I recently had a conversation with a friend who had been passed over for a job — leading a creative writing workshop — because she “hadn’t won enough contests.” Eventually, the decision was reversed and my friend, who is a very fine writer and charismatic teacher, got her chance to make a few bucks and gain some experience. But her story — i.e., the fact that she’d been judged on her success rate in the world of writing competitions — made me bristle.
I believe a great many writing competitions stand on very shaky ethical ground. When run by journals, most include a contest submission fee. By paying the submission fee, a writer gets a “free” subscription to the journal for a year. Obviously, what we have here is a veiled subscription drive.
Some time ago, I received a call for submissions that included a stipulation that a minimum “donation” (read: “fee”) had to accompany texts. IF enough money were raised, submissions MIGHT be published in an upcoming anthology (that the prospective writers themselves were funding). But if the writers were bad donors and didn’t give enough money to pay their own way to possible publication, they would be punished: no anthology.
Is it just me, or is there something wrong with this scenario?
Increasingly we hear about writers not being paid for their work. There are boycotts and open letters exposing the exploitative practices of big online publications. It’s bad enough not to be paid for the work you publish, but to pay for the privilege of MAYBE being published? Isn’t that even worse?
I will admit to publishing work for which I’ve been paid peanuts or nothing at all. I do this because I’m building a profile and because I want homes and a life for my work. I also believe in the idea of creating literary community and conversation. I won’t, however, pay for the possibility of publication. In other words, I won’t pay to submit a piece or publish a piece.
We’ve long been warned off agents who require fees to read our work. Shouldn’t the same principle apply for submissions to journals, anthologies, and perhaps even contests?
Tell me what you think. What do you make of fees to submit?