Monday, April 25, 2016

Reading Fees in the Short Story and Poetry Market?

By: Karen Albright Lin

You’ve seen them, literary magazines with editors who ask for reading fees to consider your short stories. Are they vultures waiting on fences ready to prey on people's dreams? Are they victimizing those who aren’t seasoned writers ready to publish? I can’t help but wonder if it is human instinct to want to be immortal in some way, leave something of ourselves behind (even if it’s in the cloud ether). After being turned down by the lit mags that have no reading fees, isn’t it tempting to pay our way into publication? Is that what the charge is all about?

It feels a lot like vanity-publishing a novel. We have the product, those words we’ve massaged into obedience. We should be paid, not the other way around. Right? Many of these lit mags make money off the stories they sell. It sounds as if they are taking advantage of writers, charging for a read without any guarantee of publication. Surely they know full well that most of those who send work in won’t ever see it in print or available online. Sounds like exploitation, right? 

Often it is. But then, I've been on the lit mag editor side of this equation. Four different university magazines. It was overwhelming how much was sent in. We didn’t charge reading fees. Maybe we should have. Sifting through piles and piles of submissions was a painful labor of love. But because of those experiences, I understand that the lit mag business can result in having no compensation and much agony. 

Requesting a little bit of money—often $10 to $15—to consider a short story or a group of poems naturally whittles down the number of submissions and pays for the time it takes to read and decide about the works’ worthiness or appropriateness for the magazine. I’ve paid to enter contests. Is this much different? I can appreciate and support a small reading fee or contest entry fee if the magazine is a quality one with a track record (Glimmer Train comes to mind). But I’d hope a magazine or e-zine that charges to consider your work will give it a serious read and comment on it. Feedback is worth something too. 

Others will surely disagree and I can understand where they’re coming from.  This is just one writer’s opinion.

About the Writer: Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at


  1. Karen, what a thought-provoking post. I think it depends on the publisher as you suggested. A lot of fly-by-night publishers pop up and I would caution writers about e-v-e-r paying a fee. If a short story publisher and/or poetry publisher would explain upfront what kind of feedback the entrant would get, it might be money well spent.

  2. I just encountered this today. I've been on an unofficial hiatus from writing/publishing for 6 months. Six months ago, most journals that charged for submissions were only charging $3. But I noticed at least a few top-tier journals that are now charging between $15 and $25 for regular submissions! I was accustomed to forking over that much for contests, but for submissions; are you kidding me? So if I wanted to submit to, say, five top-tier journals that charged this much, I could be looking at paying up to $125! I can think of much better ways to spend over a hundred bucks.

    And think about struggling writers for whom paying $25/journal just isn't an option. It feels like more of the same--you have to pay to play in America.


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