The May 2014 issue just went live and we thought this was a perfect time to share some news–and provide about a month’s notice of this change and give some context to this new direction:
On June 1, 2014, Hippocampus Magazine submitters will notice a $3 submission fee.
This decision comes after more than two years of thought and deliberation. We polled our readers, had conversations with our volunteer staff and considered the careful choices made by other magazines we know and respect. This decision was made with care, and it was made out of respect for the time and effort of our volunteer staff and from a desire to continue to increase the quality of submissions from emerging and established writers.
Online publications are not immune to operational and administrative costs: we have hosting fees, domain renewals, email software, Most Memorable prizes, postage for sending review books to our network of writers, membership fees, occasional classified ads, and other expenses which add up—and as of now it comes out of my pocket—a true labor of love. And then there is TIME. That four-letter word. Hippocampus is a volunteer effort, and if we were to add up all those volunteer hours and put a price tag on those “in-kind” hours, many would be surprised to know just how much the love and care that goes into each issue is actually worth in USD!
So. We need a little help to make Hippocampus sustainable—and not depend on our own pocket change. We are hopeful you’ll understand and continue to support our growing magazine and the stories that we publish.
We’re feel confident implementing this nominal fee for several reasons:
- As stated above, take care of administrative expenses.
- Extra revenue, down the line, can lead us to be able to pay contributors—we’ll make this decision after establishing a baseline of this new “revenue” stream.
- Market magazine—and our contributors and their work—in more places, more often.
- Perhaps more important: To encourage serious writers to submit their most polished pieces. (To elaborate: We often see stories withdrawn with a reason of “needed to make some edits.” We believe that the convenience of online submissions sometimes causes writers to rush. We are proud that we publish a lot of first-time writers—what we are saying here is that all writers should ensure their drafts are polished and ready to go before hitting ‘submit’.)
- To enforce our submission guidelines. We have a blind reading process and clearly ask that identifying information is not included within the manuscript—some slip by. But what’s more concerning is that we get poems and short stories even though we exclusively publish nonfiction—this shows us that some writers have not done due diligence before selecting possible homes for their creative writing. Implementing a fee (we hope) will prompt writers to use more discretion and care in their submissions.
- The last two bullet points, we hope, will help our queue become more manageable and become filled with more correct and quality submissions.
- We feel that, regardless of what happens to an individual submission, all writers will feel a sense of community—ownership, even—by helping to support a publication, one we hope continues to be part of their literary life.
- Our $10 entry fee for our annual Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction funds prizes and leftovers have supported the magazine in small ways, and adding a regular fee adds consistency to this stream.
(Note: After Submittable’s cut and a processing fee, our ‘take-home’ of the $3 fee is $1.91)
Submission “Fee-dom” Period
We wanted to offer a few special cases where there would be “fee-dom” from a fee:
- Each December—that’s the season of giving for many—we’ll offer a no-fee submission period.
- Each July, we publish a special theme issue; for the foreseeable future, we will not require a fee for this issue.
- Sometimes, we really like a story but it’s just not there yet; we’ll decline it, giving the author an option to revise and resubmit. In those cases, that we will waive the fee for the writer when they resubmit.
A little more justification for numbers people.
The $3 fee to submit to Hippocampus is not much different from submitting by postal mail with a SASE; many fine magazines still offer that option. Here’s an unscientific breakdown based on loose research of postage costs and local office supply store prices.
- Manila Clasped 9 x 12 Envelope: $.24
- 10-page manuscript plus cover letter (paper and ink): $1.10
- Postage (2 ounces): $1.05
- Enclosed SASE (envelope and stamp): $.44 and $.10
- TOTAL (approximately): $2.93
Hippocampus Magazine is free —and we’re so proud of that. Current and archive issues are always available. Most literary magazine editors—at print and online journals—appreciate when submitters read issues beforehand. In the print world, this means buying a few copies or even subscribing to your favorite—of course, you also can get these free at a library—but you get the point we’re trying to make. So, when you submit to an online magazine, your cost of research is essentially zero. We know what we just said—and that was for illustration—but we still, of course, encourage you to buy the heck out of the print journals that interest you!
Reader Poll Results
We’ll share more from our 2014 reader poll soon, but for this blog post we wanted to include feedback specifically about our inquiry into submission fees:
Question: We have to give some context to this question. There’s been some debate about magazines charging reading fees for print AND online magazines. Costs of running an online magazine, such as Hippocampus, include web hosting, domain name renewal, email software, postage to send review books to staff writers, prizes, marketing materials. Because there is no income from subscriptions or subsidies from an institution as many print journals have, many online journals now charge a small fee. We’re CONSIDERING a nominal reading fee of between $2 and $3, comparable to postage fees of mailing a physical manuscript. Reader input is important to us as we consider this. Keeping the above in mind, what is the most you’d consider paying as a submission fee from the choices below?
To add more detail to the chart, here’s the data (136 respondents):
- 68.19% would pay a submission fee
- 6.06% – the most they would pay is $1
- 26.52% – the most they would pay is $2
- 35.61% – the most they would pay is $3
- 31.82% – would not pay a fee
We were pleasantly surprised to find that about 2/3 of our readers would pay a submission fee to a magazine and even more surprised that $3 was the top choice. This survey supported our decision and gave us confidence that our implementation of a fee was something most writers would appreciate and support; audience voice in this decision was crucial.
Also, here are a few of the open-ended comments from survey respondents when asked when they would feel comfortable paying a submission fee:
- “I would like to see writers get paid more. And for that to happen, lit mags need to earn money. I understand you and others have expenses and I don’t mind paying a fee.”
- “I have no problem with submission fees, feel they’re the cost of doing business. But personal feedback is a fantastic bonus.”
- “When I feel the price is reasonable and when the mag has no other means of raising money.”
- “When I submit to a quality publication with a track record/respectable publication history, whether print or online.”
- “A nominal fee is OK but I would like to also see a nominal fee for published stories.”
- “I believe a fee makes a publication appear more professional, and makes me, in fact, more interested in submitting.”
While 100% of writers–those we surveyed and those we did not–will not agree with our decision, we believe we made the right choice to benefit our organization as a whole.
Here are a few articles and quotes that discuss submission fees that might be of interest.
- Literary Magazines Struggle with Submission Fees for Writers—Forbes, Oct. 2011 – Aaron Helem, the managing editor of the Massachusetts Review, argues that a small fee can encourage writers to be more careful about reviewing their work before submitting. “If you have to pay for something,” he said, “you want to be sure what you’re putting out there is the best it can possibly be.”
- Literary Journals, “Reading Fees”, and You – Writer’s Relief, Sept. 2013 – “Small admin fees can help struggling literary journals stay on their feet—and that’s good for writers. If a journal’s ability to stay viable is dependent upon charging a very small submission fee, then we at Writer’s Relief would support an ethical practice. We hope you will too.”
- Why Literary Journals Charge Online Submissions Fees – The Missouri Review blog, Nov. 2011 – “What I do know is that as a magazine editor, the initial idea of online submission fees was not to increase revenue but to decrease submissions. That hasn’t happened…”
- Should Brevity Charge for Submissions? – Brevity, July 2010 – “…The reason is simple: inappropriate submissions.”
Many thanks to everyone for their support of Hippocampus. As we enter our fourth full year of presenting creative nonfiction from established and emerging writers, we’re happy to have you along for the ride!
“Fees ensure that people who have disposable income will submit the most. So it’s fine to charge fees if you’re targeting mostly white, male writers who went to elite schools and who have a financial safety net.”
“Instead of slowing things down, fees increased submissions 20 to 35 percent.”
“So the slush pile is getting bigger, but is it getting better? It’s unlikely, since professional writers with skill and experience are trying to get paid for their writing, not the other way around. Even if they make time to publish for free as a labor of love or because they want to build a literary reputation, they aren’t going to pay to submit. The people who do are likely novice writers who might think their submission will be taken more seriously because they paid for the privilege.”
“There is a negative correlation between willingness to pay to submit and quality/appropriateness of submission. Think about your favorite writers. The ones you really love to read. Now try to imagine them paying a submission fee.”
“The $3 fee to submit to Hippocampus is not much different from submitting by postal mail with a SASE”