Growing Reading Fees Cause for Concern

costs

Submittable has a filter called “No Fee” but, for whatever reason, using it does not totally eliminate journals levying fees. And lately, there has been increasing cause for worry on the reading-fee front.

It used to be fairly standard that reading fees would be either $2 or, more typically, $3. I wrote about this in greater depth in a 2018 blog entry based on a Poets & Writers article. This piece detailed the profits a poetry journal stood to make at such rates.

Before I go on, let’s review a key paragraph from that entry. It uses an interview with Alaska Quarterly Review editor Ronald Spatz to help illustrate where the money goes:

Submittable charges magazines an annual subscription fee, then takes a cut of the proceeds when writers pony up for a hearing. Let’s stick with the AQR example: “Those administrative fees can add up to a small but attractive revenue stream for perennially cash-strapped literary magazines. At AQR, Spatz paid $757 for the journal’s annual Submittable subscription and retained $1.86 of each $3 payment from writers using the system, with the remainder going back to Submittable.  With 1,190 submissions, the revenue from fees more than paid for the journal’s Submittable subscription in just the one month submissions were open. Had AQR kept the online portal open for a full year, Spatz says, ‘we would be getting lots of revenue, which we need, but the thing is, that would be unethical [because the journal doesn’t have the staff to handle the added submissions].’”

(If you’re interested, here’s a link to the entire blog entry.)

Yesterday I experimented on Submittable by eliminating the “No Fee” filter entirely to see what kind of numbers would pop up and how much they had changed since 2018. Turns out, they’ve changed quite a bit.

It seems that the standard $2 to $3 rate is becoming less standard. In many cases, poets will now see rates of $4, $5, and even more. There are also nickel-and-dime variations such as $4.20, $4.50, and $4.97 (all together now: “Huh?”).

This is a worrisome development, considering that journals make over 50% profit on each fee Submittable collects from a writer. Note in the excerpt I provided above how Alaska Quarterly Review editor Ronald Spatz admits that opening their one-month submission window from a single month to an entire year “would be getting lots of revenue,” which AQR (and every literary journal) needs, but that it would also be “unethical” because the journal’s resources would not be capable of handling the flood of submissions they would receive.

What I saw yesterday in my unfiltered markets search was concerning in multiple ways. For one, what if a particular journal is not quite as ethical as most because the money flow is too sweet to pass up? I mean, rejecting submissions is just too easy. Are there safeguards against this?

And what of these new developments that prey on eager writers who often endure six months to a year of waiting for responses, making them particularly vulnerable? Now we’re seeing journals that are offer “quick responses” within a week, a few days, or even 24 hours. This, of course, for a higher fee.

For instance, I saw one asking for $10 in exchange for a response within a week. Again, this is all too easy to do with a boilerplate rejection note and jumps the journal’s profits (not to mention Submittable’s) handsomely.

Also on the uptick is pay-for-feedback. Prices for feedback go even higher, but there are no guarantees on either the amount of feedback or the quality of the feedback. And again, if the journal’s resources are sorely tested by the transom (and most are), wouldn’t it follow logically that the feedback, in many cases, would be brief, generic, and/or of a cut-and-paste variety, given that similar critiques can often be used for many poets?

It would, I think, which is why I advise writers to be more wary than ever about the mounting costs of their impatience. Stick with reputable fee-based journals that you trust or, better yet, avoid fee-based markets altogether.

Why? Because the quantitative costs of entry fees, contest fees, rapid-response fees, and feedback fees can lead wannabe writers (especially newer writers still heavy on the “wannabe” part) to financial ruin. In a hurry. And that’s just not right, even in these times when “right” is decidedly out of fashion.

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