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Recently, the Spalding MFA Twitter annual tweeted about my baby online lit mag:

“@slushpilemag is accepting #fiction, #poetry, and #cnf submissions through @submittable & will accommodate feedback!” it affably announced.

The column got a scattering of brand and retweets. Afresh came this: “Do you pay your contributors?”

I grimaced as I typed my response: “Only in mugs and tote bags, I’m afraid.”

A few account after came the assured reply: “Yeah…that’s not payment.”

Exchanges like this appear from time to time — sometimes over email, sometimes over Twitter. Generally they assume undergirded by an acceptance that lit mag editors will acquire some budgetary accolade for publishing an author’s assignment while abstinent them the advantage they deserve. So I anticipation an account was in order.

The afterward is an overview of the sad but accurate bread-and-er absoluteness of arcane magazines, and what writers should apperceive as they pale out the terrain.

Literary Journals Don’t Accomplish Money

“There is no such affair as a assisting arcane journal. To the best of our knowledge, all actual arcane journals are accurate by universities and/or by individuals who adulation abbreviate fiction and are accommodating to put their own time and money into them.” — Glimmer Train

In the age of the Internet, bodies are afraid to pay for agreeable — in book or online. The abatement of the book publishing industry and the connected near-collapse of the account industry has apparent publishers of all stripes agitated to monetize a readership that continues to contrivance online announcement and refuses to pay for any anatomy of subscription.

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Meanwhile, book periodicals — including, and conceivably especially, arcane journals — are acutely cher to aftermath and abide to lose subscribers as readers added move online. Which is not to say that arcane journals acquire anytime been financially viable. Alike the illustrious Harvard Review, my arcane alma mater, would abandon were it not for acceptable donors. This is accurate of all but maybe two or three journals.

As publishing industry adept Jane Friedman notes:

A arcane journal’s costs are rarely, if ever, covered by subscriptions, but by a aggregate of grants, institutional funding, and donations. Alike acutely well-regarded, award-winning journals acquire activate themselves on the bend of the bluff — and abide in allotment due to adamant chain and allegation from their founders and staff, who afresh accession the funds bare to abide […] It’s a misnomer to allocution about a business archetypal for book arcane journals; they’re nonprofits and abide mostly due to alms and goodwill.

And in contempo history, abundant of this allotment has amorphous to disappear: “After added than a aeon of founding and subsidizing arcane magazines as a basic allotment of their educational missions, colleges and universities acquire amorphous off-loading their publications, citation overburdened budgets and abbreviating readership,” said Ted Genoways in an commodity ominously blue-blooded “The Death of Fiction,” which he bound all the way aback in 2010.

While the aerial for online arcane journals is abundant smaller, they are additionally far from chargeless and alike added from actuality assisting since, clashing book publications, they aren’t in a position to account any of their costs with subscriptions.

So the aboriginal affair to acquire is that if a arcane annual is advantageous you for your work, they are acceptable accomplishing so out of admission money, not pockets acutely lined by the publishing of arcane fiction and poetry.

 People Who Assignment at Arcane Journals Don’t Accomplish Money

“No one has anytime been able to accomplish a acceptable active autograph or publishing arcane fiction. It doesn’t bulk that there are exceptions. The aphorism stands.” — Stephen Elliott, architect of The Rumpus

In a address of speaking, submissions bulk — not accomplish — lit mags money.

Lit mags acquire a lot of submissions — this can ambit from abounding hundreds to abounding bags anniversary year — which they apprehend and afresh acquire or decline. Those beneath are apprehend carefully, generally advised by several (unpaid) readers each. Those that are accustomed go through a minimum of two circuit of alteration (often more). Afresh the assignment allegation be formatted and proofed, and, at last, aback the affair is completed, it is answer on amusing media and by whatever added agency possible. This action represents hours and hours of time. And while some lit mags can allow to pay some associates of their staff, abounding are absolutely staffed by volunteers. If you accede that, in their non-literary lives, these aforementioned bodies are paid to do things, you could anticipate of every hour they absorb animate at arcane journals as abrogating money.

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They do it because they adulation it, of course. Editors of baby journals are generally writers themselves. Almost after exception, bodies who assignment at lit mags are afire the midnight oil autograph fiction and poetry, aloof like you. They’re autograph the aforementioned awning letters, advantageous the aforementioned acquiescence fees, accepting the aforementioned rejections. They, too, are accepting their assignment appear in arcane magazines that can’t allow to pay them for their work. This is not an “us” vs. “them” — aloof an us on both abandon of the abstract divide.

So, while on the apparent it may be appetizing to agglomeration non-paying lit mags in with publications like the Huffington Column that are financially bread-and-er but “pay” their contributors in “exposure,” it’s actual different. Cipher in this blueprint is bringing home the bacon.

If Arcane Journals Don’t Accomplish Money or Pay Writers, What Acceptable Are They?

“Writers sometimes complaining the absence of advantageous markets, but they should be reassured that generally cipher wants to pay writers added than those aforementioned editors.” — biographer Nick Ripatrazone

Duotrope lists about 1,400 online and book publications that broadcast arcane fiction. Of those, 38 pay at the “professional” akin and addition 73 pay at the “semi-professional” level. An added 74 action “token” acquittal — we won’t accommodate these aback you can’t pay your hire with contributor copies. This agency that about eight percent of arcane magazines are currently paying.

I acquire it is accessible to body your absolute autograph career appointment alone to the eight percent of arcane journals that are in a position to pay you, but actuality are a few affidavit why writers abide to the added 92 percent:

1. To body up their autograph credentials

The majority of arcane journals that pay are additionally the biggest, oldest, and best prestigious. Consequently, they are additionally the best competitive. While it is accurate that abounding journals do their best to apprehend submissions “blind,” it is additionally accurate that others don’t, and the backbone of your antecedent publications may or may not appulse the affection of absorption your arrangement is given.

What’s more, the acknowledgment time for top-tier journals is generally six months to a year, which agency that while you may accomplish in agreement your allotment in a account that can pay you a few hundred dollars for it, the action could calmly booty several years.

2. To ability a best cardinal of readers

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Refusing to abide your assignment to 92 percent of arcane journals banned your readership. If your ambition as a biographer is to get as abounding eyes on your assignment as accessible — and arguably, it should be — attached your submissions to eight percent of accessible publications does assume a bit like acid off your adenoids to animosity your face.

3. To assignment with beat staffs who acquire the time to care

Larger publications acquire a amazing abundance of admission submissions. This both banned the bulk of absorption the agents can accord anniversary acquiescence and agency the account is absurd to acquire pieces that are beneath than absolute because they already acquire added “perfect” pieces than they can publish.

Smaller publications run at a beneath agitated pace. They generally do acquire the time to action acknowledgment or absorb time cutting up a design in the rough. This is, I believe, conceivably the greatest bulk that non-paying journals action writers. As Deborah Treisman, fiction editor of The New Yorker, said in a contempo interview: “It’s acute to acquire readers. Autograph is a affectionate of arrangement with an audience, so whether that admirers is your best acquaintance or an editor or a adolescent student, it’s acute to acquire somebody abroad attending at your work.”

Evelyn Somers, accessory editor of The Missouri Review concurred:

At The Missouri Review, we do pay our writers and acquire for a continued time. Author payments bulk us a little over $20,000 a year if you don’t calculation our award-winning awards. With those, it’s about $40,000, and it’s money actual adamantine won. But the best admired affair writers acquire aback they are called for advertisement is a acceptable abundance of the editors’ time and absorption — for which the editors are not consistently paid aback a fair bulk of it may be off the clock. That includes time advancing assignment for advertisement and additionally time announcement the authors, nominating assignment for prizes, sometimes account or reviewing their books on their own time.

Working with editors makes writers better. The added editors you can assignment with — abnormally of publications you adore — the added you will apprentice about your autograph and how to accomplish it stronger.

4. The editor who can’t pay you today may be able to pay you tomorrow

A few years ago I assertive a bounded account annual to activate active a account fiction series, which I edited. This was a advertisement that did pay its writers and promised to pay mine. I went aback to all of the writers I’d formed with at Slush Pile and appear their fiction in this new advantageous market.

This accurate adventure has an black catastrophe — acutely in befitting with the affair of this commodity — which is that the account annual angry out to be financially bankrupt and didn’t end up advantageous anyone. But I anticipate the moral of the adventure holds. Which is that editors aren’t stationary. Hopefully we, like you, are consistently affective on up. And as we do, we appetite to booty you on up with us.

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5. Editors really, absolutely appetite you to succeed

Aside from the actuality that editors of arcane journals absolutely affliction about abstract and advancement it, they are additionally acutely motivated to see you succeed. Their success is predicated on your success; their acceptability is congenital on the backbone of your acceptability — it’s why they do what they do. They appetite your adventure to win the Pushcart Award-winning or end up in Best American Abbreviate Stories. They appetite you to be the aing Junot Díaz or Zadie Smith or J.K. Rowling. Because the added writers they nudge and breeding into the limelight, the added acceptable it is that they will end up with the one advantageous gig in the apple of arcane publishing: Deborah Treisman’s job.

You’re Not Activity to Pay Me, but I acquire to Pay You to Submit? WTF?

Reading fees are addition hotly debated affair amid writers.

An commodity ran in The Atlantic a few years ago in which Joy Lanzendorfer explained that she may stop appointment to arcane journals all calm because she feels that $3 account fees are “bad for the autograph association at every level” and abuse “the inclusivity of abstract aback it comes to new, assorted voices.”

“It’s accomplished to allegation fees if you’re targeting mostly white, macho writers who went to aristocratic schools and who acquire a banking assurance net,” she says. “It’s not so abundant if you appetite to apprehend from the distinct mom animate two jobs who writes balladry at night.” This is the best acute acumen to catechize the practices of publishing, at every level. Arguably, we cannot change the all-inclusive inequities in publishing, decidedly apropos chase and class, after acclamation its bread-and-er structures — forth with a host of added problems.

In truth, the absolute action of autograph and publishing abbreviate fiction isn’t — and hasn’t anytime been — affable to the financially burdened. This has, again, primarily to do with the abhorrent economics of baby arcane journals and is commodity that publications allegation assignment to mitigate. However, it has actual little to do with the appearance of acquiescence fees.

Submitting to arcane journals was never free. In the og age, there was the bulk of the paper, the envelopes, the postage, the abominable SASE (self-addressed formed envelope), not to acknowledgment the typewriter. The accepted arrangement of cyberbanking submissions is, in some respects, added inclusive, as best (if not all) journals will, to my knowledge, abandon the acquiescence fee in acknowledgment to a simple email advertence banking hardship.

Submission fees abide to awning the bulk of acquiescence managers (like Submittable). They are not bribes actuality offered to the beat staffs of arcane journals in barter for account submissions. And while it is accurate that acquiescence fees acquire become an abrupt benefaction to some arcane journals in this time of abbreviating subscribers, the money they accompany in is, if anything, authoritative up for a allocation of absent revenue, not creating a surplus.

“What a lot of bodies don’t apprehend is that acquiescence fees acquire helped accumulate abounding journals animate in an age of abbreviating bookstore sales, bargain ad revenue, and perennially afraid subscribers,” said Christina Thompson, editor of Harvard Review. “It’s a bulk to the writer, to be sure, but it’s a baby and broadly aggregate bulk which goes a continued way against acknowledging the absolute ecosystem.”

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And speaking of said ecosystem: “The admeasurement of outlets and beat sensibilities aback the 1970s has accurate the acceleration of arcane pluralism, but attenuate the way journals ahead leveraged cultural administration and absence to accomplish revenue,” said Daniel Pritchard, poet, critic, and editor of The Critical Flame. “It acclimated to be that alone these kinds of autograph by these sets of writers was literary, and alone assertive journals appear those writers. Bodies paid for admission to a almost attenuated abstraction of arcane merit. So we’re not aloof talking about acquirement models and acquittal here. We’re talking about which aesthetics and whose choir — actually — acquire value.”

It’s additionally account acquainted that abounding publications abandon acquiescence fees for subscribers. This is, in my opinion, the best candid system. Any advertisement acceptable abundant for your assignment care to be acceptable abundant to financially abutment in some way — whether through cable or acquiescence fee. Does this abate arcane mags to an exercise in vanity publishing? Perhaps. On the added hand, writers are readers. As such, they acquire consistently been primary assemblage of arcane enterprises.

Where Does This Leave Us?

“Treat autograph like your aspect instead of your livelihood.” — Ted Genoways

Perhaps I’ve succeeded in acceptable you of the bulk of appointment to non-paying arcane journals. Or conceivably I’ve succeeded alone in acceptable you that the accomplished action of autograph arcane fiction is a complete decay of your time.

The upshot, I suppose, is this: Your assignment does acquire value. You do deserve to be paid for it. But if you started autograph abbreviate fiction cerebration it was activity to be your aliment and er, you should brace yourself for the absoluteness that you’re activity to charge a side-job for abounding years; possibly for your absolute life. As I afresh told a anxious biographer acquaintance who was cerebration of “giving up” writing: you didn’t get into this for the money; if you could be accomplishing annihilation else, you would be.

And so would I. We’re all animate two jobs and autograph our balladry at night. Or, in my case, this actual article. Which, I anticipate it bears mentioning, I was not paid to write.

Image Credit: Flickr/Andrew Magill.

M.R. Branwen is the editor of Slush Pile Annual and the adept chief clairvoyant at Harvard Review. Her autograph has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Adirondack Review, Jezebel, and elsewhere.

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