to be, to share the work that is the only thing that means anything to me." Well that dog don't hunt. So what do we do? The only thing left is to keep writing and to self-promote.

    The pay-to-play journals are going to keep getting work from people who can afford to pay and from established writers who they solicit (so never even find out that some people DO pay), and the rest of us have to build our own kingdom. Anyone who wants to know what the real artists on the street, the youngers, the up-and-comers, are doing, knows where NOT to look... and that's a start.

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  2. Doesn't $3 just about equal the postage to mail, or half the cost of total postage if you include an SASE?

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  3. C. Dale Young posted on his blog Friday that NER poetry submissions are $2. There you'll also see he's not crazy about it, but better to keep the magazine open than not.

    Your figures ignore the fact that Ploughshares and NER are still accepting "free" hard-copy submissions from the penniless. It's not $18 for six magazines, though it might be close to that for fiction writers after toner/ink, paper, envelopes, and postage.

    Declaring that the efforts of these magazines to stay afloat, and the solutions they've chosen to maintain the status they've long held (and you have long enjoyed, celebrated, and freely submitted to over the last decade) are "unethical" is incredibly short-sighted.

    Worse, you offer almost no alternative to your castigation other than to "go online," which I'm willing to bet was kicked around these magazines’ respective offices, even if that is a startling and original idea (and already known to both magazines, as both offer free content on their websites, despite the cost of hosting, web design, management, etc.).

    I don't understand directing any disappointment with the situation at the editors, especially those with university-affiliated magazines. If you want students and the new-to-publishing to have the same relationship with these magazines that you do, this is the cost for the foreseeable future.

    To demonize these editors, and call them irresponsible, when their budgetary hands are tied by people much higher than them in the University system, (especially with this depression!), is just as inexcusable.

    If you want to pick a fight, pick one with those who actually make those decisions instead of those who have had their actions dictated to them by someone with a red pen and a guillotine.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. I went ahead and posted a reply on my blog so as not to take up your space. Thanks.

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  6. Dear Steve,
    For me, it costs $1.20 in postage to send out a print sub, not including printer, ink, and paper costs. So $2.00 isn't a crazy amount, to me.
    I'd also like to say something, as someone who has been volunteering with various literary magazines for over ten years to help them try to raise money, you know, the business side. Most magazines cost a lot to print. Most magazines (outside of universities) have all-volunteer staff. So what is a business model that works? My preference would be to do a combo of ads for appropriate businesses (coffee shops, bookstores, music?) and to sell a lot of subscriptions. Most lit mags have extremely low circulations - I mean, Rattle, at around 5000, is an exception, not the rule. I know one mag I volunteered at sold about 800 through bookstores and subscriptions, but they printed a lot more than that - a losing proposition. The economics of printing and postage (again, without a university or wealthy patron) for most magazines are tricky. But I'd like to hear from you and others what could be done to help these lit mags stay afloat. Most grad students just won't pay money for the magazines they want to publish in (I know mine are loathe to part with any $$ for poetry, regardless of how well-off they are - it's a universal trait.)

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  7. Five Points does sometimes publish emerging writers. For instance, they published Austin Segrest, a young poet without a book.

    Anyway, I've never gotten the hang of those online submission managers, so I'd just as soon keep submitting by snail mail for free.

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  8. If people really could not tolerate people with strong opinions, you'd be dead, Stevie F. we love you and I am glad you take a stand. Too many do not. I thought of you this morning when I spoke my mind on a blog about Levis.

    Hey, damn, we need to catch up! I have to call you. I am currently in Last Minute Class Planning Hell. What else is new?

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  9. Austin Seagrest received his MFA from Georgia State, where the mag. is published and where Bottoms teaches. I'm not sure if he counts.

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  10. I'm no a fan of the idea of spending money to submit electronically -- as I said on C. Dale's blog back when he was taking the poll -- but I'd rather spend $2 on a submission to a good journal than $25 in the contest lottery -- which I will never enter again. I don't find it "creepy" at all, but just further proof that literary journals are in trouble as more and more writers pursue self-publishing and online mags.

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  11. Steve, I really liked reading this blog. It makes for a good op-ed piece. I entirely agree that editors have a responsibility to those who submit work and should not exploit them, especially if a considerable bulk of the issue will be featuring solicited work. We diverge on one point: I don't think ANYONE should have to pay a submission fee to any publication as a "reading fee." And to the anonymous person above who said three bucks is pretty much what it costs to send work via post, I would say that is irrelevant. To send work via post, you are paying for a service to deliver your mail in a safe and timely fashion. To charge three bucks for an online submission fee, according to this logic, would be contribtuing money to the magazine's server bill.

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  12. Collin's cause and effect is skewed. Established literary journals are not in trouble "as" or because writers who cannot/do not publish in them pursue self-publishing and online venues. Writers pursue these secondary venues because they are relegated to them, and, many times, look for easier ways to publish, which speaks more to the quality of work than the system they feel disenfranchised from. It should be hard damn work to find publication, but writers have created a system to meet their needs for instant gratification and self-justification. The economy and university and arts funding are effecting journals.

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  13. There are many fine journals online that are just as good or better than their print counterparts and are difficult to get into. Relegating them to "secondary" status is just another example of a poet sticking his head in the sand and falling back on the business as usual of po'biz. Print journals are in trouble because no one is subscribing to them and since most have a university connection are seeing budgets cut. Pretty soon, anonymous, those "secondary venues" you disdain might be the only place you can get a poem published.

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  14. Writers _are_ relegated to these online venues and self-publishing. Writers send to these places after they have tried their hand at "first-tier" journals. And, no, these online venues are not "difficult" to get into--5%-10% vs .1-.5%. I can only think of maybe a dozen online places that have any ethos--only five or so that have sound ethos--and established writers send to these few online places after they have tried Poetry, Paris Review, Kenyon, Ploughshares, Field, APR, Gettysburg, Southern, VQR, etc, and then tried another couple of dozen venues. Don't kid yourself. And subscriptions have nothing to do with the funding of almost all established lit. journals. And, no, the medium is not problem. I will not be publishing in a "secondary" venue if APR moves to online-only issues. The secondary venues are the ones popping up to meet the needs of those who cannot publish in established journals with high submission numbers by established writers, just as self-publishing has become a trend with those who cannot find a publisher and for whom the ethos of their publishing house has no impact on their livelihoods.

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  15. And where have you been published, Anonymous? The elitism that drips from your comment must mean you've been published in every "important" journal in the land. This kind of snobbery is what keeps poetry on the back shelf, but maybe you prefer it that way?

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  16. I don't think Steve was demonizing the editors. I read this post as voicing concern about a *practice* not a person. Those who have voiced similar opinions to Steve's are being demonized though. Ask them.

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  17. OK, I understand now--you are one of those who is relegated to mostly online journals and self-publishing to justify your authorship because as hard as you tried you couldn't publish in established journals. Maybe you should work on your craft instead of blaming these "elitist" journals and editors. Well, you hold the line for "The Dog Dick Review" and "Ironic Mustache" while established journals keep poetry on the "back shelf." pathetic fool.

    Again, in your blog, you mention "falling subscriptions." This has nothing to do with the state of almost all established print journals. Inform yourself before you write, dolt. And, no, an online APR would not be second rate, just as I stated. Medium has absolutely no play in the argument. It is ethos.

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  18. You understand? Really? You could at least do a little research on me. Since I'm a shameless self-promoter, it's quite easy to see that I've been published in some very good print journals as well as online. As I said, I'm not a snob. I'm trying to share my work, not rack up credits for my acknowledgment page in my next collection. You and Eduardo Corral should start a club.

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  19. I have seen your credits, hence the greater understanding. I said "mostly." And I would imagine, based on your other standards of assessment that you _would_ think that the journals you publish in are "very good." Keep thinking that. You need to think that.

    By the way, didn't you comment on your blog that you had published all/almost all of the poems in your new manuscript, and now it is time to think about publishing it? Hmmm.

    We are in a club. Thank you.

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  20. it's eduardo c. corral, mr. kelley. thank you very much.

    anonymous, it's pointless to argue with poets like mr. kelley. they're bitter and mad at those poets who can publish in major journals and who can win contests. they call us snobs for working on our craft, for placing our poems in journals that reject them. instead of practicing a bit of self-reflection (tightening poems, reading more, etc) these poets invent straw men (snobs here! snobs there!) who don't understand their work, who keep poetry on the back shelf, who are only interested in publishing their mfa buddies. it's the US vs THEM mindset, which is poisonous and damages the art.

    now, anonymous, let's do the secret handshake!

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  21. Handshake accepted and returned, Mr. Corral.

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  22. Thanks for addressing this issue. I no longer submit anywhere that accepts only snail mail submissions (more difficult/time-consuming/expensive for everyone and hard on trees, not to mention indicative of a certain paleolithic worldview), to so-called "contests" that con those who can hardly afford it, and now I will add greedy self-interested outlets who charge to submit. It's a shame that some who have the most reason to support poets choose instead to find new ways to prey upon them.

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  23. Where to start? This is not the same as paying for postage. That simply assures your work is delivered in a safe and timely manner. This is paying to have your work read. It's pay for play.

    Put that aside. Doesn't this put pressure on editors to put more weight into subscribers' submissions, in order to keep them as subscribers? As an editor, that's not how I'd want to make my decisions, even in part.

    The one good thing this will do, if it becomes widespread with major journals (and it will), is force writers to think about WHY they're submitting to X, Y, or Z. Is it because you really love the work they publish or simply because it's a well-known platform?

    It also speaks to a larger issue at universities and institutes of higher learning. They're asking: what good is this literary journal for? If they make their decision based purely on economics, what does that say about the institution?

    Every big name journal was once small. And, hard as it is to believe, some very good writers consciously and conscientiously choose not to publish in certain larger journals if they don't see them as arbiters and promoters of the new and exciting.

    "For nature, who abhors mannerism, has set her heart on breaking up all styles and tricks, and it is so much easier to do what one has done before, than to do a new thing, that there is a perpetual tendency to a set mode."

    Just because something appears in PLOUGHSHARES or NEW ENGLAND REVIEW doesn't make it instantly good. Whitman, Proust, Pound, Stein, Twain, Paine, Woolf, Thoreau, Joyce, Ammons, Merrill, and many more famous authors self-published their work.

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  24. If the submission fees make people think harder about submitting every thing they write, then I welcome them. And if you can't afford to submit to these magazines, there are still a lot that don't charge anything. There are more and more "writers" every year and more and more "Journals" every year as well. We need more pressure on placed on people so that they consider why they are writing. If it's too expensive for them, they don't want it bad enough. As a MFA grad and now a PhD lit student, I still figure it out. Work harder. Get a job at McDonalds to pay for your submission fees if you want it bad enough. Or go get a job in science or math or something that is less subjective. We need more scientists and engineers. We don't need more writers.

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