Last week, I did something I hoped I would never do. I paid a reading fee to a literary journal for the submission of my work.
I have made my feelings about reading fees clear in the past and they have not changed. Why would I break with my own protocol? I had prepared the submission file and begun the process with the journal's online submission software and got to the point where payment appeared. I'll admit to being torn. My initial reaction was to close the window and move on. But, I had questions. Would the non-contest reading fee this journal charges in any way make a difference in how my submission fared? Could I expect a more timely response?
I wanted answers that would only satisfy me from personal experience. So, I paid the $3.00, knowing it probably would not make a difference in how my submission would be handled and I took comfort that I was at least monetarily supporting the journal.
Just to reiterate my feelings about non-contest reading fees, I compare the trend to airline baggage fees. Once one airline started charging, others soon followed until just about every airline in existence now charges baggage fees. It is taking a bit longer to catch on in the publishing industry, but charging reading fees for non-contest submissions is undeniably a growing trend.
In theory, these reading fees should not be objectionable. Publishing poetry and other literary creative writing is not a money maker. Most journals exist from the desire of people who love quality literature and want to share that literature with the world. Noble. Admirable. We should be grateful for these people and the publications they produce, whether online or in print. I am grateful. Truly.
However, as a poet, I can tell you from personal experience that, for the most part, poetry does not pay monetarily. There is a bit of the sting of the pay-for-publication stigma, whether or not that sentiment is justified. Many wonderful poets can't afford reading fees; they have a difficult time just paying their bills. What are the implications of excluding these poets? Will there be a difference in the quality of the poetry published due to a smaller submission pool?
As fall reading begins and new guidelines are being rolled out, I am monitoring the trend.
If you are an editor of a literary journal, please share your thoughts on this subject.