Saturday, March 14, 2009

Open or Opportunistic?

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.


  1. Oh that's sad the teacher was taken in by a vanity press.

  2. Arrrgh. I hope you educated the teacher.

  3. oh my... that is REALLY sad about the teacher...

  4. I got sucked in by one of those poetry things when I was a teen. I still have the anthology I paid for with my poem in it. Looks like it was published in someone's garage. Feh.

    Sorry to hear about your kid's teacher. What would bother me is that she gave out contact info for your child without permission. She should know better than that.

  5. I get those stupid "let us research your family tree for the sheer pleasure of selling you 100 copies for your closest family and friends" all the time. They go right in the circular file.

    It's a shame this teacher didn't at least look into this a bit more before just sending things off like that.

    I'd love to do an anthology (not poetry!), but not if I have to pay to do it and by paying for copies of the 'book', that's exactly what one is doing.


  6. NIGHTMUSIC, the trash is exactly where those family research scams belong! those things make me so mad I could spit nails. Lies, all lies. If you want your family researched I would be happy to do it, for free even.

  7. Eugenia, LOL! Thanks, but I have some family history that goes back a few generations. I've just always tried to figure out how the surname changed on my grandfather's side. I work on it a bit here and there when I have a chance. One of these days, I'll find the reason. :)

    When I was very young, we got one of those things through the mail, draw the doggie's head and send it in and we'll tell you if you could be an artist. I can draw, and very well thanks, so my mother encouraged me to draw the picture and she sent it off. Of course, I was applauded by the company, of course, they thought I was a gift to the art world and for the low price of XXX they'd gladly help me along my way.

    We were hounded by them for years!!! Didn't matter anyway. We were so poor at that time, we ate boiled potatoes with a couple pieces of chicken in it at least four times a week. Chicken had to last! :P

    Yup, learned early on, if it sounds too good, as the saying goes...

  8. Ouch on the teacher. I'm with B.E. about releasing contact information without permission.

    I just sent out my first poetry submission this month. I've chosen not to count the two poems I sent to one of those scams when I was a teen. I couldn't afford the $20 for the gold-embossed hardback so I also don't know whether those poems saw publication somewhere, somehow I doubt it :p.

    On Ralan, he does list copy only anthologies, but they are clearly listed so you can make an educated decision.

  9. Anonymous12:13 AM

    Basically, I think contests fund the magazines, although if you can win something in a big magazine your name will be in their magazine and you'll come up on the old google. Still, I'd be very careful about submitting work for contests. Some claim the right to hold your story for a year,regardless of whether or not they publish it. Others claim archive rights. So if you win or even hit the top ten, they hold it or archive it and you're stuck without a prize and no right to submit elsewhere. I even found a contest where they claimed world wide electronic rights.

    Yeah. I live to give away my work to people who refuse to pay for it.


  10. Art/craft magazines have pretend contests that involve an up front fee to get the opportunity to let them hold on to your art work for months and months and maybe publish a tiny picture. Similar to the anthology scams writers see.


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