by Meredith Maslich
We’re running a short story contest right now with the plan to publish a Halloween-themed anthology this year — and hopefully for years to come.
We’re charging a $15 submission fee, which has resulted in a few negative reactions. While I’m usually pretty thick-skinned, those criticisms have hit me where I live by claiming that charging a submission fee means we don’t respect writers.
So I wanted to take a moment to discuss our decision and the general practice of charging submission fees.
First, let me explain why we decided to do this contest. Spoiler alert! None of the reasons have to do with getting rich off the sweat equity of writers.
1. It would be a nice element of stability in our editorial calendar to have something we know we’re going to publish each year, along with the production schedule/promotional plan/investment costs.
2. We want to connect with more writers, but reading through piles of unsolicited book-length manuscripts is time-consuming for a small company that operates on a shoestring budget.
3. Of all the major holidays, Halloween is the least crowded from a marketing standpoint — and we thought it would be a fun topic.
Writers whose stories are selected will get two copies of the anthology and a publishing credit for their bios. In addition, we will take advantage of every opportunity to promote the anthology and the authors, which includes sending press releases to news outlets in the local areas for each writer and sending the anthology to reviewers. For those writers whose stories we don’t pick, we will provide feedback from professionals in the field.
We are not offering cash to the writers of the selected stories, and according to some, that is an act of disrespect. Here is our response:
1. Cash is NOT the only way to compensate someone for their time, talent, or knowledge. Selected writers will get a publishing credit to add to their bio, which will help them stand out when they are competing against other new writers for agents, publishers, or other writing contests or programs. In other words, it gives writers legitimacy in a very competitive market.
2. As mentioned above, stories that are not selected will get professional feedback. Having your story critiqued by a professional editor is worth WAY more than $15. (Seriously, contact a few professional editors and get quotes.) The stories will also get feedback from a published author with an MFA and myself — an experienced publisher and storytelling teacher. One could argue that writers who aren’t selected are getting as good a return on their $15 investment as the ones who are accepted.
3. The submission fees will just cover the costs of producing and mailing copies of the book to authors, and we’ll be lucky to break even on book sales after a year. Along the way, we will have spent time and energy setting up the contest, reviewing submissions, creating the finished product, designing a digital version for e-readers, shipping copies to the winners, writing and sending out multiple press releases and reviewer copies, and promoting the book on social media and our website. The reality is that, with the rarest of exceptions, publishing is NOT a “get rich quick” industry, and that is especially true for small, independent publishers.
4. Hundreds of other contests charge as much as or more for submissions, and many offer less in return than we do, especially for writers who are not selected. Contests that offer cash prizes are typically funded by private donors (the family of a deceased writer, for instance). And those that offer nothing beyond a single copy of the publication can do that because a publishing credit is as good as or sometimes better than a small, single payout if you’re trying to build a writing career.
I know that haters are gonna hate and some people will always find something to criticize, but I couldn’t let charges of corporate greed or disrespecting writers go unaddressed. We’re not trying to get rich at the expense of writers. We’re trying to grow our catalog, support emerging authors, and expand our audience.
I hope this gives writers some insight into our process, and I hope that many of you will decide to submit stories for the contest. The deadline is July 1. Click here to submit.
Meredith Maslich is president and CEO of Possibilities Publishing Company. She is also on the faculty at SpeakeasyDC, where she has been teaching the art of storytelling for more than six years.