I collected ten open call sub op leads from classifieds in the back of the March/April issue of Poets & Writers magazine this month and started pulling up the web sites to get the details for a ten list. Five offered no payment information (one asked for a reading fee and is a contest, not an open call), four were obviously for-the-love or paid in copies, and one firmly states that they no longer accept unsolicited subs (so why the heck run an ad asking for book manuscripts?)
Not one of them was worth listing here, so I'm writing a letter to P&W to suggest they reclassify their classifieds. I don't think they should be running ads for open calls that are really attempts to get writers to bankroll these projects or contribute something for nothing in return.
Back when I used to sell my poetry, I'd often run into open-call type ads in poetry magazines that were really fundraisers in disguise. You know the type: "Submit up to twenty poems for consideration" for something that was inevitably titled a variation on "The Best Loved Poems In America." I actually tried one out once when I was a kid, and got accepted, and even received a lovely little certificate -- along with an order form for copies of the anthology, which I would have had to pay $3 each. But no payment, no gratis copies, and no assurance that my poem would actually be published in the antho if I didn't buy a copy.*
If you're cruising the antho open call market, here are some things to watch out for:
Camouflaged Contests: these you can flag pretty easily; they always ask for an entry fee upfront, and generally the only writer who gets paid is the one judged to have "the most moving submission" or something along those lines (note: there is nothing wrong with entering a contest for publication in an antho as long as you don't have to pay to enter.)
Confusing Guidelines: if the guidelines for submission are unclear or not specific, e-mail and ask questions. If the contact person avoids giving you more details or your e-mails go unanswered, pass on it.
Kitchen Sinkers: an anthology usually has some sort of specific theme, length, form and/or genre requirement; be wary of kitchen-sink antho calls that are open to everyone and everything under the sun. Just because it touts itself as an anthology of "The Best-Loved Short Stories in America" doesn't mean it genuinely will be.
Lack of Experience: I can put up an open call for an anthology tomorrow -- it doesn't mean I know how to do one properly. Anyone headlining, editing and/or publishing an antho should have some experience with publishing them, or someone on board who does. If you submit to a first-timer, ask questions about what they plan to do.
No Publication Schedule: anyone editing and/or publishing an anthology should have a publisher or printer already on board for the project as well as an established date schedule for submissions, production and publication.
Reading Fees: if you're expected to pay just for the privilege of submitting, don't.
Thankfully there are plenty of open call anthologies out there that are legit and are run by ethical editors and publishers; the best source for these I've found so far are the market listings over at Ralan's place.
*By really creepy coincidence, today I received this poetry antho invitation in the mail -- not for me, but for my kid, whose teacher evidently sent off poems my kid and the rest of her class wrote for an assignment to this vanity pub.