The Born Freelancer on Why Paying to be Published is Wrong

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in bornfreel2the comments. 

Am I the only person offended by the concept of an author being required to pay to be published?

No, it’s worse than that. It’s being exhorted to pay for the merest chance that you might get published.

You see, there’s no guarantee if you pay so-called “reader’s fees” that you’ll actually get into print.

I’m talking about those purportedly “literary” publications which demand potential authors to pay to have their work read for possible publication and offer little or no remuneration in return.

Authors rule!

In my much younger days if you paid to be published it was called “vanity” publishing. Everyone in the business shunned such practices as it was assumed if you had to pay to get into print you couldn’t be worth reading.

In a parallel example, agents of any description who require potential clients to pay suspiciously-named fees upfront have always been avoided like the plague by any creative type with half a brain. No legitimate agent I have ever encountered behaves in that way. They take their fees from you after they have found you work.

OK, so now today self-publishing is a recognized medium in which authors can take control of their destinies and by-pass conventional publishers and deliver their work directly to the public. But it is in no way to be confused with paying others to be published.

Up until modern times, creative prose or “literary” magazines have managed to survive on a steady diet of subscriptions, the generosity of patrons, advertising, investors who never expected to see much of a return and/or governmental grants. Authors were paid, albeit not much – usually some kind of honorarium at minimum – to recognize their importance to the process. 

Let’s face facts. Without authors there could be no “literary” magazines or any kind at all. The very reason for being of any such publication should be to promote the talent of any authors it is lucky enough/smart enough to recognize.

But too many seem to feel it is the other way around. That authors are at best hapless annoyances to be used as revenue streams to perpetuate their own otherwise untenable existence.

Blah blah blah

I’ve read all the arguments. It’s the “new paradigm” of publishing. Creative prose pubs are different. It’s perfectly acceptable. Authors who won’t pay to be read are being unrealistic. The old ways are dead, etc. etc. etc.

What a load of b.s.

I used to own part of a magazine. The only sane reason to pay anything (aside from a subscription) to such a publication is to own a piece of it in order to be able to direct its operations. Anything else is sheer insanity. Our budget might have forced us to pay very little or nothing to authors but we respected them (since we were all authors ourselves) and shared any miniscule profits.

We knew we were only as good as the authors we encouraged. If we couldn’t make a go of it without extorting authors into paying us we didn’t deserve to stay in business.

And we didn’t.

It was still the right decision.

Publications that can’t survive somehow without charging potential authors don’t deserve to survive, in my humble opinion.

Reading new submissions, however long or tedious the process, is part of the job. No, more than that – it is the job. You shouldn’t need to be additionally induced just to do your fundamental job.

But as more and more publications do see fit to charge, newer authors, without knowing how damaging it is to their future careers (and bank balance), figure it’s an acceptable way to do things.

If you send your money into any such publication you are just perpetuating an inherently debased publishing paradigm.

Respect – what it means to me

Creative authors slave away for many years and rarely make much money at it. They usually write for the love of it and often make many personal sacrifices to develop their craft. It has value. It should be given any and all appropriate respect.

Of course if – as an author – you choose to participate in such a morally vacuous paradigm, it is your choice. But you are doing a great disservice to yourself and all your fellow authors. You are failing to display any kind of professional self-respect and so why should anyone else show you any in return?

The more authors are prepared to yield to this kind of egregious economic arm twisting, the more publications will see it as a perfectly legitimate cash cow and opt-in.

The takeaway

The only way to fight back is to simply not submit (literally and figuratively) to publications demanding reader’s fees. 

Tell them why. 

Refuse to support them through subscriptions. 

Sooner or later they will either get the idea that what they are doing is harmful, not helpful, to most authors and they’ll drop such draconian practices or else go out of existence which would not be the end of the world for any of us. Perhaps next time they start up a magazine they will be more diligent at giving it a more solid budgetary foundation.

You may, of course, choose to disagree. If so, I’d love to hear why. 

You can submit your thoughts in the comments below.

And, oh, yes. We won’t charge you.

Not even if you do.

Posted on August 17, 2016 at 6:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: ,

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