Should Literary Journals Charge Submission Fees?

I love submitting my work to literary journals. It feels fantastic to see an acceptance letter pop up in my inbox and even better to see my name in print. Sure, I could just post everything I write to Instagram, and honestly, I’d probably have more readers that way, but, for me, there’s extra satisfaction in getting published in a literary journal.

When it comes to getting published though, there are definite drawbacks that cause many writers to avoid journals. One of the biggest drawbacks is submission fees.

What Are Submission Fees?

A submission fee, also known as a reading fee, is usually a small fee between $2 and $5 that journals charge in order to read your work. Sometimes, however, submission fees are priced more steeply, as much as $25 or even $50, especially for contests, chapbooks, and full-length manuscript submissions.

Why Do Journals Charge Submission Fees?

If you read my post about starting a literary magazine, then you know that a lot of effort and hard work goes into running a literary journal, usually without much of a profit.

Literary journals are most often run by volunteers, university students, or staff members that are paid a pittance for all their efforts. They do it for the love, not for the money. There simply isn’t much money to be found in a journal.

The books that sell best these days are full-length Romance (think 50 Shades of Grey), Crime, Inspirational, and Sci-fi/Fantasy. Literary journals, most often filled with poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction essays, are not on that list.

There’s just not much of a market for journals. The people that most often buy them are the writers who get published in them.

So, in order for a journal to stay afloat, many charge submission fees. These fees help with website upkeep, printing costs, marketing and advertising, and often allow journals to pay the writers they publish, and pay the staff that keeps everything running.

They’re not charging fees just to be greedy. I honestly don’t think greed really exists in the world of journal publishing. If you’re greedy, you’re in the wrong business.

But It’s Not Fair

Submission fees suck. They just do, but I understand why they exist. The editors that run journals are writers too. They know the term “starving artist” as well as the rest of us do, and that’s why many of them have to charge fees. Otherwise, many awesome journals would disappear.

Writers spend a lot of time and effort on their craft, and when you work for something, you expect to be paid, not to pay someone else.

$2 or $3 isn’t unfeasible for most of us, but it can be unreasonable. You don’t want to spend a year perfecting your manuscript only to find that every journal you want to submit it to charges a fee. That $2 can turn into $200.

Plus, there’s always the strong possibility that your work will be rejected and that $200 goes straight down the drain.

And, on the off-chance your work does get accepted, the majority of journals, even some top-tier ones, will not pay you for your work. You can most likely expect a free contributor copy or two.

Writers shouldn’t have to operate at a loss, but unfortunately, that’s part of the game.

Should I Submit to Journals That Charge Fees?

That’s a question I can’t answer for you. I believe you should submit to journals that you’re comfortable submitting to. There are thousands of different journals out there, all with their own styles and criteria. If you don’t want to pay a submission fee, you don’t have to. There are plenty of respectable journals not charging any fees at all.

On the other hand, there are some amazing journals many writers dream of being published in that charge fees. Heck, I finally gave in and paid the submission fee to submit to one of my favorite journals. I’m not planning on making a habit of it, because I’m really not a fan of fees, but getting published in this journal would mean the world to me.

As always, I’ll tell you to do what makes you happy. Whether it’s submitting to journals, publishing your work on social media, or even self-publishing a book on Amazon, it’s completely up to you.

If you have the funds, and you’re comfortable with the idea of submission fees, then submit away!

What do you think about submission fees? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!

One thought on “Should Literary Journals Charge Submission Fees?

  1. Good topic, and a very leveraged overview. I wish there was more discussion about this; now it’s almost a given that a writer has to go through Submittable to submit anything. I refuse to pay money to be a writer, especially when I’m not being offered anything to get published. If my principles mean I lose out at a chance to be published in The New Yorker, so be it. I will find my readers another way. Honestly, when we all bend over, we’re just asking to be screwed.


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