Monday, April 20, 2009

Suggestions for Narrative Magazine


I've been having some great conversations offline with some friends, colleagues and fellow writers lately about Narrative Magazine. Here are some suggestions I've come up with for Narrative:

1. Narrative should promise X amount of space in every issue to those who submit fees. Is it once a week a new writer will be published or is it once a month? Tell your readers up front. Couple this with an open breakdown of where your money goes to from submission fees. There's a contradiction between what you say the guidelines lay out and the staff members who say they work for free. Narrative could make these changes to their business tomorrow.

I might add that since they are a 501 (c) (3) their 990 forms are public record and show what their take and expenses are every year. With a little digging someone could publish these figures, maybe we will.

2. Narrative should give something--anything--to those who submit, extra access to their website, discounts on future submissions, partner with another business like P&W and get discounts there. Narrative does not appear to have a positive exchange with their customer's hard earned dollars. This would positively effect Narrative's bottom line dramatically. And something like this could easily be done in a few months.

3. A reading fee should include a statement of feedback when a rejection is sent; this feedback would affirm that the piece has actually been read. This may require hiring more staff but heck they can afford it and if they can't afford it--I know a few dozen readers who would work for the experience.


These suggestions are in order of what can be done immediately and what may take a bit more time. I welcome your own comments, suggestions or criticisms as well.

7 comments:

Jason Jordan said...

"I might add that since they are a 501 (c) (3) their 990 forms are public record and show what their take and expenses are every year. With a little digging someone could publish these figures, maybe we will."

You should totally do this. I'd be interested to see what they make.

Andrew W said...

http://foundationcenter.org/findfunders/990finder/ provides all their form 990s going back several years. Unfortunately it's not all that helpful in putting together of story of exactly how they spend their money: for example, in 2007, Narrative had assets in excess of $230,000 (w00t!) and spent $50,000 on editorial services, $15,000 on copyediting, $29,000 on a webmaster, and $39,000 on author fees. There's no way to know what the actual breakdown on all that was without asking them, but it'd be good to know how in the world they can spend $29,000 in one year on a webmaster.

A. E. Santi said...

I'm very interested in how they make their money, that's my chief concern. How many submissions are coming into them to subsidize the magazine? Were there any grants, etc.. We've found the same forms but for 2006 and 2007. We are checking if there's any issue for us to publish the forms here on the blog. Any questions that you have regarding their forms will go into a letter that I will send directly to Tom Jenks and co.. Good digging Andrew.

Alicia said...

Of course, anyone can start a business, even a literary magazine, and turn it into a top venue that is financially successful, right? I mean, there's no law or other stipulation that requires a literary magazine, online or print, to be impoverished and hovering at the bottom line.

I compare a new or emerging writer who submits to Narrative and paying their reading fee to entering a contest. Lots of writers pay contest fees. At Narrative, if your story is accepted (and you've paid the reading fee), that's equivalent to being short-listed for the $4000 annual Narrative Prize that they award each year to a new/emerging writer who they've published. This short-listing comes with a minimum $350 payment. Only a handful of "new and emerging" writers get published by Narrative each year, so it's a good shot, once you're on the 'short-list'.

Full disclosure: I've been published by Narrative (2004) and I have a forthcoming Story of the Week. So I'm biased. I heart Narrative. First and foremost, Narrative promotes literary fiction, a GOOD thing. One of their stories is forthcoming in the next BASS, awesome for ALL online journals.

I hear a lot of pissing and moaning about Narrative 'preying' on writers. Are writers so frail and dumb that they become wilful wishful prey? Barf.

They also offer periods of free submissions, but anyone accepted that way won't get a shot at the Narrative Prize.

T. J. Forrester said...

I admire this editor's vision and could care less what the mag does with the read fees. I sub during the free period and any interaction with their editors has been prompt and courteous.

A. E. Santi said...

I’m going to respond to some of these comments from Alicia as my thoughts are in italics. I really love the conversation and look at this as a really important dialogue. All points of view are welcome.

Of course, anyone can start a business, even a literary magazine, and turn it into a top venue that is financially successful, right? I mean, there's no law or other stipulation that requires a literary magazine, online or print, to be impoverished and hovering at the bottom line.

I don't think anyone is criticizing their success, nor suggesting that making money is wrong, for example Our Stories is an incorporated company, I pay my staff for workshops and 83% of all reading fees goes to them, the remainder gets eaten by PayPal.

I compare a new or emerging writer who submits to Narrative and paying their reading fee to entering a contest. Lots of writers pay contest fees.

And contests are part of the business model that journals have to live by. However, it is generally assumed that a contest that has a very high submission fee, in which you receive nothing that it is a no-no. Further, paying a reading fee for say a literary agent or a journal is also a no-no in this business. If another journal (that did not have Narrative’s esteemed editors on staff ) tried to establish a reading fee that gave the submitter nothing—we would be having a very different discussion.

However, this is Narrative and their process of selection to their journal is opaque. When are their reading periods? How many writers are chosen per year? Are all stories published exclusively from the submission fees? Are there any exceptions to the submission fee system? Narrative seems to want it both ways—it’s a contest but it’s a reading fee, you’re submitting to be considered for an annual Narrative Prize but you can only be considered if you’ve been published by them and considered for the prize, therefore its not a contest—but a competition between an unknown amount of published pieces per year.

At Narrative, if your story is accepted (and you've paid the reading fee), that's equivalent to being short-listed for the $4000 annual Narrative Prize that they award each year to a new/emerging writer who they've published. This short-listing comes with a minimum $350 payment. Only a handful of "new and emerging" writers get published by Narrative each year, so it's a good shot, once you're on the 'short-list'.

Sounds complicated. How many writers make the short list? How often? I'd love to see that on their website broken down, could you send me the link?

Full disclosure: I've been published by Narrative (2004) and I have a forthcoming Story of the Week. So I'm biased. I heart Narrative.

Congratulations on publishing with them! Please do send us a link of your story!

First and foremost, Narrative promotes literary fiction, a GOOD thing. One of their stories is forthcoming in the next BASS, awesome for ALL online journals.

I don’t think anyone is questioning whether publishing fiction is a good thing, coming from an editor at a literary journal that would be a bit counter intuitive. However, I think it is a fair question to ask at what cost does promoting fiction have on a community. What does it mean that there is a submission fee system of $20 that contractually obligates them to do nothing? What if all journals turned to this model? Wouldn’t that mean that the only writers who published were the ones who had the most money?

Isn’t what is really going on here that the submitters are actually financing the journal? These “submission fees” seem much closer to $20 donations than $20 contest entries or $20 reading fees. Seriously folks. Because if they’re contest fees then the guidelines would have reading times that have a beginning and an end. If they are reading fees we would find out that the story was read, as even the most dubious reading fees usually incur a response of some sort. If you send a not-for-profit money and with your money you send a story, which they are under no obligation to ever respond to, comment on, accept or do anything with, and they do not disclose when their reading period ends and you do not know how many other stories may get published like yours—well that sounds to me much more like a $20 donation.

The question, I think is being posited is: should the reading fee include anything?

I’m of the mind frame that it should include something—but—I don’t submit to Narrative. Yet, since I am part of this community of writers and editors I can exercise my point of view and state my opinion.

I hear a lot of pissing and moaning about Narrative 'preying' on writers. Are writers so frail and dumb that they become wilful wishful prey? Barf.

Well, barf is right. I believe a literary journal has a duty to their submitters–that if they are charging a submission fee or a contest fee to read their work, the journal should fully and accurately disclose the following: 1) Period of submission 2) When and how long it will take the journal to make a decision on the story 3) How many stories will be chosen for publication. The reason for a reading fee should be accurately held forth (and is) as a contract that holds the two parties to something. Which goes to why the issue of their 990 came up at all, that and their submission guidelines which say that the fee goes to paying the staff, however Kwon’s statement is that she works for free. The greater Narrative’s impact on the community all the more reason for full disclosure.

No one can hold them to this. No, Narrative can do whatever they well like—it’s their business model. It’s a free country. They could start charging $30 or $100 tomorrow and say that that’s what it means to submit to a journal now and “either ante up or go home.” But it is up to you to decide what to do about it. And certainly I do not assume that any small literary journal like Our Stories will be able to do anything about it. But it is right and good to question and engage in a conversation about this practice because it means something about the community, period. There is room for improvement that would—in fact—make a more holistically positive outcome for all parties involved (including Narrative’s bottom line). With all that said, caveat emptor—let the buyer beware.

Andrew W said...

Two things have to be added to any conversation about Narrative. They have a history of awarding cash prizes to friends of the editors. And they spam the hell out of people and turn around and sell their email list.