Paying Money To People to Read Your Work is Bad

It is a dream of many a reader to be paid to sit in a room and read books. Professors sometimes pull it off when they get close to the end of their career, and they can coast through committees and coast through minimal classes and focus solely on their own interests of research. Naturally, it is quite rare, because it is no small task to be a tenured professor on copious, copious committees. Some literary critics are able to pull it off, as well, but they have to be working for major publications, and they have to be very, very lucky. Most reviewers are not able to do it full-time. I can think of no one able to make their living from reading things except for a certain breed of editor. They put together a little literary magazine or two – which is, itself, no small feat – but they raise revenue on two fronts. They sell the literary magazine, absolutely. They also sell the opportunity to be considered in that literary magazine to aspirants.

Do not pay reading fees. Do not pay contest fees. Do not bother reading magazines that charge those fees.

We are already entering a world where the bar for entry for those of us who come from marginalized communities, and working communities, face a series of stiff barriers. And, one of the many ways that the bar for entry is increased is the rise of reading fees, for the magazines that exist in some genres cannot maintain their lights and electricity without the very artists inside of their pages kicking in a few dollars every time a story is submitted. It has been touted as a way to weed out the flood of stories. The few times I’ve been involved with the editorial side of things, the simple way to handle that problem was not to be open to submissions, at all, and to solicit stories and writers, instead. Ultimately, my responsibility in all I do is to readers. I would sooner flip the submission switch off (as many publications do) than to consider charging a penalty for submissions from people who probably don’t have a lot of money.

Also, I’ve heard editors state that they also need to be paid for their time for reading those stories that they read, and they say they offer feedback. This does not pass the smell test. Your time, as an editor, is paid for by selling magazines and advertising and possibly a kickstarter. Your time is not best spent formulating feedback on stories you don’t like, either. That is a giant waste of everyone’s time. I could offer feedback all day on clean romance stories about Mormons, and it would be completely useless to the people writing them because I am not the audience for that kind of story. (Which is fine! Not everything is for everybody, nor should it be construed as a snipe about these sorts of stories other people like quite a lot! But, don’t ask me to offer feedback on your technical manuals, either! I’m not the guy for that! Nor is Harper’s!)

Anyway, to stay on target: I am not a rich writer. I actually do count on my writing work to pay some bills and bump up our meager retirement portfolio. Telling me I could submit to three magazines, one of which requires a reading fee, and two of which do not, is telling me that I can submit to only those two magazines and the other one doesn’t even exist.

If you charge a reading fee for your magazine, to me, it doesn’t exist. I don’t even read these sorts of magazines. I don’t read them not only because I would never submit to them, but because experience tells me that the stories of marginalized communities will not be present inside of them.The bar for entry, no matter how small, will strike the poorest first and hardest.

I have friends who run reading fee magazines, and I’m sorry, but we did talk about this and you know my feelings very well. I think you’re very nice, very smart people, but you are not engaged in your work in a way that will lead to the outcomes we all desire.

One of the things that keeps me writing SF, also, when I do ponder changing genres, is how I know I can sell short stories to good-paying, high-impact markets without reading fees. There are some bad things about being slow to change, but this, at least, is a positive. We have yet to swallow that pill that mainstream publications have long ago devoured. So, hooray for us?

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