And a lot of writers are willing to pay the fees for a chance to get published. From what I can tell, most journals are going with $3. $3—it sounds like a paltry amount, and it’s true that before online submissions, writers had to spend somewhere in that vicinity to print and mail submissions anyway. But as McCallister and Ingram point out, that money didn’t go to the journals. It’s not really an appropriate justification to say, “Oh, before technology advanced, you used to have to buy various products/services to submit. Now that you don’t need to pay that anymore, we’re going to make you give the money to us.” Sounds like the words of a schoolyard bully to me.
McCallister and Ingram offer a whole slough of other reasons why the justification journals offer for their reading fees are not okay. I always think about something Damien has said. As the Managing Editor of New Ohio Review, applying for and managing the funding from grants is a big part of Damien’s job. As a pretty fantastic journal—the journal consistently gets Pushcart and Best American placements, and the majority of the authors in any given issue are big names who were solicited by the editors—New Ohio Review has a largish budget because they’re able to garner a fair amount of grant funding. They have plenty of money to cover their printing costs, pay their authors, and advertise. Oh yeah, and pay Damien’s salary.
Sure, not every great journal is able to get as much grant funding, but the point Damien has made is that the best journals will be able to get grants or find some means of funding themselves. If a journal is so financially unstable that it has to rely on submission fees to stay afloat, it’s probably a reflection of the quality of the journal. Is that really a journal you want your work to appear in?
When I first started getting serious about submitting, one of the first things I learned is that legitimate, reputable publishers don’t charge submission fees. It was considered unethical, and in fact, it was included in the CLMP code of ethics. The first journal I noticed was charging submission fees was Narrative. I was outraged. I didn’t understand why they were allowed to remain members of the CLMP. Needless to say, I refused to submit there (McCallister and Ingram had a few choice words to say about Narrative, too, which made me very happy). As more and more journals started doing it, though, I did cave and pay a few times (The Missouri Review charges for online submissions, for example, and they are a great, reputable journal, so I went ahead and paid it).
But listen, if we pay these fees, the editors will keep charging them. Regardless of how much it costs to run a journal, and regardless of how much snail-mail submissions used to run, and regardless of whatever other justifications editors offer, CHARGING SUBMISSION FEES IS UNETHICAL. On Writer’s Ask, they offered the excellent analogy of an art gallery who doesn’t sell enough art to stay solvent. Nobody would think it was okay for the gallery to turn to artists who are interested in having their work displayed in the gallery and charge them a fee, no matter how minimal, just to consider showing their work.
Submission fees exploit writers. How can anyone claim it isn’t slimy to say to an aspiring writer, “So you want to be published? Sure, kid, I’ll look at your piece . . . for a fee.” If you want to support a journal, donate to one or buy a subscription. But please, writers, DO NOT PAY SUBMISSION FEES. If we all stop paying them, the journals will have no choice but to stop charging them. The journals that can’t stay afloat any other way probably shouldn’t—I’m sorry, but it’s true—and they certainly shouldn’t keep themselves going by exploiting people’s dreams.