This is a blog post I’ve been thinking about for a while, but in recent weeks it feels even more pressing. Last week I opened the e-mail newsletter for one of my favorite literary journals, Pulp Literature, who has published my work in the past, to find a hidden note about a new policy: Pulp Literature will now be charging a $10 submission fee.
My first reaction? Another one bites the dust. I felt a twinge, like every time I get a rejection letter. This was an outright rejection for me, before even submitting. As a new writer, I struggle with the submission fee conundrum as much as anyone else. I’m a broke poet who volunteers at a local writing center. My ability to pay submission fees is nil. For this reason, I don’t submit to journals that require: 1. Only postal submissions 2. Any fee to submit 3. Most Contests (Don't even get me started on that subject). It’s not that I don’t value those journals, I truly do. One day, I may be able to afford to submit for a fee, but right now it’s not an option.
Multiple writers have written about the quandary of running a small lit journal, where many of the editors are volunteers who don’t get paid, versus the artistic dilemma of paying writers and the fact that many writers don’t make enough money to afford submission fees. Even further, writers are often fighting a culture of exposure – when major publications like Huffington Post can get away with not paying writers. Lit journals argue that the fee is for the service, a “tip jar” so to say (putting aside the fact that most tip jars are optional). The argument can be made that journals have other options besides charging fees. They can choose to accept submissions via email, which requires no charge or just the cost of running their email box, which we can assume they would do anyway. Part of the issue may be the rise of Submittable, who charges fairly high costs for a service that is valuable, but let’s be honest, a monopoly.
I realized no one ever really examines this subject on a detailed level. So I made a breakdown of the top 100 literary journals publishing fiction*. This list shows which journals charge a fee, how much that fee is, and whether they pay contributors. You can read below, and draw your own conclusions, if any can be found from this data.
*This list is graciously supplied by Clifford Garstrang, who gave permission for it to be reprinted in this form. This list focuses on literary genre journals who nominate for the Pushcart Prize, and can be viewed in its full glory at Garstrang’s website.
The top 100 lit journals and their fees:
Note: Asterisks next to fees indicate journals that offer mail submissions as well. Question marks indicate no published information on the journal’s submission guidelines.
A few thoughts I have on the list:
The amount of journals not charging a fee is shrinking. I wish I had made this list last year, but I can tell you I recognize several journals that have added a fee. It is my hope that I can address this list again next year and see if anything has changed.
I’m planning a similar discussion on genre magazines, which is an entirely different category. Many genre journals go about this with a much wiser approach. The comparison between the two is fascinating, so I hope you’ll keep an eye out for that post.
Until then, submit wisely my friends!
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Holly Lyn Walrath is a freelance editor and author of poetry, flash fiction, and short fiction. Find her on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath
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