Unexpected Writing Scams: Should You Pay to Submit Your Writing?

Like Brevity, I’m a little confused about the cancellation of the Richard M. Thorson Literary Prize for Agrarian Prose, for the allegedly unacceptable practice of charging contest submission fees.  Very nearly every sanctioned writing contest I’ve ever entered, I’ve been required to pay a small reading fee.  None of them were scams.  Many were posted by sources that I trust, such as Poets & Writers writing contest listings online and in their magazine, or on the Writer’s Relief’s listings.  They’re hosted by completely reputable literary journals.  Even book contests organized by the National Association of Elementary School Principals have fees.  In fact, I won 2nd place in a writing contest at The Baltimore Review that required a small entry fee of $15 (normally it’s only $10 entry fee, but I opted into the reduced year’s subscription combo package).  Nobody is calling for all these contests to be cancelled and, as someone who has submitted to both the aforementioned contests, I’m certainly not feeling scammed.  I understand that writing contests depend on those fees.  Where do you think the prize money for winning first, second, or third place comes from?  How else would they function?

Some literary journals, such as Zahir, are now requiring writers to pay small fees for general online submissions too.  Ranging between $1.50 and $2.50, these literary journals argue that it’s the same price you would pay for postage to mail the manuscript snail mail style.  If writers choose to mail it snail mail, they don’t have to pay the fee at all.  I think it’s pretty fair, all things considered.  I accept that it’s a tiny donation to keep some of my favorite literary journals afloat.

But maybe I’ve just been lucky in my writing submissions.  There are a lot of scams out there.  Other writers have recommended using Writer Beware to safeguard themselves against lecherous agents and fake writing contests.  (P.S.  NEVER PAY TO HAVE A LITERARY AGENT READ YOUR WORK!!  Read this list of red flags for things reputable literary agents should NEVER ask you to do or pay for.)

What do you think?  Should writers have to pay an entry fee for contests?  Is there a maximum amount that contests should charge?  Is it fair that literary journals are charging for general submissions?  Have you ever encountered any writing scams that you’d like to warn us about?

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2 thoughts on “Unexpected Writing Scams: Should You Pay to Submit Your Writing?

  1. vanderjohn says:

    I think small fees for contests are reasonable, especially for newbie and up and coming writers to gain notice for their writing. However, a general strategy of making your writing of great value to readers is probably more important for gaining notice and reputation as a writer.

    Just my opinion though.

    • hannahkarena says:

      Writers should definitely focus on improving their craft first. If it’s not good, readers aren’t going to be interested and, more than likely, you won’t become known as a noteworthy writer. In my opinion, gaining notice and reputation as a writer is valuable to expand your audience. But yes, I agree with you that the writing itself is more important than the reputation.

      It’s such a shame, though, that people consider writing a quick money making scheme and focus on the fame and fortune before the writing. I have people–friends of friends–call me up all the time asking how much they can make off of the 10-word poem they just wrote, or if they can get an “idea agent” for their billion-dollar idea.

      It’s about the writing. The need to express your ideas, the joy of shaping them on the page and someday sharing them with readers who appreciate them.

      Sorry that I got off on a bit of a ranting tangent.

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