Why Literary Journals Don’t Pay

May 31, 2017 | 26 9 min read

Recently, the Spalding MFA Twitter account tweeted about my small online lit mag:

“@slushpilemag is accepting #fiction, #poetry, and #cnf submissions through @submittable & will provide feedback!” it cheerfully announced.

The post got a handful of likes and retweets. Then came this: “Do you pay your contributors?”

I grimaced as I typed my response: “Only in mugs and tote bags, I’m afraid.”

A few minutes later came the inevitable reply: “Yeah…that’s not payment.”

Exchanges like this happen from time to time — sometimes over email, sometimes over Twitter. Often they seem undergirded by an assumption that lit mag editors will reap some monetary reward for publishing an author’s work while denying them the compensation they deserve. So I thought an explanation was in order.

The following is an overview of the sad but true economic reality of literary magazines, and what writers should know as they stake out the terrain.

Literary Journals Don’t Make Money

“There is no such thing as a profitable literary journal. To the best of our knowledge, all surviving literary journals are supported by universities and/or by individuals who love short fiction and are willing to put their own time and money into them.” — Glimmer Train

In the age of the Internet, people are loath to pay for content — in print or online. The decline of the print publishing industry and the constant near-collapse of the news industry has seen publishers of all stripes frantic to monetize a readership that continues to dodge online advertising and refuses to pay for any form of subscription.

Meanwhile, print periodicals — including, and perhaps especially, literary journals — are extremely costly to produce and continue to lose subscribers as readers increasingly move online. Which is not to say that literary journals have ever been financially viable. Even the illustrious Harvard Review, my literary alma mater, would disappear were it not for generous donors. This is true of all but maybe two or three journals.

As publishing industry veteran Jane Friedman notes:

A literary journal’s costs are rarely, if ever, covered by subscriptions, but by a combination of grants, institutional funding, and donations. Even extremely well-regarded, award-winning journals have found themselves on the edge of the precipice — and continue in part due to dogged persistence and commitment from their founders and staff, who repeatedly raise the funds needed to continue […] It’s a misnomer to talk about a business model for print literary journals; they’re nonprofits and continue mostly due to charity and goodwill.

And in recent history, much of this funding has begun to disappear: “After more than a century of founding and subsidizing literary magazines as a vital part of their educational missions, colleges and universities have begun off-loading their publications, citing overburdened budgets and dwindling readership,” said Ted Genoways in an article ominously titled “The Death of Fiction,” which he penned all the way back in 2010.

While the overhead for online literary journals is much smaller, they are also far from free and even further from being profitable since, unlike print publications, they aren’t in a position to offset any of their costs with subscriptions.

So the first thing to understand is that if a literary magazine is paying you for your work, they are likely doing so out of grant money, not pockets deeply lined by the publishing of literary fiction and poetry.

 People Who Work at Literary Journals Don’t Make Money

“No one has ever been able to make a good living writing or publishing literary fiction. It doesn’t matter that there are exceptions. The rule stands.” — Stephen Elliott, founder of The Rumpus

In a manner of speaking, submissions cost — not make — lit mags money.

Lit mags receive a lot of submissions — this can range from many hundreds to many thousands each year — which they read and then accept or decline. Those declined are read carefully, often reviewed by several (unpaid) readers each. Those that are accepted go through a minimum of two rounds of editing (often more). Then the work must be formatted and proofed, and, at last, when the issue is completed, it is promoted on social media and by whatever other means possible. This process represents hours and hours of time. And while some lit mags can afford to pay some members of their staff, many are entirely staffed by volunteers. If you consider that, in their non-literary lives, these same people are paid to do things, you could think of every hour they spend working at literary journals as negative money.

They do it because they love it, of course. Editors of small journals are often writers themselves. Almost without exception, people who work at lit mags are burning the midnight oil writing fiction and poetry, just like you. They’re writing the same cover letters, paying the same submission fees, receiving the same rejections. They, too, are having their work published in literary magazines that can’t afford to pay them for their work. This is not an “us” vs. “them” — just an us on both sides of the imaginary divide.

So, while on the surface it may be tempting to lump non-paying lit mags in with publications like the Huffington Post that are financially solvent but “pay” their contributors in “exposure,” it’s very different. Nobody in this equation is bringing home the bacon.

If Literary Journals Don’t Make Money or Pay Writers, What Good Are They?

“Writers sometimes lament the dearth of paying markets, but they should be reassured that often nobody wants to pay writers more than those same editors.” — writer Nick Ripatrazone

Duotrope lists about 1,400 online and print publications that publish literary fiction. Of those, 38 pay at the “professional” level and another 73 pay at the “semi-professional” level. An additional 74 offer “token” payment — we won’t include these since you can’t pay your rent with contributor copies. This means that about eight percent of literary magazines are currently paying.

I suppose it is possible to build your entire writing career submitting only to the eight percent of literary journals that are in a position to pay you, but here are a few reasons why writers submit to the other 92 percent:

1. To build up their writing credentials

The majority of literary journals that pay are also the biggest, oldest, and most prestigious. Consequently, they are also the most competitive. While it is true that many journals do their best to read submissions “blind,” it is also true that others don’t, and the strength of your previous publications may or may not impact the quality of attention your manuscript is given.

What’s more, the response time for top-tier journals is often six months to a year, which means that while you may succeed in placing your piece in a journal that can pay you a few hundred dollars for it, the process could easily take several years.

2. To reach a maximum number of readers

Refusing to submit your work to 92 percent of literary journals limits your readership. If your goal as a writer is to get as many eyes on your work as possible — and arguably, it should be — limiting your submissions to eight percent of available publications does seem a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

3. To work with editorial staffs who have the time to care

Larger publications receive a staggering quantity of incoming submissions. This both limits the amount of attention the staff can give each submission and means the journal is unlikely to accept pieces that are less than perfect because they already have more “perfect” pieces than they can publish.

Smaller publications run at a less frantic pace. They often do have the time to offer feedback or spend time polishing up a diamond in the rough. This is, I believe, perhaps the greatest value that non-paying journals offer writers. As Deborah Treisman, fiction editor of The New Yorker, said in a recent interview: “It’s crucial to have readers. Writing is a kind of contract with an audience, so whether that audience is your best friend or an editor or a fellow student, it’s crucial to have somebody else look at your work.”

Evelyn Somers, associate editor of The Missouri Review concurred:

At The Missouri Review, we do pay our writers and have for a long time. Author payments cost us a little over $20,000 a year if you don’t count our prize awards. With those, it’s around $40,000, and it’s money very hard won. But the most valuable thing writers receive when they are selected for publication is a generous quantity of the editors’ time and attention — for which the editors are not always paid since a fair amount of it may be off the clock. That includes time preparing work for publication and also time promoting the authors, nominating work for prizes, sometimes reading or reviewing their books on their own time.

Working with editors makes writers better. The more editors you can work with — especially of publications you admire — the more you will learn about your writing and how to make it stronger.

4. The editor who can’t pay you today may be able to pay you tomorrow

A few years ago I convinced a local weekly magazine to begin running a monthly fiction series, which I edited. This was a publication that did pay its writers and promised to pay mine. I went back to all of the writers I’d worked with at Slush Pile and published their fiction in this new paying market.

This particular story has an unhappy ending — sadly in keeping with the theme of this article — which is that the weekly magazine turned out to be financially insolvent and didn’t end up paying anyone. But I think the moral of the story holds. Which is that editors aren’t stationary. Hopefully we, like you, are constantly moving on up. And as we do, we want to take you on up with us.

5. Editors really, really want you to succeed

Aside from the fact that editors of literary journals truly care about literature and championing it, they are also deeply motivated to see you succeed. Their success is predicated on your success; their reputation is built on the strength of your reputation — it’s why they do what they do. They want your story to win the Pushcart Prize or end up in Best American Short Stories. They want you to be the next Junot Díaz or Zadie Smith or J.K. Rowling. Because the more writers they nudge and nurture into the limelight, the more likely it is that they will end up with the one paying gig in the world of literary publishing: Deborah Treisman’s job.

You’re Not Going to Pay Me, but I have to Pay You to Submit? WTF?

Reading fees are another hotly debated topic among writers.

An article ran in The Atlantic a few years ago in which Joy Lanzendorfer explained that she may stop submitting to literary journals all together because she feels that $3 reading fees are “bad for the writing community at every level” and threaten “the inclusivity of literature when it comes to new, diverse voices.”

“It’s fine to charge fees if you’re targeting mostly white, male writers who went to elite schools and who have a financial safety net,” she says. “It’s not so great if you want to hear from the single mom working two jobs who writes poetry at night.” This is the most compelling reason to interrogate the practices of publishing, at every level. Arguably, we cannot change the vast inequities in publishing, particularly regarding race and class, without addressing its economic structures — along with a host of other problems.

In truth, the entire enterprise of writing and publishing short fiction isn’t — and hasn’t ever been — welcoming to the financially burdened. This has, again, primarily to do with the terrible economics of small literary journals and is something that publications must work to mitigate. However, it has very little to do with the advent of submission fees.

Submitting to literary journals was never free. In the analog age, there was the cost of the paper, the envelopes, the postage, the infamous SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), not to mention the typewriter. The current system of electronic submissions is, in some respects, more inclusive, as most (if not all) journals will, to my knowledge, waive the submission fee in response to a simple email stating financial hardship.

Submission fees exist to cover the cost of submission managers (like Submittable). They are not bribes being offered to the editorial staffs of literary journals in exchange for reading submissions. And while it is true that submission fees have become an unexpected boon to some literary journals in this time of dwindling subscribers, the money they bring in is, if anything, making up for a portion of lost revenue, not creating a surplus.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that submission fees have helped keep many journals alive in an age of dwindling bookstore sales, reduced ad revenue, and perennially reluctant subscribers,” said Christina Thompson, editor of Harvard Review. “It’s a cost to the writer, to be sure, but it’s a small and broadly shared cost which goes a long way toward supporting the entire ecosystem.”

And speaking of said ecosystem: “The proliferation of outlets and editorial sensibilities since the 1970s has supported the rise of literary pluralism, but undercut the way journals previously leveraged cultural hegemony and scarcity to generate revenue,” said Daniel Pritchard, poet, critic, and editor of The Critical Flame. “It used to be that only these kinds of writing by these sets of writers was literary, and only certain journals published those writers. People paid for access to a relatively narrow concept of literary merit. So we’re not just talking about revenue models and payment here. We’re talking about which aesthetics and whose voices — literally — have value.”

It’s also worth noting that many publications waive submission fees for subscribers. This is, in my opinion, the most equitable system. Any publication good enough for your work ought to be good enough to financially support in some way — whether through subscription or submission fee. Does this reduce literary mags to an exercise in vanity publishing? Perhaps. On the other hand, writers are readers. As such, they have always been primary patrons of literary enterprises.

Where Does This Leave Us?

“Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood.” — Ted Genoways

Perhaps I’ve succeeded in convincing you of the value of submitting to non-paying literary journals. Or perhaps I’ve succeeded only in convincing you that the whole enterprise of writing literary fiction is a complete waste of your time.

The upshot, I suppose, is this: Your work does have value. You do deserve to be paid for it. But if you started writing short fiction thinking it was going to be your bread and butter, you should brace yourself for the reality that you’re going to need a side-job for many years; possibly for your entire life. As I recently told a despairing writer friend who was thinking of “giving up” writing: you didn’t get into this for the money; if you could be doing anything else, you would be.

And so would I. We’re all working two jobs and writing our poetry at night. Or, in my case, this very article. Which, I think it bears mentioning, I was not paid to write.

Image Credit: Flickr/Andrew Magill.

is the editor of Slush Pile Magazine and the long-time senior reader at Harvard Review. Her writing has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Adirondack Review, Jezebel, and elsewhere.


  1. Umm Narrative makes plenty of money. You can google the non-profit’s tax returns and see the six figure salaries for the husband and wife running the thing. The Glimmer Train ladies, contrary to the quote above, have gotten a nice life out of charging newbies $20 a pop.

    Last point: If Slush Pile Magazine charges $3 but is online and does not pay contributors, where is the money going? You don’t have to use Submittable, you know? Plus, hosting is pretty cheap. Will you release the magazine’s tax returns?

  2. This article is perfect. It’s like a list of literary magazines and editors I can make sure to never support with a subscription, purchasing their merch or even giving them the web traffic to help their ad figures since they don’t support their writers!
    But really, telling a writer they should submit their work for free to get exposure, then telling them there is now way your mag can pay them because it doesn’t have enough subscribers? No wonder lit mags “aren’t successful.”
    Remember folks, the economic plague faced by media industries isn’t because the creators aren’t talented. It is all because the business side has to be inventive and come up with new models. And they are trying to make the creators shoulder the entire burden of business failures, with blame thrown at consumers/customers as well.

  3. I’m curious if your web hosts, domain registrars and printing companies accept “But we don’t make a profit!” instead of payment. Does your utility company wave your electric bill if you offer to tell your friends about them?

  4. “If your goal as a writer is to get as many eyes on your work as possible — and arguably, it should be — limiting your submissions to eight percent of available publications does seem a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

    If your goal as a writer is simply to get as many eyes on your work as possible, why bother with submitting to the lower-tier, non-paying journals in the first place? Why not just post it online yourself, and skip the submission fees, editor delays, and (in some cases) the obscurity of print-only or paywalled online distribution? Lots of folks are doing that nowadays; they don’t get feedback from editors, but the ones with an audience do get feedback from their readers, which helps them improve their craft for the next stories they write.

    The answer, ultimately, to “Why Literary Journals Don’t Pay [Writers]” is “Because They Can Get Away With It”. (Or at least they think they can.) You mention “the cost of submission managers (like Submittable)”– that cost exists because Submittable, unlike the magazine’s writers, doesn’t let them get away with not paying them.

    Now, if a journal is happy to just publish amateurs and people with other day jobs that don’t need payment, I’m fine with that as long as it makes it clear that it’s a forum that’s essentially amateur (or only for securely employed academics and the relatively small coterie of other folks who have the independent “financial safety net” mentioned by Joy Lanzendorfer above). Likewise, if a journal wants to market itself to writers as a cheap or free way of getting writing advice, or as providing promotional services superior to the open Web, potential submitters can decide whether those services are worth it.

    But if it wants to present itself as a serious part of the “careers” of people who want to write professionally, or attract writers outside the usual independently-comfortable set, it should pay them like it pays the submission-manager providers and the other real professionals that enable it to operate.

  5. Great journals that don’t take advantage of writers include: The Sun, Hobart, Gargoyle, Barrelhouse, Tin House, McSweeney’s, etc.

  6. Last point and I’m going home: Check out Electric Literature for a journal that’s constantly evolving in the digital space and paying contribs too boot.

  7. The author(s) seem to know little about the explosion of literary contests in the last few years , along with,cheek by jowl, the explosion of MFA programs. Dues to enter a contest vary, some are as high as 30 dollars a pop, and the proceeds to the sponsoring literary magazines are large. Almost every university in the country has an MFA program AND a literary journal they sponsor or promote. And all the students in all the MFA programs nationwde “want to get publishe.,” Do the math. Somebody, somewhere is making a lot of money. ( See the note above on Narrative Magazine and the two sisters at Glimmer Train.)

  8. Narrative and Glimmer Train are exceptions, though. If other journals tried to pattern themselves after those two particular models they’d be toast within a year and a half. There are always going to be a few “haves” and some of them do get to dominate the landscape – Tin House and McSweeney’s as noted (and yes, from what I’ve heard, they treat people relatively well). But they’re essentially hipsterism. They’re the place that sells 6 dollar cups of coffee or 10 dollar pints of craft beer. That will work in LA, NYC, SF, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, and maybe a few other places. But try opening a fancy shmancy coffee shop and sell $6 cups of coffee in Indiana or Kentucky and see how long before you go out of business. Also, even in those high end markets that can support hipsters, there is a saturation point, for literary journals, third wave coffee shops and craft brew joints alike.

  9. “People paid for access to a relatively narrow concept of literary merit. So we’re not just talking about revenue models and payment here. We’re talking about which aesthetics and whose voices — literally — have value.”

    This is the heart of it. Also, to get more specific: too many writers expect to get paid for work they’ve trimmed, studiously, to the shape of the template of “professional writing” that they calculate has the best chance of making it. Guaranteeing a degree of cookie-cutterosis that no reader with a precious pile of coins to spend would find beguiling. Almost everyone now, published or not, writes Like That (or worse): I’ve been burned so many times, in the past decade, buying new books, that I’d rather buy a book I already own for the reliable pleasure of buying a good book… before I forget how it feels.

    The Revolution required: resurgence of wild Talent (contemptuous of lucre) plus a timely reintroduction of the sense that ambition for its own sake is gauche (that is, I’m calling for an end to the Madonna era). Also, less log-rolling would help. Have a look at the masthead of “DANDRUFF SWAIN” and you’ll find the names of writers featured in next month’s “PHLEGM AND CHALICE”, “PAL BORGIA” and “TACOMA SOLSTICE”… one of whom is bound to win the annual poetry prize at “ANAPEST HUB”. All of whom live in the same dorm.

  10. If a journal is online-only, it can be run very cheaply (obviously the human capital involved is intense), and I see no need for charging writers. If fees are pooled for contributors, sure, then that seems fairer. But journals like Slush Pile Magazine do not pay. I take the viewpoint of someone like the writer Nick Mamatas:


  11. I charge people $3 to submit suggestions for my Twitter feed. If I choose your tweet, you get credit but no payment. It is very prestigious. Sure, no one reads my Twitter feed. But it is very important. Pay me so I can read your tweet ideas. Also, I will DM you on Twitter every day to beg you for money. #art

  12. “Submitting to literary journals was never free. In the analog age, there was the cost of the paper, the envelopes, the postage, the infamous SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), not to mention the typewriter.”

    First of all, the typewriter is a durable good. Century old Underwoods are still in use. Sure it needs to be fed a ribbon every now and then, but so does your printer. But unlike your printer, it won’t turn into an oversized paperweight because your new laptop that you bought because MicroSoft won’t support your old one doesn’t want to talk to your “outdated” printer. so your cost of producing work is actually going UP, because of “planned obsolescence.” Equipmentwise–even adjusted for inflation–you could write for the entire 20th C. for less than the cost of a decade in the 21st C.Second, the cost of paper, envelopes, postage, and SASE (or SASPC), rarely adds up to $3 for a 2,000-word story.

  13. “Those declined are read carefully, often reviewed by several (unpaid) readers each.”

    That, my friend, is complete horse puckey. I’ve been in publishing for 25 years, published my own little magazine, and read lots of slush. Immense piles of it. Anyone who reads slush learns quickly how to plow through it fast or they will drown. (And this was in the days when it was all on paper!) Charging submission fees and not paying is pure rotten evil. Why should you get paid for your time if the writer isn’t getting paid for theirs?

  14. What are you people (in the comments) fighting for, here? The right to be handed a $100 check instead of nothing? Will that fatten your little checking account so very much? Will it make it all worthwhile?

    Writers have been poor throughout history. Even for all those artists whom you, Idle Reader, so admire: Poverty is part of the life. Fitzgerald was an exception, but even his fortunes are greatly exaggerated by his legacy. Toward the middle and end of his life, he was as broke as anyone.

    Paradoxically, though, I think I have to disagree with Genoways, whom I admire, and say that writers really should not be looking at writing as their “lifesblood.” There is far too much of that going on. Passionate dipshits abound and its precisely the problem with so much terrible writing: they feel they are beholden to no one but their passion.

    But if a writer begins to see writing as work, as something valuable for the world around him–i.e., as his “livelihood”–he might start writing like he has readers and start treating writing like what is, which is a job with responsibilities to the world outside of him.

    So, in conclusion: no, you will not get paid for your little stories in university journals, but yes you should act and write like you are getting paid and like what you write matters.

  15. I’m fine with no payment – as Darren’s comment says, what difference would it make if it was $25 or $100? Yeah, it *would* feel good and it validates the process, which does matter. Somebody is saying “your work is worth a signature on a check.”

    But whatever – I can live with that.

    What I DO expect, and frankly, don’t see, is transparency.

    If you’re not going to pay, okay, but if you’re ALSO going to charge a reading fee (and that’s what any fee is, however you want to dress it up) then you owe some kind of feedback beyond the rote rejection.

    Not a lot – but something that says “this was not right for us because the first few paragraphs were simply not engaging.” Good – that feedback is worth $3. I could use that.

    So if there was a trade of “you give us a little money for that reading fee and we’ll actually prove we read it,” I think people would be a lot less annoyed with it all.

    Having said that, I don’t pay reading fees – it’s just a hassle to pull out the credit card, so why bother.

  16. @Darren Cane

    “Passionate dipshits abound and its precisely the problem with so much terrible writing: they feel they are beholden to no one but their passion.”

    Passionate dipshits with TALENT (who “feel they are beholden to no one but their passion”) are responsible for all the Great Art that ever passed through this world (because even the talented dipshits relying on patrons subverted the petty dictates of subservience to force belligerent Beauty into the deal).

  17. Online mags actually only cost what it costs to host, which I note NO editor who charges a fee ever discusses. Why? Because you can host a website simple enough for a litmag for under $200 a year. If you’re only getting say, under 60 submissions a year with a $3 fee, yes you are spending your own money to run the website. God forbid.
    But, if you receive “many hundreds to many thousands each year” then you should have a good deal of cash.
    If you insist on paying for submittable, which is a poor excuse for saying your costs are because an email address would suffice, that would be $374 a year.
    “Many hundreds” of submissions per year at $3 a pop would be $2100 for 700 submissions, leaving a magazine, as described in the article, with around $1500 that could go to contributers.
    The submission fee system is a creative way of manipulating writers for a select few to get money out of it.

  18. “Online mags actually only cost what it costs to host…”

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but that is a truly despicable statement.

    What you’re ironically saying is that the editor/readers/whatever don’t “spend” anything in terms of time, effort, skill, thought, emotion, interest, motivation, education, experience, or perspective.

    Basically – you want THEM to pay YOU, but you see what they’re doing as free and not costing anything.

    Make no mistake – I don’t like reading fees, and I don’t pay them – but it goes both ways. What are they supposed to pay themselves for hosting/editing/curating the site in the first place? For putting that time in? Nothing? Something?

    There’s just a lack of perspective from both sides.

    As for an email address “sufficing,” that’s also a very naive point – I have an email address and get, conservatively, 50-75 emails a day. It’s very, very difficult to manage – and yeah, I can put them in folders, etc and try to organize, but it’s still difficult. Sure, it CAN be done, but that does not mean it SHOULD be done. So again, you’re expecting the editor to manage a Gmail address of dozens of emails asking about submissions, pitching ideas, complaining about edits, etc -instead of just using Submittable.

    Do you understand how one-sided your view is?

    And your $1500 -which is a good estimate – so lets assume there were 50 writers, so that’s $30 per writer. Does it matter? Did that change anybody’s life? And lets assume a site publishes 100 writers a year, now it’s down to $15. Or does it actually make more sense for the $1500 to go to the site for the effort to provide a platform for the 50 writers to reach an audience?

    If you’re not providing the platform – WHY should you get paid? If you want to get paid, then find a paying venue – it’s not hard.

  19. Just to be clear in my above post – I’m not an editor of a site.

    But I can see it both ways, whether I pay reading fees or not.

  20. So their expertise is worth money, the writer’s is not? The article is all about why writer’s skills aren’t worth the time that an editor’s are, so I figured I didn’t need to spend time in the comments section kowtowing to them any further.
    Also, you make the great presumptive leap that 1) I have never been an (unpaid) editor and 2)That I said ANYWHERE in my comment that the editors of the site deserve NO payment or recognition.
    The issue isn’t about changing somebody’s life with $30, it’s about how disingenuous this article is about what it actually costs to run a mag, omitting what those submission fees could amount to. People from actual profitable mags saying it isn’t profitable so you should pay them fees, or even people from mags that are barely profitable acting like they’re raking in as little as the writers, when in reality something is coming in. I was trying to expose the bluff a lot of people at online mags try to run, which this article relies on heavily.
    I’m sorry organizing an email account for submissions can be a bit difficult at times, but it isn’t impossible in the least.
    Now explain to me why litmags should be paid for providing a platform, and writers shouldn’t be paid for creating the content that the litmags publish.

    I tried to match your condescending tone, but I don’t think I quite have it in me.

  21. I think what editors resent here is the false but widespread notion that they are making and hiding secret magazine profits in order to enrich themselves. It’s absurd. There is no money in the business anymore. Fifty years ago, we know that published story writers were paid quite a bit. Do you need anymore evidence than that this has changed? Do we really believe that somewhere in the 70s editors said, “Wait a minute, I could just KEEP this money. I’d be rich!”
    Truly, funding and readership disappeared over time, so writers stopped being able to earn a living on stories (of any kind, fiction, reviews, journalism, etc.). If editors still had the readership and financial support, you bet your ass they would pay their contributors. Because they don’t just want to publish tolerable writing, they’d prefer to have ongoing relationships with great writers. Money helps with that. But they don’t have it. So they don’t pay it.

    Steven Augustine, I would certainly not call the artists I admire in history passionate dipshits “with TALENT” (a phrase which makes little sense). If you’ve spent any time reading what gets published in these little mags or in a writing workshop, you know that the most intolerable trait of talentless people is their enduring faith in their message and their work. They are incorrigible, blind to the worthlessness of their writing. I wish they would quit it, and pick up one of the many other admirable jobs out there, like welder, architect, traffic cop, or circus ringmaster. So much to do in this world besides write!

  22. @Matt – I actually totally agree that writers should be paid, whether it’s $15, $50, $500 or whatever. I completely see it your way.

    BUT – the other side is there are costs that you’re being “condescending” about when you say that running a website is cheap/free/whatever. Sure, it IS cheap, unless you start talking about the time it takes to organize 50-100-200 submissions, etc over a period of just a few weeks. So just as wrtier’s expect to be paid, the writer need to at least TRY and see it the other way too. That’s not “kowtowing,” it’s RESPECT.

    You wrote -“I said ANYWHERE in my comment that the editors of the site deserve NO payment or recognition.” You did not say that in so many words, but you certainly did see any value in the effort/time that an editor or staff would put into the platform.

    But – again – I am also opposed to fees UNLESS they come with some sort of agreed upon transparency like i said. A little feedback as a way of showing “hey a real person read your submission.” I’d at least feel like that’s a true “reading fee” as opposed to $3 or whatever that goes nowhere.

    I don’t agree that the article was that disengenuous, but I agree that the writer is not seeing the value that even $10 or $25 or whatever creates as a dignity for the process.

    As Darren said – NOBODY is getting rich. Let’s pretend that the editor pockets the $1500 – and? He/she ran a website, organized content, etc., so yes, some of that money *should* have gone to the writers, absolutely, but can you begrudge the editor taking that money when it was a 365 platform for the editor, but only a couple weeks of writing time for the story?

    We don’t even really disagree – I don’t like these fees anymore than you. But I saw a lot of piling on in the comments, and it’s like I hate to break it to everybody but are people even doing their part to actually read/traffic the sites in the first place? This essay got a few comments (15 or so before I chimed in), but plenty of very interesting essays get no feedback at all…it’s like people only want to engage with the content when they can be offended about something.

    But yeah, I was being condescending – had you been the first comment I wouldn’t have cared, but you just made that one statement that stuck out to me…though I know you likely didn’t mean it in quite the way I interpreted it.

  23. I get why literary magazines don’t have any money, sure, but the writers are the very LAST people who should be expected to foot the bill. It makes zero sense and is completely backwards to charge the person providing the commodity. It’s like charging my plumber for the pleasure of fixing my toilet.

  24. Late here but just a thought to throw out there: literary magazines not paying their authors because they don’t have enough money makes perfect sense. That I understand. But from an author’s perspective (at least this author), a reading fee for an unpaid magazine doesn’t really make sense — even if no one is earning money off the fees. Because when I send a story to a magazine, I send with the assumption that it will probably get rejected. The ratio of rejections to acceptances supports this assumption. Thus, it’s far more worth it to send to magazines without reading fees. I don’t follow the ‘a publication good enough for your work is good enough to financially support’ logic, because most literary magazines (IMO) publish a VERY broad range of quality and, what is perhaps more important to me, worldview. I want my work to reach readers; that doesn’t mean I 100% support everything that every literary magazine I send to publishes.

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