In my role as a small press literary agent and marketing coach, an issue I discuss with almost every author is how much they are spending on submissions or how to make the most of a (usually scant) submission budget.
Although the world of submissions can be complex and expensive, balancing your submission budget doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips to help you minimize expenditures, maximize profit, and identify a strategy that works for you.
1. Expect and manage submission fees.
From website hosting to submission managers to marketing to printing and mailing contributor copies, it costs money to keep a journal going. And few journals generate enough sales to keep them in business. Few editors even receive payment for their work. So (first things first) expect to pay minimal fees for your submissions. These fees ($2-3) often correspond with the cost of one postal envelope.
However, most writers are on a budget, and you must balance the submission fees with your desire to be published in that journal. Does the journal have a wide readership and strong reputation? Is there a good chance of acceptance? Is it worth spending $30 to submit to Narrative? Is a smaller journal worth $3? The answers to these questions are personal. Just remember that submission fees are appropriate, common, and must be budgeted for.
Most literary databases allow you to filter your search by “free submissions,” so if your budget is limited you can focus on these, leaving fee-based submissions for better economic days.
2. Use PayPal as your submission “bank account.”
As the majority of journals use submission managers that accept PayPal, you can use PayPal for most fees and payments. Having nearly all monies moving into and out of a single online account allows for simple budgetary tracking. Although PayPal can pull directly from your bank account, I suggest maintaining a balance on the site to more accurately judge your budget at a moment’s glance.
Start by transferring from your bank account enough money to cover your expected costs for the first month. Pull from this balance all submission fees. As bank transfers take 3-5 business days, always retain some monies for last-minute submissions. Each month, transfer your budgeted amount into your PayPal account for the next month’s submissions. Now you will know exactly how much you spend and can budget for the future with ease.
To increase your balance, and help cover future submissions without cash infusions from your bank account, deposit all writer-related income into your PayPal account. These could be contributor payments from magazines, contest winnings, book sales, workshop revenues, or other monies you receive from your writing. Your PayPal goal is to eventually earn as much (or more) than you spend on submissions.
3. Consider digital vs. mailed submissions.
Although the costs are comparable, tracking mailed submissions adds a layer of accounting to your process. I suggest keeping a budgetary spreadsheet that details the date, journal name, and cost of each mailed submission. Then reduce your monthly bank transfers to PayPal to compensate for these postal charges. If maintaining a spreadsheet seems a burden, either refrain from submitting via mail or accept that those costs won’t be included in your projected budget.
4. Research magazines that pay.
Most print journals pay in contributor copies, so to help ensure you have enough money for future submissions, prioritize, if you can, journals that pay. A surprising number do! From a token $5 payment to upwards of $100-200 per page, every cent earned on your writing is to be celebrated and put to good use.
There’s no such thing as too small a payment. Receiving $10 for a poem or story equates to three or four future journal submissions at the standard $2-3 rate. And if you’re able to land a major paying market, your submission fees (and maybe more) will be covered for months.
Remember that earning income from your work takes energy, patience, and persistence. It took me over a decade to make enough from my writing to compensate for my submission costs. But now my writing is self-sustaining.
Knowing exactly how much you spend and where these costs are going is the first step. Keep your strategy simple and predictable with an emphasis on minimizing expenditures. In time, balancing your monthly budget will only take minutes.
John Sibley Williams is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, 2019), Disinheritance, and Controlled Hallucinations. A nineteen-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, The 46er Prize, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Yale Review, Midwest Quarterly, Southern Review, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, TriQuarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.