Frankly, I’m not surprised to find the “reading fee” wars continuing to wage. For many writers it is a major issue, and should be. My belief, and I’ve talked about it before, is mixed. I do occasionally pay a journal’s reading fee, but I do have criteria for doing so and try to not drift from those principles. Additionally I don’t have the same qualms about reading fees for book manuscripts. In fact, I budget for that expense and save up for it like one would do for a car or computer or other potentially large purchase item.
As the debate rages, I continue tweak my opinions. Like anything else in writing, I see reading fees as tools. In fact, my opinions of them have evolved along with my view of simultaneous submissions. Again, it’s a tool, and both are ones that should be used judiciously. Just as I’ve paid some reading fees, there have been a few times where I’ve made simultaneous submissions.
When I started out, the general rule then was no simultaneous submissions, but then again reading fees were pretty unheard of too. The landscape has changed a lot and simultaneous submissions have become, at least tacitly, more accepted. It doesn’t mean I like them. They are a useful tool when necessary. In general, I will consider sending a simultaneous submission if a) it’s allowed in the guidelines, b) I’ve received no response to a query made on a submission when that query is called for in the guidelines (meaning if the guidelines say don’t query before three months, I might query at four or five and wait a certain number of weeks after that), and c) an appropriate and attractive submission opportunity presents itself. In other words, I don’t send the same piece or group of pieces out to multiple journals at one time. They are staggered and often months apart. I do like to give the first journal I send to a lot of exclusive time. And where a journal’s guidelines say no simultaneous submissions, I don’t do it. But this isn’t just a reflection on my age and training.
I do like to look over a journal before I submit to it. I’ve not submitted a lot of times because my research told me I wouldn’t fit very well. This is easier to do today with the Internet than it was in the mid-90’s when I did my MFA and physical copies were the only way to do this. The Internet allows us to have up-to-date information about mastheads when a good number of journals editors can change every year or term. I spend some time trying to find good fits. Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes it doesn’t.
I also have built up, over the years, a big enough portfolio where I don’t mind tying up a submission packet for three to six months at one journal. This took a long time. It required a lot of work and, more importantly, a lot of patience. Granted, I probably took longer than I might have because I adhered to my rules, but that’s okay. That was my choice and I don’t regret it. However, 20 years ago, I was often tempted to break these rules. I might have had 20 or 30 poems in circulation then, with one or two stories I sort of felt okay about. But the rules then were “don’t do it.” If younger me were starting out now, I might have a different opinion.
Both tools, fees and simultaneous submissions, are double-edged. Used judiciously, they are powerful helps for editors and writers. Used poorly and they can sink you.