Over the last few years, I have explored the ins and outs of the magazine, zine, and journal industry. Much of this exploration has been in hopes of finding the right home for my writings. However, as I looked for a home for my writings, I found some troubling trends in the magazine, zine, and journal industry, trends that I hope to address here and now.
Acceptance Rates: Rejection Mills & Zombie Publications.
Acceptance rates are a great indicator that something is wrong with periodicals specializing in the publication of fiction, nonfiction, and other written art forms. I have found, in the course of my investigations, two kinds of problematic acceptance rate trends. First, I'll term the rejection mills. They have built a reputation for simply rejecting a majority of the work sent their way. In fact, in speculative fiction, the genre I write in, many of the big publications have abysmal acceptance rates. While I understand the need to limit the number of acceptances, an acceptance rate below 1% is rather atrocious and a crime against the industry and its artists. Then you have the Zombie Publications. These are publications that will take anything because they can. They have abnormally high acceptance rates—like 50%+. That is just spreading false hope and praying on writers/artists who probably need a bit more work when it comes to their craft, editing, revision, etc.
Pay-to-Play Models & Other Monetary Sins.
Then you have the pay-to-play scams. One journal I visited refused to offer a direct link to their submissions form unless I'd paid a subscription for the magazine—all in the name of supporting the magazine in question. Then you have tip jars, which are highly recommended. Submissions fees. Reading fees. Contest fees. The list goes on (and on). Although this has become an industry norm, it doesn't necessarily excuse the behavior. Let's say what it is, folks: It's predatory! Find a better business model. Don't scam your artists/writers into giving you money in hopes that you'll at least look at their work objectively.
Criminally Negligent Literary Community Members.
To add to the list of sins and crimes, I have found that most, if not all, journals, magazines, and zines refuse to write personalized rejection forms. In fact, form rejections dominate the industry, alienating artists/writers all over the globe. These are often poorly constructed letters, things that really need to be revised and/or edited to keep from sound indifferent to your submission. Although these forms always say something like "Don't take this personally. Your piece didn't click with us." What didn't click? Why? Can I get some useful (and critical) feedback, please? Oh, and my favorite, "Thanks for the submission. Remember us in the future." Fat chance in hell that's going to happen. Journals, magazines, and zines have become criminally negligent in their responsibilities toward those within the literary community. Although I understand that each submission cannot be responded to with a five-page essay on its merits and flaws, a paragraph or two will do. These are things that can be written as the editor, co-editors, and slush pile readers work through the piece in question. We have the technology. It's call Microsoft Word and document annotating. Not hard, folks. Stop making up excuses as to why you can't offer starting (and even seasoned) writers feedback on their work. You have a responsibility to your literary community, and failing to uphold your part of the contract makes you the problem. And stop hiding behind the fact that you receive a lot of submissions! That's no excuse.
What's the Solution?
That's a good deal harder to answer. But I think I've come up with the solution(s) to counter these troubling trends in the industry.
Find balance between being a Rejection Mill and a Zombie Publication. Rejection for the sake of rejection is problematic. What about those artists/writers who are trying to make a name for themselves? Do we just simply reject them to keep up with our impossibly high (and problematic) rejection rate? How do we help them? We certainly can't allow Zombie Publications to run amuck. Instead, there needs to be sufficient balance. We also need to consider talent, content, and editorial needs. So, ideally, rejection rates should be higher than 1% but probably lower than 50%.
Paying-to-play is bullshit. If you need support, consider crowdfunding, community donation drives, and even selling to libraries, schools, and other insitutions who are willing (and able) to spend money on such things. Offer flexible models that offer different versions of your product to members of the public: Digital Web, Digital PDF, Print, Print + Digital, etc. Seek out grants and partnerships to increase fundng for the publication as well. Don't rely on potential writers/artists to keep you afloat.
Start being a responsible literary community member. You have an obligation to your community. Refusing to offer feedback and advice is criminal. More criminal yet are form rejection letters. They insult and alienate writers/artists. They often push away important (and diverse) voices magazines are seeking out. In fact, you should be writing those damned rejection letters with the community-at-large in mind. Stop the form letters. Write something personalized, even if its two paragraphs. You can do it. You have the technology.
My Solution: Enter Free Radicals.
Free Radicals is the culmination of those solutions discussed above. This will be a very different magazine from the get-go. Hands-on, community-supported, and community-driven. Responsible publishing is at the heart of this project, with an eye for bigger things. If you're interested in Free Radicals, check out its official Website.