I don’t write many short stories, but as I recently wrote one on commission… only to have that publisher close… I am now searching for a new publisher for this particular story. And I’ve noticed many journals that publish short stories have submission fees. They give varying reasons for this. Some say it’s to “make sure the author is willing to invest in your work.” That is to say, these journals believe that authors are just writing and tossing off half-baked stories, which the journals see as a waste of their own valuable time. Well, I’d argue that 1. the author still spent more time writing it than you will reading it. Particularly if, after a page or so, you already know it’s no good and don’t read all of it. And 2. a lot of these journals are also non-paying. So I’m supposed to pay them for the chance to be published by them… Even though, if I am published by them, I likely won’t see a more than a contributor’s copy? That doesn’t seem right. You’re basically asking me, the author, to pay the cost of your doing business. I don’t see that I get much out of it, unless I like to gamble. (Which I don’t.)
Paying a journal just to submit is a gamble. It’s buying a lottery ticket, more or less. Again, the journals will say that this is how they ensure people send their best work. And while I understand that there are a lot of bad stories out there, I think most authors at least believe they’re doing the best they can. No writer I’ve ever known has said, “Well, it needs more work, but I’m going to send it anyway.” Because we know that if we want to be published, the work needs to be as good as we can possibly make it. Admittedly, not everyone has the ability to make it stellar, but charging a fee isn’t going to change that.
What charging a fee does achieve is cutting down on submissions. And maybe this is the real goal: to not be swamped. Fewer submissions means the journal needs fewer staff members to wade through it all. Meanwhile, the staff can be paid, at least partially, with all those submission fees. It’s a win-win for the journals, maybe, but as an impoverished author, I’ll pass. Not because I don’t believe in my work, not because I didn’t polish it enough to “invest” in it, but because money should trickle down to the author. And because submission fees add up. A few dollars here, a few more there… It can come to quite a lot. And it’s going to the journals who charge fees rather than to the authors who’ve spent all that time and energy writing. No thanks.