02 Apr The Human Centipede Publishing Model
A little while ago I read an interview about a new literary magazine called The Offing. I paid attention to it because the interview was organized by Ron Charles of the Washington Post, because it was a new literary magazine dedicated to promoting marginalized writers, and because it was a spin-off of the LA Review of Books.
Today I was on Twitter and saw Nick Mamatas talking to The Offing, chiding them over their fee-charging submission policy. At first I thought it was an April’s Fool joke but it turned out that no, they are serious and are charging $3 per submission.
The whole Twitter conversation between Mamatas and The Offing can be read here.
This got me really angry. So angry I called their attempt at funding their magazine The Human Centipede publishing model because frankly that’s what it seems.
You see, charging for submissions is not new in the literary magazine scene, though it seems to be most common for writing contests. Though I do not like fees of any kind, when you enter a contest you generally get a one-year subscription to a magazine and the fee is normally much less than what a subscription costs. So, if you like a certain literary magazine, it can work out.
While fee charging in these circumstances might be excused, fee charging for an online venue and for an online venue which prides itself in serving marginalized writers (on Twitter The Offing’s motto is “Risk-taking lit/art, with an explicit commitment to diversity”) is just plain wrong.
I have listened to many discussions about the promotion and support of marginalized writers and it is clear that there are very many entry barriers for such authors. Adding one more barrier, such as a fee, does not help them.
To some people $3 might be small potatoes. As someone who has taken not one, but several payday loans in order to get through a month in the recent past, and who at times has had $15 to spend on a week of groceries for the whole family, $3 is no small potatoes.
The Offing does say you can mail your submission by post if you don’t want to pay the fee, but this still has a cost for the writer. They also say they have four week-long “open” submission periods a year during which you need not pay fees.
This is still problematic since it creates a two-tier system. It also creates the perception of a barrier. Many writers, when faced with the word “fee” may be quickly discouraged. And marginalized writers are most likely to be discouraged.
On Twitter, the magazine said if you can’t pay the fee you should e-mail the story and tell them so, though this was not mentioned on the website. Even if such a provision was added it is an imperfect solution for many people may think not paying the fee would diminish their odds.
Perception and barriers again.
On Twitter The Offing said several times they are going to use the fees to fund the writing. They said:
“Our thought was that those who like the mag enough to seek publication wld be willing to make a contribution to keep it going”
Other comments included:
“And writers are not dragged off the street and forced to submit.”
“Did you know we have no money at all except the money we raise?”
“Server not free. Submittable not free. Newsletter service not free. Those are currently paid out of EIC’s pocket.”
That’s just really depressing.
If you look at their Tweets or the Storify I link to above it becomes clear the magazine believes part of its funding source should be its submitters.
There are several ways to fund a magazine nowadays.
- You can run a Patreon, like Clarkesworld does.
- You can run an annual Kickstarter.
- You can seek support in the form of advertising and the old-fashioned subscription drive. You can offer exclusive fan content for purchase.
Before someone points out that they are doing this out of love and passion and how dare I: I ran an online magazine called Innsmouth Magazine. I still run Innsmouth Free Press. Lack of money was a constant, profits are still small. We did not charge submission fees. I could have made some good dough.
I’ve sold to magazines that paid in copies and I even subbed to a market that paid me a dollar. I told them to keep the dollar to defray costs. I even entered some contests and had a stack of literary magazines arriving for a while since my fee gave me a subscription.
However, I do not think that an online magazine catering to marginalized writers should ask for fees.
A commenter in the Storify with Nick above (not The Offing, but someone involved in the literary arts) said fee paying can be excused because the world “needs our voices.”
I beg to differ. If the world needs us to pay $3 to have us heard, that is.
The Offing blocked me (and then unblocked me) because I was being mean and calling their publishing model the Human Centipede. And telling them to talk to the hand. But yeah, I am angry and upset.
The Offing had 1,000 submissions when it opened.
It’s unfortunate it functions like the Human Centipede. But maybe that’s just me. That’s why I ask marginalized writers: tell the magazine what you think of the fee.