NOTE: This is a reprint of the introduction to the September 19, 2020 Weekly Atticus…
We took a much-needed publishing break over the last six weeks, and I used that time to do a bunch of work on the Atticus Review web site — stuff I’d been wanting to do for a while. If you head over there, you’ll only notice a few minor design changes, but that’s because the bulk of the work I did was “under the hood,” as it were, and involved rebuilding the site, cleaning the database, and making some foundational changes to the site that would help us introduce some new functionality.
Atticus Review will be putting a greater focus on showcasing past contributors (over 1400 and counting) on our site. With the recent changes, it is now possible for contributors to update their Atticus Review author profile page and add their books to the site, so that they appear in their profile, on their article page, and in our “Reading List.” (There will be more to come on all of this and we’ll be communicating directly with contributors on how they can access and edit their profile in the weeks to come.) We are also working on a way for authors to reserve time/space for their profile to be featured on the homepage and appear in the newsletter and social media.
I’ve written before that I think the value proposition for literary magazines is not what most editors and writers might like it to be. Ideally, we’d love the general public to be chomping at the bit to subscribe to our literary magazines, and to pay for the great content we’re providing! But that’s not the reality of our culture, or the oversaturated media landscape we are a part of. In my opinion, the value proposition today for literary magazines is in…not being a literary magazine. It’s in developing relationships with writers, who are also readers. This is why platforms such as Medium have been so successful: they realize the writer is both client and audience. Some really great magazines and presses do this by facilitating meet-ups, conferences, or readings. We’re going to be doing this more by helping writers market themselves and by building a more reliable model under which we are able to make a modest payment to our contributors.
With that goal in mind, starting today, there will be a $5 fee for each submission. Submittable takes $1.24 of that, which means Atticus Review will take $3.76 per submission. As a result of this new model, contributors who have their submissions accepted will be offered a $10 one-time payment. Therefore, a contributor who has a piece accepted, will essentially see a 200% return on their investment. But even those who don’t get submissions accepted are investing in the magazine, and in a community from which they will hopefully realize other returns: appreciating art, discovering new writers or new writing styles, education, new friends. If you’re unable to give $5 to Atticus Review via your submission, you can take advantage of the first day of each month when we will open up free submissions. Also, anybody who subscribes at any level to our Patreon page will be able to submit for free.
The decision about submission fees was not made lightly. But it came out of an awareness that if Atticus Review was going to continue to exist (and especially independent of an investor as I’ve been) it needed to have a more reliable business model and a steadier form of revenue that didn’t rely solely on gifts and contests, both of which have proven to be unstable. I know people have strong opinions about submission fees, and I’m not likely to change any minds here by laying out my thoughts on why I think the model makes sense given the realities of today’s publishing world. It seems to be one of those polarizing topics (of which there are so many in our culture at the moment) which people like to “debate” (which actually means making one-directional commentary on Twitter.)
For a long time, I’ve reserved my opinion because it’s an unpopular one: I believe most journals should ask writers to pay at least a nominal submission fee and writers should be glad to pay it. Why? Because it’s a way for writers to support the magazines they presumably appreciate enough to submit to. It matters where you publish, and writers should want their work to be at a journal that is thinking about sustainability and longevity and not treating the enterprise like a hobby. In the context of today’s writing/publishing ecosystem, where there are so many publications out there, and where blanket submissions can be broadcast easily, without ever printing out a document, or putting a stamp on an envelope, or taking the time to use correct grammar in a cover letter (or even providing a cover letter or addressing the letter to the wrong journal) submission fees keep the transaction between writer and journal honest. I say this as a writer as much as an editor.
Nobody’s getting rich off of literary magazines, just as nobody is getting rich off of writing. But for the enterprise to simply continue we need to accept that the economic model for magazine publishing has changed from where it was decades ago. Those changes have (happily) given rise to many more (and a greater variety of) literary magazines, publications that have been able to start up due to a lower cost of entry and running entirely online. But as costs for online services go up (and they are), more and more magazines are going to find it too difficult to continue.
Submittable, who now gets their money from a lot of corporate clients, does not really give a break to literary journals anymore. (At least they didn’t extend one to us in calls I had with sales reps.) They have increased their flat monthly pricing, a recurring fee that is in addition to the amount they take off for each individual transaction, by more than 600% since 2011. Submittable would now be unaffordable for Atticus Review at our current capacity if we were not grandfathered in on an older plan (which I fear will one day no longer be offered). The platform we use to send you this email each week, Mailchimp, is a wonderful tool, but costs $60/mo and will continue to rise from there the more subscribers we get. Online services want you to be successful, and they will charge you for that success, and that’s fine. That’s the way it should work.
I usually like to keep this newsletter intro more “craft” focused and not talk “business.” But I wanted to give all of you a heads-up on the coming changes and a sense of where things are going at Atticus Review. The good news is there’s lots of cool stuff to come! And we’re looking forward to rolling out some of these new features in the next several weeks, including some new ways to showcase author work.