August 30, 2010

Them as has, gets – updated

Some literary journals, such as New England Review and Ploughshares, have begun charging for e-mail electronic submissions. In other words, if you want to submit poetry or prose electronically to these publications, you need to pony up $2 to $3 dollars per submission.

Excuse me?

I first discovered this on the Avoiding the Muse blog, by New England Review’s C. Cale Dale Young, where he defends the practice, in response to a critical post on Steve Fellner’s Pansy Poetics.

In thinking this over, I’ve tried to be as fair to these two journals as I can. Here’s the best I can do for their side: e-mail [and the internet] lowers lower the barriers to submission, increasing the workload in reading and responding to them, without lowering costs or increasing revenue for the magazine. It’s not really about the money; literary magazines aren’t for-profit ventures, but labors of love. The writers would be paying for postage, paper and printer ink to send a postal submission (which is still free at these magazines). Nobody wins if the magazines don’t survive.

I hope somebody can make a better argument, because that one is pretty weak tea. If it really isn’t about the money, but — as I suspect — about discouraging submissions, re-raising the barriers, un-democratizing literature, that’s worse than simple greed. If it’s only about reducing workload, that’s understandable, but this is an incredibly wrong-headed approach.

Let me make it clear: I know I’m no Seamus Heaney, but you are not providing me with a service by agreeing to read my submission. I’m doing you a service by sending it to you. Even if it’s the most pathetic drivel written this century. And what you are asking most writers to pay for is the privilege of being rejected.

New England Review and Ploughshares certainly won’t mourn the loss of my poems, but they won’t be seeing them. I won’t pay a (regressive) reading fee, though I could probably afford it. Call it a gratuitous act of solidarity.


1. I typoed C. Dale Young’s name in the original post. My apologies.

2. I should have said “electronic submissions,” not “e-mail submissions.” I don’t think it changes the principles involved, but it was inaccurate.

3. My comment (in the comments) about a “form-letter comment” was gratuitously snarky. Again, apologies.



  1. You don’t have to pay anything. You can submit by US Mail as folks have always done. We aren’t for-profit and are trying to use less of the budget biven us by Middlebury to try to get an extension of time to raise money. It isn’t as if we said we only take on-line submissions and you have to pay for them.

    Comment by C. Dale — August 30, 2010 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for your response.

      My original post mentioned the non-profit status of most literary periodicals, as well as the fact that postal mail submissions are free. I notice you didn’t remark on my misspelling of your name (for which I apologize). I’m curious: was this a form-letter comment?

      In any case, you raise a good question. Why don’t we have to pay for postal submissions? What service do you provide through e-mail that you don’t provide through the post?

      If your answer is “convenience,” I would argue that (a) that’s provided by my ISP, and (b) that the convenience for me is matched by the convenience to your magazine, which doesn’t have to deal with envelopes and such. But of course, I won’t presume to know your answer. And if you care to answer, I promise to keep an open mind.

      Comment by crcb — August 30, 2010 @ 6:18 pm | Reply

      • A form-letter comment? Huh?

        As I wrote on my blog, Middlebury plans to eliminate all funding for the magazine at the end of 2011. We have raised money and subscriptions, but we have not raised the million dollars for the endowment that they want. We have to use less of our budget in order to get an extension on time to raise money, or we fold. This is one way to try to save the magazine.

        To go back to your original statement, there seems to be outrage that we are charging for on-line submissions. But up until 9/1/10, we didn’t have on-line submissions. You had to mail in a submission. And come Sept 1, that is still what anyone can do. You claim you read my blog, so you know none of us are excited about this. But we don’t have a lot of options. If you want to remain upset about this, there is not much I can do about that. But seeing there is a way to continue submitting as people always have and that it remains free, I am just not getting why some are annoyed and upset.

        Comment by C. Dale — August 30, 2010 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

        • As for services provided, we read and consider poems whether via snail mail or on-line upload. The payment for online is $1 to the service provider and $1 donation to NER. So, we are not going to be rich or endow the mag from the charge. But if it allows us to cut how much we use from our current budget by even a couple thousand, we may have a chance.

          Comment by C. Dale — August 30, 2010 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

          • I don’t see a problem with this. One or two dollars is the same barrier to entry as a mailing. If a person can bombard a publication with any junk they have on hand, at no cost they will (this is why spam is so prolific). But if the submitter, upon evaluation, realizes that their submission is not worthy of the low entry barrier they have saved time and money that would be better spent with other submissions.

            If spam-quality submissions are tying up the resources of the group it is a financial drain. This is a simple and elegant solution that benefits the organization and the readers.

            Comment by Mike Wagner — October 2, 2010 @ 2:23 am | Reply

            • Spam is a problem, no doubt. It’s the main reason comments on this blog are moderated. However, “spam-quality submissions” isn’t quite the same thing, is it?

              Nobody’s getting rich at these magazines, and nobody’s in the literature game for money. I don’t know whether the editors of NER and Ploughshares get paid, but I suspect they are volunteers, or at best receive a pittance compared to the work they do. They deserve respect and gratitude for that. But when a person agrees to be an editor, one of the things he or she agrees to is reading a lot of bad manuscripts. It comes with the job.

              If the editors fear a deluge of bad writing, they don’t have to accept electronic submissions at all (a point Mr. Young himself has made).

              One problem with the the electronic submission fees I haven’t mentioned yet might be the biggest: it’s a conflict of interest. I cast no aspersions on the ethics of Mr. Young or any other editor — I’m sure he’s completely ethical. I know the amounts we’re talking about are small, but let’s assume this program succeeds in helping the magazine through its financial crisis. Faced with two submissions of equal quality, and room for only one of them, how could any editor help but be influenced, at least on a subconscious level, by the knowledge that one submission has brought in revenue (and thus helped save the magazine), and the other hasn’t?

              And again, I have to ask: if this is okay for electronic submissions, why is it not okay for all submissions? What would your reaction be if NER and Ploughshares said — in addition to the current charge for electronic submissions — “Please enclose $2 USD with your postal submission”?

              To repeat myself further, money that does or does not go to the USPS is irrelevant; it’s separate from any transaction I have with the magazine. Suppose the magazines got a ton of submissions dropped off in person. How could they justify charging a fee only to those who walked, but not to those who took a cab?

              If these magazines charged across the board, however, there would be no wiggle room to avoid calling it a reading fee, and reading fees have a bad reputation (justifiably, in my opinion).

              Comment by crcb — October 2, 2010 @ 12:03 pm | Reply

  2. 1) You do pay for postal submissions. You pay the United States Postal Service, and whoever made your paper, and whoever made your ink.

    2) They do not accept email submissions. Submissions come through a “submissions manager.” Any journal that accepts online submissions uses one of these managers, which apparently cost money to run. C. Dale has said in his blog post that some of the fee goes toward maintaing that program.

    Think of the “fee” as a “donation” to a struggling non-profit.

    Comment by sara e — August 30, 2010 @ 7:48 pm | Reply

    • By the way, it’s not true that “Any journal that accepts online submissions uses one of these managers.” I know of many, many journals that accept online submissions and do not use one of these managers.

      Comment by crcb — August 30, 2010 @ 9:32 pm | Reply

  3. I’m not convinced. As a former zine editor and publisher (in a very small way), I understand that literary publishing is often a thankless endeavor, and I am grateful to those (including C. Dale) who undertake it. I also understand the money pinch. But “we need money” doesn’t logically lead to “people should pay us money for X.” The poor poets need money, too. Two or three dollars isn’t going to make a difference to whether I can submit, but for some who can’t even afford postage, it might (which is why I call it a regressive reading fee). E-mail and the internet have given struggling writers opportunities they didn’t have before; electronic submission fees take those opportunities away again. And even for those, like me, who aren’t exactly struggling (in my case, because I have a day job), it would start adding up pretty quickly if every publication started charging for e-submissions.

    I understand that it costs money to submit by mail, but any money I pay to the USPS, the office supply store, or anybody else is irrelevant to any transaction I might have with _NER_. The fact that I’m *not* paying money to X and Y, doesn’t give Z an automatic right to extract it from me.

    So I still don’t understand the distinction between electronic and postal submissions. It only makes sense if the actual goal is to lower the number of submissions, and doing it in this way filters out submissions on the basis of means.

    Comment by crcb — August 30, 2010 @ 9:02 pm | Reply

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