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.