Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Monday Musing: Nibbling Away at Yog’s Law

I think I’ll be leaving now, thank you.

You know about Yog’s Law, don’t you? Sure you do. Yog’s Law, coined by James D. MacDonald, is the principle that states, “Money flows toward the author.” We are told, time and again, that if an agent asks for a ‘reading fee’, run. If a publisher asks for you to split or absorb the costs of publication, run. If the publisher tells you they’ll print your book, but you have to buy a crap ton of copies and sell them yourself, run. Run as if Yog himself was reaching out his slimy tentacles for you, and don’t stop until you find an agent that works on commission, a publisher that pays YOU for your work.

There are legitimate exceptions to Yog’s Law. Contests for short stories, novels, poetry, often require an entry fee. Ten, fifteen, twenty-five dollar entry fees are often asked for, and we are wise to pause and wonder if the contest is legitimate. Fortunately, there are sites like Writer Beware, and the Warning thread over at Absolute Write (registration required) that can help sort out real contests from scams. Indeed, most contests are legitimate, and entry money helps fund the Fabulous Prizes! offered for winning the contest. Just read the guidelines cautiously, and ask questions if you have any doubts at all, and you’ll be fine.

The other legitimate exception to Yog’s Law is with self-publishing. Since there is no editor buying your book for a publisher, there’s no one to pay you for the work you’ve done, and the work you have yet to do. There is no one to shoulder the costs for editing, or cover design, or layout, etc., etc. It’s on the writer. To make that book good, to make it stand out in the crowd, the writer has to violate Yog’s Law and pay for one or more edits, and all the rest. The writer has to assume the up front financial risk normally taken on by publishers. (Or, I suppose, you could not. You could trust to your own skills in all departments and do it all yourself, but you probably really don’t want to take that chance. But I digress).

Nibbles are being taken at the toes of Yog’s Law by literary magazines, of all places. Once in a while I come up with a short story that I think can actually be published, and I scour the markets and look for places I can submit. Most markets now allow you to either e-mail or submit electronically, using a submissions manager interface, such as Submittable. If you’ve worked with them, they’re pretty handy. Anyway, at least one journal I’ve sent to has this statement in the author guidelines:

Please note there is a fee of $3 to submit electronically. This is used to cover costs such as printing.

I have to admit, this leaves me scratching my head, because other journals that use the same program do not charge for submissions, and other journals don’t charge for electronic submissions, but DO charge for snail mail/hard copy submissions, and for the same stated reasons. Huh?

As far as things go, it’s not much. Two, three dollars for a submission, sure, it helps cover the cost of the software–but it seems to me this sort of thing is a cost of doing business, and should be covered the way office supplies, rent and salaries are. Still, it’s a tiny little nibble, a mere annoyance, but it makes me wonder if we’re going to see this spread more widely across the industry.

Eh. I’m sure I’m just worrying over nothing, right? Have a great week!

6 Responses

  1. Probably worrying over nothing…and yet we'll likely see more of this. I recently paid thirty dollars to enter a contest. It's one I've done before and it's run by a writing group in my state, but they also offer to do $15 critiques while they're judging the entries, which I think is a silly thing to pay for.

    And I flip-flop on wanting to self-publish, but I do think you have to reasonably expect to put a good sum of money into covers and editing, if you want to do it right.

  2. Um, yeah. I'm not sure what the excuse would be for a $3 fee. Do they get so many submissions that it takes extra people to read through them?

  3. I think it's more that the software itself costs money to the journals on a per submission basis. But really, in my mind, that's the sort of thing that should be built into operating expenses and covered the same way other expenses are.

    Of course, I'm not a magazine publisher, so take this as unfounded opinion.

  4. OMG that's like how the City of Philadelphia charges you $327.48 to file a complaint but then they charge you an extra $5 for the CONVENIENCE of doing it online. WHAT?! It's a racket!!!!

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