Thursday, June 12, 2008

Forum Thread: Publishers' Reading Fees: Pro or Con?

As more small publishers begin charging reading fees, you might want to conduct some serious research before writing those checks.

For example, Google "Iowa" + "Foetry" and see what you find. Better yet, try "Tupelo Press" + "Foetry" or even "Tupelo Press" + "" Then make your decision whether or not you'll write and send that check.

Educate yourself. Love everyone, but trust no one until you do a little digging. Trust your intuition, but only after you do your homework.

Make sure that your target publishers don't have a history of taking your money and then engaging in cronyism and questionable publishing practices. It's one thing for an owner/editor to grant publishing contracts to his/her friends when no contest and/or reading fee money is involved, but do you really want to fund the editor's friends' writing career at the expense of your pocketbook?

Twenty-five dollars here, and thirty-five dollars there. After a while it begins to add up.

For a mere $7.00 - $35.00 a year, you could register your own snappy domain name and set up your own online press. It's not difficult to do. Set up a Blogger or WordPress blog for free, publish a "Call for Manuscripts," and in you're in business. You can then publish your friends' work. Your friends can set up their own domain names and blogs and then publish your work. And beyond the domain names, it won't cost either of you a dime. And if you don't mind "blogspot" or "WordPress" in your URL, you don't even need a domain name.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

The 20th Century method: set up a press, send out fliers, and buy ads in all the major writing magazines. Publish a few issues, and then set up a contest, and advertise that as well. Schmooze at conferences and get grant money from your new friends who have been appointed by the NEA, etc., to hand out money. Then when you are appointed to dole out public money, you return the favor.


And if you aren't in this loop, you might as well forget about it.

But don't worry about it--you now live in the 21st century and have the web at your hands for
  • Research

  • Self-Publishing

  • Publishing others' work

You can actually earn a little money by blogging, and some people make a lot of money at it, so why place your writing career in the hands of a stranger who doesn't give a damn about you or your work?

Learn your way around a computer and the web, and forget about the "old" ways of getting published. Learn a bit about Search Engine and Keyword Optimization. And don't be afraid of html. Get computer savvy asap. The web offers a lot of free articles, and much of it is accurate, even Wikipedia.

Other reasons not to pay a reading/contest fee:

  • If you're an unknown, it's basically a crap shoot. As a former editor, I can tell you how easy it is for a screener to miss a good poem, story, or essay. If you are known to the editor, your work will get a more careful reading, and don't believe otherwise. If you are unknown, your work will receive a perfunctory glance.

  • Your work may not be ready for publication (one must always consider this possibility).

  • Your writing style might not suit the taste of the publisher, screener, and/or judge (a lot of hoops to jump through).

Before sending a reading or contest fee, watch for these red flags:

  • The publisher consistently publishes the same poets and writers. If this is a contest that advertises manuscript "anonymity," this is a definite red flag.

  • You receive nothing for your fee except a form rejection letter.

  • The screeners and final judges are anonymous.

  • The publisher consistently selects the work of friends, family, and former students and professors (finding this out may require a little digging).

  • The publisher has a history of dubious behavior.
I last entered a contest in 2005; I sent my contest entry from an Eastern European country (where I was living at the time) at considerable expense. At the time, I was very naive and was under the mistaken impression that the final judge would be reading all the entries.

I then stumbled upon Foetry and quickly discovered the reality: that typically, only 5-10% of all manuscripts are forwarded to the final judge. In addition, unless you know if the preliminary screeners are graduate students or professionals, then you are not properly informed.

As much as I enjoy reading some of my students' work, I certainly wouldn't want them to judge my work because I understand all too well that their critical/ analytical abilities are not yet quite developed; some of them are still writing about wads of snot in search of the Holy Grail (I'm not kidding, either). Would you want a judge who develops piece of snot as the protagonist of his story to make a screening decision about your work?

Obviously I am biased against paying an editor/publisher to read writers' work, and I will not pretend otherwise or apologize for this viewpoint.

However, I am willing to consider what you think about this practice. If someone can make a compelling argument in favor of reading fees as part of the publishing model , I will even elevate it to a post.

By the way, can someone please tell me the difference between a reading and a contest fee?


  1. I'm not a poet. I'm not a writer. I do know a lot about the Internet and the web though.

    I'd think a serious poet would have a couple notebooks full of poems and at some point would consider putting the best of those into a book.

    From what I've gathered here, it seems the poetry business would have a poet submit their work to a contest or some form of peer scrutiny. Remember that professional poets, editors and writers are a small group compared to the greater reading population. I'd think a poet or any other writer would want to reach a larger audience than just their peers.

    Acclaim from a peer group won't hurt but the mass market is where the real money is to be made. And the peer group is much less likely to find any one poet or his work worthy. While a small portion of the mass market might like a certain poets work and that small group could actually be several times as large as the "peer group".

    Vanity publishing means you'll pay some company to hopefully edit your work. Maybe they'll at least proof read a little then organize it and print that work. They'll bind the pages into a book and ship several cases of the book back to the writer/poet for a healthy fee.

    Self publishing means you'll do all those tasks yourself. Either way you'll end up with cases of books and you'll still need to get them into the book stores, libraries or into the reader's yourself.

    From what I've gathered you need to be extensively published before you can get a book published in most fields. So I guess "over the transom" submissions won't get you very far with a book of poems unless you're already published and have no need to go this route.

    Considering the costs of publishing and the higher chance of just "being read" online, the website idea isn't bad itself. My suggestion is to get a small collection of works together, grab a domain that fits the theme of the poems or collection. When you signup for a domain name at most registrars you'll be offered some webspace for a very reasonable fee. Take that!

    Most of those "registrar with webspace" providers have a free page builder you can use to design your pages then insert your poems.

    Once your done building the site you can delve into getting the page ranked in search engines and getting publicity for your site. You could also offer to "publish" other peoples works on your site to help friend's get started and bring more readers to your site.

    There are several sites that will provide ads to help monetize your site. Could be enough to pay the expenses. And if your work is good you might make a lot of money.

    Depending on if you designed your site as a book or collection or as a showcase of ongoing works, you could then add new poems. But, I'd suggest instead you launch a new site for your next collection of writings. You'd then link both sites to each other via references, ad creatives and actual "links" pages.

    After a few years you might really have a good online publishing empire going there. I'm sure for a lot less than self publishing in print or vanity publishing (less than a $100) you might find web publishing just the right formula for you.

  2. Well said, Mr. Hawkins. However, I believe there is a 'middle' way: POD (Print-on-demand). Self-published, yes, but no boxes of books to unload. Nevertheless, a genuine paper book is produced. I think a book's design and 'feel' is almost as important as what's contained within it. But the book is marketed electronically and sold exclusively on internet sites (,, etc.).
    Many products are offered to the 'mass market', but there is only one thing that can guarantee popularity and consequent financial success, whether books, movies or even websites, and that is word of mouth.
    Cream always rises to the top.

  3. "Publishers' Reading Fees: Pro Or Con" is a terrific piece.

    A blockbuster piece. No whining. Informative and empowering.

    What did Bacon say? Knowledge is power.

    jeff, that's a great addition, too.

    gary, what do you mean exactly by book design? Do you mean hardcover books with high qaulity cover, binding, and paper? Or paperbacks with a glossy reproduction of some pretty painting or artsy photo on it? Paperbacks always seem cheap; it doesn't take much for the covers to start curling, etc. So what kind of quality or 'design' are we talking about. I'd much prefer a sturdy hard-cover edition that simply says "Poems" on it, to some prettily designed paperback.

    And far more important, of course, is the quality of the poetry.

  4. "gary, what do you mean exactly by book design?"

    I was making a broader distinction between poetry on the internet and actual books. I am a bibliophile. My library contains many kinds of books: antique and rare as well as contemporary hardcover plus many paperbacks. I have no particular preference. They all have their function.
    Of course a beautifully crafted hardcover book is a pleasure to see and read (assuming it has something good in it), but I wouldn't take it to the beach.

  5. The beach book!

    Let's invent it and copyright it!

    A book with a waterproof cover, rubber or plastic...

    what say you?

    I know there's the new 'electronic' book, but that's probably not 'beach-proof.'

    We need to design a beautiful book that would look great in a library but still stand up to the elements at the beach...

    There's a challenge! Would something like this be possible?

    I just don't think paperbacks are 'real books.' Sorry. Or, let's put it this way: paperbacks are meant to look dirty and ragged, like Trot Nixon's baseball cap.

    Hardcovers are the only books worth 'designing,' and even then, I think it strikes me as bad taste to have busy cover art on a book of poetry; I would want the 'design' to go into the tangible strength and feel of the book itself.

    But I would love to see the great unveiling: "Ladies and Gentleman...I present to you...the Beach Book...

  6. "I just don't think paperbacks are 'real books.'"

    That's pretty ridiculous, isnt it?

  7. What is the life of a paperback book? They fall apart in about 100 years, don't they? Immortality cannot live in a paperback book. Immortality can only live in reprints due to the content of that book. Think of all the Shakespeares who never made it to the modern era because of the fragility of paper--and a stupid editor or two.

    Are a stack of papers stapled together a 'book?' Why, or why not?

  8. Are scraps of papyrus and linen a book or not?

    Are manuscripts copied by scribes for hundreds of years reprints?

    Immortality is found in the words, not the paper.

  9. Immortality is not found in the words; the words may deserve to be immortal, but the immortality is all about the preservation of the words, and this means books, hardcover books, stone books, steel books, astute editors, wise readers, national leaders who love words, and you, Gary, you!

  10. Editor? What's an editor? Why would any good poet need an editor? Duets are for singers. Poetry is a solitary thing.

  11. And speaking of 'stone books', you should read my poem 'Talking Stones'. But damn, you'll have to buy the (paperback) book, won't you. Well, maybe you can pickle it or freeze it or something

  12. Credentials, Horatio, credentials! Has your book any credentials? The stamp of authenticity? Has it won something lately?

    Life is short. Why should I read it?

    The solitary author can keep his Leaves fresh for only so long. They wilt if they don't breathe the public air, feed from the public water, bask in the public sun. Poems perish in the dark.


  13. Why did Ezra Pound read T.S. Eliot?, etc.

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating, innit?

  14. Why did Ezra Pound read T.S. Eliot?

    Uh...that was 'editing,' not 'reading.'

    You have no clue, do you?

    Pound made 'reputations' through all sorts of tricks. The pudding is never eaten--it is 'sold' and put on the shelf.

    Gary, I hope you are as amusing to yourself as you are to others.

  15. I'm having fun...


    You pontifical twit?

  16. more berating than pontificating...


  17. Berating is mean.

    The site said "", not "Poetssmarterthanyou'"

    Okay. I'll leave the party and head back to the woods.

  18. Poetssmarterthanyou'

    Wow, great idea!


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