publishing, writing tips

Writing Tip: Never Pay Submission Fees

image of wallet

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter S. Or more specifically💲.

I’m preparing to submit another round of short fiction, and noticed quite a few “start up” magazines (especially on the gross-but-necessary Facebook) are charging submission fees. This isn’t cool, and I’ll try to explain why without it turning into a rant.

Suffice to say, you should never pay anyone to read your writing.

Submission Fees

Are bull$h*t.

Also known as “reading fees”, many literary magazines and journals claim they need these to cover production costs or to pay their editors/slush readers. You should never submit your work to a magazine that is asking for a reading fee, and here are a couple reasons why.

🎩 ::puts on curmudgeon-y businessman hat:: 🎩

  • It’s not your problem if they operate at a loss.
    • Many of these tiny journals are passion projects. Nonetheless, they probably get way more submissions than they can or will accept. Lit mags have notoriously low acceptance rates, and that means you’re subsidizing someone else’s creative endeavors for them to potentially read one sentence (if any) of a story and chuck it in the trash. If you DO get accepted and published, you likely won’t get any payment.
    • Most writers aren’t rolling in dough. You need to save money for more important things involving your own work
  • You don’t know their readership or margins
    • Often they ask for a fee, but either don’t pay the accepted authors or pay them in token copies
    • Sometimes the journals are “online only” which means their overhead costs could be next-to-nothing
    • If they ARE selling the magazine, you’re paying them to take your product (writing), and then make money off of it, essentially “double-dipping”.
  • The project may never happen
    • Not all ideas come to fruition. I like to believe people are good, but there are plenty of scammers out there who prey on idealistic writers and disappear without ever creating a journal due to “circumstances beyond their control”, but by the way “no refunds”.

I’m not saying all literary journals should be operating at a loss, but the legitimate ones that you see on Duotrope and Submission Grinder are usually stable enough to accept work without charging, even if they don’t have enough of a budget to pay the accepted authors. They understand that writers are providing their hard work for either a token payment, or exposure to a wider audience.

In my opinion, “Pay to Play” is never an acceptable model.

Exception: Contests

Here’s where I contradict myself.

If a writing contest is requesting a submission fee, because it intends to pay a cash prize to the winner, then a SMALL payment is usually OK. You should still do some research and only enter legitimate contests that have been around for a while. You can usually spot sketchy ones:

  • They’re “annual” but this is the first year they exist
  • The fees are much higher than the final collected pay out to the winner
  • There is little-to-no information or backing, other than an address to send money and writing to

I know some authors who have hard & fast rules about never giving their writing away. I don’t feel I’m at that level yet, so I’m open to opportunities that don’t involve direct payment. However, I will never pay money to either submit (or be published), and I’d encourage you to never do that either.

The entire reason publishers and magazines exist is to build a readership by selectively publishing the work of authors they feel deserve merit. It’s not our job to keep them in business.

That’s what readers are for.