Submishbash

Have you noticed that more and more literary reviews are charging for electronic submissions?

Many editors and publishers are writers themselves, and we are no exception. We send our fair share of original material with hope of getting published at places we admire. And we don't just make a few casual submissions a year, but many; the list is long and the rejections voluminous. It's a jungle out there.

We've seen, over the course of the last few years, more and more markets charging an average of three dollars per electronic submission. If our memory serves correctly, it started in places such as Glimmer Train (except for four glorious months sprinkled throughout the year), Missouri Review, Narrative (which is largely an online market), and Ploughshares. The trend continued, with StoryQuarterly instituting a rather steep fee, followed by many other reputable print journals.

In our submission efforts this past year, we've found that roughly half of the markets in which we loved sending work required payment. Will the trend continue?

When we first learned of submission fees, our thoughts were not completely unfavorable. We understood many readers and editors have not conditioned themselves to review material on a computer screen. We share the same stigma. We need that colored marker in our hand, we love the curlycue cross-out, the notes written vertically in the margin. And so, we realized a journal's office needed to invest in a good printer, ongoing ink replenishment, paper, and time. It also needed to subscribe to and install an electronic system such as Submittable (formerly Submishmash) or Submission Manager (first introduced by One Story). Subscribing to one of these services costs a nominal fee. For example, Submittable will likely run a journal approximately thirty dollars a month.

Now, several years later, we've had a change of heart. While yes, costs for ink, paper, a submission system and what-not will cost a journal in overhead expenses, the cost is not very substantial. Compare this to the overall expenditure of producing a print issue. A run of a thousand copies at a reputable printer will cost over three thousand dollars. This excludes distribution and all work by staff to review, copy-edit, layout and produce the issue prior to sending it to the printing house. It excludes all tools and software used, all editorial and contributor fees, and other miscellaneous expenses that markets have incurred long before the time of electronic submissions.

You might say that years ago in the paper world, authors used their own funds and resources to print out their work, bought their own paper, their own envelopes, paid their own postage. Even the little metal paper clips cost money, we don't deny it. Perhaps at the end of the day, this expense came close to three dollars per submission, and so, you might think: What's the difference?

There is a difference. Although the author was spending his or her own funds to send hardcopy material to markets, fundamentally, the markets themselves were not charging for submission review. They simply opened the envelope, reviewed the material (well, we like to believe they did, anyway), and tucked a small rejection slip in the enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope. By the way, the rejection slip was printed by the journal at no cost to the author.

Also, we recognize that the economy has been tough lately, and many colleges are squeezed for funding. We don't think that imposition of submission fees is the right place to try to get a little extra revenue and sustain a journal that is threatened to be cut if it cannot place itself in the "black." Journal staff should look for ways of refining expenses. And though it may be very difficult to change the mindset of college financial management, we hope that somehow messages can be put out there, effectively, speaking to the necessity to sustain art.

It is a bit disheartening to see many journals, many reputable journals who continually blow us away with amazing stories, essays, poetry, and art, imposing this fee. Our hats go off to those who continue to take electronic submissions without charging, and especially those who, in their electronic rejections, say something, however small, that give a glimmer of indication they truly enjoyed the material when they could not accept it. If any of you reading this right now are connected to such a place, please know we have utmost admiration and respect for your journal. You are doing the good thing and genuinely portraying an interest in reading unsolicited material. We ask you to send this article to those on your staff who might appreciate this perspective.


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