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" + "Poets.org." 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
- 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 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?