Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pay to Play

Just a little anti-shout-out to Narrative Magazine.

Publishing resource after resource instructs authors to avoid magazine where you have to submit a reading fee, and yet Narrative Magazine is still heralded as a beacon of online literary journal legitimacy. From their own submissions page:

"The reading fee is $20 for prose manuscripts, $10 for up to five poems, and $10 for audio submissions."

They try to justify this by pointing out that this is less than the subscription fee for many literary journals. However, I'm not aware of any online publications that require a subscription. You just go to the website and read as much as you want. That's as opposed to the Narrative website, for which you must create a log-in profile before you can access full pieces. Leaving aside that argument I can't think of another reputable literary journal that charges writers to submit. The closest I can find is The Missouri Review, which has a $3 fee for online submissions, but they still offer the option of submitting in hard-copy with no fee. Narrative's $10 fee for audio submissions is especially ridiculous, given that you're not supposed to send in audio of more than five minutes. Five minutes of audio is roughly equivalent to 500 words, or two double spaced pages.

Narrative further tries to justify its fee by referencing their non-profit status and the fact that they pay contributors, however the numbers just don't add up. Part of the appeal of starting an online literary journal is that it only costs at most a few hundred dollars every year, with maybe a one time cost web-designer cost if you want your journal to be extra snazzy. On Narrative, if your story is selected as a "story of the week" they'll pay you $150 (after your $20 fee). While this is more than any other online publication, it's not more than many print publications. When I had a poem accepted in Subtropics they paid me $200 (Narrative pays a max of $50 for poems), and no one ever has to pay a submission fee.

Furthermore, Narrative features a page listing the Narrative Circle, Friends, Patrons, Donors, and support from readers . If we assume the minimum contributions for each level than before we even get to Donors the total contribution is at or over $241,000. That's a pretty large chunk of change to still be charging a submission fee.

And while there is proof positive that they publish new and emerging authors, they also regularly feature work by best-selling authors. This issue includes T.C. Boyle and Anne Beattie. There's nothing wrong with publishing well established writers. In fact it's great to have the balance, and provides a special thrill to the emerging writers who appear in their company. But I wonder... Does T.C. Boyle have to pay $20 when he submits a short story? And then does he only get the standard $150-200, or does he get a little more...

For further discussion check out the articles on these blogs:

Wet Asphalt


Arts and Palaver

Forcing already under-paid writers to pay a submission fee when your journal has hundreds of thousands of dollars of donor support? Not what O.J. would do, if he did it.


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