• No, I Don’t Want to Be Paid in Ad Space

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 7 comments

    by Martin Barkley

    Stupid Submission Guidelines I’ve been writing and submitting pieces for a few years now, so I thought it might be time to take stock of what I’ve gleaned about submitting work on-line.

    If you open a website requesting submissions of written work, every whack job in the universe is going to send you his/her opus. I understand that existential quandary: you’re going to receive a few gems, but mostly you’ll be knee-deep in a slush pile of worthless crap. I get that. What I don’t get is how some purveyors of on-line zines have become so jaded by the literary lollapalooza they initially entered—out of love, I presume—by willful choice.

    And I can discern the ones who don’t love publishing anymore, if they ever did, by what they post on their sites. Submissions guidelines, I’ve found, get downright snarky, if not bizarre. Here are a few. (To protect the jaded, I have not identified the editors or their publications.)

    “You must be forty-five years old, or younger, to submit your work to us.” A category for new writers, sure, I get that. But a categorical exclusion of adults based on age? No, that’s socially Neanderthal-ish. (Plus, if I submit on-line, how will you know how old I am?) I wouldn’t want to support a pub that supports ageism in all its nuanced forms anyway, so I appreciate this open admission of prejudice.

    “So you think you’re DeLillo, unh? Well, you’re fucking not DeLillo. So get over yourself.” Yep, that’s a submission guideline. See what I mean about snarky and bizarre? Is that any way to begin an editorial relationship with a writer?

    “No politics—ever.” That sounds like Mommy’s “no more wire hangers” injunction. Maybe there are deeper issues behind this editorial exclusion?

    “I do not like stories written in first person.” You begin with I do not like, and then you banish, forever, the first-person point of view? Now that must be an MFA-taught criterion for limiting what is an acceptable story. Not enough authorial distance, says the constipated professor, and you believe that shit for life?

    “You should understand that if your work is accepted for publication, it will be edited. If you don’t accept that reality, then go submit elsewhere.” That’s pretty hard-nosed. No perfect stories, like politics or wire hangers, ever? So, okay, every story accepted has to be, unequivocally, without question, edited. Well, excuse me, but that sounds compulsive–in a bad way. Instead, how about, “We may wish to edit your piece, with your approval, of course.” A little mutual respect covers a multitude of sins.

    “We cannot pay you for your piece, but we can offer you ad space.” What? What the fuck am I going to advertise? My own self-published work, that is, of course, not an example of DeLillo incarnate, not written in first person, not political, and, if I accept the regimen, in desperate need of deep editing? No. Offer to pay me or don’t, but no bartering for ad space, please.

    Not to editorialize here too much, but maybe editing submission guidelines for strident and outlandish statements, before they’re published, might be a good thing.


    Martin Barkley resides in Austin, Texas, with his wife of twenty years. He is writing a novel on corporate stupidity.

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    Nelson J.

    I have seen every single one of these, I think. And so many more. I even saw one once that ended with something like, “What we’re really trying to say is, don’t submit.”

    It worked on me.

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    “Don’t submit”! Shocking.

    J. Sommers

    I’d rather be paid in ad space than not at all. If I had something to sell, or tout. I mean, if I had a book or ran a magazine, I’d gladly take free promotion, no matter how small potatoes the publication is.

    Not that it would be “free,” necessarily, since I’m giving my writing; that’s what the author means by “bartering.” But you get it. Isn’t something better than nothing? Most of these magazines don’t compensate in any way. And it’s the writer’s choice to submit to this particular venue. He/she knows the rules.

    Martin Barkley

    Given economic realities, I can understand the edginess of bartering with writers for their work, but I won’t do it. Any thing less than a simple fee transaction (i.e. cash) is more than I want to contemplate.

    And you’re right: it is the writer’s choice to submit or not. So in the case of all these pubs, I didn’t.

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    I share your concern, Martin. For some, the validation of being literary (whatever that means) trumps the love of literature. It’s a real problem, and I’m glad you wrote about it.


    Thank you for acknowledging the post, Justine. As a writer trying to “emerge,” I don’t regard my plaint as an overarching problem. Mexico and Syria have real problems; I only have selfish concerns about wanting to be published. But, yes, it helps when we love what we do, whether it’s vocation or avocation.

    Joshua Squires

    I wonder what kind of submissions you get with “Don’t submit”. You know people still submit despite that, so I’d love a peek at what that pub gets.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x