Showing posts with label reading fees. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reading fees. Show all posts

Ideal Contest/Reading Fee Guidelines (A Work in Progress)

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As a public service, I am slowly building a Literary Contest/Reading Fee Guidelines document; I'm doing this because paying entrants ought to be well-informed about what a contest or reading fee offers, in terms of entry costs, transparency, fairness, and awards.

The first place to start: Foetry's archive, where you'll find accounts of literary magazine contest misbehavior and cronyism. If these accounts don't cause you to run in the other direction, then look at publisher guidelines themselves. If something about the guidelines isn't clear, then you should e-mail the people in charge of the contest. If they don't answer via e-mail, move on. If you are considering plunking down $20-$30 to enter a contest, you should not have to jump through the SASE hoop just for clear information. If enough people ask questions, perhaps contest organizers will offer better, fairer, and clearer guidelines.

If the answers are less than satisfactory, that in itself offers important information, and you might consider moving on.

In my opinion, fee-based literary contests should offer the following information (along with the usual deadlines, dollar amount of prizes, proper size of envelope, manuscript formatting, etc.):

  1. Name of judges, including their institution affiliations (current and past) and credentials or a link to the judges' websites with this information. Don't accept the argument that judges will be unduly harassed if their identities are known to contest entrants. This is why emails have delete buttons. Within the contest guidelines, it should be clear to entrants that if they initiate contact with the judges, they will be immediately eliminated from the contest and will not receive a refund of their fees.

  2. Explanation of the screening process; for example, how many of the manuscripts do the "big name" judges actually read? Many entrants enter contests because of a certain judge, but if the judge only reads 5% of the manuscripts, then you will have probably wasted your money. Your manuscript is likely to be screened by graduate students, faculty, and staff.

  3. A judging time line and when entrants may expect to hear the results.

  4. How the contest is funded (e.g., is the contest fee- or grant- driven, either private or government). Fee-driven contests can be dicey, especially if the number of entrants doesn't meet the magazine's financial expectations (see Zoo Press and more Zoo Press).

  5. If a university or college contest, whether students, faculty, and/or staff from the sponsoring institution are eligible (if they are, you might want to consider looking elsewhere because, no matter what anyone tells you, insiders almost always have an edge over outsiders).

  6. Whether or not manuscripts will be considered anonymously. You would do well to avoid publishers who pretend not to be running a writing contest--these publishers often refer to contest fee as "reading fees"--and do NOT read submissions anonymously. You should avoid contests and "reading fee" publishers that don't remove your identification before sending your manuscript off to screeners and the final judge. Note: most publishers do not charge "reading fees," and one should be wary of editors/publishers who charge to read your manuscript. Find an editor who will read and consider your work for free.

  7. What happens if the final judge recognizes a writer's work. Will that manuscript be automatically eliminated, or will it be business as usual?

  8. Will manuscripts that have not been specifically entered into the contest also be considered for awards in this particular contest? If, so, run like the wind (See a Chronicle of Higher Education article (May 20, 2005) on Jorie Graham and Peter Sacks).

  9. If, for your contest fee, you will receive something tangible in return, such as a book or subscription. Beware of intangible services, such as Tupelo's 2006 promise to comment on every poetry manuscript submitted to the contest. I recommend that you avoid contests that don't offer something tangible in return for the reading fee.

  10. If the selection of winners will be guaranteed. Only freebie contests should have the "We reserve the right not to award prizes" disclaimer. Otherwise, if judges cannot select a winner, the organizers ought to return contest fees to the entrants.

If I have forgotten something, let me know.

Until literary contests begin policing themselves, it will be up to YOU to do your research, and when you see less than stellar guidelines, hang onto your checkbook, AND let us know about slippery guidelines (along with a link). We WILL take them to task.

Best to all,


(Disclaimer: a version of this post originally appeared on Post Foetry on May 31, 2007. These guidelines are a work in progress; it is hoped that AWP, Poets & Writers, The Academy of American Poets, and CLMP will embrace tougher reading and contest fee standards and suspend member organizations that violate them. Meanwhile, will keep chipping away at po-biz "business as usual." If nothing else,we can do our part to educate potential contest entrants so that they can make informed decisions about literary contests before sending money.

As always, your views are welcome.)

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?

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