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01/21/2015 08:56 am ET

The Truth Behind Literary Journal Online Submission Fees

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By Writer's Relief staff:

As you prepare your writing submissions for literary journals, you should also be prepared to take out your wallet as well. To the chagrin of most writers, more and more literary journals are charging administrative fees for online submissions. And let’s face facts: Since most authors receive many more rejections than acceptances from journals—are writers basically paying for the opportunity to be turned down?

Here’s why literary journals are asking you to hand over your hard-earned cash:

Simply put: It costs money for journals to maintain websites, create issues, and use an online submission manager. Many literary magazines are non-profit and are run by volunteers. Those that are run by colleges or universities are dealing with ever-shrinking budgets. Do you subscribe or donate money to every magazine you submit work to? Maybe yes, but maybe no. By charging an administrative fee, struggling literary journals can continue to publish.

And keeping literary journals active is important: The more literary journals available, the more places writers can send their poems, stories, and essays in hopes of acceptance. Remember, a publication credit in a literary journal can help advance your writing career (in addition to making you feel all sparkly inside).

Charging administrative fees also serves to reduce the number of “bad fit” submissions. Since submitting work online is quicker and easier than using snail mail, some authors get carried away in their enthusiasm. They submit their writing willy-nilly to literary journals without carefully checking the guidelines for genre, word counts, preferences, or reading periods; leaving editors buried under a pile of ill-suited submissions. Having to pay to make submissions may motivate writers to think twice and seriously consider where they’re sending work and whether the journal is, in fact, a good fit.

If charging a fee results in a more thought-out submissions approach, both the journal and the writer benefit. Authors will choose journals more carefully and send only their very best work, and the literary journals will have a smaller but better-quality pool of work to consider—which might even result in faster response times.

Of course, there are writers who harrumph and are affronted by the thought of paying fees to make submissions to certain journals. But there’s nothing unethical about the practice. And the editors aren’t dancing in piles of your money—they’re using it to provide an online submission manager that’s convenient and helps keep your submissions organized.

The truth is, the administrative fees that literary journals currently charge for online submissions are minimal. And a $3 fee is not much more than you would have had to spend to send your writing to a magazine via the standard postal service. So the next time you’re submitting work online, don’t be surprised if you see a fee listed—and, hopefully, now you’ll feel better about paying it.

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