Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Do Not Submit to Narrative Magazine

A comment on the previous entry, from one "Jordan":

Hi- I came across this blog and think your readers might be interested in submitting their work to Narrative Magazine- it publishes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art-- everything! And they also have some writing contests going on now that your readers might be interested in. Thanks!

Hi Jordan.

Personally, I rather think they wouldn't, or at least shouldn't.

Narrative Magazine requires a reading fee for submissions, so as a professional writer I would actively discourage anyone at any level -- and especially if you're still starting out -- from ever submitting to it. Money should always flow to the writer, period. Any magazine, agency or imprint that asks for a reading fee is reversing that flow -- to all intents and purposes, asking a writer to pay for the privilege of a mere hope of publication. While some might seek to justify reading fees in this or that circumstance, I'm in the camp with many others who say, loudly and clearly, FUCK THAT SHIT. Particularly in this sort of example.

Regardless of whether actual publication is paid, that reading fee places Narrative Magazine in the realm of vanity press and poetry chapbook competition scams. You will most likely not see publication, and will instead simply be out of pocket by the reading fee. Which is to say you will have been rooked, amigos.

All aspiring writers should consider the generally vast slush pile that they are most likely just another speck within. But even on the odd chance that one is lucky enough to earn back that reading fee via acceptance you should then be aware that your good fortune is literally at the expense of all those who have paid money for the privilege of being read (by those who may well already have quite sufficient material for the next few issues, thank you very much, but hey, that's not going to stop them taking your twenty bucks, sucker.) You are leeching off all those who have succeeded only in subsidising the hobbies of the editors and their contributors, all those who have ultimately been treated as dupes to be reamed to support this project. Personally, I consider this a profoundly unethical venture.

I would submit to the most miniscule small press magazine that paid in copies, even to a webzine that could barely afford $5 per story -- hell, I'd submit to certain non-paying markets where a positive return might be gained in the form of exposure, or publish my work free on this blog -- before I would submit to Narrative Magazine, and I'd highly recommend all my readers do the same.

Moreover, Jordan, the stone cold fact that your comment is revealed by Google to be outright spam -- posted verbatim on other blogs -- not only strengthens my suspicion of Narrative Magazine to outright condemnation, but leads me to leave your comment on that post as evidence -- and in fact to repost it here to highlight it -- along with my public response, in no uncertain terms:

If you are reading this as an aspiring writer, please do not ever submit to Narrative Magazine. They are demonstrably spammers and almost certainly scammers and are to be avoided like the fucking plague.

Update: Oh, and while you're at it, do feel free to click through this link to Eric Rosenfield's journal entry about Narrative Magazine and its editors, which expresses a similarly low opinion of these fuckers and contains a number of comments that put them in an even darker light. And deserves to be nice and high in the Google hits, I'd say.

Update Update: And what do you know, but the winner of one of last year's competitions seems to have been a friend of the editors!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha! I concur.

11:28 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

It cannot be said more loudly. Narrative Magazine sucks.

1:37 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

If I could say it more loudly, I would.

Update update update: I twittered this and heard back from David Schwartz that he got the same spam. Looks like Jeff Ford did too. So, yeah, they're pretty clearly trying to co-opt established writers' blogs and journals to draw in any aspiring writers in their readership(s) who might be naive enough to buy into their mug's game.

Fuck, if "Jordan" was just pimping the mag as an interesting read, I'd have happily deleted the comment as annoying but innocuous advertising spam. But spam-for-a-scam... I'm really hoping more folk will pick up on the pay-to-play angle, so this bites them on the ass.

2:03 am  
Blogger Michael Canfield said...

I found this link via Nick Mamatas I'm glad you posted about this, I noticed the "market" listed on a few weeks ago, was intrigued by the professional look of their website, and the quality of the authors advertised. Of course the reading fee of $20 for fiction immediately eliminated the market for me, I just put it on my ignore list, but I couldn't help also being put off by the tone of the guidelines. The fee is described as "nominal," and also described as lower than many lit mags subscription fees. That may or may not be, but at least with a subscription to a magazine you get, you know, ISSUES OF THE MAGAZINE that you subscribed too.

I noticed on another part of the site they are also soliciting general donations for a mere $10, half of what they charge writers.
"Jordan's" spam posting is just beyond the pale. Using the same tactic as a boner pill pusher. Jordan, come on, at least write individual pitches to each of the blogs you "come across."

3:58 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Narrative Magazine is the of fiction. I have about half a dozen friends who volunteered to be interns for Narrative, mainly as a resume-builder. These friends (and I say this with all due respect) are NOT established fiction writers or poets, or experts in the field.

They've explained the process to me and here's what happens: INTERNS, not editors, log in and read what somebody has paid to have considered. If they don't like it, out it goes. The editors do NOT read work unless it has the interns' OK. Editors also mostly solicit "famous" writers for work, meaning "new" or "emerging" writers don't have a prayer.

Here's the final nail in the coffin: the editors are infamous for giving major prizes to... you guessed it... their friends.

11:22 pm  
Blogger Otto Zappatore, Anthony Schneider said...

Just noticed they are asking for short submissions for iStory. It's sort of preposterous to charge $5 per word PER WORD to read a story.

12:13 am  
Anonymous Anna said...

Here's a comment to anonymous -- while I completely agree that Narrative is scam-like, the fact that only interns read the entries, is NOT. This is rather a standard procedure for most if not all literary agencies and publishing houses. How are the few editors supposed to read every bit of crap that is submitted to them?? I worked as an intern at an agency and hated it, but that being said, it's rather standard for interns to be the preliminary reader. Of course with those agencies writers DO NOT PAY for the interns to read their submission and that is the distinction I'd like to make.

12:35 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I know what the answer will be but...I was going to submit to Literary Latte, $10 fee for up to 3 shorts, seemed reasonable but...what do you know about them? thanks! Mitch, new to all of this...

9:45 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Hmmm, from what I can see the reading fee only applies to contests. The general submissions page makes no mention of it. Of course, the general submissions page also makes no mention of payment, so I'm curious as to how they'd respond if you sent them a story without the ten bucks.

Are they going to read it as a submission without the reading fee? If they think it's awesome will they publish it... but without payment via the whole contest malarky? If so, as long as you're not paying, well, arguably you're not being rooked per se, but what are you getting in return for your awesome story? The pleasure of publication? Hmmm.

Whether or not you're willing to forego payment (or rather the chance of payment as a contest-winner) is a personal judgement, I'd say, on the basis of any non-tangible returns. I'm not big on this scene, so I can't speak to whether this particular mag has the right people reading it, say. Like, Electric Velocipede only pays in copies, but the mag is read by the sort of folks who edit Year's Best anthologies. Submitting to a magazine that's not going to send you a check may be worth it in non-monetary terms, but I can't say if this is the case here.

And still, EV does pay in a way... just in copies. Similarly, a webzine like Lone Star Stories could only afford to pay a token payment, but that's at least payment. If these guys can't pay, like, $20, $10 or even $5 per story published... again, what's in it for the writer? Unless someone can answer that with something more than "the pleasure of publication," I'm not seeing a huge draw here.

Ultimately, I guess I just don't like the idea that a whole bunch of writers pay $10 to submit their short shorts, with most getting fuck all in return, some small percentage getting published, and only one getting paid. I don't like the notion that the pleasure of publication is all the reward a writer should expect, that payment is a special boon granted by the powers-that-be to the extra-super-special. Bollocks to that.

12:32 pm  
Anonymous Laura Roberts said...

Ugh. I cannot believe Narrative Magazine is still in business, but I guess it's true what they say about a sucker born every minute.

On the subject of submission fees for reading, I admit I am rather torn as an editor of an online literary magazine, as I believe low reading fees of $1 to $2 (something equivalent to the postage and printing fees of yesteryear) could actually help to improve the quality of submissions overall. As in, if you have to think about spending that two bucks to submit, rather than simply blasting out 30,000 copies of your latest screed, you might go back and polish it a bit to make sure it's worthwhile submitting it for review. Asking someone for a $20 handout is obscene and unethical, as in Narrative's case (and I think we can all agree on that), but what are your feelings on these nominal fees certain magazines nowadays require?

11:39 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Hi Laura: I'd question whether those nominal fees will really function as a disincentive to the delusional -- those who can't write for shit but blast out submissions in a misguided belief that if they sling enough of their garbage/genius at enough editors, well, *eventually* someone will recognise... the uniqueness of their vision. The worst writing comes from uncritical thinking, to my mind, so it goes hand in hand with crank-level approaches to submission.

So it costs two bucks to submit my plotless therapeutic drivel in which Mary Sue is torn between werewolf Harry and vampire Draco (who are also shagging, natch) to a magazine that specifies "no SF/F genre fiction, no erotica"? Don't matter! They're bound to recognise the genius that is me, so I'll make that back when they buy it!

As someone who shared a flat with the co-editor of a paper zine, Territories, way back when, in the age of snail mail, I remember him being driven to distraction by one writer who just kept firing submissions at him, sometimes more than one a week, and all regardless of the cost of paper and postage, etc.. The cost didn't make him think twice.

For writers with less (misplaced) confidence, it might discourage them, but these might be newer writers who actually have skills they just don't yet feel sure enough of, in themselves. What if the story's actually up to par, but that self-doubt just leads them to submit to a non-paying market instead -- because that's sort of an easy way to test the water? Or if they do build up the bottle to take the risk, what's the message being sent to someone with that novice's insecurity, when they have to pay for an editor to consider their work? I think it risks reinforcing any nascent sense that they're... a supplicant of sorts, rendering an offering in the hope that the powers-that-be will deem them worthy. It fosters a notion of publication as a privilege, a blessing, rather than a straight-up deal in which it's purely a matter of the quality of the story. Like, the editor isn't bestowing the boon of publication on the writer, any more than the writer is granting the editor the privilege of publishing their story; it's a fair exchange between equals, a mutually beneficial agreement based on a shared valuation of the story.

9:10 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

And if it's a writer who's reached a level of skill and confidence in their own work? Well, my own view on it is that if I offer you a deal that's blatantly not right for you, you can reject it instantly without a whole lot of effort. Aren't the stories you're trying to clear out of the slush pile ones that you can pretty much reject on the basis of one paragraph, if even that? If, on the other hand, you have to read it through and consider it, well, that means it has, at least, been worth that time and consideration.

That's a fair exchange that takes place even before publication, to my mind, time and consideration on the one hand, the opportunity to publish under complete acceptance of your terms on the other. In any cover letter, I'd thank an editor for their time and consideration. If they want me to pay for it, a wry part of me would be awfully inclined to say instead, "Here's two bucks for your time and consideration. Out of curiosity, if I gave you five bucks, would you give it *more* time and consideration?" Cause, hey, if it's not bad form for the editor to monetise that deal, it's not bad form for the writer to haggle for a better one, right?

What I'm getting at, I guess, is that you could drive away writers who know their craft -- and know that they know it. They know their story is a good product, sellable as is if they can just match it to the right market, if that market exists. They'll look for the most apt venue with the best rates, and knowing how much editorial taste may factor in here, how easily that can lead to rejection, they know it'll likely take a few tries to place it. If it's something a bit out there, it might not place at all, simply because outre is a hard sell. In that sort of pragmatism, paying to submit is a good reason to give a potential market a pass.

Ultimately, given the likelihood that you're as well just burning two bucks, that nominal fee may be more of a disincentive to a writer taking a no-nonsense approach to it all, someone at a level of skill and confidence such that they want to earn their crust from it, or at least treat it as a secondary job, a vocation, even though they need a day-job to get by. These are as likely to be broke as anyone else, *more* likely if they're fool enough to be trying to make a living from it. As nominal as it is, that fee might get me nothing in return, and cost me the coffee I need to buy in order to use a café's free wifi when my interwebs get cut off cause they're not paid up. It may not get me a pint of Guinness, but it'd get me a bag of pasta. So, yeah, with plenty other magazines paying pro-rates and accepting e-subs, I'm not likely to hit up one that has a reading fee at all.

9:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you look at who's being featured in the magazine, all the writers are established, well known writers. So the chance of rising above the slush pile readers, getting it to the editors and then having the editors actually publish it is really slim. It's better to submit to a contest, at least there you have a better chance. But chances are, you're wasting your money going after Narrative. To get published, start with real small press and make your way upward...

10:12 pm  
Anonymous Black Diamond said...

I'm so glad I found your blog. I am one of those novice, emerging (well, unemerged) writer-hopefuls. I heard an interview on NPR yesterday with Carol Edgarton and I was all jazzed about sending in some pieces. I guess I have to say that now I have reconsidered and am very disappointed. I am disappointed in NPR for letting her plug Narrative on their show. There was no mention of writers paying fees for submissions.
Thanks for the "heads-up."

8:33 am  
Anonymous Black D said...

I just checked further and I found that NPR says this of NM:

"The magazine's diverse array of creative approaches has established a variety of revenue sources and publicity strategies for the magazine and its writers."

Hmm, I guess the revenue source is the submission fee paid by all those poor souls. Publicity stategies aka spamming registered users.

Oh, NPR, I am disappointed in you! But I can see loads of reasons and PR ties for you not telling the truth.

9:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I may be off base, but my understanding of how NM operates is this: You don't just pay a fee and then your submission gets published; you pay a fee to enter a contest of your choosing and if you win that contest then you get published. Though I'm not a defender of NM -- in fact, I don't profess to know that much about it -- I have to say this seems like a legitimate way to operate. Most contests I know of charge entry fees. Hell, you even have to pay -- or, I should say, your newspaper has to pay -- an entry fee to be considered for a Pulitzer Prize in journalism. And I'm pretty sure the same holds true for publishing houses who nominate their authors' books for the big P. So I'm not sure what the perceived problem is with NM. I mean, NM may well be a scam somehow, for some other reason, but I don't think the particular rationale set forth on this blog or in this comment section necessarily supports that conclusion.

4:32 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

You're right that it's not a vanity press scam -- pay for the privilege of being published -- but the contest with entry fee scheme is basically asking you to pay for *others* to be published.

Think of it as a raffle where 500 people all pay $5 each for a ticket -- $2500 coming into the pot -- with a chance of winning one of five $100 prizes, the two grand being used to keep the raffle running, pay the judges. Would you enter such a raffle knowing that it's not for charity, that those running it are pocketing any profits? Maybe so. There's still prizes, and everyone has an equal chance of winning.

But actually they don't here. You don't win from your ticket being picked randomly; the best-decorated tickets, in the judges' opinions, are what win. Those running the raffle know -- because this is the truth of every slush pile -- that the vast majority of entries will not be worth even considering, are in fact making a strategy of this: they're looking at the naivety of novice writers as a resource to exploit. It's a business model based on selling as many raffle tickets as possible to children with crayons, while expecting to select their five from maybe a dozen accomplished artists to enter. If they're actively soliciting pros and getting subs from known and respected names, the raffle essentially has ringers going straight into a top tier.

You might just luck out if you're good enough -- the raffle is not rigged -- but the raffle-runners are still being deeply cynical. It's like they're running the raffle at some massive party where they know hundreds of people are going to be so drunk they'll enter enthusiastically with utterly incompetent work. They also know there's going to be highly skilled and sober artists there -- because they invited them. The latter they're relying on to come up with prize-worthy goods. The former they're relying on to fund the whole enterprise; and the more drunks there are exercising bad judgement, the better.

So, in the end, they don't just passively take money from the enthusiastic and incompetent; they actively *tout* for them by spamming pro-writer blogs like this, understanding that novice writers are likely to read such precisely *because* they're enthusiastic and incompetent, interested in what writers have to say in general and specifically looking for craft discussion that might help improve their work. It's like trawling the bars, actively *searching* for drunks who'll buy a raffle ticket and scribble on it.

As far as I'm concerned that mercenary strategy utterly discredits them to the point I'd actively discourage anyone from having anything to do with them. This isn't an annual prize, bear in mind; their "contests" are actually a strategy for funding an ongoing magazine by essentially charging you for a standard submission.

11:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By any chance do any of you know if those interns got paid? Is the money writers are paying to submit going to the interns who read the stories?

6:17 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To all naysayers. First of all many respected journals require a submission fee. Certainly poetry journals do, who often have writing contests and offer a stipend or a prize. The fees are used to pay the winners and to support the journals. There is nothing sin in a literary journal sustaining its existence.

Second, I sent in an i-story with a reading fee knowing I may be rejected. I know no one at NM. I was, as others, impressed by the caliber of writers represented. My i-story was taken with a payment forthcoming of $250.00.

Writers who write are accepted because of a certain quality of writing and the sensibilities of the intern who then bumps the story up to the editor. I feel very fortunate to be accepted.

Many of the legitimate journals and publishing organizations hire interns. That's quite standard.

Sour grapes in the geek show?

8:36 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Oh, Anonymouse, what on earth would I have sour grapes about? As in resentment, jealousy?

You do realise that projection puts you squarely in the same camp as every idiot who ever whined, "You're just jealous of his sales!" to dismiss a writer's honest critical opinion on, say, Dan Brown. In all honesty, I can never hear that deflection without an acute suspicion of what it says about the speaker -- that they assume others to be as callow as themselves, that they imagine other writers to operate on a shallow & insecure egotism that's largely incompatible with good writing.

Be a writer, use your powers of grasping human motivation, and really it ought to be transparent to you that a pro with cult status and kudos out the yazoo, is not likely to have some crazy petty vindictivenes over a literary magazine that's never done anything to put his nose out of joint.

Except, of course, spam his blog in a mercenary attempt to use it as a platform to reach the exploitable. That's the only source of resentment here, the comment quoted at the start of the post. I don't appreciate Narrative Magazine sending its intern out to post flyby comments on random literary blogs, co-opting them as advertising space, especially not when they're operating in a way I consider vanity press.

Sour grapes? No, just utter contempt for their shamelessness in spam commenting me solely as means to an end, as a random writer likely to be read by the aspirants they want to exploit.

6:37 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

But OK, since your projection of an ignoble motive bespeaks an obliviousness to what I could possibly find objectionable about their system, let's address your points in order to spell the problem out. Again.

You say: First of all many respected journals require a submission fee... There is nothing sin in a literary journal sustaining its existence.

Clearly, I consider the respect given those journals misplaced. Clearly, I think there is something unethical about sustaining one's literary journal not on the returns from an appreciative audience but by exploiting the would-be workers.

If a restaurant couldn't sustain itself as a restaurant but turned a profit for the owner by charging aspiring employees for the privilege of being interviewed, employing only one or two new trainees out of a mass of incompetent applicants each month, I'd say that's a reprehensible way to run a restaurant, no matter the good reviews it gets for food and service. The owner is not in the restaurant business. They're in the business of capitalising on pipe dreams. They're monetising the incompetence of applicants, cashing in on the fact that the overwhelming majority are too incompetent to even realise what little chance they have. This is what the restaurant would be sustaining its existence on. This is what you're defending.

You say: I was, as others, impressed by the caliber of writers represented.

I don't doubt the magazine is like aforesaid restaurant in terms of food and service: achieving a high quality. This doesn't mitigate for me the fact that it's doing so by exploiting naive aspirants. I'm decidedly unimpressed by that fact. I'd say the same of any journal operating that way. I single out Narrative Magazine here because they chose to appropriate my commentspace as a loudhailer to reach the people they see as revenue. They chose to try and use me in order to use my readers. I don't give a fuck if they're publishing the next Guy Davenport, not if they're rooking a hundred hobbyists a month to do so. And that mercenary spamming tactic takes them over a line from passively capitalising on naivety to aggressively seeking their willing schmucks. Which is to say, it makes them actively predatorial.

8:06 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

You say: My i-story was taken with a payment forthcoming of $250.00... I feel very fortunate to be accepted.

So you made the cut. Bully for you. But assuming a $20 fee for the i-story, if your payment came from a dozen schmucks who didn't make the cut, were they just... not so "fortunate"? Is it just their bad luck not to be chosen? Because if so you don't deserve the money any more than they do. If it were just luck, I mean, you'd be profiting from the misfortune of a dozen other writers. None of them would be somehow undeserving of the $20 that's been taken from their pockets and put in yours with congratulation on winning the prize in this literary lottery, and a tenner creamed off for the editors own pocket. And for the countless others whose $20 went straight to the editor's wallet, again their misfortune would be the editor's gain.

But the reality is you're not fortunate to be accepted. Your story merited acceptance. You put work into it, achieved a certain standard, and earned a nice chunk of cash in exchange for the license to publish your work and profit from it. Those dozen other writers didn't merit acceptance. (They weren't unlucky. Their stories were unsuitable.) But you... you're not some unworthy supplicant being privileged by the editors with the chance to see your name in print alongside writers of a high caliber. Modesty is all very well, but fortune has nothing to do with it; the cash in your pocket should tell you exactly how worthy you are, how much the editors were willing to pay for the privilege of printing your story.

The point is, that unworthy supplicant attitude is the timidity of the amateur, yearning for the validation of publication either because they lack confidence in their judgement or because they're oblivious to quality, the writing itself a mere means to an end of validation. It may be demonstrably errant in undervaluing a work the editors are fortunate to have had sent their way. Or it may be errant in the oblivious fancy that a work which simply isn't up to scratch might just be "fortunate" to win the favour of the gatekeepers. Either way, any publishing venture capitalising on that naive folly earns my contempt for seeing the bedazzlement of aspirants not as a misapprehension to be remedied but as a vulnerability to be exploited.

Those dozen other writers whose $20 is lining your pocket along with the $20 returned to you, minus the $10 in the editor's wallet... they've clearly not sent in stories of sufficient quality to merit publication. Knowing the slush pile, it's highly likely most of their stories don't merit a moment's consideration past the first paragraph. But the naivety of the incompetent aspirant that makes them willing to send in $20 in the hope of being blessed with the validation of publication doesn't mean they deserve to be taken advantage of. If a fool can be parted from their money and left happy, I can still disdain the grifter who does so, not least when it's a high-profile journal, respected due to the caliber of writers. Your very argument -- that many respected journals do this so the practice is respectable -- demonstrates how someone like Narrative Magazine operating in this manner lends false legitimacy to vanity press scams which prey even more ruthlessly on the willingness of incompetent amateurs to part with their cash.

You do not need to bribe the gatekeepers to gain entry. If one gatekeeper is requiring payment to even consider you for entry, that's unethical in and of itself, I say, and for the knock-on effect in priming writers such that when another crooked gatekeeper tries to utterly ream them, it all seems perfectly par for the course: hey, if Narrative Magazine charges a reading fee, isn't that publisher charging thousands to "edit," publish and "promote" your novel just as legitimate? It's the same principle, right?

8:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do understand your desire to prevent exploitation of aspiring writers and I appreciate your stance on their behalf.

I won't address your rebuttal to my comments because I don't have the time to devote and I can tell from the snarky tone of your reply that I'd only be attacked for my opinion. I'm laughing, not in disrespect but at the idea that you might be able to actually change your point of view. Is it possible to agreeably disagree?

However, I pose the question to you: do you believe that any entry fee is verboten? Poets enter contests all the time to reputable journals for a chance to compete. If I pay a fee to NM and my work is accepted and the other writers works are not I have simply won out over the other writers vying for publication. There is no robbery involved.

The sad news is that most poets are paid nothing but the privilege of seeing their work in print and only once! Since I am primarily a poet the likelihood of any renumeration other than winning a contest is nearly zero. Sad but true.

I think it's a victory for the magazine and the writers who do manage to get published and get paid. There is nothing unethical about a magazine sustaining itself and paying its writers well.

If I want to be published in a journal or magazine, I am most certainly going to buy a copy and sample their wares before I submit.

You're right, the comment about "sour grapes" was uncalled for on my end. I can admit when I allow my emotions to trump reason. I don't know if you have contacted NM directly and asked them not to sift from your blog. I'd write a formal letter stating your request and if you have and there has been no responsive action then I say quit hoisting your own petard by giving them your valuable breath and time.

5:47 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Sure, I'm happy to agreeably disagree if you are, in a mutual desnarkment. I am actually fairly affable more often than not--honest, guv. Sure, an argumentative anonymous comment on a years-old post may get short shrift--see "An A-Z of This Blog" under Discuss > Agendas & Aesthetics--but even with comments that look like hit-and-run flybys I'll go for debate over delete, argue over ignore.

Anyway, when it comes down to it, I don't see a need to contact NM; there's no action required. The blog spamming is old news. A lot of other writers were hit by it, a wee stramash was kicked up, but NM appear to have learned their lesson now, and that was two and a half years ago. As far as letting it lie is concerned, that's exactly what I'm doing, to be honest. It's not like I'm oxygenating NM by banging on about it in a new post on the front page for all to see; I'm just engaging a reader, one-to-one, who's turned up in the dusty backroom of my 2009 archives. Cause it's more about people like yerself than it is abut NM as far as I'm concerned.

So, to answer your question: personally, yes, I reject all entry fees. I think if you want to run a magazine, there are plenty ways to subsidise it without exploiting and legitimising that unworthy supplicant attitude. The online magazine Strange Horizons runs regular fund drives, for example, allowing them to pay pro-rates to contributors without even charging readers. And they publish poetry as well as fiction.

To be clear, I'm not really fussed about genuine annual contests sponsored by X, where entry fees top up the prize fund and subsidise administration--but with such I'm talking the sort of prize with a real profile, a genuine payoff of prestige for the winner, where a *self-sustaining* magazine publishes the winner for the privilege of doing so, may even contribute to the prize fund alongside the sponsor. That's a whole different ball game. If you get the distinction I'm making, part of my disdain is born of the obfuscation of that distinction.

As a poet myself, I'd add, I appreciate the miserable unlikelihood of remuneration, but even there... I've had two chapbooks and a full collection out and been paid for all three, with no reading fee. Many of the works were posted here beforehand, on the basis that it was unlikely they'd sell; if they weren't likely to earn money by publication, I'd rather just publish them myself at no cost, to no gain, just to get them out there. Validation is for parking.

What it comes down to, in large part, is a vehement rejection of that "publication is a privilege" notion and of systems in the industry that play to and upon it. At the heart of such systems, there's the vanity that gives the vanity press its name. I don't have a lot of tolerance for that folly, suffice to say.

5:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Gone are the days where you can get something for nothing. Kids have to "pay to play" to join athletic teams; intramural associations; and school clubs.

This trend started about ten years ago and has continued to grow throughout the United States.

While, I don't relish the idea of ponying up hard earned dough for my literary submissions, I do see one benefit. It separates the serious writers from the lazy ones.

Anyone can string together some dreaded purple prose, but the serious writer will polish, re-vise, re-write and revise some more before submitting~ Especially when being asked to "put some skin" in the "game".

If you are so against fees for submission, how about providing a list of mags/publishing houses that won't deep six your work and who are willing to spend countless of hours sorting through the slush and muck to find their "winner".

Regards, ANON

2:17 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

If you're so for investment as a way to separate the serious writer from the hobbyist, how about you invest the effort in doing some market research, ANON? It's not hard in these days of the internets; there are sites dedicated to maintaining listings of mags and anthologies currently open for submissions, detailing genres they cover, pay rates, even response times. Duotrope now asks you to pay for the service, but that's an actual service, hard factual research. And with Duotrope going paid, (after many years,) I seem to recall someone else recently stepping in to offer that sort of service for free again. Go ye and Google.

Assuming you're a "serious" writer, that is.

See, you know what sort of investment signifies commitment as a writer? The investment of time and effort in finding the best way to get your fiction in front of the people it wants to be read by. You know what it signifies if you just throw money at a high-profile magazine operating a pay-to-play scam? Exactly the same as if you throw money at a vanity press operating a pay-to-play scam: more money than sense.

Everything that Publish America (for example) is and does demonstrates that a willingness to pony up dosh does not indicate a commitment that will be manifest also in craft. If anything, stumping up dosh tends to indicate the exact opposite: the money is a substitute for the real time and effort the writer is too lazy to expend on learning either the aesthetics or practicalities of the craft; it's a shortcut to get their drivel in print solely for the egoistic pride in being a "real writer." With Narrative Magazine? It doesn't say much for commitment if the writer jumps at the big profile venue and defends this by asking a critic to list all their other choices, the venues that aren't instantly visible to any old hobbyist.

Again, the idea that publication is a privilege bestowed by the gatekeepers--the "something" you can't get "for nothing"--is a quintessentially amateur folly. Publication is the publisher paying you so they get the privilege of making money off your story rather than someone else. Turning that arse-backwards so that they're deigning to bestow you with the status of "published writer," a boon which is worth paying for because you can't "get something for nothing"... dude, that just tells me you value your own work at nothing. That work is your payment. Your story in their mag is what you're offering them, your side of the deal. I can tell you straight up, if you offer me five bucks to read your sub, all that suggests to me is that you lack faith in what you're bringing to the table.

6:14 pm  
Blogger JanTim said...

Hal, I don't lack faith in what I am bringing to the table, because like any writer, I welcome critique.

After my "best" draft (which could take months), I submit my work to trusted friends & family (a few which are writers themselves) for their honest feedback and recommendations. With that knowledge, I go at it again, refining and polishing my piece until it is meets my satisfaction.

J.K. Rowling said it best when she said that she writes for herself first! I too, write for myself by incorporating events and people from my life into my stories.

Rowling was on a crowded train from Manchester to London when the idea for Harry suddenly "fell into her head". Rowling gives an account of the experience on her website saying:[45] "I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me."

Rowling completed Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1995 and the manuscript was sent off to several prospective agents.[46] The second agent she tried, Christopher Little, offered to represent her and sent the manuscript to Bloomsbury. After EIGHT other publishers had rejected Philosopher's Stone, Bloomsbury offered Rowling a £2,500advance for its publication. [Excerpt from Wikipedia]

While it wasn't mentioned, I bet Rowling allowed many people to read her work to gauge whether it was entertaining and sellable?

I have critiqued other writers' work and believe me, many stories aren't interesting, let alone sellable!

I appreciate your candor regarding NM, but I will be submitting my work and see where it takes me.

I have no expectations and I will authenticate my work by a) purchasing a newspaper and attaching the first page to my manuscript. I'll mail it to myself and leave it un-opened in the event that some pleeb tries to swipe it, while it is being considered.

How is that for confidence?


6:54 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Well, it's your call when it comes down to it, ANON. My point here is not to persuade you of the Right Way, but to counter a spam-for-a-scam comment, as I see it, co-opting my blog--and those of many other writers--in a mercenary attempt to reach the naive with a sales spiel for an exploitative business model. If my stance on this is unpersuasive... you can lead a horse to water, as they say. But don't expect me to cave in the face of your conviction that it's fair. It's not my duty to validate your judgements any more than it is to do your market research. What is my duty, far as I'm concerned, is to call it as I see it and let you take or leave that advice as you wish.

In that regard, for what it's worth, I think it's a good practical strategy to get solid (i.e. ruthless) critique from others, but I'd have to say my money would be on Rowling not having a lot of professional feedback; her early HP, from what I've read, comes across as self-taught--intuitively hitting on effective techniques but weak in aspects that I'd expect her to be stronger on if she'd been getting savvy advice. (And conversely, it's worth saying, strong in aspects that might well have been watered down if she'd been getting very market-oriented advice. I.e. some of the qualities that actually made it such a success are exactly those, I'd hazard, that eight publishers saw as reasons for rejection.)

A better practical strategy still, IMO, is to engage in critique of others' work. This is a good way to up your game in terms of the savvy and ruthlessness you can subsequently apply to your own writing, whereas it's all too easy to turn feedback from others into validation. You do have to evaluate that feedback after all, and you're always already doing so on the basis of your convictions. If those convictions are wrong, they're more likely to be revised by active analysis of work you're utterly objective about.

As for the "authentication" strategy with the newspaper and all... I really hope you're not detailing that fact in your cover letter as, to be brutally honest, that doesn't so much say "confidence" as "crank." See this acerbic entry for how that sort of defensiveness plays in professional terms:

9:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What is the purpose of having an online blog, if you don't welcome other people's judgements and opinions? I wasn't seeking your validation, but I do APPRECIATE that you have remained un-biased and have allowed postings that offer differing perspectives.

My reponse to your venomous opposition to contests that require entry fees was to suggest that it might be an expedient way for up and coming writers to get feedback, and perhaps published.

I don't know about Europe, but here in the states, there aren't many publishing houses these days that accept "un-solicited" manuscripts. The ones that do require steadfast tenacity, patience, and money!

"Solicited" manuscripts require many steps, before they are even "considered". The writer has to make certain that their master piece is a genre that the publisher is looking for (thinks is sellable). Writers have to adhere to strick formatting guidelines and submission rules. Most don't want the entire thing, but the first 30-50 pages. It cost money to mail the manuscript and it is customary to provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope to "purchase" their decision.

Then the waiting game begins. You are lucky if you get a response within 6 months! Bribes get you nowhere, no matter how many chocolates, cookies, jars of jam, and decorative boxes that you pack your manuscript with.

Time is money in this business, so I rather be rejected sooner, than later. Until one reaches your status Hal ~ a published writer, we wantabes have to make use of all the opportunities that are out there.

Regarding, my "authentication" stragedy, only an idiot would declare such a thing in a cover letter. It is known in the business as the "poor man's copywrite", and probably wouldn't hold up in court of law anyway.....


4:30 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

I do welcome other people's opinions, Anon, but anonymice are not people; they are mice. The blogosphere has been around long enough that by now I'd have thought the etiquette was established here: unlike a forum, a blog is a personal space; the door may be open, but the host is inviting you into their virtual party; if there's a debate going on, you're welcome to jump in, but argumentative anonymity is comparable to heckling--a pot-shot from the shadows from a naysayer lacking the good grace to introduce themself even by an adopted handle. Allowing that some less savvy souls perhaps just don't get that virtual heckling is bad form, I make it explicit that I see it as such--link to the ground rules of this blog, in fact, in the very comment preceding yours. My cards were on the table about this before you even commented: anonymice risk getting short shrift here.

When it's a spontaneous comment on a three-year-old blog post, indeed, the obliviousness tends to indicate a fly-by "someone is wrong on the internet" situation--i.e. that for the commenter this is just some random blog post which turned up on a Google search on Narrative Magazine. I hope you can appreciate why I might be a tad brusque with a heckler who isn't even at the party for its own sake, but seemingly just poking their head in to heckle a defense of an earlier gatecrasher.

Which is the point in terms of purpose, why I have a blog. The virtual party is for anyone who cares to swing by and hang out. Debate is welcome. But the NM spam comment was essentially someone handing out flyers for a scam, as I see it, at my party. This post was essentially me showing them the door in no uncertain terms and trying to undo the potential damage. As host, I'm not going to stand for my blog being co-opted to their purpose, turned into a platform for them to sell to my guests.

In this ongoing aftermath--three years after the fact--if others want to debate with "but surely..." comments, I'm going to respond to those comments rather than just nix them. I feel it's worth going the extra mile for writers who still don't get it. But there is a degree to which such comments are essentially defending the gatecrasher and their scheme. If you host a party and have to turf some stranger out for trying to rip off your guests, are you going to appreciate other strangers popping out of the woodwork three hours on to insist that the gatecrasher's offer was a good deal?

So yeah, long story short, you'll have to forgive me for being curt about such opinions.

8:08 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

As for publishing houses and manuscripts, yes, it's a horrendous waiting game, with a whole lot of time and effort that can get you exactly nowhere. And trust me, it's not that much different even with publications and awards under your belt. An agent can still throw their hands up with a novel they just can't get their head round. Any number of editors will still reject your agented MS. Tenacity and patience don't cease to be necessary with the first thing you get in print.

The problems inherent in the process of submitting a novel manuscript are, however, of no relevance to the value of pay-to-play fees in short story submissions. You're no more likely to get feedback and you're no more likely to get published than you are with any of the myriad venues that don't require entry fees. Actually, of the editors I know who're most inclined to give detailed feedback on why they're rejecting a story, all are/were in charge of pro-rate magazines with open submissions. Some of these also had the speediest turnarounds. Again, these venues are out there. If you want to make use of all the opportunities, go look for them. Jumping to submit to a mag like NM, high-profile enough that it's likely the first to hit your radar, is not doing so. There are more opportunities and there are better opportunities.

8:33 pm  
Blogger Arya said...

Kudos to you, dude. You are right on the money. The trend should be money goes to writers, period. Any publisher that asks writers, (who are generally poor as it is), to pay to have their work read, is into scamming not helping them. Do NOT pay to have your work read. Support the little magazines that have the integrity to keep on publishing on low budgets for love of the art, just as you as a writer write for love of the art. Fuck 'em is right.

4:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm somewhat shocked to hear this business of Narrative being a scam. I have a story coming out as Story of the Week in a few weeks and I paid nothing to make that happen. True, the way it got to the editor's desk was somewhat accidental, but it happened, and my story will be appearing and I will be paid $150 for my 749 word story. And no, I am NOT a famous author (though I am relatively well published in literary journals).

It doesn't cost money to submit to Narrative proper, it DOES cost money to submit to their competitions, as is customary.

As for interns reading the slush pile, that is how it's done, folks.

Narrative is really the cream of the crop of online literary magazines. They have several competitions that do charge readers' fees (which, like I said, is normal for any competition).

Bear in mind that this journal is free for the reader, AND they pay their authors. The money has to come from somewhere, and holding competitions (Story of the Week, the seasonal competitions, etcetera) that's just standard in the industry.

I think it's a good idea to develop a strong understanding of the industry in which you are submitting your work. Having done this for 32 years, I can tell you I have such an understanding, and these accusations against one of the best literary journals out there smack of sour grapes.

5:14 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Read the submissions guidelines:

"...for unsolicited submissions, we do charge a nominal fee..."

But hey, nice to know that you as a relatively well published author can get your story to the editor's desk by some other fortuitous circumstance outwith the system, your $150 coming from the reading fees of those who paid for the privilege of being rejected.

Think about it, Anonymouse. Your example of a published story which wasn't taken from the pool of "pay-to-play" submissions doesn't actually help Narrative's case any. That's a bit like trying to argue a raffle is fair on the basis that you won... albeit you didn't actually buy a ticket. All you're providing is a datapoint in which those who paid to submit following the guidelines were indeed passed over for a story acquired by other means--recommendation, solicitation, a chance encounter through social circles, or whatever process you're glossing over as "somewhat accidental."

8:53 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. This is a very stupid organization. Everything is under the dark. DO NOT SUBMIT!

11:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can anyone suggest interesting publishing journals/magazines - literary/artistic/environmental/intellectual/etc - that publish photo essays? And that pay, even if it is very little.

2:16 pm  
Blogger TWE said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:23 pm  
Anonymous Frederic Smith said...

The scam may be worse than anyone thinks. On February 6, 2017, at 7:26 a. m. PST, I submitted (electronically) a story of just under 6,500 words. At 3:30 p. m. on that same date it was rejected. There is no conceivable way anyone with other mss. on his desk could have "carefully" read a piece of that length in so little time. In fact I'm convinced it wasn't read at all. Significantly, the magazine's reading fee is seven times higher than that of its most expensive competitor. Incidentally, I am not exactly a novice. I've been writing and publishing since 1972, have been nominated for a literary prize, and have had a novel reviewed in lead position in the NEW STATESMAN and (by Victoria Glendinning) the IRISH TIMES.

9:02 pm  
Anonymous Thomas said...

From the tone of these comments, I suspect most of you frustrated, poor starving artists. I always thought that went with the territory. Narrative is largely funded by generous donations, it’s founders are well-accredited authors in their own right, and it does provide an outlet for aspiring writers even if they charge a readers fee that is barely above minimum wage.

Also, I would have expected “writers” to be able to express themselves without the use of foul language that a number of you have found necessary to use to express you anger.

Winers are losers.

Thomas, Proud Supporter of Narrative.

10:17 pm  

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