reading fees

4 posts

The Hazards in Speed Back or Feedback for Dollars


Submitting your work for publication? You and a few million others, it seems, and with increased submissions comes increased response times comes new ways to separate a writer from his or her money.

Let’s start with the ironies of time. We all know how tempus has a habit of fugiting, especially when it comes to that person in the mirror you see every day. You know the drill: a few gray hairs here, a few wrinkles there.

Wouldn’t it be nice to slow time down for yourself? Hey, I’ve got an idea! How about redefining your body as a poetry submission? Voilà! The process of aging slows to a turtle’s crawl.

Business being business and mankind being mankind, there are always ways to cut the long line when submitting your work. But it’s going to cost you, of course. Like everything else in our times: Be prepared to pony up some money (or, in some journals’ cases, more money).

Which leads us to the world of “expedited responses” where your disappointment arrives much quicker and your wallet grows much lighter. My advice? Unless you’re 99% sure of acceptance (and who is?), don’t do it.

Like the reading fee, the expedited response temptation is a drain best defined by tracking it. Trouble is, most writers don’t. It’s similar to coffee drinkers who stop to buy a cup of java on the way to work each morning. Considering these drinks can cost $3-$5 (especially the iced variety with sweeteners), most people wisely leave their purchases untracked. Imagine that “little” cost multiplied by working days per year! Nice money if you can get it! (And to think, you actually had it, but at least you can argue you got some satisfaction from it.)

The other pocket hole to watch for is the feedback fee. Though I’m guilty of a few “expedited dice rolls” (all turning up “snake eyes”), I’ve never done the feedback option. In this scenario, a journal offers a critique on your work for a reasonable (in itself) but sizable (when multiplied by the habit it feeds) fee.

The problem here? There’s no telling who is offering the feedback and what his or her credentials are. Sure, if it’s a name-brand poet doing the reading and feeding, I might pay for my church supper and take a seat. But the responses are mostly from folks like us… people who like poetry, read poetry, have opinions in poetry. Sometimes an intern. Sometimes a reader. Or even an editor (which you or I could call ourselves if we decided to throw up an online zine tomorrow and open a Submittable account).

When it comes to feedback, then, mileage may vary, quality-wise. For the offering journal, however, mileage will surely accrue. It’s Finance 101 come to the Arts. In a numbers game (even one based on words), both speed and opinions translate into dollars made and dollars lost.

As for the market for such practices, it’s primed and ready due to the flock’s size. After waiting from 6 to 12 months for responses and receiving boilerplate rejection notices that give no clue as to any of the thousand reasons “why” work is rejected, writers with a little cash (or plastic) are remarkably vulnerable.

Proceed with caution, then. And repeat this pithy aphorism after me: “Unless there’s an extenuating circumstance guaranteeing more than free disappointment, patience is a virtue (not to mention a savings strategy).”


Ben Franklin trying not to be Poor Richard

What Submittable Has Done To Us

A most interesting article appears in the Nov./Dec. issue of Poets & Writers. It’s called (and pay attention to the subtitle!) “Diving Into the Digital Slush Pile: How Online Submissions Are Changing Lit Mags (And Your Chances of Publication).”

Let’s take a time out before we dive in, shall we? Any writer submitting to lit mags already knows that this isn’t Kansas anymore. For one, most every writer north of Honduras knows that Submittable is addictive for both editors and writers. And if you live south of Saskatchewan, you’ve probably figured out that this thing called “a reading fee” is making itself comfortable like a guest staying past three days.

But what does it all mean? Two things, it appears. One, Submittable is hurting writers’ bottom line while helping magazines’. And two, the easier it gets for everyone (and their sister) to submit, the harder it gets to land an acceptance. In other words, change is not always a good thing.

Still, as the article attests, when you factor in all the costs of snail mail (postage, materials, and that vanishing commodity called time), reading fees might be a deal. Why, then, a dozen submissions later, does one feel like George Washington after his doctor has bled him (again)?

Holdout magazines like Alaska Quarterly Magazine and Antioch Review (editors of both interviewed here) are feeling the heat, too. AQR‘s Ronald Spatz admits that he might be missing cutting-edge  (read: “young, up-and-coming”) writers by sticking with snail mail. So he did an experiment. He played Submittable’s game for a month in Sept. of 2017.

What happened? “In that time [Spatz] expected to receive three hundred to four hundred manuscripts over the digital transom. Instead he received 1,190—on top of the paper submissions that were still arriving via postal mail.”

This is where holy meets Toledo, folks.

The whole experiment might have led Spatz to change AQR‘s policy for good and go all-in for digital, but he resisted for a wonderful reason: “He believes it’s unethical to invite the deluge of manuscripts he would get online until he has enough staff to read all of them in a timely manner.”

Which can only mean that some lit mags are soldiering on under impossible conditions: too many manuscripts, too few readers, too long a response time. Why would they do such a thing? In the language of that plutocracy we call “U.S.A.”: m-o-n-e-y.

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].'”

Meanwhile, John Fogarty, editor of the Antioch Review, has other solutions to the never-rest Everest Submittable creates.  He’s considering a policy of directly soliciting work from a small group of established writers Antioch has already worked with. “The volume is so large that it is almost impossible to manage at this point,” he says.

If you as a writer think the penny ante-financial drain of regular submission fees is rough, consider the fees charged for increasingly-popular contests. $25, $30, $35. While these might not be salad days for lit mags, there is a discernible uptick in their bottom lines, as they can now use writers’ money to pay off judges and readers of the hopeful writers’ wares.

The conclusion seems to be clear: In its innocent way, Submittable might be hurting your chances of publication. After all, convenience equals congestion equals competition at previously unprecedented levels.

Solutions? You can continue to patronize those magazines that shun reading fees, for one. Or, as the article suggests, you can take a chill pill. Read the magazines you submit to first. Narrow down the periodicals you’d like to be a part of and submit to them and them alone. Stop carpet-bombing!

What’s more, the article wonders, what’s this rush to publication all about anyway? Many writers are rushing works to markets before they’re even ready, just adding to the problem. Wait! Get feedback from fellow writers! Let it cook for a year! Then submit to a small group of magazines—ones you personally love.

If that sounds an awful lot like self-discipline, something people are not very good at, you’re right. Still, it’s advice worth trying. We are in a brave new world here, one where more and more writers are paying more and more money for someone to tell them their writing sucks.

Or, in some cases, one where more and more writers are paying for some front-line intern to skim and reject their work because, well, said intern has such a mountainous pile to scale that he or she is not going to bother giving every single piece a fair reading. Rather, it’s check the box. Caught up. Done. Next?

If that sounds unfair, you need only be reminded that digital life, like life itself, is unfair. As for literary magazines, they want to be fair and they’re doing their best, but injustices will happen. It’s all collateral damage, after all. At a $1.86-a-pop profit, Submittable’s way is here to stay, and everyone has to adjust appropriately.

My Rejection Note, Their Marketing Tool


Writers attract rejection via the inbox like electricity draws dust via static cling. It’s just part of the game. Sometimes, though, Emperor Nero publications add thumbs-down insult to injury, salt to wound, in- to dignity, when they use rejections as marketing opportunities. You know. Something like this:

Dear Writer:

Thanks for submitting your work to Poems R Us, where the acceptance rate is 1.487 %. After careful (of a sort..) consideration, we have decided that your poems are not the right fit for us — a size 13 extra-wide trying to wedge into a size 8 narrow, to be exact — but wish you the best of luck in finding this a home elsewhere (read: a publication nowhere near as prestigious and cutting-edge as ours).

If you haven’t already, you might consider giving Poems R Us‘s current issue a look HERE. Our archives of great poetry written by great poets can be found HERE. Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter HERE and HERE. Share the link to our website with your friends, virtual, real,  and make-believe. Remember, we are home to the very best poetry appearing both in print and on the Internet.


Peter L’Editor
Poems R Us (But Not U)

Later, you begin to receive e-mails at the rate of two a week from this same periodical trumpeting this issue, that contest, these “insider” writers. Eventually, due to excessive swelling of the inbox, you’re forced to click UNSUBSCRIBE and wonder if invitations to submit are more likely invitations to add to mailing lists, to reading-fee coffers, and to overall data fodder.

That said, you must remain an optimist of the first order. Looking at the bright side — it’s nice to feel wanted, even if it’s you and not your work. And it kind of makes you feel like part of the greater poetry community, no? Kind of.

Ah, well. In the words of the prophet: Keep believing, keep writing, and keep trusting that more doors will open if you do.

Submittable, Reading Fees, Coffee, Et Cetera


If you traffic in poetry, by now you’ve registered with Submittable, the Portal of Hope. It used to be called “Submishmash,” I think, but that unfortunate name was retired by a blender. So the more common-sensical Submittable it is.

For those of us who need order in our disorderly lives, Submittable is a blessing. Of sorts. The good news? It keeps track of what poems went where when, because Odin knows I couldn’t, and my paper system is, to be kind, quixotic.

The bad news, you ask? Not all markets play ball with Submittable. Some stubborn sorts still demand their acronyms: USPS, SASE, P.S.: No email.

Yeah. Those “Last-of-the-Mohican” sorts.

And some take submissions strictly via email. You have the attached tribe and the body-of-the-email tribe.

Others still have their own little Submittable system. Try coming up with a password for each one. And tracking it with your paper system. You will soon become a disciple of the “Forgot Password?” deities.

The increasingly big deal now is reading fees. It’s spreading like kudzu, like peanut butter, like room-temperature butter on sourdough toast. I used to be 100% opposed to reading fees and refuse to submit to any “Evil Empire” that used them to gouge starving (for publication) writers. Now, I’m 90% opposed. For one, the money sometimes goes to paying writers. For their work. Can you imagine? And for another, there’s something to the argument that you used to always spend money anyway–both for the mailing and for the return SASE–so why are you griping now? (Hey, Zeus, but I hate logic in all its majesty.)

Bottom line: Sometimes I pay journals to reject my work (nice business–for them–if you can get it!), but for the most part, I still avoid these fee-fi-fo-fum sorts.

On Submittable, everybody’s favorite is the “Status” column. When you send it in, the light goes on saying “Received.” Good to know. In the old system, the occasional submission wound up behind some credenza at the Topeka Post Office and no status column in hell would tell you as much.

“Received” is a noncommittal blue font. Then there’s the dreaded “In-Progress” in purple. This torture device makes writers believe that there work is now (this very minute) the subject of extended editorial board (as opposed to “bored”) meetings. “Which of these five poems do we want? There’s something to be said for all of them. Now let’s take turns saying those ‘something to be saids.'” That sort of thing. Every day. Marathon sessions, all meaning your work is getting the old, Shakespeare line-by-line scrutiny and is someday destined for the SparkNotes treatment.

Then again, sometimes “In-Progress” is simply “Received” in sheep’s clothing. Meaning: The status could remain “In-Progress” for a full three trimesters, for all you know. A pregnant pause, so to speak.

“Prolonging,” meet “the agony.”

Finally, there are the stop-light status markers. The dreaded red “Declined” and the rare but relished “Accepted” (green relish, to be specific). If I could muster enough “Accepteds” it would give my status column a festive, Christmas look, but it has, over the years, taken on more of a Rudolph glow.

Admittedly, things are looking up of late. I have been making like St. Patrick, wearing more of the green (as long as we’re not talking money, I mean). Perhaps it is the cover letters with notice of other “Accepteds.” Editors are herd (not seen) animals. There’s nothing they like better than the comfort of other editors when it comes to saying, “Yes, this guy is new and good and we’re willing to say I was one of the first to discover him….”

But wait. I’m waxing delusional again (and wishing there was a status marker called “Dreaming”). When I should be writing poetry. To feed to Submittable, the Portal of Hope.

But first, another black coffee. HOT. (You actually have to say that when ordering a cup these days–another sign of the approaching Apocalypse!)