"Of course we don't pay you; you pay us."

I've been submitting more of my work to literary journals, and have noticed a rather depressing trend creeping in; some journals charging a fee for submissions. So not only are writers scarce-compensated for their work, they are now expected to pay for the privilege of merely being considered. The issue of writers, musicians, and artists struggling not just to make a living from their creations but even to cover their own costs is a longstanding one, and I don't intend to rehearse it again here, save to repeat the old adage that one doesn't call a plummer or car mechanic to one's house, have them do the work then say one won't be paying them as the "experience" and "publicity" and "getting their name out there" should be sufficient.


I'm pragmatic enough to realise that markets ain't what they used to be, and that my work in particular is seldom "mainsteam". That said, I have been published in numerous journals, both in print and online, and have on occasion been paid for my contributions. This is how it should be, but not how it ever uniformly will. I'm a realist; I understand that. But the last thing I'll do is pay journals to even read my writing on the off-chance they may like it and want to use it.


There are a lot of writers out there who want to see their work published. For a few years back in the 1990s I did editorial for a print journal - one which, incidentally, didn't charge a fee and did pay its contributors - and waded through a stupid amount of (often poor) writing. Charging a couple of dollars per submission soon adds up to a healthy sum. And no, I'm not interested in the "literary journals cost a lot of money to produce" argument. In print, perhaps (though considerably less so now, with the easy availability of print-on-demand), but not online. And if your journal costs money to produce, ever heard of grants? Sponsorship? Advertising? Trying to be cutesy and kooky by calling it a "tip jar" and not a fee doesn't endear you to me, either; it just makes you look like a prick. Tipping is optional, granted after the event in acknowledgment of and in gratitude for a service. Besides, you expect writers, without whom you wouldn't even have a journal, to do it for the love and with no remuneration; why not you?


If all this sounds like the bitter ramblings of a jaded writer, it shouldn't. That it even would is perhaps testament to how much these practices have inculcated themselves into the creative culture. I am of course aware that many journals do not charge fees, and that some pay their contributors. Both are commendable.


So what's the solution? Just say no. Boycott any journal that charges a fee. If all writers do that, this frankly insulting practice may at least stand a chance of being curtailed. Favouring journals that pay over those that don't is also a good habit to get into, but not always the most practical. If I like a journal enough, I'm happy for them to publish me even if they don't pay. I keep that one open, and optional, am aware that some people do indeed do it purely for the love; good folks, kindred spirits.


Currently reading: The New Threat From Islamic Militancy - Jason Burke

Currently listening: Pandemonium - Killing Joke