Reminder: Money Flows To The Writer

An (Imagined) Overheard Conversation Between Two People, Many, Many Years Ago “So I’m thinking we should start a literary journal.”

“Why? There are already so many.”

“Ours will be better.”


“For starters, we’ll make it exclusively online.”

“You mean the World Wide Web? I don’t know. I really can’t see that whole thing taking off. Like I told you, we need to invest in laser discs.”

“Think about it. This online journal would be ... respected.”

“How so?”

“We’ll publish really big-name writers.”

“But we don’t have any money. Those writers will probably want money. A lot of money.”

“Don’t worry. I have that covered.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask how.”



“We'll host contests. Make the writers pay an entry fee. Use a percentage of that to pay our costs.”

“Okay, but how many contests do you plan on having? We can’t have too many.”

“Good point. Then … how about we just make the writers pay an entry fee for regular submissions.”

“You’re crazy.”

“No, seriously, hear me out on this. We have the big-name writers to draw them in, and we’ll offer a sizable payment, but for the writers to submit, they have to pay a fee. Something like -- ”

“Five bucks?”

“I was thinking maybe fifty bucks.”

“You are crazy.”

“Fine, how about thirty bucks.”

“Still crazy.”

“Listen, it will work. And the best part is, the crappy writers who have no chance of ever getting published will more or less help us pay the big-name writers to keep drawing in those crappy writers. It’s a win-win situation.”

“You really think writers will fall for that?”

“Of course. Writers are stupid.”


An old adage is that money flows to the writer. What does this mean, exactly? Well, it means whatever you want it to mean. Some think that it means they shouldn't submit to markets that don't pay them. Others think they shouldn't submit to markets that pay only half a cent a word or less. Still others think it means they should never enter contests that require a monetary fee.

A few weeks back Nick Mamatas did this eloquent post about the different markets for short stories. The breakdown is basically how people in the different genres view things. In literary circles, there's nothing wrong with submitting to journals that pay only copies, as those journals are oftentimes highly regarded. In the horror/sf field, however, journals that pay only copies or (if online) exposure are looked down upon considerably. I blame outfits like the HWA and SFWA for this line of thought. Just because a market pays 5 cents a word does not necessarily make it a "pro" magazine. Take, for example, my rant awhile back on a particular magazine that, while paying 5 cents a word, has a hideous website and apparently takes about three years to reply to some of their submissions. As far as I'm concerned, they can keep their 5 cents.

But what about contests? I've never seen anything wrong with submitting to them. Only there are a lot of contests out there, and you can't submit to every one ... unless you're a millionaire and don't mind paying out ten or twenty bucks a pop. Plus, some journals' contests offer a one-year subscription with the entry fee, or an issue, or at least something the writer gets in return, which is nice, though there is the argument that they do it just so they can get their subscription numbers up. Whatever. The point is if you are going to submit to a contest that makes you pay some kind of entry fee, make sure your story is the very best it can be (which you should do every time you submit anywhere, of course, but this time around you are laying down hard-earned cash, so be certain you know that particular market well).

So in that case, some money is flowing away from the writer, but if that writer is able to place in the contest, a lot of money is coming back to him or her. Or not. That's just the game. You never know.

Now what about just a regular magazine? No contest or anything. They pay extremely well, and they are "highly regarded." Catch is, you have to pay an entry fee to submit to them. How much, you ask. Well, first let's talk about American Short Fiction. They are indeed a "highly regarded" journal. But to submit to them, they require a fee of $2.00. Okay, that's kind of cheesy, but as one person pointed out to me recently, that's about how much it would cost to mail a story to them via the post, so it sort of evens out. Okay, I can see that. Makes sense to me. And really, when you think about it, $2.00 isn't that much.

So how much is too much?

How about -- and this number is right off the top of my head -- $20.00?

If you're thinking nobody would be insane enough to pay that, you would be wrong. There's this journal named Narrative, you see. There are "the leading online publisher of first-rank fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. A nonprofit organization, Narrative is dedicated to advancing the literary arts in the digital age by supporting the finest writing talent and encouraging readership around the world and across generations. Our online library of new literature by celebrated authors and by the best new and emerging writers is available for free."

As the Church Lady would say, Well isn't that special.

Thing is, to submit to this wonderful journal, it will cost you exactly 20 bones. Don't believe me, check out their guidelines. Be careful, though. If you sign up for an account, you automatically get put on their mailing list. I apparently did this a long time ago (I think I may have submitted to one of their contests), because I keep getting e-mails from them. And when you click on that barely visible link to unsubscribe, it takes you to a page that doesn't really show you how to unsubscribe. So then you keep getting e-mails. Plus, according to this, they are even kind enough to sell their mailing list, so you can get even more e-mails about things you don't need. Isn't that nice of them?

Anyway, I love the Internet. Nothing can be kept from people anymore. Everyone has a Google Alert set up for their name or book or magazine, so when someone else writes about it, they know. This happens to me sometimes on Twitter. I'll make some random comment and someone somehow involved with whatever will respond. It's great. Here's what I tweeted last week:

Again, a random tweet. I do it all the time. Didn't even remember I did it until a few days later when I woke up to see a notification on my phone that someone had mentioned me:
Still half-asleep, I thought: Huh. Then I decided to retweet it for those interested:
Four minutes later, this showed up:
Another minute passed, and I became more awake. I thought: No no no no no. They are not getting away with it that easily. So I asked a simple question:
(You see, the National Endowment of the Arts recently awarded Narrative a grant worth $10,000. Again, as the Church Lady would say, Well isn't that special.)
Their response:
Apparently the person manning their Twitter account is five years old. I tried to simplify.
As you can see, ten minutes later ...
I waited, expecting more. None was forthcoming.
I went on Facebook and chatted with a writer friend. I mentioned the exchange. This particular friend is not a fan of the journal. Especially after they received the NEA grant. Not since the journal charges a ridiculous reading fee. I asked if this particular writer friend thought I should cause some trouble. My writer friend said, Go for it. So I went for it.

That was three days ago. There has been recent activity on their Twitter account since then. Seems I'm being ignored ... though, to be honest, it's really none of my business. Fact is, I don't really care about Narrative. They can charge writers as much as they want for a reading fee. If writers are dumb enough to keep paying it, whatever. Sure, they're a non-profit, and according to this, they're a non-profit that made over $200,000 in 2007. Makes me want to start a non-profit.

I'm sure people will defend them, just as I'm sure there will be people who will hate them. It's nothing new. It's happened before and it will happen again. Again, my stance is I don't care. Like I said, I made a random tweet and someone from Narrative took it upon themselves to respond. Not only that, the response was an attempt to justify an obscene cost to each and every writer ... unless you're very well known; that's still up in the air whether you have to pay a fee then. See, my issue is, if you're going to steal from people, acknowledge it. Don't try to act like it's okay, because it's not.

So what have we learned from all this? I don't know about you, but I've learned that I still cannot figure out a way to unsubscribe from their mailing list. Doesn't matter anyway, I guess. Even if I did figure it out, there's a good chance they've already sold my address to somebody else, which means I might as well save myself the time and energy and delete my e-mail account and create a new one.

Thanks, Narrative. You're the best.