Friday, November 20, 2015

The New Pay-to-Play Literary Modality

image by Skeeze courtesy Pixabey
Joy Lanzendorfer, in The Atlantic, articulates some of the reasons I'm so disquieted by literary journals that charge reading fees to look at submissions-- "a practice that’s bad for the writing community at every level," as she says.

"While most journals are still free, every few months, a new journal seems to announce that it’s going to start charging writers to submit their work—a trend that’s slowly threatening the inclusivity of literature when it comes to new, diverse voices.

"...To make matters worse, being poor is already the norm for writers. A recent industry survey showed that more than half of writers earn less than the federal poverty level of $11,670 a year from their work. I know what this feels like. There was a time when I made two cents per word as a writer and worked part-time as a waiter to pay the bills. I lived in a bad part of town, slept on a blow-up bed, ate on a card table, and owned a 1978 TV with a broken channel changer that I had to turn with a pair of pliers. When that was my life, these fees would have added up so quickly that I couldn’t have afforded to write fiction at all."


Diane said...

This isn't exactly a "new pay to play" model. The model has been there for decades in the "contest" model, where writers have been paying to submit a poem, a story, an essay or a full-length book, thus funding the winner's prize and/or publication. The model has now moved into new territory, peopled largely by people who have money to pursue writing as a hobby.

FJBergmann said...

I, for one, don't submit to publishers that charge submissions or reading fees, no matter how prestigious. But it is sad to see this guy say that he "couldn't have afforded to write." Fees discourage submissions--but this practice should have no control over the actual writing. Writers should make a practice of boycotting--and encouraging others to boycott--venues that charge reading or submissions fees.

Contests, though, are a whole 'nother game in terms of potential reward--as long as they are real contests. If the entry fee is more than 2% of the prize money, I don't submit. I have won a lot of writing contests; I've come out slightly ahead financially; and the added cachet of a contest win is valuable.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau