I grew up fairly poor. When I first started trying really hard to get published I would say about 80% of the places I was trying had reading fees.
As the years have gone by I’ve tended to avoid reading fees. At first it was because I honestly could not afford it. I remember many times when I would look at a call for submission and realize that I could take a chance and statistically speaking not get published and spend the 5-8$ or I could eat meat for the week. Or buy good toilet paper or not have to beg borrow or steal tampons.
Back then nobody took electronic submissions so most of the time I’d already spent a few dollars. I did not own a computer so I would go to the library to type out my submissions which was free, then I’d take my precious 3.5″ floppy disks to Kinkos where I’d usually save up enough money to print all my submissions out. I’d go buy good sturdy business size envelopes, I’d buy postage and normally by the end I’d have spent every red cent I had to spare and well we all know what happens next.
Lots of rejections.
Years later I don’t have to decide between trying to make this writing thing happen and buying tampons but the focus and sense of discomfort and exclusion has shifted in focus.
These days everyone is always all about support us give us money. You don’t really support us if you don’t give us money. Buy our books, buy tickets to our events, etc etc. Sometimes I wonder if in the drive to market and keep afloat and pay for hosting and everything, sometimes the lit community forgets that a lot of us are fucking poor.
A lot of the time I don’t have a lot of extra money to donate. I’m the breadwinner in my household and while we are afloat, we’re not exactly in a position for me to be spending 20-60 dollars a month on literary things as much as I might want to.
I’ve found myself unsubscribing to a lot of indie lit e newsletters because frankly, I can’t take the marketing. I can’t take the constant reminder that I must not be a “real” part of the community because no I don’t buy books when they come out. No, I don’t always shop at small independent book stores. No I don’t donate to every lit mag I read.
Beyond not being able to afford it, sometimes the seemingly trendy cheeky things piss me off.
When Tin House made the announcement of their guidelines for submitting while they were reading unsolicited manuscripts, I was honestly done.
PORTLAND, OREGON (JUNE 30, 2010) In the spirit of discovering new talent as well as supporting established authors and the bookstores who support them, Tin House Books will accept unsolicited manuscripts dated between August 1 and November 30, 2010, as long as each submission is accompanied by a receipt for a book from a bookstore. Tin House magazine will require the same for unsolicited submissions sent between September 1 and December 30, 2010.
Writers who cannot afford to buy a book or cannot get to an actual bookstore are encouraged to explain why in haiku or one sentence (100 words or fewer). Tin House Books and Tin House magazine will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains: why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore, why he or she prefers digital reads, what device, and why.
Emphasis mine. How is that cute or encouraging new voices?
I hate that cheeky shitty attitude and frankly that alone is what caused me to stop reading and supporting Tin House. This so so incredibly problematic on so many levels. What about people who live in places where there are not bookstores? Fuck them?
I didn’t like a lot of the privileged reactions.
You know what, for a lot of us poor folks that shit is not fucking funny. No I’m not going to write you a fucking haiku to prove or explain my economic situation.
Honestly 2010 went a long way towards showing me that I don’t want to be a part of a community (as an author or peer or whatever) that thinks it’s okay to be so exclusionary.
Yes, maybe at one time I was punk rock enough to go ahead and skip eating lunch for a week so I could go to the indie book store and buy the new book from a beloved author. These days I’m just too old to go hungry for literature.
I think long and hard about what indie lit things I support anymore. As I get older I have a firmer set of convictions about certain things. I’m finding that I’d rather just not get published than be published in a publication (and no not just Tin House it was just the best example I could think of) where I feel unwelcome because I’m poor or because I’m not cool enough to think things I find offensive are funny.
All this is mainly to say that I feel good about where I submit. I feel good about supporting the people I do and I think that’s really the point of partaking in and participating in Indie lit.
This post was actually sparked by me trying to decide whether or not I should spend 20$ to submit a literary piece to the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival.
The thing is I have a piece I think would be fantastic. Unfortunately I really need a pair of good shoes because I have joint problems and walk everywhere. So what do I do? 20 dollars may not seem like a lot of money but that is actually about a quarter of the cost of a fine pair of walking shoes. So what’s more important? The chance of success or feet that don’t hurt?