As part of our Accessible Submissions For All campaign we’ve been interviewing literary journal editors and writing competition administrators to see the different ways fair, accessible submissions can be managed, and the challenges the lit community faces in the current system. You can read more about our drive to encourage a fairer, more equitable system for submissions and publishing here.
We put some questions to Sara Crowley, editor at The Forge – an exemplar of a paying lit mag that’s been pioneering accessibility and generous pay and prizes in their publication since the beginning.
INTERVIEW WITH SARA CROWLEY – EDITOR AT THE FORGE
What’s The Forge’s model for fee/payment and how has it changed over the years?
We recently celebrated our fifth anniversary and from the outset have aimed to be accessible to all writers. We are writers as well as editors and are keen to offer a lit mag that respects writers. For us, part of that respect is offering payment for the work we publish. We initially paid $50 per piece but have now increased pay to $75. We were fee-free for the first two years but introduced tip-jar submissions to help us pay for that increase. We set our tip-jar submissions low at $3 (of which we receive $1.86) and we are very grateful to everyone who donates. We offer 300 free submissions each month. We also allocate 600 free entries to our annual flash fiction and nonfiction competitions. Each winner receives $500 and runners-up and finalists receive higher pay if accepted for publication. In 2020 we paid $4,680 to the writers we published and received $2,637 in tip-jar donations.
Can you give us an idea of the running costs/time involved in running a lit mag or competition? Are you able to pay/reimburse your editors/readers/judges/administrators?
To run our operation, not including author pay, costs about $1,400 per year. We have 11 editors who put in between 5-10 hours a week. This year for the first time we’ve added some additional readers to help ward off editor burnout and cope with the number of subs we get. We are an entirely volunteer-run organization, nobody gets paid!
As a writer, how do you feel about entry fees and payment?
Oh, this gets me very heated. If you charge a fee the only people who can submit are those who can afford to pay. Of course, literary magazines and competitions need to pay for running costs and prizes and be sustainable, but my personal feeling is that some places charge way too much to justify and I boycott them as a matter of principle. I don’t want to shut voices out and I don’t want the journals I read to shut them out either. Charging £8 to enter a flash fiction competition for work under 500 words is ridiculous. If writers continue to participate in this crap the problem will remain. Often, I click through to an enticing sounding competition and see a big entry fee. The problem is you end up seeing the same names on the longlists (the writers who can afford to be there) and who wants to hear from the same people over and over? It does feel like things are getting slightly better but often there are a very limited number of free places offered to those who are willing to email in and plead their case which adds its own problems; maybe you don’t want to explain you need a free entry. Also, I’m never going to pay to have my work read by a lit mag that doesn’t pay me for publication.
With the current lack of external funding, how can we make the lit mag community more self-sufficient? (Or do you think there needs to be more investment by larger publishers/orgs so the onus is less on editors/writers?)
As cool as it would be to see big publishers invest in indies, I’m not sure that’s going to happen – and if it did what would that look like? For now, writers who can are encouraged to donate or pay tip-jar fees to submit. We’ve also had some writers decline/donate their author pay which goes right back into the magazine.
What are some ways writers can support lit mags?
Above all else we want to be read. Share the stories you like, shout out authors on social media. Not an insignificant number of submitters clearly have not read The Forge and send unsuitable work which wastes our time and theirs. If you can’t be bothered to read some of our previously published stories but expect us to read yours, check yourself. Think twice before using up one of our free spots – there might be another writer out there who needs it more. Don’t write angry emails when we decline your work. Hit that tip-jar button if you can comfortably afford to.
What are some ways lit mags/competitions can make it easier for low income/marginalised writers to submit?
Ideally, there’d always be a free option for low income/marginalised writers to be used if needed. When we decided to start our own competitions, being able to offer free entries was the most important consideration for us. And in turn, we’ve been supported by those who generously pay to submit.
Why/do you think it’s important for lit mags/comps to be more accessible?
Stories do not belong to those with money. I teach creative writing in a men’s prison and see how transformative it can be. How cathartic, healing, fun, profound, daft, entertaining. Many people have talent but don’t believe there’s a place for them in the literary world. Creativity is a powerful force. I want everyone to feel welcome to send work to The Forge knowing their stories will be judged purely on literary merit. Lit mags should not be echo chambers. Let’s open everything up.
Enormous thanks to Sara Crowley and The Forge for these insights into the workings of their lit mag. If you enjoyed this interview, please do take a minute to go read some of the great work published up at The Forge (or some of Sara Crowley’s own writing), submit your own stuff, and keep spreading the literary love…