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These are some crucial practises to know of in the event you’re thinking of submitting your short stories, poems, essays and other forms of write-ups to publishers.
But before we begin, this post first appeared in the Malaysian Writers Community Facebook Group by Jaymee Goh.
Here’s a quick introduction on the writer: Jaymee is a Malaysian writer, reviewer, editor, and essayist of science fiction and fantasy who is currently based in the U.S. She is also the editor of Tachyon Publications.
Her post was a response to questionable publishing and submission models practised by certain publishers. In this piece you’ll learn what to be mindful of whenever you come across submission calls which ask for “submission fees”.
This was such an informative post that we asked for her permission to share it with you here. If you’re keen to learn more about Jaymee, check out her website. You can also get her coffee virtually too. Feel free to bookmark this post for future reference. Thanks Jaymee!
Earlier yesterday, there was a post from a member inviting folks to participate in an anthology project. Several members responded with interest, which led to other members asking the original poster some questions about the publication and publishing model. From the answers, it became clear that this was a self-publishing venture, which required buy-in from everyone participating.
I was pretty flippant in my comment towards people who responded in the affirmative, but to be fair, it was not clear to me whether folks said “yes” because they misread the USD50 as a submission fee, or as payment.
If you mis-read it as payment, you’re not at fault!!! The post was not very clearly written. The rest of this post is for you.
If you read it properly, and were interested, also legit!!!! Participating in a self-publishing project is often very attractive for the writer who has no intention of making money from their writing, really just wants to see their writing in print, and is willing to pay money for that to happen. The rest of this post probably does not apply to you.
That said, what goes into a submission call? Here are some notes from the short story submission trenches:
What is this project about? From the description you should be able to tell the medium (poetry? non-fiction?) and genre (memoir?), the wordcount, the prompts for submissions, and possibly examples of work they’re looking for.
FORMATTING AND COMMUNICATION:
Depending on the volume of a market/venue, publishers and editors will have list of how they prefer to receive their submissions. Things like font (Courier, Times New Roman are standard), file types (.docx, .rtf), spacing–most of these are in place to make your submission easier to read.
What it also implies is…. whether or not you have actually read the submission guidelines and can follow instructions. If you decide to use a hard-to-read font because you think it’s ~fancier, it tells the editor that you don’t understand instructions and won’t take directions for revisions/edits well, so unless your writing is stellar af, you come off as difficult to work with.
If there is an e-mail for you to send submissions to, which is not the editor’s personal/office e-mail, use the submissions e-mail! Do not send it to the editor, nor even CC them. It doesn’t make your submission stand out, unless you want to look annoying and arrogant.
PAYMENT AND RIGHTS:
Payment will usually either be listed as a flat fee or per word. Sometimes markets will list whether the payment will be upon acceptance, or upon publication.
Upon Acceptance means that as soon as the contract is signed, they’ll send you the money.
Upon Publication means that you have to wait until the piece is published, before they send you money, which may involve some rounds of editing.
(Neither is worse than the other. It’s just a matter of how publishers do their workflow.)
You may see, particularly for book anthology projects, payments by royalty, i.e. a % of sales. Payments by royalty is as good as selling your story for free. Anthologies very rarely make enough money for the publisher to justify the effort of calculating out royalty, and if you do receive payment, it will probably be like, a couple of dollars, if even that. And most publishers do not pay out unless it’s more than $10.
If there is no payment listed, that’s also something to take note of. Maybe you don’t need to get paid and that is cool! If you have a story of the heart that is best placed in this market, then submit as you wish.
Rights are what they are buying from you–what publishers usually want is to be the first to publish your work, and to be the only venue showcasing your work for a certain amount of time. In many SFF markets, this is usually a year, after which you are free to submit your work elsewhere as a reprint.
There are business reasons for this! Most magazines/outlets rely on providing original work to their subscribers. If your work appears in two different places, one of these publications has already lost the claim to say that they are publishing original fiction. (Even if they are providing the fiction for free, it still looks janky, like they couldn’t find anything new. This is particularly the case for specific markets with a targeted audience.) (With reprint anthologies, the publishers are relying on the taste and reputation of the editor to sell the book.)
Because of this, some may also specify whether they allow simultaneous submissions. That means whether they are okay with your piece being under consideration elsewhere. For example, if one ghost story anthology gets you writing one, and then another ghost story anthology comes up, with similar deadlines, to simultaneously submit is to send to both of them at the same time. Because of the reading schedule of editors varying, you could hear back from one sooner than the other, and the second one may want the story, and are gonna be unhappy if they hear you have it accepted elsewhere, which means they can no longer acquire it. Some places don’t mind this, but do ask that you let them know if your piece has been accepted elsewhere, so they know to remove it from consideration.
ON SUBMISSION FEES:
Depending on the venue you may or may not see a submission fee! Many popular genres do not have a submission fee, and in fact actively fight against them because submission fees mean only a certain number of people get to submit. This limits the pool, and prevents a lot of writers who are otherwise awesomely talented from submitting. WHY does this practice persist? The reasons boil down to:
snobbery: the market may be prestigious, and to separate the perceived wheat from the perceived chaff, they put in a fee, so only people who really want to be read will submit;
business model: the market does not have enough of a readership to make money off their subscriptions. Since there are probably more submitters than there are subscribers, they recuperate costs by charging submission fees. This is generally the case with many literary journals.
You may also see this called a “reading fee,” especially for writing contests. This is because however much money they are offering isn’t enough to pay the judges who are doing the reading, so the submission fees off-set that cost. While there is a general trend of pushing back against submission fees, you may still choose to submit to a venue that charges them, and that is your prerogative and your privilege.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU THINK ABOUT?
Permanent website link: Most publishers will have their own websites where they will post their calls for submissions. Otherwise, an editor may post the call for submissions on their own website/blog. This gives you a chance to check out the oeuvre of the editor/publisher.
Lately, with the popularity of crowdfunding, the submission guidelines may themselves be on a Kickstarter page. But they are usually also replicated elsewhere.
Publisher website and catalog: Is this the publisher’s first shot at the anthology rodeo? There isn’t anything wrong if it is, but you should be aware of this going in! If not, look at their previous anthologies. What is their usual target market? Or are you familiar with these works in your genre? Are these books you feel you should be reading?
Often, this is also where you get a sense of their publishing model as well. Where do they usually sell, as mostly ebooks on Amazon, print books? No one’s gonna tell you their print run in guidelines because that’s not usually the author’s business, but knowing where the books are gonna sell is pretty helpful.
Hope this all is all informative, even if these are questions you never asked!!!
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