"Aquifer, The Florida Review’s online literary magazine"

So I have received an email from “Aquifer, The Florida Review’s online literary magazine” offering me, ahem, a great opportunity, namely publishing something for them.

For money? For free? No, with me paying them a small fee for that privilege.

Here’s the thing, names redacted, provided because I have spoken to other IFComp authors who have received the exact same email.

It all sounds sort of nice until you go to their website and discover that yeah, they charge you for submitting things.


Well-intentioned initiative that nevertheless perpetuates the nefarious practice of not paying writers?

For the record, I did ask for more information:

I was still unsure of what kind of thing was going on there, and my impression was, frankly, that they had no clue what they were asking for, and were just looking to expand their material/readership at best (fishing for unwitting paying authors at worst).

Then I got a reply from Dr. YYYYYYYYYY themselves:

I think it’s the fact that they are working with students on this that really put me off, together with discussing this on Twitter - only to be unanimously told by every professional writer there that paying for submissions was a no-go.

This is my reply, and probably the last bit in this exchange:

So, idk. To be honest I found it pretty galling, and the fact that I don’t think it’s even a scam gets me even more. I have the impression somebody really thinks they are giving authors A GREAT OPPORTUNITY!!!1 and harming everyone in the process. Which to me it makes the whole thing way sadder than if I knew it was just an outright petty money making scheme.

Thoughts, ideas?

People post “opportunities” like this every day in the playwrights’ group on FB that I’m part of. The really depressing thing is the number of artists that think it’s ok.

Thanks for following up on this, Victor, and for posting your exchange with these folks.

I received this notice as well. I thought, “These folks couldn’t have really taken a close look at my ‘interactive story’ or my work if they think the kinds of things I write online are a ‘great fit’ for their magazine.” I had a nice chuckle at the thought of sending them one of my mathematical research papers.

I’ve seen this kind of thing in academia, too. You get a few pieces out there, and then you start receiving unsolicited notices from journals you’ve never heard of saying that your work would be a good fit for them. As far as I can tell, most of them are legitimate, but they’re really just interested in trying to raise their own profile. Nothing wrong with that, but sending them my stuff generally won’t do me any good career-wise. Sadly, some of them do ask for a submission fee.

Academics are in the same situation as artists, in some respects: We’re judged professionally by our “publication list.” Depending on where you are in your career, you might be desperate enough to have your work appear in print that you’d be willing to pay for it. Some people know this and will exploit it. My sense - at least in academia - is that it’s usually not worth it. (There are some weird exceptions that may be specific to particular subjects. Several years ago I tried submitting a paper to a finance journal and discovered that it’s common practice to charge submission fees for even the most highly respected finance journals. I had to pay $200 for the privilege of having my paper summarily rejected.)

Again, thanks for following up and posting your exchange with these folks, Victor.

This kind of sounds like back in high school when certain students “qualified” to have their name listed in the yearly “Who’s Who in American High School” (or something like that, like a national yearbook). They would publish your name and a few stats and accomplishments by default.

It was supposedly a great honor, but they also charged you to include a picture and a personal bio. And you were, of course, encouraged to purchase copies at $30 for yourself and everyone in your family or distribute the order form to them so they could see a B/W version of your senior photo and read a column-inch of personal info.

To add to the chorus of writers you mentioned:

I’m a freelance writer, so I see garbage like this a lot. The first thing writers learn about the industry, from professors, colleagues, and mentors: never pay anyone to read your writing. Publishing should make you money.

Reading fees are either a scam, or a bad business practice. Publishers and agents need to read a lot of stuff, and that takes time and money. But they should be making enough money off of publishing good stuff to offset that cost, if they’re reputable. So even if it’s not an outright scam, if they’re so shit at making money that they need to extort their own authors, then don’t trust them with your work.

Attach value to your work; if you don’t, who else will?

I’m also an academic, specifically in creative writing. I think this is a case where the broader literary community doesn’t understand how the IF community functions.

The Florida Review is a very competitive literary journal that accepts 1% or less of submissions. That is to say, were I to get a poem or short story accepted there, I would be quite pleased. The way creative writers work with lit mags is that they send off some poems or a story to a journal, wait a while, most likely get told “no, we won’t publish this,” and then try again.

I think the mores for IF are very different. There’s no gatekeeper for publishing per se. If you want to publish a game, you can do it on your own website, host it on IFDB, etc. Many IF games are free to play and commercial ones are clearly labeled as such. Comps are one of the few places I can think of that really publish an anthology of games as an “edition.” There are virtually no lit mags that do so.

With the exception of very few, lit mags don’t make money. They simply don’t. Very few people buy or read them. But they exist because there is a glut of people who write poems and stories and would like to get them published. So the supply of writing far outweighs the number of people who want to read it. Some have some form of external funding (often from a university) that allows them to continue in the face of economic impossibility. Other lit mags are published by people who simply love doing it and are willing to commit some of their own funds every year toward it–something like a hobby, though people would choose a different word because “hobby” doesn’t sound serious enough.

The Florida Review, specifically, uses Submittable as its submission service. It’s a nice system–many lit mags use it, and from a user’s perspective, it keeps track of where your submissions are in the process. But the system costs lit mags money. (It’s free for submitters.) The claim that I’ve seen from some lit mags is that the $2 fee (and more commonly, I’ve seen $3) covers this cost and is the same amount you would pay in the old days when you mailed out your work to a lit mag along with an SASE to get back a response. I’m not terribly sympathetic to that argument.

Most lit mags don’t pay cash. They would like to, but they don’t have the money. You either get your work on their website or, in the case of a physical publication, one or two copies of the journal in which your work appears.

All of that being said, I never pay to submit my work to a lit mag for reasons other people have given. I refuse to pay to (most likely) be rejected. In theory, selecting good work should sell more copies and therefore make the journal more money, but the reality is it doesn’t. Charging potential contributors shifts the fundamental purpose of a lit mag, in my opinion, and while I understand the economics, it simply feels unethical.

So, ultimately, it’s not a scam. But it is a part of the changing literary landscape. I’m not sure what percentage of journals charge reading fees–I’d estimate maybe 15%–but I can pretty much guarantee that number will only go up as time goes on. And I’ll personally keep sending my work to places that don’t charge.

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To add to what bjbest60 said, low pay and submission/reading fees are common with lit magazines. I’m not really down with either. Nick Mamatas gave a great breakdown of why submission fees are a no good very bad idea.

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