Should Writers Get Paid? A Conversation.

In a recent post, I asked whether or not paying to submit to writing contests is worth it for a writer. Money and writing often spark conversations about worth. The kind of value we as readers give the written word and the individuals who work tirelessly to create it.

Now that I have graduated and moved back home to Southern California (oh, Portland, how I miss you), I am pushing myself to write again and write often. Although I try to squelch all hopes of publication—getting the words down at all is step one—I do find writing in smaller chunks to be less daunting. Because of that, I often approach a piece of prose as a short story, even if I plan on turning it into something larger one day. Most publications are willing to publish writer’s short stories, personal essays, and flash fiction, but perhaps not their 100,000-word novel.

But the only conversation worth having is not whether a writer should pay someone else to read their work, but whether an author should get paid because they wrote the thing.

In truth, this conversation is a matter of opinion. For as long as there are writers willing to submit their work and go unpaid, there will be writers who refuse.

I don’t believe the answer is so black and white. If you’re still trying to figure out where you stand, ask yourself “Why am I submitting in the first place?”

Is it for the prestige? Is it for the recognition? Is it to be validated? Is it because you’re a professor and your boss told you to? Is it because you’re a student and your professor told you to? Is it because you see writing as a career and this magazine or journal as a stepping stone?

Depending on how you answer, a paying publication may not be right for you. For one, many paying publications charge reading fees, even if they are small. While some don’t charge, the competition—as you can imagine—may be more fierce. That’s not to say don’t go for it or that you won’t be accepted, but if you’re a new writer or student testing the waters then you’d serve your writing and ego better to go for a smaller, less-known publication. Chances are that these editors will also have more time to provide you with valuable feedback.

Some individuals feel that publishing, especially with indie journals, isn’t about the money at all. Amanda Auchter, who edits Pebble Lake Review, says “Indie journals and presses [publish] out of love and stewardship. I think that the writers who submit to such places understand that and don’t do it for the cash.” Matt Bell, editor of The Collagist shares a similar view. He says “I think of what we’re doing together [the magazine and the contributors] as being engaged in the making of art and community, rather than an exchange of goods or the manufacture of a product.”

I think writers have to figure much of this out for themselves. Publishing a piece in a journal or magazine should very much be about finding a place that feels like a home for your writing, one that you respect and whose other residents you admire. But I also don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with wanting to get paid for your efforts.

The problem with indie journals who thrive on “love and stewardship” is that they don’t always have a wide circulation and therefore, paid or not, there’s not much of an incentive for a writer to have their work published by them.

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