First, I want to thank you for engaging with us about this issue. Because the policy of The Florida Review and Aquifer: The Florida Review Online to charge small submission fees resides with me, [original professor who wrote to me and whom I wrote back to], who received an email from you, asked me to respond. She read your email to me, and I want you to know that we both appreciate your concerns and understand them. Natalie works primarily as a scholar (and they seldom, if ever, get paid for their work), but I myself am a creative writer who has written both for free and for pay. I certainly prefer the latter myself.
I know this perspective–that somehow submission fees make us akin to vanity publishing and/or that we are harming the entire endeavor for writers or that we are excluding writers from less privileged groups–is circulating in the Creative Writing world these days. It has primarily been promulgated by two articles, one in The Atlantic Monthly and the other in Poets & Writers, both, ironically enough, magazines that virtually never consider work that is not represented by an agent and who, I might add, also charge tiny publications like my own $150 or more for a mere classified ad to inform people of The Florida Review’s existence. I believe they have mis-led the public with these articles.
I wish I could allow you to see from our perspective, though I dare not expect that. I have many more thoughts about related matters, but for now I would like to address only a few points in your email that simply aren’t true.
First, we do not charge authors for publishing their work. Vanity presses are defined as those that publish any work, no matter the quality, as long as the author pays for it. We have an approximately 2-5% acceptance rate, which demonstrates quite clearly that we do not publish anyone who pays us. I think if you look at the contributors’ notes, you will see that we publish a high caliber of writer in general, though we welcome new ones along with established ones.
You might turn that around in another paranoid fashion that I have seen elsewhere and claim that we are taking all these submission fees, but only publishing our friends or famous authors that we solicit. While it is true that we do solicit some work, more than 90% of the work we publish comes from our general and contest submissions.
In addition, we do pay our print contributors with complimentary copies of our magazine, and, since launching the online magazine, we have introduced an admittedly modest payment of $50 for one writer per year in each genre we publish via our general Submittable submissions categories (our few solicited authors are not eligible). We wish it could be more, or more often, but, whether you believe it or not, we are not getting rich on our $2 and $3 submission fees.
You stated in your email that the costs of hosting a story in our website is “basically negligible.” I’m sorry, but that’s just not true. We pay technical staff (the development of our new website, for instance, took several months). Our home university pays for a customizable, institutional version of WordPress, which cost they soon intend to pass on. In addition, we pay for server space and hosting online, as well as for office space, computers, software, and office supplies. We also pay a significant portion of our budget to advertise in commercial magazines and to promote the publications of our authors in publications and at conferences. Submittable charges us for its services; of every $2 submission fee, we receive a mere 81 cents.
The university that houses our publications used to provide a $10,000 a year budget, but since the economic decline of the early 2000s has provided us with a budget of $0. The alternative is not for me to pay all of the writers and artists we publish. The alternative to charging small submission fees is for the publication to cease to exist. I don’t think that the demise of “little and literary,” noncommercial magazines would be a good thing for the literary community. But that’s in essence what the demand that all submission fees end would lead to.
Yes, I know that there are many small publications, especially of the online variety, that don’t charge submission fees. I know the editors of some of them. Most of them have even smaller operations than ours and certainly simpler ones. Most of them are paid for out of their editors’ own personal funds. Most of them last a few years and then become too difficult to maintain and are shuttered. Yes, there are some “rich” ones, who have found large donors, who have marketing geniuses on their staffs, who live in states where grant funding is available. I honestly don’t know how they do it, but I congratulate any publication that can manage free submissions and payments to all authors. I’m all for it, and I respect the right of anyone who wishes to limit their own submissions to such publications. But trashing those of us who can’t afford that is another story–it’s destructive and unfair.
And that leads me to the other thing that is so painful about this kind of assertion–what it implies about the value of editors’ time. I have even seen one blogger who was unusually frank and outright admitted, “I don’t give a damn about editors.” But what even he did not acknowledge is that most editors at small publications like The Florida Review are ourselves writers. It isn’t only that we don’t get paid anything as editors (and most of us don’t), but that no one even sympathizes with us as fellow writers, who take massive amounts of time away from our own writing projects in order to read submissions, work collaboratively with authors on revisions, to create vision and plans for our publications, and do most of the production ourselves (InDesign files, printer bids, online formatting and photo cropping, proofreading, etc.).
We do this to give other writers a chance. Yes, an opportunity, to at least be recognized by other professionals in the field. We get good results for our authors–several of them have received book contracts partly as a result of being published in The Florida Review, one author this year was included in the Best American Essays 2018 and has since received a book contract, some of those we’ve published have received tenure, others have gotten into graduate school or have received teaching positions partly based on their publication records.
We work closely with more than 40 undergraduate editing students per semester, as well as additional ones in the visual arts and digital media. We provide them with invaluable lessons in how authors are perceived by editors and in practical skills of copy editing, proofreading, and fact-checking. We also talk with them quite frankly about the financial challenges of being writers and of running small publications (we’ve had several alumni who have gone on to form their own small book presses). We’re certainly not conveying to them that they should never be paid for their work, but neither are we conveying to them an unrealistic sense that everything will be handed to them. It would, perhaps, be a disservice to them to provide them with an in-built sense of failure if they don’t immediately start making money from their writing.
I understand and share your frustration. It is difficult being a writer and trying to make a living, and I empathize. But please don’t imply that I’m exploitive or greedy or doing “a disservice to the professional writing community.” I appreciate the private nature of your criticism, but those who have been publishing these accusations publicly are guilty of a sad, deeply unfortunate defamation of the character of editors everywhere.
Department of English
Editor, The Florida Review