A goal of mine this year was to submit more of my work. That means finding markets for stories already in my arsenal and finding themes which spark a story. So far this approach has produced positive results as a couple of my stories have been accepted for publication. Neither are a paying markets and in fact, out of the 7 stories total I’ve had accepted, only 2 have offered compensation. This got me thinking not so much about the enormous difficulty in being compensated for your work but about some of the hoops I was unaware a writer sometimes has to jump through. If you are a writer who desires to become published there are an overwhelming amount of options. From online and print literary magazines to anthologies to contests to posting stories and chapter excerpts on your own website, one question each author should ask himself is: To fee or not to fee?
The biggest challenge, in my opinion, is whether or not it is worth submitting to an outfit which charges a fee. Some magazines and many contests change what is usually referred to as a reading fee although sometimes it’ll be listed as an entry fee. What reading fee means is you, the writer, pays a fee to the literary magazine or whoever is running the contest. The fee is supposed to help cover the cost of the time spent reading and evaluating entries. A lot of magazines are run by one person. Same with contests which usually have a guest judge deciding the winners. Most fees are in the fairly affordable and modest range of $5 to $10 although some can be up to $20 or more; a price which causes some of us to heavily consider if entering is worth it.
With hundreds, if not thousands, of publishing opportunities out in the world, even shelling out money for a fee reading fees here and there adds up. That being said, there are loads of opportunities to get published which don’t cost anything. Anthologies provide a great, free opportunity to get paid for your work. Not generally a huge sum and the amounts vary based on the publisher and the type of contract they offer. A publisher can either pay a flat fee for the story or offer royalties. Royalties are where whatever profits are leftover from the publisher deducting their costs, whatever money is leftover is split between the authors. In other words, you get a set percentage based on sales of the anthology. When this money is paid out and for how long depends on the publisher.
To be clear, reading or entry fees apply mostly to literary magazines and contests. If you are submitting a story to an anthology, there shouldn’t be a fee charged for anything and you should be getting compensated for your work unless the anthology is for charity. By default, a reputable publisher should already have the funding in place to produce the anthology. This means paying for the cover design, staff time to review entries, and printing costs. Under no circumstances should an author be asked to contribute money in order to be published in an anthology.
Another free option is to submit work to literary magazines and contests which don’t charge any kind of reading fee. In these cases, especially with literary magazines, if you aren’t paying a fee, chances are you won’t be compensated other than a contributor’s copy (applies to print outfits) if selected. Contests are tricky because many well-known competitions like Writer’s Digest’s, offer prizes which far exceed the cost of the entry fee. That being said, many contests don’t charge any kind of fee and still offer prizes.
So is charging a reading fee fair and ethical? After all the person running a literary magazine or contest do it because want to support writers by publishing their work. Oftentimes it is one person, perhaps a small group, which read and review stories, maintains the website, and physically put together the magazine. A lot of work and I’m sure they would like to be paid for their efforts. However, is it fair to ask writers, who spend hours, days, weeks, and years to pay a reading fee? After all, for many of us it would be great to start getting paid for that work rather than shelling out money. Is it ethical to charge a reading fee and tell writers that in exchange for their fee, they now get a year subscription to said outfit regardless if they get published or not.
I don’t know what the answer is. This is something I waffle back and forth on when I’m searching for markets for my stories. One rule I have is if a reading fee is requested, then the compensation should be at least a contributor copy, preferably some monetary payment which exceeds the amount of the reading fee. Another rule I have is if entering a contest then the cash prizes should be significantly more than the entry fee.
I think the biggest challenge facing writers is where to find low cost opportunities which allow a writer to gain not only exposure, but to be fairly compensated. There are several sites a writer can search for opportunities: Ralan.com (great for sci-fi and fantasy writers), Duotrope (there is a monthly fee to access the site), Submission Grinder, and other sites can help point you in the direction. Only you can decide if you want to fee or not to fee in your writing career.