An Accounting; or, Writing Submissions by the Numbers

The end of the year is closing in, as is my birthday, and I often do a year in review for myself. This year I also did a submissions review. What have I been up to? Well, apparently “up to” a lot of reading fee payments.

In 2018, I spent $350 on contest entry/publisher reading fees from which I received bupkus.

Clearly I did not spend enough money — more entries should equal more acceptances. No. Clearly I spent too much money — I got zero return on my investment, so it was a bad investment. No. Clearly I have no idea what is reasonable and how to think about entry fees.

One of those contest entries resulted in not a win but an offer to publish a poem in the publisher’s online magazine. So I guess that’s something.

I sent out 30 lit mag submissions from which I received 3 acceptances. In spite of the sturm und drang all those rejections caused, the big picture is somewhat cheering.

But I thought I had submitted more than that. There are a handful I haven’t counted because I haven’t gotten a response yet. So by the end of the year, I think I’ll be at 35 magazine submissions. Will I eke out another acceptance? Given my usual ROI, I doubt it.

Most of those were online submissions for which I paid nothing. One was a $2 fee that I now bitterly regret paying, as it was for nought and was against my better judgment and my general refusal to pay online submission fees. A couple were mail-in submissions, with postage well below the $2 fee many lit mags are charging, plus I can walk to the post office, so I get some exercise out of it.

I got one paid reading gig, and I sold some books out of my own store, so made a little money. I gave a couple of workshops. My little paid book review gig garnered me a tiny sum. Not that I’m in it for the money, but if I’ve got to lay out some dough, I want to get some back in once in a while.

And so it goes. This in no way addresses the qualitative pleasures (and pains) of being a writer — I enjoyed so many things, camaraderie, experiences, experimentation and play, am proud of the work I did, happy to have gotten my work into some venues. But sometimes I have to step back and just look at the numbers with an eye toward how to conduct the po biz in the coming year.

Intentions: Double my submissions next year.

Should I pay more in entry fees? I don’t think so. This amount made me gulp, but it supports a variety of publishers I want to support, and that feels supportive of my work, whether it got accepted or not.

Is it all worth it? Can’t I just be content making work?
No. I want it out there. I want it read or viewed. I want it appreciated. Or criticized, or whatever.

Yeah, I know, friends, that I get down at the mouth throughout the year. But I also feel buoyed sometimes, amused often, engaged in my work, and hopeful. Do I fail to mention that? Remind me to mention that.

I sometimes get the sense from people that they think I should be content just making the work, that there’s some kind of purity in that. That the search for publication success is somehow a sullied enterprise. Egotistical, perhaps. Or at best, a fool’s errand.
I say, it’s part of the artistic process — do the work, put it out into the world, take your shots and huzzahs as they come. Complain bitterly along the way; dance foolishly around with glee. It’s all part of the equation.

3 thoughts on “An Accounting; or, Writing Submissions by the Numbers

  1. Hi Marilyn, I too am opposed to paying submission fees. Paying for rejection is just another term for exploitation. I will occasionally pay a contest fee, especially if it’s for a book contest, but I don’t think anyone should have to pay just to have their work considered. Those fees add up, as you pointed out in your post. I exhort writers, especially poets, to stop paying reading fees.


    • I certainly understand the argument that not enough people buy lit mags or books of poetry, so publishers turn to user fees to support themselves. And some people who pay fees just see it as part of the support required of artists for the arts. I get it. I just can’t get on board. Not a lot, anyway.


  2. Wow, an actual accounting? What a concept–you’re so much more organized than I! Now I am interested in figuring out the ROI, as well, just out of curiosity though. I don’t think it will change my manner of submitting.

    I figure that I am willing to pay a small fee that would about equal postage, which when you add in SASE and extra initial postal fees & the nominal cost of envelope and paper, amounts to about $2. And I am willing to pay that for a journal I truly want to support, since I cannot purchase a hundred subscriptions to small literary magazines. I guess it comes down to: what is your trade-off threshold?

    BTW, an acceptance rate of 10% is quite solid. I’ve been writing and submitting poems for 40 years, and I’m happy when I get to 10% acceptance annually.

    Though, yes, it isn’t just about acceptances, publications, and certainly not about remuneration. It’s about getting the work out there so the poem can do its job of communicating human experience.


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