New writers desperate to get published are easy prey for unscrupulous people who either accept work and somehow forget to pay, or who offer spurious services for outlandish prices, or who run poor-quality anthologies that take every submission and then charge contributors a huge amount to buy copies for themselves and their friends (poetry.com is a classic example), or who run expensive contests with small prizes. Some are easy to spot once you have a little experience; others are harder.
WritersWeekly’s Whispers and Warnings column is helpful in this regard, as is SFWA’s Writer Beware page.
However, it’s also useful to develop your own instinct for when something’s not right. A good rule of thumb is that you do not pay to be published (unles you’re self-publishing). Full stop. Do not pay to be published. A publisher should have enough faith in your work to take on the expenses, in the expectation of reaping profit from sales. If they’re charging you, it means they think there won’t be sales. Which then makes you wonder why they’re publishing the work – unless they make their money off you, not your work.
Let’s look at an example I came across the other day. I am in no way stating that this is a scam; however, I am saying that this has rung alarm bells for me and I personally wouldn’t submit to this market: iPulp Fiction.
The basic set-up is that you pay $10 to have your short story manuscript assessed by one of a list of readers: “We do not employ a large group of editors to read submissions. Instead, we use a network of independent readers who screen all stories and recommend the best to iPulp for final consideration. Manuscript readers are not employees of iPulp. They charge a reading fee of $10 per manuscript. That’s how they make a living. iPulp doesn’t make a cent through the submission process.”
This sounds fair enough. iPulp are able to consider many more manuscripts and keep their costs low by outsourcing what full-time editors used to do. You’re paying the readers directly, not iPulp itself, so how are they making money off you?
Here’s what rung alarm bells for me: There is no account given of how the readers are selected, and the readers do not supply any references or bibliographies to demonstrate what makes them experts in manuscript assessment. Their real names are given (in the addresses) so you could look them up to see if they’ve publicised their work experience or publications, but why not have it there on the site? How do we know these aren’t just friends or affiliates of iPulp, or in any way better able to pick a good story than anyone else?
I’m also not comfortable with this notion that iPulp have outsourced the submission process. They’re not making money directly off writers like the worst of the scam-artists; they are saving money on employees by contracting out one of the vital steps of publishing and making writers pay for it. If they had faith in their own set-up, why aren’t they paying the contractors?
For your $10, you get only either one step further in the submission process (ie iPulp will now actually read your work) or a rejection – there’s no critique for your money, and no guarantee that iPulp will accept the work once it has passed the reader. On the plus side, you only have to wait a month for a response (rather than months plural).
Lastly, iPulp offers a 40% royalty, which sounds good compared to traditional paper publishers, but is less than many ebook publishers.
These are the reasons I’m not comfortable with this market. Others may see no problem with it and find it sensible and easy; others may also baulk at some markets or contests I have submitted to in the past (some of which, too, I also shake my head at now). Each writer must make their own decisions.
For example, while I have a problem with this set-up, I have no problem with the $50 application fee the Hachette MS Development program is charging, though it’s hard to believe it really costs them anything near that much in admin fees for every single entry received. I couldn’t say why the $10 puts me off but the $50 doesn’t.
It’s a personal decision – but you can use the online resources given above to spot the most obvious, develop a sense of how their MO, and learn what rings your bells.