Paying to submit your fiction?

Sep. 14, 2009
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If you're a fiction writer, you have a plethora of literary magazines you can submit your short story to, thanks in no small part to the explosion of quality zines online and in small presses. This is a good thing. A lot of these small press literary journals, both online and in print, showcase quality writing and are edited by some really, really good people.

The problem, of course, is sustaining these zines. It turns out that while there are a lot of people who enjoy reading fiction, especially online, not a lot of writers are all that interested. When I was editing Brew City Magazine, I made it a prerequisite that anyone who wanted to submit a story needed to sign up for the newsletter. My goal was to encourage these very same writers to read.

Something. Anything! If every writer actually read on a regular basis, the world of fiction would be a very different place.

But as it is, there are some literary journals that are sustaining themselves with reading fees. Basically, if you want to submit a story for publication, you need to pay. Narrative Magazine is one of the most notorious, charging $20 for you to submit a short story. They also have regular contests with a similar reading fee, too.

Is this a bad thing? Well, some writers think so. Some writers think it's a sham to charge a "reading fee." But on the other side, just taking a look at Narrative's front page (recent interviews with Junot Diaz and Lorrie Moore, not to mention some fantastic featured writers) suggests a lot of that money is being spent creating a very, very respectable literary journal.

On the other hand, you have American Short Fiction, which charges a $2 "reading fee." A little more affordable for the average writer, no? And it's a great magazine, even features a short story online every month to boot. But some writers might argue that even a $2 reading fee is too much, that it should be free otherwise its all a scam.

I disagree, but I think the debate over "reading fees" misses the point entirely. The goal should be to ensure writers are reading. Not only does it help a writer develop, it's a necessary means of support. So I recommend every writer submit a short story to a literary journal contest once per year. You can look them up by clicking here and visiting Poets & Writers' contest page.

When you submit to a literary journal contest, you can gain recognition even if you don't win (an "honorable mention" makes your story much more appealing when you submit it elsewhere). Not only that, just about every literary journal contest fee covers a year's subscription to the literary journal. You're supporting the journal, you're getting great fiction delivered to your doorstep in the process!


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