It’s a well-established business strategy: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. I’ll give you the project if you give my nephew a job. We’ll include your business in our directory as long as you give us contact info for your customers. Your band can play at my venue if you sell X number of tickets.
The Optimist may see this type of exchange as an extension of the Barter System. Everyone wins! If your band helps to sell tickets to the show, then the venue owner will have enough money to pay you to play. The Pessimist, however, will scour the fine print and spot the clause that requires your band to sell X number of tickets, or you will be financially responsible for the difference.
I recently stumbled across a troubling new form of this pay-to-play approach while perusing the online literary magazine The Offing. I’d heard that they were looking for new writers and thought I’d check it out. After reviewing their content and tone, I proceeded to the Submit section. Across the top of the page, it read:
Due to volume, submissions to The Offing will be closed until March 30, 2015. After that, there will be a $3 fee per submission.
The Offing isn’t simply requiring writers to pay for publication*, which would be bad enough. The Offing is requiring writers to pay for their work to be considered for publication.
In the happy world where I’d like to live, literary magazines and the writers who provide their content are partners. They appreciate what the other brings to the table, and mutually benefit from this supportive relationship. But this particular literary magazine has sent a rather inhospitable message to all writers: I’ll consider being your friend, but only if you pay me first.
Okay, so it’s only $3 and most people spend more on their morning coffee. But this is a matter of principle. And the clincher: when The Offing does accept a submission, they pay $20-50 depending on the length and type of work. Would you buy a $3 lottery ticket with a top prize of only $50?
To be fair, I suspect that The Offing’s recent call for new writers brought in more submissions that they were able to handle. After all, there are a lot of writers out there looking for a venue. But while I can understand the need to establish some parameters in order to narrow the herd, this could be affected in a way that does not demean the value of the writers’ work. For instance, The Offing could limit submissions to one per person at any given time, or within a certain time frame. Or they could just post this statement on their site: We are not currently accepting submissions.
This pay-to-submit model insults all writers while simultaneously preying on and “rewarding” those who are willing to lose money for a chance at a byline.
No one should have to pay to write.
*This unto itself is a dubious practice…as a reader, how do you feel about content curated on the basis of money paid rather than the quality of the writing?