Monday, February 7, 2011

Ignorance Breeds Contempt

Is Prick of the Spindle experiencing growing pains? Maybe. Since its inception in March 2007, the journal has come a long way. It went from being a fledgling online publication to becoming the first literary journal available as a Kindle magazine, and then to branching off into the print arm, Aqueous Books, which publishes novel- and novella-length works of fiction and nonfiction.

The journal's dedication to literature continues. In the interest of opening up yet another avenue for our readership, we recently launched submissions for a print edition, which is to be a biannual publication. We are charging submission fees, which will allow us to pay contributors and cover costs of printing.

However, not everyone is taking kindly to this. Check out this blog, courtesy of Robert Swartwood:

Thanks for the PR, Mr. Swartwood!

We are not greedy, but if we were, we wouldn't pay our contributors. The contributor compensation is TBA, because it really depends on how many submissions we receive, the cost of printing the issue (which will depend on how much content is included), and so on. Call them growing pains. This is a new venture, and with several print issues of the journal under our belts, we'll doubtless be able to provide a solid contributor compensation list. We do not receive financial support from any person or institution. And because we currently have a 501(c)(3) application pending, we are not yet able to apply for grants.

It may be worth noting that Prick of the Spindle editors are volunteers, and have been since the beginning. None of us receive any compensation, and the monthly web hosting fees (and any other associated costs) come from my very own (not very deep) pockets, and have from day one. To call any of us greedy is laughable, and just plain ignorant. We are not Narrative.

Please feel free to weigh in. What do you think are fair fees for submitting to a journal that will provide compensation? I recently read with interest several Facebook posts on this subject, and would love to hear your thoughts. We're not against listening to our readers--after all, we've dedicated the last four years to reading your work. What do you think?


boo2d2 said...

Cynthia: I love you and know you aren't greedy, but I'll be honest, I never submit to any magazine or journal that requires a reading fee over two dollars. It somehow feels too expensive, even the two dollars causes me pause. But, if a person understands the quality of your journal, and it is the highest caliber, they would gladly pay two dollars. So I say.

boo2d2 said...

2 dollars. And anyone who knows you and the caliber of work you accept, knows greed has never been a motive. 3 dollars can buy a beer, so keep it at 2 dollars. Plus, once the reading public and literati see the caliber of magazine you produce, two dollars will feel like the lint left over in the pocket, chump change....Alec

Stacia M. Fleegal said...

I'm a fan of and former contributor to Prick of the Spindle; one of your editors also reviewed my first chapbook. I avidly support indie DIY publishing and PotS, but I am a bit confused by this. To me, it seems as if 1) paying writers only for their print contributions (not online), and 2) charging for the possibility of inclusion in a print journal but keeping submissions to the online journal free both suggest that a print publication credit is worth more than an online publication credit. It's obviously (and frustratingly) a common point of view, but I'm just surprised to see it coming from online journal editors--and I am one, so I feel your paying-out-of-pocket pain and am sympathetic to wanting to find a self-sustaining way to pay for a print component. I guess my real question is, why is the print component deemed by some online journal editors as a step up? Am I misinterpreting what you're trying to do here? Would love to hear thoughts on this.

Cynthia Reeser said...

Alec, I appreciate your support and your honest comments. Two dollars sounds reasonable to me when I look at it from the contributor's point of view, but of course the caveat here is that submissions coming in at this rate would lower the amount we would be able to pay contributors.

Stacia, I also appreciate your candid feedback and questions. It's always refreshing when someone does not jump to conclusions. Essentially, the thinking behind charging for print is that it costs more than online publication, and my feeling is that charging for online publication wouldn't be well-received, even if payment were offered. Another consideration for me was that submission fees could be lowered once two things happen--1) the print edition is established and subscription fees could be collected to offset the costs of printing, and 2) the nonprofit status comes through and funding becomes available.

I think you're right, Stacia, in that some journals consider print publication a step up. However, I'm not one of them. I do know that the audience is different, though there tends to be a lot of overlap, for print vs. online publications. Therefore we would be able to get our authors' names before a wider audience with the print edition. The same thing is happening with the Kindle edition. There is overlap, as there usually is, but we are reaching more of a readership with that venue. So to me, it's less about prestige and more about increasing our audience base.

Howie Good said...

You got to do what you got to do to survive. So long as the fee isn't prohibitive, I don't see a genuine problem, though those whose work is rejected might be more than unusually unhappy (who pays to be rejected?). I think if the indie press is going to make it some rational economic model needs to emerge. This might not be it, but it's worth a shot.

Cynthia Reeser said...

I appreciate your comments, Howie. There is and probably always will be an issue with the indie economic model--because you can't please everyone all the time.

But at this point, it's less about survival and more about being able to offer our contributors monetary comensation, which we feel they deserve.

I am genuinely interested in hearing what everyone thinks fair fees would be. Howie, you make a good point about people who are rejected being more than usually unhappy.

I am quite willing to adjust the fees to accommodate submitters, but the more we lower the fee, the less we can pay contributors. Alec mentioned $2...what does everyone else think?

Laura Ellen Scott said...

As you can imagine, I was asked about the fees at AWP by several folks, but I didn't have a handle on the initial rationale. Now having seen the discussion unfold (and unravel in some instances), I have a few thoughts about the fees as they are, currently.

The only times I pay reading fees are
1) when they are low ($5) and the resulting project is all me, potentially, as when I entered the Dark Sky chap contest. (I don't think I would be inclined to pay a fee for inclusion in a print journal, but then my attitude towards print journals is effed up in general.)


2) when my fee gets me a copy of the journal/chap when it is finally produced, regardless of whether my work is accepted. In this case I'm more accepting of a double-digit fee.

Also, in the guidelines it needs to be explicit that a portion of the fees will go towards author payment--even if you don't know how much. That info is missing or not obvious, an omission that has driven some of the stronger attacks against you and the project. Also, if you see this as an evolving structure--that once the journal takes off the fees may be reduced or dropped entirely, that's worth stating, too. I think a lot of people will understand.

Finally, I think of reviews as so service oriented, that I'd ask you to consider minimizing or dropping the reading fee altogether for those submissions.

But Wait!!! my .02 on $2--seems friendlier, for sure. But would I pay even that? Possibly, but only to a journal/editor I knew personally and wanted to support. How has the submission flow been since the start-up--both in numbers as well as in writers new to you?

Howie Good said...

$2 is a trivial amount. I can't see much objection to it. But it occurs to me that maybe author's compensation can take the form of something other than money, such as free books from the Press or from your and other editors' shelves. I have sold poems for anywhere from $1 to $20. The money is so little as to be virtually meaningless. It's more the symbolic value of reward rather than the real value that's relevant to the discussion here.

Stacia M. Fleegal said...

Cynthia, I'm glad to hear you don't consider print to be a step up from online publishing. One more question: will you be providing print copies to authors who pay the submission fee for the print edition but are rejected?

Stacia M. Fleegal said...

I agree with pretty much everything Laura mentioned. And @Howie, I agree the reward is "symbolic" here. However, the FEE is not symbolic if the author is sending work out often (and therefore likely paying fees elsewhere, too). On the one hand, I think $2 is at best negligible, at worst a sort of nuisance fee. On the other hand, it would cover postage for two other no-fee submissions...

Cynthia Reeser said...

Laura: You make a good point about posting a notification regarding the evolving nature of our fee structure. I kept coming back to this very point over the past month and a half or so, and considered posting something in the guidelines about it numerous times. I agree 100% that something more definitive needs to be posted, and have truly been waiting to see what sort of feedback came about from this before making any changes. And then I never anticipated such a fiery attack on something that is so clearly a take-it-or-leave-it situation. I think you also make a good point on reviews. I will consider making these fee-free.

In terms of payment, I have always liked the idea of providing copies to those who have paid the submission fee, and in fact, that was planned with the fees being set at their current rate. However, with $2 fees, I think provision of electronic copies would be in order. It makes sense to provide as high a rate of compensation as possible to those whose work is selected for publication, which is, after all, the goal here, and current postage rates would quickly drain money set aside for that purpose.

I think it's been said elsewhere that the fees are a way to help the print journal survive, but that's a misguided interpretation (I'm not referring to anything said on this blog). It's not that we're desperate to create a print edition--it should be obvious to anyone paying attention to what we've been doing that desperation plays no part in what we do, and that we don't expect anyone to pay us to be editors. First and foremost, the funds collected go straight to the cost of printing, to the authors for payment, and to postage.

This is another avenue to get our authors' work out to more readers. It is literally that black and white. We have the Kindle edition, the online edition, and now the print edition, which for me, feels like a natural extension of the journal's identity. Not to mention that Aqueous Books is a print publishing venue, so we are already quite invested in print publication. So, this is a natural next step.

Oh, and to answer your last question, Laura, submissions have been steady and equal parts known and unknown thus far.

Laura Maylene said...

I'll be perfectly honest here. There's no way I'd pay a $15 reading fee. I actually find it kind of appalling. Many journals operate with free submissions but then support themselves with contest entry fees. I have no problem with that, because 1) you are competing for a known prize amount, and usually know who is judging the contest and 2) the entry fee typically includes a subscription (or at least one issue) so I'm getting something out of it even if I don't win.

Why not nix the fees and just not pay contributors like so many other fine journals out there? Or run a contest on the side instead? If the entire goal is to be able to pay contributors, that's very admirable...but not when it's funded through submission fees.

I also happen to disagree with the $2 or $3 submission fees, and I'm concerned that they are becoming too common and expected. I understand journals struggle financially but I don't think relying on submission fees from writers is the solution. But those issues aside, I still think a $15 reading fee for a short story is way off the charts.

Frankie said...

It doesn't matter either way to me if and what you charge to read people's work. It doesn't tickle my ideology or anything.

That said, I don't pay reading fees. Like, ever.

Here's my rationale: paying to be read is stupid and backward. What you're paying for is a publishing "credit" lotto, which from a litzine is pretty much worthless outside of two people who go "Oooh, I am so envious I will write snotty things about your story on my blog because have been trying for years to get in there." Nobody cares, but the writer. (Not that there aren't a couple places that I'd be tickled pink to get an acceptance from. But I recognize it for what it is--all about me.)

The whole point of being published is to reach readers, which we can all do via zines that don't charge, or by setting up a blog and a Smashwords account if those notorious gatekeepers won't let us play in their sandboxes.

Why would I spend fifteen bucks on a shot at what is essentially an ego stroke credit ("See ma! They like me, they really like me!") when I could spend that fifteen bucks on two to five indie ebooks, or a subscription to a zine, or some back issues? Something, where I get value for the money and support the writers or projects?

You do what you've gotta to get by, and it's a whack time in the publishing world, top to bottom. Kudos on trying to figure out a way to move forward, but I think you're looking the wrong direction. You should be figuring out how to get the readers (many of whom will also be writers and potential contributors) to buy in to paying for your product, their entertainment.

You know, in my opinion.

Cynthia Reeser said...

Frankie, you're not paying to be read, you're paying to be compensated. The main purpose of the fee, as I've mentioned in other comments & postings on my blog, is to provide compensation to authors accepted into the magazine and to cover production costs. You mentioned getting value--if you looked at our guidelines, you would see that everyone who submits receives a complimentary copy of an issue. I appreciate you sharing your opinion, but you should get your facts straight first. Also, your opinion sounds an awful lot like a certain other person's opinion, which was also uninformed and oddly inflammatory. If you don't like the fees, don't submit, and leave it alone.

To Frankie and to Laura M., I'll repeat what I've said several times already on my blog--the fees aren't a method of survival, they're a way to provide compensation, which we believe in. So our ideas about how to do things differ--great, that's been acknowledged. I'm sure our ideas about how to write a story also differ...