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.
In the latest instalment of our Accessible Submissions project we interviewed Lunate editors Han Clark and Gary Kaill – a delight of a lit mag that offers organisation that supports underrepresented writers in the UK.
INTERVIEW WITH GARY KAILL AND HAN CLARK FROM LUNATE
What’s Lunate’s model for fees/payment and how has it changed over the years?
GK: We launched in June 2019, and for general submissions (we publish new work two-three times a week) we were fee-free (and payment-free) for a year or so. Then, keen to pay our published writers, we switched to charging a £3 submission fee – published writers were paid £10. We also offered an enhanced £5 submission option, for which we provided detailed feedback. We came to realise quite quickly that we had under-priced this! It proved very popular, but spending an hour or more on detailed feedback on stories of up to 2,000 words was just not sustainable.
We increased publication payment to £15 in late 2020, but, with submissions starting to tail off, we came to realise that the fee was a blocker. We removed the fee at the start of this year and replaced it with a tip jar. Quite a few writers took up this option, but not nearly enough, sadly, to make paying for published pieces an option. So, in the end, we reverted back to our initial mode: no fee, no payment. Submissions have increased considerably… So maybe what we learned from this is that publication is more attractive than (nominal) payment?
Can you give us an idea of the running costs/time involved in running a literary magazine? Are you able to pay/reimburse your editors/readers/administrators?
GK: For us it is quite simple. We pay £15 a month for site hosting and about the same for postage costs for proofs we send out to our review team, so around £30 a month total outgoings. The only other cost is our time – all reading, responding, site management etc is done by the two of us around our day jobs. We have a tireless group of writers who power our Reviews section, but we rely on their goodwill/thirst for advance copies of forthcoming titles. We would love to be able to pay them, but we simply can’t. Lunate is a real labour of love, and we feel that is reflected in the excellent quality of the work we publish!
As writers, how do you feel about entry fees and payment?
GK: We try to be competitive, and we plan entry fees and prizes carefully to ensure we don’t make a loss, and that we’re charging fairly and realistically. We’ve run our popular Lunate 500 competition three times now. Most recently, we charged £5 per entry or £8 for two, with a prize fund of £350 (£200, £100, £50 for the three winners.) Once we had paid our judge and factored in PayPal fees, we just about broke even. Result!
We’re learning as we go. Right now, we’re planning our fourth Lunate 500, and a key aspect of the early discussions is around how we can offer an enhanced prize pot without significantly increasing the entry fee. It’s a fine balance.
We always pay on the day of publication for winning stories.
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?)
HC: It would be a nice thing to see some investment from the big hitters, but I am not sure what that would look like, and overall, depending on how the funding criteria were set up, it could end up stifling indie publishing platforms.
Personally I’d really like to see a shift in the expectations of journals currently held by the literary community/ writing community. Everyone seems to like the idea of payment but a lot of people don’t seem to recognise that it is a circular thing – especially given the lack of external funding available. We need to be willing to invest in journals that we profess to love, in order for them to grow and develop.
Self-sufficiency is great, but community support is helpful along the way.
We were recently awarded a New Journal Prize (£150) from TSS Publishing, and it is that kind of community support that can make the difference between a journal surviving the next couple of months and not.
What are some ways writers can support lit mags?
HC: Engaging with content online, buying publications, using the tip-jar options when they’re available. Also, I have a personal gripe about passive-aggressive Tweeting. Don’t do it. Sit with those feelings of disappointment or frustration that follow a rejection, and consider whether you need to put them out into the world. I’ve seen a few editors put in horribly compromising situations that they really didn’t deserve to be in, and it always sits badly with me.
What are some ways lit mags and competitions can make it easier for low income/marginalised writers to submit?
HC: Okay, well let’s separate these two out, because one doesn’t equal the other:
For writers with a low income we have a number of subsidised slots for our competitions, and we used to have subsidised slots for our general submissions when we charged a fee, too. This is an honour system. We never ask for proof and we don’t try to set any sort of financial bar. If you identify as a low income writer, that is good enough for us.
For marginalised writers, we really hope that Lunate has proven itself a safe-space. We’ve published writers from around the world and from a variety of backgrounds, and we hope that the fiction we publish is demonstrative of our commitment to providing a platform for all voices, but we also recognise that we’re two cis, heteronormative, non-disabled, white people; and with that comes the knowledge that there is always more work to be done to ensure our space is truly inclusive.
Why/do you think it’s important for lit mags/comps to be more accessible?
HC: Creative people need outlets. It is as simple as that. And accessibility goes beyond the financial – it is about feeling like you belong, like you have a right to submit to a journal and that, whether they accept your work or not, your work will be handled with care and respect. That doesn’t mean that an editor is duty-bound to fit with your personal preferences i.e. giving/not giving feedback – you have to respect the editors’ processes too. Ultimately, if a literary journal is not striving to be inclusive and accessible – what is it doing?
Enormous thanks to Han and Gary for these insights into the workings of their most excellent lit mag. If you enjoyed this interview, please go and read some of the stories up at Lunate (or maybe submit something!) and keep on spreading the literary love…