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Claudia Putnam
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Diane, I do not think the $3 is minimal, or at least it is not for me as I do not have a wealthy benefactor or another job besides writing. I suppose my husband might be seen as a benefactor, but he works in public mental health and his beneficence is directed at the larger community and he does not have much patience for these submissions fees either. He certainly does not see why he should be paying them on my behalf or on behalf of these literary magazines who cannot sustain themselves. I write fiction as well as poetry and all of these arguments apply in that market as well, and they have even less of an excuse... clearly they are not choosing writing that anyone wants to read, because there IS a market for fiction and yet they are not connecting with it. Meanwhile, statistically there HAS to be writing that people DO want to read languishing in the slush (ooh, oooh, pick me, pick me!), and therefore they are charging money to reject the very work that might save their butts and obviate the need to charge fees. There is something wrong with the business model, and I would propose it is that a) there is a visioning problem (they do not know what they want), and b) the wrong people are in charge... ie, artists are maybe not the best people to run a business. Generally speaking. Back to the $3... Diane, how often do you submit? I find that my acceptance rates go up when I submit at a regular cadence. Therefore, I sub 1-3 pieces per week. I mostly avoid journals that charge fees, though I make exceptions when I have longer works to send, because it has become so hard to find any venues at all that take those in these days of flash. So let's do a little math. Assume I submit around 8 pieces per month. If everyone charged, I'd be paying $24 per month. $288 per year. Perhaps that's my literary duty? Now consider that I also subscribe to Rattle, Poetry, APR, Cave Wall (if they're still around; they seem to be flickering), as well as some other journals, that include or focus on fiction, such as Iron Horse, Santa Monica, or on business, like P&W, and that I slip into my local indie bookstore and pick up the Boston Review, Zoetrope, and a few others when I can. Plus, I belong to a couple of local workshops/networks that charge dues, and I usually apply for residencies every other year to the tune of about $100-200. Then there are chapbook submissions. It seems about the only way you can get a chapbook published is to enter some contest or another. Such a contest with parameters suited to my manuscript comes around about every other month, so that's another $15-30. So, no, I don't find sub fees minimal at all. You have to draw the line somewhere. As I mentioned, I don't have a day job. This is due to health reasons mainly, but also out of commitment to my writing. And as I suggested, my husband's salary is not high. The financial situation of writers needs needs to be considered, also. What are the assumptions behind all the pay-to-play requirements surrounding a literary "career" nowadays? We invest so much. Time is money; we invest a great deal of time in both reading and writing. We invest both time and money in education. After education we invest a lot in continuing ed with summer workshops and other short-term mentoring opportunities that are expensive and seem to be expected. These also have costly and time-consuming application processes. Residency fees. Grant applications. Local organizations/networks/guilds (Grub St, the Loft, Lighthouse, Aspen Writers' Network ($250/yr!), Gotham, et al). We do invest in subscriptions. I believe one or two subscriptions ought to be viewed as enough really, just to keep a pulse on what is going on. The fact is, if you're a poet or a short story writer or a novelist, or all three, what you need to do, when you have time, is to read in those genres. You don't necessarily have to be reading JOURNALS, though. It's okay if you read poetry BOOKS, or short story COLLECTION, or NOVELS. You can read a journal, if you want to. But you don't have to, and we shouldn't get mad a writers if they don't. Their job is simply to read as much as they can in their area, and as their interests dictate. We need more people who JUST READ. And that's what editors of all stripes should be trying to figure out how to find. Oprah finds them. Editors can find them too. Obviously they're there. Right now there are a lot of books on the NYT list that are not crap. They might not be poetry, and they might not be experimental fiction or CNF, but maybe the MFA people should stop turning out all these experimental and CNF kids anyway. (Maybe just beautiful prose writers who are writing deep thought provoking stuff about race or WWII are fine. And meanwhile, if a few fringe journals want to hang on publishing the really out there stuff, that does serve a purpose, but they are the ones who need to fundraise and need to exist for art's sake rather than for commercial values.) Anyway, all of these investments may well be worth it in terms of craft development, but they are certainly costly for writers. Back to the money. It adds up if you're submitting a lot of stuff. If you think about who writers ARE, what kind of lives we have, where we are getting OUR money, and therefore what kind of position we are in to subscribe, attend workshops, pay sub fees, etc.... a lot of writers have shit jobs. They are working as adjunct instructors, for instance. I just read a bunch of articles saying that a lot of adjunct instructors are on food stamps. How are they supposed to get $24 extra for sub fees each month? As for me, my husband has been very kind about FEEDING me on this writing gig. Also he feeds my dog. When there's anything extra, and sometimes there isn't, because food is expensive, and so are vet bills, he'd rather we spent it on something fun. Submission fees are not part of my allowance, in other words. I don't blame him. He works hard all day deciding, among other things, whether to send suicidal people to the hospital, often against their will. Usually there aren't enough hospital beds for them. This is unimaginably difficult work and it is often terrifying, and sometimes nothing good can come of it. Having some fun with him instead of sending my poems out is the least I can do. If I were able to work, I'd have more money for fees, but I wouldn't be able to write. So, no point in that. And anyway, I'm not able to work right now. My point in sharing all this is that I just don't get where these editors, workshop organizers, grant disseminators, etc, who so often say that they themselves are writers, get their ideas about the financial situations of writers, and how they can say that these fees are so minimal or meaningless to writers.
I agree. It's not my job as a writer to pay for other writers. It's the job of the READERS to pay for the writers. And for advertisers, perhaps, and for attendees at readings and other events that magazines sponsor. It's the editor's job as an editor to build the writers career by worrying about: quality of the writing, quality of the selection, appeal and reach of the magazine, prestige of the magazine, exposure to agents and bigger-time editors, construction of a larger readership, and, frankly competitive positioning among other magazines so that some of the literary noise out there goes away and readers know where to focus their attention. Editors need to be better at business. IMO they should be less focused on their own careers as writers. Maybe they shouldn't even BE writers, with some exceptions. IMO they SHOULD get paid. They should be incentivized to make the whole thing work. Maybe there shouldn't be poetry-only magazines, though I like them, because there might not be a business model for them. But I'm sorry. You don't charge football players to play. You charge the audience. We need to figure out how to make this work. Megan, below, was asking for solutions. Recently I taught a semimonthly series of poetry appreciation classes at the local library. While the turnout wasn't huge, it was enthusiastic and people were incredibly engaged and grateful. I say: get thee to the masses. Go to libraries, coffee shops, community colleges, bookstores, and just sit down with people and talk them through various poems. Classics, contemporaries, whatever you feel like. People are always saying, I don't get poetry. Or poetry is so weird. Poetry scares me. Poetry is so pretentious. So, sit down with them. Demystify it. There's a lot going on in the schools with spoken word that's helping but there needs to be more regular-folks outreach. Sit down in a coffee shop, put up a sign. Poetry Consultations. Friendly Poet, will talk to you for free. I did one session on how poets talk to one another across decades and centuries. Simple stuff. We looked a bunch of daffodil poems from Herrick to Wordsworth to Plath to Hughes to Trethewey. Another day we did "energy/kinetics," looking at line length and punctuation. Another day we did some form. Another time we looked at social commentary. A lot of people had no background whatsoever. It was just fun. People need some help, that's all. One time the Denver Art museum did this great exhibit, Modern Art, El Greco to Picasso. People could see the context, and that was all they really needed. We need to do a lot more of that. Rattle does a great job with the Police poets, Scientist poets, etc.
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Apr 19, 2015