Aquifer strikes back
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Author:  Victor Ojuel [ Tue Jan 23, 2018 2:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Aquifer strikes back

Or something like that. Remember that online magazine who kindly offered me and other IFComp authors to publish their work for a small fee?


It's been months and I had not received or expected any reply to my last email Just a couple of days ago, I was totally surprised to get another email, from another professor at the same university/working for the same review, apparently wanting to set the record straight on "a few points in your email that simply aren't true."

It's the same kind of sanctimonious passive-aggressive stuff, and puts more than a few words in my mouth, making me says, among other things, what a couple of articles in some American media I have never heard of have written, what some blogger has said about editors, and that "everything should be handed" to her students.

Personally I find it quite amusing that some academic has so much time on her hands that she feels the need to write to some random writer on the other side on the world and rant about Things That Make Her Mad. Goodness knows I have done improbable things for the sake of procrastination, but this one I find impressive.

Feast your eyes.

Dear Victor,

First, I want to thank you for engaging with us about this issue. Because the policy of The Florida Review and Aquifer: The Florida Review Online to charge small submission fees resides with me, [original professor who wrote to me and whom I wrote back to], who received an email from you, asked me to respond. She read your email to me, and I want you to know that we both appreciate your concerns and understand them. Natalie works primarily as a scholar (and they seldom, if ever, get paid for their work), but I myself am a creative writer who has written both for free and for pay. I certainly prefer the latter myself.

I know this perspective--that somehow submission fees make us akin to vanity publishing and/or that we are harming the entire endeavor for writers or that we are excluding writers from less privileged groups--is circulating in the Creative Writing world these days. It has primarily been promulgated by two articles, one in The Atlantic Monthly and the other in Poets & Writers, both, ironically enough, magazines that virtually never consider work that is not represented by an agent and who, I might add, also charge tiny publications like my own $150 or more for a mere classified ad to inform people of The Florida Review's existence. I believe they have mis-led the public with these articles.

I wish I could allow you to see from our perspective, though I dare not expect that. I have many more thoughts about related matters, but for now I would like to address only a few points in your email that simply aren't true.

First, we do not charge authors for publishing their work. Vanity presses are defined as those that publish any work, no matter the quality, as long as the author pays for it. We have an approximately 2-5% acceptance rate, which demonstrates quite clearly that we do not publish anyone who pays us. I think if you look at the contributors' notes, you will see that we publish a high caliber of writer in general, though we welcome new ones along with established ones.

You might turn that around in another paranoid fashion that I have seen elsewhere and claim that we are taking all these submission fees, but only publishing our friends or famous authors that we solicit. While it is true that we do solicit some work, more than 90% of the work we publish comes from our general and contest submissions.

In addition, we do pay our print contributors with complimentary copies of our magazine, and, since launching the online magazine, we have introduced an admittedly modest payment of $50 for one writer per year in each genre we publish via our general Submittable submissions categories (our few solicited authors are not eligible). We wish it could be more, or more often, but, whether you believe it or not, we are not getting rich on our $2 and $3 submission fees.

You stated in your email that the costs of hosting a story in our website is "basically negligible." I'm sorry, but that's just not true. We pay technical staff (the development of our new website, for instance, took several months). Our home university pays for a customizable, institutional version of WordPress, which cost they soon intend to pass on. In addition, we pay for server space and hosting online, as well as for office space, computers, software, and office supplies. We also pay a significant portion of our budget to advertise in commercial magazines and to promote the publications of our authors in publications and at conferences. Submittable charges us for its services; of every $2 submission fee, we receive a mere 81 cents.

The university that houses our publications used to provide a $10,000 a year budget, but since the economic decline of the early 2000s has provided us with a budget of $0. The alternative is not for me to pay all of the writers and artists we publish. The alternative to charging small submission fees is for the publication to cease to exist. I don't think that the demise of "little and literary," noncommercial magazines would be a good thing for the literary community. But that's in essence what the demand that all submission fees end would lead to.

Yes, I know that there are many small publications, especially of the online variety, that don't charge submission fees. I know the editors of some of them. Most of them have even smaller operations than ours and certainly simpler ones. Most of them are paid for out of their editors' own personal funds. Most of them last a few years and then become too difficult to maintain and are shuttered. Yes, there are some "rich" ones, who have found large donors, who have marketing geniuses on their staffs, who live in states where grant funding is available. I honestly don't know how they do it, but I congratulate any publication that can manage free submissions and payments to all authors. I'm all for it, and I respect the right of anyone who wishes to limit their own submissions to such publications. But trashing those of us who can't afford that is another story--it's destructive and unfair.

And that leads me to the other thing that is so painful about this kind of assertion--what it implies about the value of editors' time. I have even seen one blogger who was unusually frank and outright admitted, "I don't give a damn about editors." But what even he did not acknowledge is that most editors at small publications like The Florida Review are ourselves writers. It isn't only that we don't get paid anything as editors (and most of us don't), but that no one even sympathizes with us as fellow writers, who take massive amounts of time away from our own writing projects in order to read submissions, work collaboratively with authors on revisions, to create vision and plans for our publications, and do most of the production ourselves (InDesign files, printer bids, online formatting and photo cropping, proofreading, etc.).

We do this to give other writers a chance. Yes, an opportunity, to at least be recognized by other professionals in the field. We get good results for our authors--several of them have received book contracts partly as a result of being published in The Florida Review, one author this year was included in the Best American Essays 2018 and has since received a book contract, some of those we've published have received tenure, others have gotten into graduate school or have received teaching positions partly based on their publication records.

We work closely with more than 40 undergraduate editing students per semester, as well as additional ones in the visual arts and digital media. We provide them with invaluable lessons in how authors are perceived by editors and in practical skills of copy editing, proofreading, and fact-checking. We also talk with them quite frankly about the financial challenges of being writers and of running small publications (we've had several alumni who have gone on to form their own small book presses). We're certainly not conveying to them that they should never be paid for their work, but neither are we conveying to them an unrealistic sense that everything will be handed to them. It would, perhaps, be a disservice to them to provide them with an in-built sense of failure if they don't immediately start making money from their writing.

I understand and share your frustration. It is difficult being a writer and trying to make a living, and I empathize. But please don't imply that I'm exploitive or greedy or doing "a disservice to the professional writing community." I appreciate the private nature of your criticism, but those who have been publishing these accusations publicly are guilty of a sad, deeply unfortunate defamation of the character of editors everywhere.



Associate Professor
Department of English
Editor, The Florida Review

Author:  Adam_S [ Wed Jan 24, 2018 7:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Aquifer strikes back


So i'm new to this from the point of view that I don't know who Aquifer are/is, also "vanity presses" ?? What are they?

This seems like one heck of an academic rant.

I'm using this as an excuse to learn a little more about the IF scene outside of the UK, this rant seemed like a great starting point! :D

Author:  bitterkarella [ Sat Jun 09, 2018 9:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Aquifer strikes back

I think it's super disingenuous to imply that the Atlantic charging for ads is the same as a magazine charging its writers. Everyone knows that advertising and editorial are completely different.

Author:  bikibird [ Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:42 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Aquifer strikes back

bitterkarella wrote:
I think it's super disingenuous to imply that the Atlantic charging for ads is the same as a magazine charging its writers. Everyone knows that advertising and editorial are completely different.

Trying to give the publisher the benenfit of the doubt: Perhaps they simply mean that they have a lot of costs (like advertising) that they need to recover.

The submission fee seems to be a sort of lottery ticket for exposure to an audience. Is it worth it? I don't know. Is the lottery conducted fairly? I don't know. Mostly, I stay away from lotteries, preferring sure things.

Was also wondering if the submission fee guarantees that the piece is read by the editor and constructive feedback given? If so that seems like a bargain regardless of whether the piece is accepted.

Author:  emshort [ Sun Jun 10, 2018 12:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Aquifer strikes back

I confess to having a bit more sympathy for the author of this email than I think Victor intended me to. I don't read it as all *that* passive-aggressive. Maybe I'm being overly generous, but it feels to me as though she's less putting words in Victor's mouth as such than she's trying to address what she knows is an ongoing public conversation, including some people / venues / speakers not part of the immediate email chain. So she mentions their arguments in order to deal with them as part of that conversation.

And I can easily imagine that hosting and other seemingly "small" costs could add up to a not-actually-trivial set of expenses associated with running this publication: an amount of money that would be negligible to any company, but would be irritatingly much to take out of an individual person's pocket. The loss of a $10K grant could be a pretty big deal, if it means that suddenly those costs fall on the editor in person.

To be clear, I'm not arguing that one should submit there, or that the charge-to-submit model is a great solution, since it places the burden of support on people who are already putting work and emotional courage on the line, and who may be extremely broke. I don't know the Aquifer people at all and have no personal stake in what they do or how they're perceived by the IF community. This may have been a frustrating letter to get, and it might or might not have been politic for her to write, and I'm not sure what the ideal economic solution is for supporting artists in training or the curators/editors who help them get there. (Basic Income, possibly, but that's not a switch an individual academic can choose to flip.)

But. I *can* sympathize with her frustration that people don't always recognize what is being done by the magazine -- the curation, the editorial time, the server costs, etc. "Here's a thing I created: please judge it, give me productive feedback; determine whether your audience will like it; if they would, help me present it to them." That's not a small request, especially in aggregate. It's a request for skill, judgment, tact, and time.

Perhaps the cost of that labor should indeed be borne by someone other than the writers -- I do pretty much think that would be preferable -- but it *is* labor and it *does* have value. And I get why the contrary implication might really bother the letter-sender.

Author:  Adam_S [ Fri Jul 13, 2018 5:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Aquifer strikes back

Reading more into this, including the links that Victor provides at the very beginning, I don't think this is a scam. I have to be honest I don't even think there are moral or ethical issues here! They are providing in essence a promotional service, you pay them to make your content available to a wider audience than presumably you can reach of your own accord.

If you have a piece of work that you want a wider audience to reach then why not pay someone or some company to push it out there for you. Alternatively if you don't like the sound of it then just plain don't use it.

I don't see a major issue here, then again I have a track record on this forum of posting something like this and receiving a thorough bashing so no doubt i'll be getting some more of that now! :)

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