Online poetry submission fee kerfuffle

C. Dale Young, the poetry editor of New England Review, announced on his blog last Friday that the literary journal would begin charging $2 for online submissions. Similarly, Ploughshares is now charging $3. Like many literary journals, NER and Ploughshares are on the verge of extinction because of university funding cuts, the economy and a nosedive in subscriptions, which were never enough to keep the lights on anyway. 

C. Dale had alluded to NER charging earlier in the summer when he posted a poll on his blog asking what readers would be willing to pay for online submissions. The majority said they would not pay. I was one of them. Since then, I've had a change of heart. Here's why.

I consider the post office one of the seventh circles of hell. Even getting in the parking lot to buy stamps at a machine in the lobby, which may or may not be working, is nightmarish. I hate the post office so much that I set up an account at a small business center up the street from my apartment to handle all my mailing with no fuss or muss. The couple of extra cents they add to stamps or extra dollar or two they add to box up my packages -- especially when I was doing the publicity for Conquering Venus -- is money well-spent. It's not only saved timed, but my sanity.

So, I was thinking about this yesterday when I was taking my old word processor disks over to the business center for them to package and mail. I had emailed the address and packing instructions earlier, so all I had to do was walk in and hand the disks to the person at the counter. If I'm willing to pay for this service, why should I blanch at paying $2 to submit some poems to a magazine? Paying for paper, printer ink, envelopes and stamps surely adds up to more than $2. The convenience of submitting online from the comfort of my own home is most definitely worth $2. Poet Stacey Lynn Brown said we should consider it "e-postage." I like that. 

The thing is that both NER and Ploughshares still accept snail mail submissions absolutely free, so some of the folks freaking out about this affront to the literary world seem to be overreacting. Steve Fellner described this new practice as "creepy," which seems more like a headline grabber than an honest critique of the situation. Fellner argues that graduate students will suffer the most from the $2 or $3 online charge, but since we're talking about a handful of journals, it seems like an overinflated argument. Those poor graduate students will be schlepping over to the post office to buy stamps, which ranges from $4.40 for a book of 10 to $8.80 for a book of 20. You can do the math on this, and be sure to add the stamp that must be affixed to the SASE. 

What I found even more interesting were some of the comments under Steve's post. One commenter says that the argument about the cost of stamps is irrelevant, because the journals are essentially charging a "reading fee" and that postage is just assuring delivery. I made a comment that I'd rather pay $2 on a submission to a good journal than pay $25 to enter the contest lottery and that more and more poets were turning to self-publishing and online journals. Some anonymous commenter said my logic was skewed and that online journals were second-rate venues with bad editing and bad poets seeking "instant gratification and self-justification." This anonymous person also said they would never lower themselves to publishing online. It's a well-known print journal or nothing. With that attitude, I sincerely hope it's nothing for this moron. Sadly, this  elitist snobbery is still widely prevalent in the poetry world. Somehow, the poetry just isn't good enough if it isn't in ink on a printed page.

For shits and giggles, let's pretend that American Poetry Review, Paris Review and Kenyon Review announced they were going online because a print journal was too costly to produce. Would those journals suddenly become second-tier? What if they charged an online subscription fee and/or a $2 submission fee to keep their editorial staff intact? Would you still submit? In the very near future, you may not have a choice.

The fact is that the next generation has very little use for physical books or magazines -- and that goes double for poetry journals. They want their books online, on their iPhone or their Kindle. Just last month, Amazon reported that the purchase of ebooks surged past those of traditional hardbacks. If that trend continues, books, magazines, journals and newspapers will be online only. And if that doesn't work for you, anonymous poet, where are you going to publish?

The fact is that there are many fantastic online literary magazines. A few that instantly come to mind are Boxcar Poetry Reviewqarrtsiluni, MiPOesias, Hobble Creek Review, The Pedestal, The Cortland Review, 2River, LOCUSPOINT, Barn Owl Review and Blue Fifth Review. They don't accept every poem that comes over the transom and the work they are publishing is usually better than what's appearing in the "important" print journals. Slagging these journals off because they don't meet your prestige-o-meter is ignorant and incredibly shortsighted. Poets getting their panties in a wad over $2 online submission fees to the print journals they uphold as the last bastions of "real poetry" are hypocrites.

Poets, get your heads out of the sand. The times they are a-changin'...


Nancy Devine said…
since i have work published in online journals, i can link that work on my blog and use my blog as kind of a resume. many who read my blog and, i assume, some of my poems, wouldn't have access to those poems if they were in print journals. i find myself wishing, from time to time, that work i have in print journals was also available online so someone other than my mother and husband could read it.

i've not yet reached a conclusion on paying to submit online. I must not think it's a terrible idea, because i still occasionally enter contests for which there is a reading fee.
ToadSoda said…
Totally agree with you. I'd pay the $2. I mean, I get that these magazines are holding on by a thread as it is. I'm pretty sure I'm not the kind of poet whose opinion matters on this topic though.
C. Dale said…
To your list of on-line journals that run good poetry, I would add Slate, Linebreak, and The Collagist. There are many others, but these are ones that come to mind and are ones I read often.
Collin Kelley said…
C. Dale, I just sent an email warning you about this rant. Just delete it. lol

Yes, those are all good online journals. There are so many for folks to explore.
Jim K. said…
That's the 500lb gorilla.
Paper ebb. I'm in denial,
but that doesn't stop it. I talked
with an editor. I was in an event
for a lush online with POD paper.
Awesome. But POD is a big purchase
price. She said...just the authors
bought. That was 2 yrs ago.

Now, the lush onlines have killer
load and page times. I want a fast
page B+W or Lanczos-sharpened jpg

When calculators came, slide rules
got exotic. Bought 5 years. When
digital watches came...well, you
remember pocket-watch nostalgia.
That has a boomlet even today.
My daughter has 3. "Steam punk"
is a huge thing with the kids.

Makes me wonder about a
"paper nostalgia" journal format.
Not cardboard-thick decorated
pages...yuck. But, a thin opaque
quality paper with hand.
Leatherette, intaglio-look BW art.
Class, for the Jls. I keep on the
shelf. Stiff pages are getting
me down. I hate cracking backs.

Just pondering outside the
box. The shrinking box. Style.
Paper Jl. production is a killer
as is, esp. with color. Hmmm..

Meanwhile, fees can and will
produce shock, but it will fade.
It's part of bigger issues.

Fulcrum went giant-thick-paper.
Huge poem count. It was phone
book, though.
Dave said…
Thank for mentioning qarrtsiluni in your roll-call -- and for trying to set the morons straight! I do hope when the big-name journals start migrating online, they will hire good web designers and embrace usability standards. Many of the established online magazines are stuck in the 90s technologically speaking and could use a wake-up call.
BadGlue said…
I wonder how long the NEA is going to keep their "50% of the grant applant's poetry publications have to be print publications, not online publications" rule.

Add BlackBird to the online excellent zines.
Add BlackBird to the online excellent zines.
Radish King said…
I worry that the format my poems originally start with end up looking entirely different when they reach then end of the line with the auto-submit software. Then again journals that don't allow you to proof your work before it's printed sink quickly to the bottom of the pile for me when it comes to submitting.
Pris said…
I think I'm the last to learn about the fee for submissions so don't know how I feel about it, yet, to be honest. The other side of the coin is that Moonset, one of the finest International print journals for short forms and haiga, closed its doors as of the last issue due to the high cost of production compared to revenue coming in. Personally, while I like my poems in a certain number of print journals, it's true that there's no way to share. I can't afford to buy copies to send to my friends. Online quality journals, the ones with a limited number of poems to each issue, chosen with care by an editor I respect, is the best of all worlds. But so many of these drop out too soon, too, because their work is all done for free.

If only we could get more of the nonpoetry writing world to buy journals/poetry, even if on Kindle.

Sorry I've been so long away from your blog, Collin. Not much on mine for a while, either.
bookfraud said…
$2 for a reading fee is chump change, and is enough to deter massive blasts while not discouraging serious writers.

i agree that the bias towards print is kind of ridiculous, but it's one that probably won't disappear in much of the (submitting) public's minds. when i started writing, there was no internet to speak of, and when you dream about publishing, it's in a magazine or between the covers of a book.

i'm sure that when printing presses became widespread or even when poetry was read on hand-written scrolls, there was a lot of hand wringing how traveling poets would be put out of business, and that would be the last time anybody heard of homer, because he was meant to be spoken, not read.

in 20 years -- maybe less -- this argument will probably be moot, since we'll be using ipads or whatever technology uproots it to read most of our poetry, news, novels, etc. more important, the young 'uns won't know any better. they'll just assume online publications are just as august as print, because the few left that are exclusively print will be dying.
Amy Holman said…
Failbetter and Literal Latte are great online magazines.
If those 1st tier mags went online, their production costs would reduce tremendously--no paper, binding, printing, posting--and the need to charge would be unneccessary. When you pay a local mail service or the post office (you can also print stamps and order them online to be sent to you) the difference is that nobody is reading the contents of your mail, just ensuring that it reaches its destination safely. You may want to support these magazines and that is well and good. Give them a donation, and buy a subscription for yourself, and gift subscriptions for others, such as nonwriters.
Collin Kelley said…
Nancy and Pris, you both make excellent points: your poetry has a very limited audience in print journals. Online, it's open to anyone with a computer. Or iPhone, iPad, etc. I think having a wider audience for your work should trump the name and "prestige" of the journal.

As I said before, there are snobs out there who only feel like they've accomplished poetry greatness once they appear in a well-known journal. They don't care how many people read it as long as they can include the journal's name in their cv and acknowledgment page for their collection.
January said…
I’m in favor of the publishing model changing. I love online journals as much, if not more than, print journals. Some print journals will go online and charge subscriptions. Some will die off as part of the natural evolution of a journal’s life cycle. But I’m not ready yet to pay $3 to submit work. Mainly because I am a content provider. I don’t want to pay for the opportunity to maybe have my work in a journal or in a webzine. I’m just not there yet. Rarely do I submit anywhere that asks for a fee. There are just too many print and online publications doing really edgy things that don’t make writers pay to submit. I’ll go by snail mail, thank you.

The truth is, none of know if this pay-to-submit model will work. Time will tell.

As for the idea that print is going away, that won’t happen anytime soon. Yes, e-books are on the rise, but the truth is less than 5% of the population use e-readers. The readers themselves are still expensive for a large part of the population. Until journals and newspapers figure out how to adapt a subscription model that works--and how to format poems for small screens--print is still king.
Lyle Daggett said…
I'm trying to get my head around the comparison you make in your post, the notion of paying to submit poems to a magazine, compared with what you're paying to the business center to mail things for you.

The difference is: when you pay the business center for their services, you can expect that they will in fact mail the stuff. You aren't going to get a form rejection slip from them, "Thank you for submitting this task to us. Unfortunately it does not meet our needs at this time."

On the other hand, when you pay for the privilege of submitting poems, maybe the magazine will publish them, maybe not; either way it costs $3.00 or whatever the fee is.

In that sense, purely considered as a question of how much money it costs, yeah, it's not really different from paying the post office to mail a paper submission. I've been doing that for decades, and never have had a problem with the idea of doing it. And I don't submit poems in large quantities, so a submission fee here and there wouldn't be a hardship for me.

But if I'm going to have to pay just for the possibility of getting a rejection slip, then it might make more sense for me to skip submitting to magazines entirely, and just self-publish. (I said more about this in the comment box in C. Dale's blogpost, and won't repeat it all here.)

If online magazines start becoming available online only by subscription (essentially replicating that part of the print model), fair enough, have to find the funding somewhere. Then, for me, it likely will become the same as with print magazines -- I subscribe to a few, and check out a few others from time to time, and I leave most magazines alone most of the time. There are only so many hours in a day.

One of the surpassing advantages of submitting by e-mail is that it costs less than submitting by paper (at least theoretically -- of course, you have to have a computer somehow or other, and that might cost money, but...). If magazines start charging for submissions, that will essentially neutralize the advantage of submitting by e-mail.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with publishing online as such -- the online magazine Pemmican (formerly a print annual, now entirely online) is the magazine that has published me the most times, and I'm delighted to have some poems available online there.

No solid conclusions to my thinking about this right now. Right now mostly just questions, some of which I've maybe asked in the muddle of what I've said here.

Thanks for posting this.
Lyle Daggett said…
Sorry, tried posting a comment here, and ran into some type of Windows glitch -- it posted the comment twice, then when I tried to delete the duplicate comment it deleted both of them.

Getting late, maybe I'll come back and try again. In any case, enjoyed the discussion here. I also was one of the commenters on C. Dale's blogpost on the subject.

Thanks for posting this.
T. Clear said…
Opposition to online publishing is akin to trying to hold back the tide. As a new owner of an iPhone, I'm giddy with delight that I can pull up a nearly infinite number of poems to read wherever I am. It's Christmas every single day.

The good thing about the move to online publishing is that books-as-art -- letter press, etc., with a high degree of publishing and artistic integrity -- will take on even more importance, and perhaps will even sell more. They won't become obsolete, only more precious.

Thanks for an excellent post, Collin!
Jennifer Jean said…
I love print journals. I’ll still buy/read whatever print journals exist after (almost) everything transitions to e-zine format. I like e-zines too and like the availability to a wider audience. As long as there’s a transparent vetting process for quality (the latter being a subjective term, I know), then I don’t mind submitting to e-zines. But I won’t pay for the (perceived) privilege. There has to be a better way for journals of both kinds to make money! It cannot only rest on the shoulders of “content providers” (as January says in an earlier post). As writers we must be able to IMAGINE a solution other than this. Imagination is our stock in trade—we’re sadomasochists otherwise. We should be able to come up with something. That said—I’m out (shrugging here). Anyone have an alternative solution? Anyone? Anyone?
Collin Kelley said…
Lyle, I saw your full comment via my email notification. Yes, please come back and post it in full. My comparison about the mail service and the online submission fee was strictly in terms of convenience.

I'm at a point in my life that I value my time more than anything else and if it costs a couple extra bucks to streamline something so I can work on other projects, it's worth it. Not to mention, I think NER and Ploughshares are good journals and if it helps keeps the lights on, then I'm okay with. They're being open and transparent about their economic woes, so the fee is not arbitrary.
lizahl said…
This post & comment thread touch on some things I've also been thinking about -- the hierarchy of publication, the $$ for submissions, the role of the litmag, etc. Jim K's comment about "paper nostalgia" is sticking with me. Anybody here every read "Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal?" by William Powers. Downloadable and lots to dig into. Am also curious to see what the "biz" (be it academia or NEA or other grantors) might do with respect to "peer-reviewed" and "print" publication requirements. Blogged a bit about some of this myself last month (, trying to mull through various definitions of publication.

And now for a brief shill -- some posters may be interested in attending this roundtable at AWP in February:

Hands On: A Conversation about DIY and Craft Culture in a Digital World
Liz Ahl, Jennifer Flescher, Timothy Schaffert, Kathryn Bursick, Betsy Wheeler, Mathias Svalina

Given the efficiency-driven digital world, why does handcraft survive? Why are there still books? What does lead type offer us in 2010 that differs from what it offered Whitman when he set Leaves of Grass? What does the cut and paste 'zine have to say to the hand-set broadside? How are the digital and the handmade cooperative or symbiotic? What can handcraft offer us about learning, reading and writing? Session participants’ experiences as writers, publishers, and teachers inform their answers.
Lyle Daggett said…
Trying this again -- won't try to reconstruct what I posted last night, but the gist of it, and whatever else has occurred to me in the past 24 hours --

I don't submit in high volume, so the cost of paying a submission fee wouldn't be a hardship for me. The question that comes to the forefront for me is, do I really want to pay for the privilege of receiving a rejection slip?

Yes, paper mail costs money for postage. (It's not the magazine that charges for the postage, but anyway.) One of the advantages of submitting by e-mail is that it doesn't cost anything (actually, you do have to have a computer, and internet access, but...), or at any rate it doesn't cost money per submission. If magazines start charging submission fees for e-mail submissions, one of the advantages of e-mail submission disappears.

One of the great advantages of publishing poetry online is that it has the potential of finding many more readers than if it's available only in print. However if poetry magazines start becoming available online only by subscription, I suspect that will reduce the readership of many magazines. I know that I would read much less poetry online if I could only get at it by paying for a subscription.

I currently subscribe to a half dozen print literary magazines, which is about typical at any given time over the years. And there have been a few others that I would buy single issues of, when they had something that interested me. That was when literary magazines were more widely available in bookstores.

When I commented in C. Dale's post on this topic, I talked mostly about self-publishing as an alternative. I've had the luck to find a print publisher who has published multiple books of mine, though if that weren't available I would totally be self-publishing, in print for sure, and probably online too, though for now print is still a priority for me.

A large part of this is an aesthetic choice -- the kind of poetry I like to read tends to work better, I think, in print than it does online. The internet is a "noisier" medium than print -- when I read poems online, it's harder to hear the silence around the poems (the silence which is often a part of the working of a poem).

I'm not at all opposed to publishing on line as such, I have poems published online, I have a blog, etc. My favorite poetry magazine, Pemmican, was a print annual for several years and is now entirely online.

Not pretending to anything organized or coherent in what I've said here, just what's bubbling to the top as I'm thinking about it here.

Again thanks for posting this.
Sherry said…
I would add Umbrella, Poemeleon, and Linebreak to the list of excellent e-publications.
Anonymous said…
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