Posted by: birdmaddgirl | 28 February 2012

paid rejection

i’m not going to AWP this year, but i’ve got my poet hat on and i’ve found something to soapbox about.

i’ve been trying for quite some time to figure out what it is that rankles me so about fee-based submissions to literary journals. it’s a continual topic of discussion for writers and blogs and industry magazines. people have various opinions. mostly even the supporters seem a little queasy about it, though. few seem willing to go all out and say “this is the way to go!” the standard defense is that the fees are modest (about the same as what might be spent on a paper submission) and support the journal. so why do i get angry just thinking about it?

i’ve collected my thoughts a bit. firstly, it’s insulting and humiliating to ask writers to pay you to reject them. this is the outcome of 90+% of submissions. at least if i’m giving money to the post office, i’m paying someone else for my rejection (note: i rarely submit to post-only journals anyway). there’s something weird and shady and unsettling about actually giving the money straight to the entity that will then turn around and tell you to take a hike. second, as i’ve seen pointed out by various other writers, money generates  expectation on the part of the writer. if i’m paying you to read my work, i don’t think you have the right to sit on it for 3 months. and definitely not for a year. nor do you have the right to dictate that a work cannot be simultaneously submitted (which is ridiculous anyway, but off-topic). if i’m paying you, literary journal, then i expect a prompt rejection letter. of course, the simple addition of money into the equation doesn’t realistically create an expedited reading time. but we live in a world where payment and service are equated. and then there’s the argument that people will choose more carefully and submissions will be better if they must be paid for. this is patently false. this is an argument based entirely on privilege.  money does not equal quality work. period. this attitude is elitist and unworthy of the culture of literary journals. if you don’t like the slush pile, stay out of the fiction.

i’ve heard all these arguments before. but there was still something missing, something that i couldn’t put my finger on and haven’t seen articulated yet.

then i finally realized what the real issue is for me: literary journals are charging writers because they aren’t doing their job.

journals say that subscriber bases are shrinking and some are now making up the lost revenue by charging submission fees. so rather than fulfill their own mission – to get new and exciting literature into the hands of readers – they are choosing the lazy way out and putting the onus on the writer. this is little more than vanity publishing by committee with a modest level of gatekeeping and editorial work. plus, PLUS, add up the standard fee of $3. i submit to ~75 publications in a year: that’s $225 if they all charge me a fee! if journals expect writers to also be subscribers, then clearly the math will never add up. so who, exactly, will be reading these writer-subsidized literary journals? who?

why on earth would i pay a journal to read my work? even if they accept it, by their own admission, my work is not getting to readers! it seems to me that fee-based submissions have a strong potential to decrease subscriber bases even further.

so, literary journals, i would like to suggest that if you want to survive, cultivate readers. cultivate subscribers. find creative ways to partner with your authors to do just that. offer discounts or something special for submission packages – sign up a friend and save! or even offer expedited rejections with a subscription. or do something awesome like One Story and offer editor commentary for a fee. but don’t turn your fine publications into writer-sponsored vanity presses. we all deserve much better than that.



  1. I like all your points. I’m not crazy about fee-based electronic submissions, mostly because the practice seems fundamentally dishonest. Sure, you’re paying roughly about as much as you’d pay to send in a printed submission, but you’re no longer paying someone to physically move that stack of papers a few hundred or thousand miles across the planet; you’re using a magical basically-free transport medium and the journal staff is funneling your cash into their pockets. Heck, it’s actually EASIER for them to process electronic submissions, so why are they being paid more money to read those than the paper ones?

    And yes, I find it irksome to pay for the privilege of being rejected, and rejected by email, at that. Perhaps as writers we should institute a new policy: journals can reject us by post for free, but electronic rejections will cost them $1.00 (roughly on par with what they’d pay for materials and postage).

    • ! Perhaps we should be sending them Dann’s “rejection rejection letter” also 🙂

  2. […] paid rejection ( […]

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