Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Paying to Be Read

So, it's the beginning of submission season.

For those of you who aren't writers or otherwise don't submit stories to literary journals, submission season begins on September first and usually ends in April. That's because literary journals are run by schools, and the slush piles are read by students and students aren't around during the summer.

Of course, domination season overlaps with submission season, starting and ending a few weeks later. It's just for the journals.

Something new that I noticed about 2 years ago: a lot of journals caught up with genre markets and began to accept electronic submissions. In fact, they surpassed the journals in that they signed up with submishmash or hosted this standardized program that makes submitting even easier than by email.

Then last submission season, I noticed that a significant number of literary journals were charging a $2 or $3 fee for the privilege of electronic submission. Now, they still accept paper submissions without a fee. At first, they said it was to cover costs. Some still say that, but others tell the truth.

It's to prevent people from submitting.

And the thing is, I understand. These publications come out 2 to 4 times a year. Each issue contains between 2 and 4 pieces of fiction. So they publish between 4 and 16 stories a year. And most of those don't come out of the slush. You've got the big name writers trying to place half their collection stories before publishing the collection. You've got solicited stories. Finally, you've got the friends of the faculty advisers/editors who can offer compensatory slots at the journals they run. The rest comes out of the slush.

I remember last September, planning which markets to send which stories. I remember going to those websites and at a ton of them seeing Aimee Bender in the previous season's issue. I don't know if they were selections from her novel which came out this year or stories released to build some hype or what. I don't like Aimee Bender's writing. But it made me really wonder how likely it was for me to get the other fiction spot. When Jim Shepard releases a new collection, he gets a slot at six or so journals that season. It's not a question of "if" but "which."

The number of people writing fiction exploded with the widespread adoption of the home computer. People who might not have gone to the trouble to revise a bunch of times on a typewriter were encouraged by the ease of using a computer. The number of people submitting fiction exploded with the advent of electronic submissions. People who might have been put off by the pain in the ass and cost of printing, stuffing, labeling and mailing manuscripts had that barrier removed.

So the number of people submitting for that handful of slots has increased dramatically, while the number of slots has remained the same. I understand why they don't want people to submit. And like I said, in researching for this season's submissions, I saw that a number of journals were finally admitting it.

I'm still not going to pay it, though. Not yet, at least.

The places that charge for electronic submission, they still allow for free snailmail (teehee) submission, so that's what I did last September. It costs a bit less, but really I submitted that way out of spite.

This season, I'm going a step farther. I'm looking at the stats, and seeing that out of thousands and thousands of submissions, the market has accepted 0.00%, meaning that no user has ever been accepted, and I love my stories, but it's a waste of time and money and pride to mail them physical manuscripts, and just money and pride to pay to submit electronically.

So this year, I'm only submitting to places that accept electronic submissions with no reading fee. Now one of two things is going to happen at these places: they are going to get really awesome or they are going to start requiring e-submission fees. Why?

Because doesn't include the pay-to-submit markets in their search when you specify "electronic submission only." So The Missouri Review will come up if you don't specify, because they don't charge for paper submissions, but they don't come up when you search electronic only because they charge $3. Duotrope, like everyone else until very recently, feels that there's something wrong with having to pay for the opportunity to let these people take your story.

But that means that the rest of the markets are going to get flooded. They're going to get the choicest unsolicited manuscripts, but will the volume be too much? If so, in the literary journal world, paying to submit electronically may become the standard. They'll make some money, but none of this is supposed to be about the money.

No, I didn't just turn into a touchy-feely whatever-whatever art-for-free something-or-other. I submit to literary journals even though I know that no one reads them and they don't pay shit because they're important for my CV. Id' like to teach creative writing in the future. Despite the fact that they try to guilt you into buying an issue before you submit, the universities publish journals that lose them money because it brings them prestige and thus students to milk of MUCHMUCHMUCH more money and labor. They shouldn't also wring cash from us pathetic, groveling subs. But when did "should" ever have anything to do with anything?


  1. I absolutely refuse to submit in anyway but electronically. When I was querying my novel I would not look at an agency or publisher who wanted anything other than e-queries. I am happy to say that I landed at Kensington Books and the entire process has been electronic.

    (Blood and Bullets out 2/7/12)

  2. I didn't even know that website existed. What a great resource.

    I agree with your thoughts. I'd never pay to submit.


  3. James - electronic is the only thing that makes sense anymore. I'm just glad some of them are finally admitting that only taking paper is an artificial barrier.

    Jay - Dude, duotrope will change your life! You can look at the current wait times to judge almost to the day when you'll get a rejection or make it out of the slush and into the second round.

    Oh, and damn the man!