Fuck Narrative Magazine

Narrative Magazine has gotten a write up in the San Francisco Chronicle recently which seems to make a game of how completely it can crawl up the Magazine's asshole. The editors, Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarton, are revolutionaries, the article tells us, because they've put fiction on the Internet and gotten "40,000" subscribers instead of the "5,000" subscribers "most 'small magazines,' on- or offline" have. (Try 500 and you might be closer to the truth, but I digress.) Yes, Jenks and Edgarton, a loving couple, a "symbiotic" match made in yuppieville, took time off from writing their own, "acclaimed" novels and went to Martha's Vineyard to put together their revolutionary website. How revolutionary?

Narrative is also atypical in terms of quality. There is no whiff of literary hipsterism here, no veil of coolness to cover up the mediocre writing that is often found in new publications by editors who have spent their college years boning up on David Foster Wallace.

Fuck you.

Instead, Jenks and Edgarian offer a wide, well-edited and stimulating selection of narrative forms.

If by "stimulating selection of narrative forms" you mean countless interchangeable, meandering, pointless slice-of-life vignettes that go nowhere, then yes, I see exactly what you mean.

But there is one major, overriding reason to hate Narrative Magazine, which can be seen in their submission guidelines:

Except during our open-submission periods, we require a reading fee for submission, as follows:

—a $20 reading fee for short short stories of 750 to 2,000 words.

—a $10 reading fee for up to five poems in a single submission.

—a $10 reading fee for short audio (MP3) submissions of poetry. Audio poetry submissions may be up to five minutes in length.

—a $10 reading fee for short audio (MP3) submissions of prose, for our TELL ME A STORY category (see description below). Audio prose submissions may be up to five minutes in length.

—a $20 reading fee for a single manuscript (fiction or nonfiction) of 2,000 to 10,000 words in length.

—a $20 reading fee for novellas and book-length works.

And when is their open submissions period?

Narrative is not currently accepting open submissions.

This is a magazine that asks its potential writers to pay them for the privilege of submitting work. I can't imagine a bigger middle finger to the working fiction writer, a way a magazine could treat the already struggling and unpaid short fiction writer more poorly. I mean, fuck you Narrative Magazine.

As for their supposed "40,000" member subscriber list: we linked to Narrative Magazine once in our original mission statement, and the magazine promptly started sending us regular emails about the crappy writing they were publishing, which makes me think their business ethics fall somewhere between porn spammers and casino spammers, and calls into question any numbers that come out of them. But even at face value the number is incredibly weaselly. A "subscriber" to Narrative Magazine is merely someone who has registered (for free) at their site, which you need to do to read anything on it. So someone who signed up on the site once, read a few stories and never went back is still considered a "subscriber", which is nothing like someone who plunks down money to get every issue of a magazine mailed to them. Calling registered users "subscribers" is not only misleading, it's just plain dishonest. Besides the fact that forcing people to register to look at work on your site is kind of a dick move to begin with, especially since it seems to be done with the express purpose of boosting these fraudulent "subscriber" numbers.

In short, fuck Narrative Magazine. If they're "the future of reading" then reading is not something I want to be a part of.

EDIT 3/28/2008: See my follow up for information about Narrative Magazine selling your information to spammers and junk mailers.



I get their emails, so I guess I'm a "subscriber" too, even though I've never read any of their stories. I always seem to see the same old roster of drab and uninspiring writers, and never bother. Asking writers to pay for the "privilege" of being considered (and 99.9% rejected) is rather appalling - I don't care how much they pay for acceptances.

Oh, and if I get one more notification about the "SQ Love Story Contest" I'll go stark raving mad.

I just posted this in their

I just posted this in their comments page. The others were all so glowing though, I doubt it will pass review.

It’s hard to go wrong posting even the more lackadaisical efforts of acclaimed writers. And you don’t. So though one senses a fairly uneven playing field when it comes to contests and submissions, the results are rarely less than mediocre. From a navigation and presentation and standpoint, it’s very well done.

I've subscribed to their

I've subscribed to their newsletter thinking that one day I'll see an "open submission" email in my inbox, but I've only been getting more and more irritated and perfectly informed about their reading fees.

Maybe we should just unsubscribe and forget about them?

This is an irresponsible post

You don't like Narrative charging reading fees, so be it, there's an argument for it and against, but all this "fuck you" stuff is just a stupid and irresponsible response. You neglect to mention that they are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and award thousands of dollars of prize money every year.

You claim that they have no open submission period, ostensibly because they weren't accepting them when you tried to submit, yet you fail to mention that their submission guidelines state exactly when the open period is: "Narrative accepts open submissions during the first two weeks of April and the first two weeks of August each year. During these periods, you may submit work via the Open Submissions Upload page, which will be linked and accessible here. " That sounds like a month out of the year and if other popular magazines are a guide that means they're open to anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 submission without payment. Maybe you should have waited a few days.

You accused them of being spammers in your other post, linking to a place where they're listed to sell their mailing list, but guess what, you don't mention that they let you opt-out of that when you subscribe. I've been a subscriber for a while and have not gotten any spam through them. So they don't hide the fact they they sell their list and I don't see any difference between that and you riddling your site with Google ads.

You say they the publish "crappy" writing (crappy being the descriptive term that good writers often turn to), but on what basis? It's not hard to see - whatever you think subjectively of one piece or another - that what they're publishing is not "crappy" writing, but writing from a generally accomplished set of writers in a cross-section of form.

You say their subscriber base is not as high as they claim, so I'd love to see the basis for your claim, something you neglected to show.

Whether or not you agree with Narrative's policies, in my opinion they are creating something badly need for writers: prestige in publishing original work online where in the past one had to publish solely in print. This opens doors for writers and publishers, whether or not they charge a fee. This is a cause you are subverting with your childish, thoughtless claims.

You are stupid

Wow, your comment is riddled with poorly-thought-out arguments and statements that seem to indicate you didn't read what I wrote very carefully.

A) I claimed they had no open submission period because it said on their submission page that they "had no open submission period at this time", something I quoted in the piece.

B) Selling your mailing list is never ethical, ever, and has no relation to showing some ads on one's site. My ads aren't going to email you or in any way know who you are.

C) As for the quality of what they publish I said "If by 'stimulating selection of narrative forms' you mean countless interchangeable, meandering, pointless slice-of-life vignettes that go nowhere, then yes, I see exactly what you mean." That, I think, is pretty descriptive and specific about what I think is wrong with what Narrative (and also Story Quarterly for that matter) publishes.

D) If you actually read my piece, you'll see that I'm criticizing them for calling their registered users "subscribers", inviting a misleading comparison to subscriber numbers for pay magazines. There's a big difference between someone who registers at your website and may read one piece and never come back, and people who pay money for a year's subscription, and calling users "subscribers" is misleading and fraudulent. But then, I'm beginning to think you didn't actually read the piece you're criticizing.

E) As for "subverting a cause": FUCK you. Publishing bad fiction under unethical conditions does not constitute some kind of selfless "cause" that we shouldn't dare criticize. Narrative is not feeding children in Africa, they're not building homes for earthquake victims in China. They're publishing crappy fiction, There's plenty of places where one can find and publish GOOD fiction online that the bad ones deserve to be weeded out.

You sure are quick on the

You sure are quick on the draw with the "stupids" and "fuck yous." You must be a Republican.

At any rate, I'm sorry if I misread anything you wrote, but for the most part I stand by what I said. I agree with you that a "registered user" is not the same thing as a "subscriber" so I give you that, but overall I think your post was so harsh that any points you were trying to make were clouded in the overall fuckyoudness and sound more like bitterness than anything.

You're entitled to think their writing is "crappy" without giving any basis and you're entitled to think that its unethical to sell a mailing list even if the subscriber is given clear notice to opt-out, even though that's not an uncommon practice, but the cause I said you were subverting is not Narrative's but of those who write online in general and who write about writing and literature specifically.

That's that. Narrative doesn't need me to defend them you and you don't need anyone challenging your assertions. Go back to what you're doing; no need to write a response and call me names again either because I won't be coming back, and for what it's worth, the only reason I'm writing anonymously is that your tone seems like you might be someone who would be vindictive and I don't need that. I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem like it.

NARRATIVE magazine

I much enjoyed this spat about Narrative Magazine and the 'fuckyouness' of it all: very informative!

I have no doubt that only interns read the material hoping to find something that is like that of a famous writer - thus all too often short-circuiting originality and new voices.

There's so much rubbish in the world you've really got to be keen, lean and undoubtedly mean to fly free of unrelenting bullshit so good luck to them.

I could care less about your

I could care less about your opinion since I don't know you but you say there are other places online or whatnot that publish 'good' writing. I think it would be a bit more helpful to those you're swaying with your opinion to, maybe, name a few or even all, of the ones you know of. You can give those who may be just looking for anyone to help them get their pieces read some guidance instead of hindering any hope they might have had for getting something out there. Just a thought. Good talk.

But wait...there's more

There's good reason for collecting those princely sums. It's to reward their favored princesses. When do ethical lapses sprout into borderline legal offenses? Have you ever seen a contest for anything without the 'friends not eligible' boilerplate?

scam artists.


Okay, so where is a good

Okay, so where is a good place to try to publish my fiction online?

Here's the list of fiction

Here's the list of fiction magazines that I like: http://www.wetasphalt.com/?q=content/fiction-magazines-worth-reading

Add to that Electric Literature: http://www.wetasphalt.com/?q=content/trailer-your-fate-hurtles-down-you

And also I've come to like The Exquisite Corpse http://www.corpse.org/ and Ideomancer http://www.ideomancer.com/

I concur

This IS an irresponsible post. Sounds suspiciously like sour grapes, in fact. I've read a lot of fine fiction in Narrative. Anthony Marra, who won the annual narrative prize after graduating from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and right before he began a Stegner Fellowship (even more prestigious, in my view) was just nominated for the National Book Award for his novel, which is set in Chechnya. What could possibly be "slice of life" about such writing? His prize from Narrative was awarded for work that later became part of that novel.

I was a philosophy major (Western "analytic" philosophy)--I also have an MFA--and I despise the kind of overgeneralizing and omission of facts I see in this post, so I'm in full agreement with "anon."

this comment is apparently

this comment is apparently unaware of the irony present in its content. this, more than anything I could say in reply, is the most complete refutation of its point that could be made by anyone. Good Job Laura.

ID of the Anonymous - It's Tom Jenks

That guy is definitely Tom Jenks!

I agree with you about the

I agree with you about the poor quality of Narrative's stories. The kind of boring fiction that goes nowhere and means nothing. And man alive do they know how to spam the hell out of you. I've never read anything on the site because it's all rubbish, and yet I'm getting emails by the dozen from them all the time. Sickening.

Thanks for the information

Wow, I found this site when I googled Narrative Magazine to learn more about a poetry contest submission. It has certainly made for interesting reading. What makes me laugh more than anything is that if this anonymous person is actually from the magazine, then I most definitely question his abilities, since the correct phrase is, "I could NOT care less", not "I could care less" (really, you could?). Basic grammar mistakes, even in a retort, do not inspire confidence. But then I suppose this person could not care less about the matter.

It's called an idiotic mistake.

I'm an American. I'm a writer with the credentials to call myself a professional. I am university educated.

"I could care less" is not irony. It's an idiotic mistake.

opting out

I receive e-mails from Narrative Magazine. I don't like their stories or practices either, so today, I opted out. They pull the oldest internet trick in the book! Way at the bottom (obviously) is the link to stop receiving e-mails. However... no joke... the line and link are one shade darker than pure white. What cowards!

I know this is a petty complaint, but what a petty thing for them to do... especially to old farts like me.


Ha, I couldn't agree more! I'm ashamed to say that I paid to have a submission "considered", but gave up when I realized: 1) interns, not editors, actually read the submissions, 2) interns reject EVERYTHING that doesn't come from a "famous" writer, i.e. Narrative Magazine takes emerging writers' cash but doesn't give them fair consideration, and 3) not only does the fiction kinda suck, but the poetry REALLY sucks!!

Almost every "poem of the week" is from Copper Canyon Press, and these poems have one thing in common. They're bad. Now, I won't just say they're bad and run away. I will now explain WHY they're bad. First, arbitrary line breaks. The biggest difference between poetry and prose is line breaks, which change up the rhythm, allow for alternate interpretations and double meanings, etc. Yet I read through almost all the poems in the archives and could not find more than a couple examples of poets who knew what a line break was.

Second, and perhaps most important, these are LANGUAGE poems, not NARRATIVE poems! Hmmm... what's the name of the magazine again?

People can like whatever they want to like, but the fact is, language poems and narrative poems are on absolutely opposite ends of the spectrum! Likewise, these aren't even good language poems either. Most are tone-deaf, devoid of image, and childishly melodramatic. Case in point:
Formless Stanza by Stephen Berg. A friend showed me that one a few weeks ago and I'm still feeling sick to my stomach. I won't paste the poem here since I don't know if that's a copyright violation, but I encourage you to check it out--just to see how bad it is!

Calling this crap a poem is like calling a faith healer a surgeon, then claiming it's all just a matter of opinion. Childish lack of punctuation, bad line breaks, VERY poor rhythm, no attention paid to syllable/stress/unstress count, weak lines, arbitrary word choice, vague metaphysical ramblings reminiscent of somebody's pretentious diary, etc., all characterize this "poem". Sadly, though, the other poems at Narrative are just as bad (if not worse).

Bottom line: magazines can publish whatever they like, but soliciting reading fees means they're ethically obligated to give submitters a fair reading. Even laying aside the issue of quality, the near-total lack of "new" or "emerging" writers in the archives means this is basically just a pyramid scheme.

Finally, calling it out like it is

Not only do they subsidize these "subscriptions" (anyone who submits is a subscriber) with these steep entry fees, but they also use it to pay for the already established writers, who, by the way, don't pay submission fees. How very convenient.

But the insult of all insults was today's issue, a teenager's vision of love rendered through an average artist's vision, with the main screen dominated by a girl in bondage with her nipple mutilated and covered by bandage. The story is worse than mediocre: my undergrads would shred it to pieces. Here is the logline: girl reminisces about her sex life. Wow! What a story, huh? Why didn't any of us think of THAT!!!!

And it's like women's rights never happened. That was truly sickening, disgusting, revolting. Please, someone, write a comment on their website. That kind of sexist stuff deserves to be shot down the minute it rears its ugly head.

Non-Profit 503(c)?

I submitted last year to Narrative's Love Story Contest. Didn't win or place, but Tom Jenks was kind enough to respond to my email inquiry which questioned the propriety of informing entrants - using spam email - that they had not won or placed.

Tom Jenks was also kind in taking the time to look again at my entry, this time in the light of providing editing services, which by the way were plainly offered at his portion of the website. I was shocked though at the size of the retainer he wanted to help me with my 60,000 word novella: $10,000.00.

I respectfully declined but walked away from the experiance wondering how someone could lawfully use their position at a non-profit corporation, and at its expense, to promote for profit activities. It could be that he was going to donate his fees to the company but that was never mentioned or even suggested.

One possible answer: Just

One possible answer: Just because you file as a Non-Profit doesn't mean you can't make a profit. Not many folks realize this.

non-profit orgs

Correct, it simply means your (ostensibly) MAIN mission is not for profit. Of course the org is required to defend via tax returns that this is the case.

fee for contests?

I'm fairly new to submissions. Thanks for the post.

Is it an unusual practice to charge a reading fee for contests? I was looking at one that charges $20.

I've been looking at different contests, and it seems a number of them -- Glimmer Train, for example -- do level entry fees. I was wondering if the fee is used to cut down on entries, cover prize money, whatever.

Sometimes it covers the prize

Sometimes it covers the prize money (and in some cases the magazine will explicitly state this fact). Other purposes for the money include: paying readers (whether they be inters or the editors themselves) for their time, funding printing of the magazine, etc. From my 4 or so years of experience with contests, many of them charge a reading fee and some are more reasonable than others. There are however, a fair amount of free contests, some worthwhile, others not (but of course the same goes for contests with a reading fee). If you're interested in finding some free contests, one site I know that lists them is winningwriters.com. They actually have a free newsletter you can sign up for that sends you a list of free contests coming up (and it rates the contests neutral/recommended/highly recommended). Hope this helps.

A bit of Narrative math

When I first saw the 20 dollar reading fee, I decided that Narrative was not for me. But okay, I didn't think it was a scam. And they have to pay some pretty big names, like Richard Bausch and Robert Olen Butler. So whatever. Some other, reputable magazines charge similar fees (I won't submit to them either, for the record).

Then I saw this: http://www.narrativemagazine.com/iStory The "new genre" the vampires at Narrative have created for their oh-so-trendy iphone app. It's a story of up to 150 words. That's it. 150 words. As in three times the length of the paragraph I am currently typing. And what's the reading fee for this exciting new genre? The same as it is for a submission of 10000 words: 20 dollars.

For those of you who aren't that good at math, that works out to 13 cents for every single word they read. To put that in perspective, if you were paid 13 cents a word for a standard short-story, say 5000 words, you would make over 600 dollars. Granted, that's less than the New Yorker pays, but it's still a crapload of money. And how long does it take to read and reject one of these stories? An average adult reads 200-250 wpm. Let's say Mr. Jenk and his editorial team take it real slow and careful and say 1 "iStory" per minute. That means the hourly wage they make reading iStories is 1200 dollars. Extended to a normal yearly salary, that makes 2.4 million dollars for one worker reading iStories full-time. I'm not saying this is what they make. But I just wanted to throw down some math to prove, beyond a doubt:


Also, I'd like to point out that, having worked in an editorial department before, I know that reading slush piles sucks, and that editorial work is not glamorous. But I also know that any editor worth his or her salt can reject most manuscripts after the first page or two. Even if you send them 10,000 words, they're reading maybe 600, in all but a few cases. Which is fine, so long as they're not charging you 20 dollars for the privilege...Which they are.

So yeah, FUCK NARRATIVE. This is the only lit journal I have ever hoped would fail. Ironically, it's probably also one of the only profitable lit journals. So once again, FUCK NARRATIVE.

P.S. If you try to tell me that what they take in with this sham is put back out in the 250 dollar payment to those they do choose to publish, you and I are going to have to sit down for a longer math lesson.

It gets worse

They also have a submission category for six-word stories. Granted, one can include up to 5 six-word stories per submission... but that submission fee is $15. Tap that into your calculator if you can keep from vomiting in the meantime.

your voice

Your voice makes me very nostalgic for a very close writer friend of mine who once said, "if you write that sentence in the passive voice I'm going to throw my chair at you."

I miss him. He's a good dude. Lives in Texas and writes poetry. Wife, two kids, hell. Good man.

Anyway, thank you for your voice and the math lesson.

Troubled by lack of disclosure on copyright, royalties, etc.

One of my writing students told me she had been published in Narrative Magazine, so I checked it out and later found this thread. I was excited for my student, yet troubled—at first by the idea of submitting my FULL information (including address!) in order to read her piece after the jump ... with no indication of their privacy policy or how they would use my info. It seems as if the authors pay a kind of "processing fee" in order to qualify for being published, and that even if they are subsequently paid a modest amount for their piece (thus "winning" the right to appear on the site), their writing is fundamentally a lure for collecting names for a database, which is then sold off to spammers. I was halfway through the signup when I quit the page.

Searching the site further, I found no information (including on the Submit Your Work form) about how their publishing model works regarding subsequent author's rights or royalties. For all I know, their "Narrative Library" publishing program buys all rights. They list what they pay the writers, but not what that contract entails. What does the non-profit do with any subsequent income should these books and e-books make headway in the market? Also, are the writers' works being marketed/promoted with an eye toward the writer's career and profit, or toward getting more "subscribers" on NM? They "sound" like they are publishers of quality material, but under the hood, the writing that writers pay to have them look at could be serving as paid advertisements by the writers, and as free marketing material for the website.

After studying the site and some of its links, I was further disheartened to discover that there is no easy way to contact this non-profit. A "Contact Us" link should be prominent, and I would think it would be required by law for the website of a non-profit. The only link I found was to the two top partners--but for paid editing services, not for the magazine or website.

Basically, what they seem to be doing over there is what I do for a living at Barncat, my own company: various aspects of ghost editing, coaching, and online courses for writers. As you can imagine, I have no problem with that! Still, there's something off about offering the heart of your services as a kind of spin-off of a non-profit that is supposedly about encouraging and disseminating literary writing. I also encourage literary writing, but as a goal and by-product of my services, not the other way around.

The more I think about it, the more I see that they have created a brilliant business model, albeit one that turns me off both as a writer and a professional ghost editor, and that stretches the bounds of transparency in advertising. I could go on for pages about the gray areas: having writers pay to submit their work for consideration (basically having the writer underwrite the cost of "winning" and being published), then using the admittedly slick-looking result (nice, clean, authoritative website) to drum up business for the NON-non-profit side, the ghost-editing business.

The trouble with quick, off-the-cuff responses like this one is that they seem to stand as either praise or condemnation, when my bottom line is that I think there is something intriguing, clever, self-sustaining, complicated, and worthy of further study embedded in the NM business model ... and that (yes, so annoying!) I am using this space to think out loud while I piece it together. I'm not against experimenting with new models of publishing, and maybe NM is onto something beneficial for the future of e-books. However, I am sensitive to sites that seem to promise something writers are hungry for (being appreciated, read, published, paid, etc.) while pursuing an agenda that is not necessarily in any writer's best interests.

Jami Bernard

(BTW, Barncat is NOT a "publisher" ... unfortunately, the "barncat" url was taken when I was forming my company, so I added "publishing," which I realize is misleading and I'm going to have to do something about it!)

Electric Literature

Seriously, Electric Literature is where 'it's' at for your short work.

Narrative Magazine doesn't have the means to publish Novellas responsibly. If you write a novella seriously consider FSG; Little, Brown; and maybe a friend's agent if you can get a drink or have a lunch. Narrative can't support that kind of work. Tyrant books is doing a fine job promoting their books. Some other little places are doing quite the job. I'm excited about New Direction's support of little books, but seriously, Electric Literature for your shorts, and FSG for your novellas. Don't trust your work to someone who charges for readings. They're probably literary thieves too. Wouldn't that just put the fish in the barrel and shoot itself. OOH, don't it git me down and dutty.

Getting a straight story

As a complete newcomer to the controversy surrounding Narrative, its fees, its awards, etc., I want first of all to thank Jami Bernard for a thoughtful contribution. So many of the comments seem flames, not real critiques. I thought I'd chime in.

First, the issue of non-profit outfits: the term refers to tax status only and is broad enough to include churches, educational and public-benefit organizations, and some publications, including Parabola Magazine as well as primarily online (eZine) outfits. Nonprofits such as 501(c)(3) organizations may receive grants (which must be reported on annual IRS 990/990EZ returns) as well as public funds through membership, subscriptions, etc. They do not rely on taxpayer dollars, though if they meet the IRS's public-support requirements, they usually don't have to pay taxes. I have worked as treasurer and bookkeeper for several nonprofits, including filing tax returns. These are a matter of public record and anyone can examine them. The forms require specification of paid employees, including salaries, as well as those not regularly employed who receive payment of some kind over certain established limits. In doubt, check the tax returns.

Second, the issue of who gets published: NM started out with high standards, and has kept to them. These standards obviously may not correspond to what every writer considers good writing. Style is a matter of taste and, one hopes, of education. Some serious attempt at objective reflection may be needed here, some asking of oneself whether one's judgment is defensible, whether what one writes corresponds to NM's standards. If I write tough-guy stories, why should I be annoyed if a journal that doesn't publish tough-guy fiction rejects my work? Ditto with romances, Star Trek episodes (does anyone still write these?), and so on. If Janet Burroway wins an award, how objective am I regarding that work compared with my own? I may be disappointed that I didn't win, and maybe even think I should have, but that doesn't make a very good case for trashing Ms. Burroway or her story, or concocting (as one blogger did on another site) a spurious scenario of insider conspiracy. All writers hold their work in high regard, and that regard is likely to be higher than anyone else's, especially if we've gone to the trouble of submitting it for publication; and if we've also paid a fee, then we may think we should get even more consideration. But have we earned it? Does our writing really deserve even our own high regard? I've looked again at stories that Glitter Train rejected and I have to say one thing: I'm grateful they did. It made me work harder the next time. Writing is not easy; if you think it is, then you probably need to work _much_ harder. I once had the privilege of reading an unpublished chapter of Steinbeck's _Cannery Row_ (in his own hand). I was impressed by how hard he worked to get things right...and by his decision not to include it because it didn't measure up. We need to develop that level of impartial courage--which may be harder to do than the writing itself.

Third, the issue of fees: one question we need to ask is, what are the costs of running an online publication such as NM? Where will prize money come from, if not from fees? The pockets of the editors? As unpaid treasurer for the Western States Folklore Society (a nonprofit scholarly organization), I can tell you that printing and distribution costs money. WSFS does not pay authors, nor editors, and it holds no contests. It has recently begun budgeting for student travel grants for paper presentations at its annual meeting. Its publication, _Western Folklore_, is distributed to its membership (including libraries, increasing its readership without increasing its income). Apart from minuscule interest on savings, membership fees are the sole regular source of income (and you can check our tax returns on this). A long-standing policy is that the Society needs to maintain sufficient funds for several years of print publication. Publication ain't cheap, even without prizes and staff salaries. So one needs to look at fees in the light of what costs are incurred. In doubt, check the tax returns.

When it comes to online publication, domain fees and site design/maintenance are usually relatively low costs; staff salaries and prizes, along with print publication costs, are likely to be considerably more (I have not examined NM's tax records; if anyone has, some of that information might be useful to the debate). What other sources of income does NM have besides fees? Answer: grants and contributions; in my experience these are pleasant, if unreliable, sources and do not always cover costs, though they can sometimes allow for better prizes and, heaven forbid, an occasional staff bonus or (gasp!) salary increase. So before claiming that famous authors don't pay (they might make contributions, though) or that the editors are raking in the dough, check the tax returns. The IRS does, believe me.

Paul Jordan-Smith

narrative magazine--don't waste your time or money

I was considering submitting a story to narrative in the spring of 2010. I asked for advice from the editors about catagories, via e-mail. They NEVER replied. I guess they were too busy. But they weren't too busy to take my money. Initially I sent my story to narrative magazine using the wrong format, so they received blank pages. I was charged a 20 dollar fee for them to read three blank pages. When I sent my story successfully the second time, I was charged 20 dollars for that also. By e-mail I requested a refund of the first charge. They never acknowledged. Thoroughly disgusted with the un-professionalism of this "business", I had my credit card company reverse ALL the charges from narrative. That action, and this comment, is my "finger" to them.
I have not found a story or poem printed by narrative that any normal, sane human would find worthy of publication. A dyslexic, myopic, one-eyed baboon could peck randomly at a typewriter with the end of a banana and produce a script with more talent than what you'll find on narrative's website. All of the stories they print seem to have the same thing in common: poor taste; poor plot; bad grammer; record-setting run-on sentences; and some hippies in a Volkswagon van.
My advice to all writers considering using narrative magazine is, please don't. It may not be a scam, but it's not far from it.
If anyone would like to read my story which narrative rejected, please e-mail me at shawn_de_vries@hotmail.com and I will e-mail "Raising Ringtails" (a true story) to you. Please be patient as I only have computer access once a week.


They rejected one of my stories in 2007. In 2008, they took one of my stories and paid me for it, netting me a profit of $130. I'd never been published anywhere as big. And whether you think they only publish crappy fiction, well, I won an award for this same story, and then two different anthologies picked up the story.

I've felt the same way that some of you do about other magazines that charge for contests. I've been rejected by Gulf Coast and Glimmer Train and lost $20 on each, but it's back to the drawing board. No need or time for sour grapes.

The Submission Fee

I read the last several pages about a $23 fee. The argument appears to be about $3.00. It is disgusting to pay a $23.00 submission fee, but it is okay to pay a $20.00. This whole conversation is crazy.

I have had more fun correcting the grammar errors in these notes from "so-called" writers than reading the content. If you want the world to read your complaints, spell correctly and use proper grammar.


I agree with the majority of criticisms outlined in the post.
I have never submitted to NM due to their pay to play policy.
I would be very interested in hearing about alternatives for on-line publication?

Narrative Sucks

Narrative Magazine does suck.

I have been a subscriber for almost four years and I check the site ever so often. I for one think the magazine should fire it's editorial staff and hire some people with some life experience, or better yet, someone who is well read. Then when it comes down to picking for publishing, you might get some substance less out of the ordinary.

Response to original thread: Fuck you seems appropriate.

Disappointed with NPR too...

I'm so glad I found your blog. I am one of those novice, emerging (well, unemerged) writer-hopefuls. I heard an interview on NPR yesterday with Carol Edgarton and I was all jazzed about sending in some pieces. I guess I have to say that now I have reconsidered and am very disappointed. I am disappointed in NPR for letting her plug Narrative on their show. There was no mention of writers paying fees for submissions.
Thanks for the "heads-up."

It only gets better

Thanks everyone for your comments about Narrative Magazine. How depressing that yet another scam that preys on the desperate is allowed to continue to practice it's business.

Well I absolutely HAD TO chime in, as I just received this email from them:

$10 IS NOT SO MUCH when you consider that Narrative publishes more fiction writers, poets, and artists than any other literary magazine—more than 300 authors and artists last year alone—and we give our content away, free.

With Narrative’s $10 Campaign, one donation combined with many will provide much-needed support for our programs and will cast a resounding vote in favor of literature that changes and inspires our world.

Your gift of $10 or more:

Delivers to students worldwide a complete, free modern library of great writers.
Contributes to paying great young writers for their first published work.
Supports Narrative’s wildly popular Kindle and iPhone/iPad apps.
Funds Story and Poem of the Week.
Says I believe in the best of storytelling and poetry in the digital age!

So what’s $10? It’s a world of stories—every day, every week, all year long in Narrative. Click here. We need you now.

Narrative is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and all donations are tax-deductible.

“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
—William Carlos Williams

So after one reviewer kindly did the maths for us, according the Narrative Magazine, they are on the poverty line, depending on teh kindness of strangers in order to help them do their selfless work.

F**K Narrative Magazine !!!


Narrative Magazine

Ive been reading this debate on Narrative understanding both sides in regards to debate only though.
But there doesn't need to be any side to this.

Because of magazines such as Narrative, fees or not, many writers can share their works.

And many are just beginning to enjoy something they may not be all that great at just yet.
So what, they may not write well but you both have to open your eyes to one thing here.

The world is so damn controlling, and abusive to life and seems to neglect creative talent
by suppressing avenues upon which any one can express themselves in any creative way
whatsoever without money. Yes stupid Money, money money,,,the mother of all slavery.

Im happy for anyone who puts forth the effort on the internet for all to share their writing
which is of course freedom to express oneself using the magic of the written word in any
creative way they can.
Its not about good fiction or bad fiction here folks.
Because you know what, the entire world is big stupid fiction book full of garbage, lies
control and pollution.

It's not about fees, viewership, subscribers, and who visits or reads whos site.
Its about the one freedom that human beings have left on this world because
they seem to have given up all their other freedoms to stupid slavery to control, money,
government dictatorship, lies, religions and anything else that will take away their freewill and
Human freedoms all life has right to.

So,, argue away because this topic of arguement is imature and pointless.

The gift of writing whether they can or not is for all to share and learn.

My website I can write about what I feel like writing about, how I choose to write and on
what topic I choose. I can share anything I choose in my opinion about the world and just
how pathetic human beings are becoming with their focus on everything but world balance.

My site, my freedom,

mindbogglingly incoherent.

mindbogglingly incoherent.

Narrative Magazine

I read your blog and was nervous to write Narrative magazine with my inquiry, but I did anyhow and was pleasantly surprised to receive a response from one of their editors answering my question in less than 24 hours. I'm writing this comment to encourage other aspiring writers to take the leap of faith too, Narrative magazine is certainly responsive.

Clearly you didn't read the

Clearly you didn't read the post, as it had nothing to do with Narrative's responsiveness. The problem is that they're a pay to play venue that overhypes its numbers in the hopes of suckering gullible aspiring writers into paying them for the ever more dubious distinction of having been "published."

Narrative Magazine

I happened on this illuminating if overly rambunctious thread while—you guessed it—browsing into my Narrative account. Okay, so shoot me, lead me to the gallows, tar and feather my poor writer's hide. I am serious about and believe in my work but have only published to the extent that I can say so without crossing my digits behind my back (flash fiction at opiummagazine.com, which now appears to be defunct).
I first heard about Narrative just after my piece was accepted at Opium. A colleague knew Jenks and Edgarian personally and suggested I visit the website. I was dazzled. All of those well-known writers, headshots glowing in luminous grayscale across the front page...the implication of serious cred...the sober but impeccably designed logo...the founders' credible CVs.
I began submitting in 2008 (again, being somewhat naive, I figured the "reading fee" was standard operating procedure). Narrative has to date declined better than half a dozen of my short stories and poems. Dismayed but not one to give up easily I was intrigued when they "launched" the iPoem app recently.
After careful review and revision, I submitted "Live in the sky," an evocative 64-word piece.
That I had to pay the $20 toll for the privilege pained me this time. I did my Narrative math, surprised to find I'd spent at least two week's groceries in gate fees. Once again my work was declined. (Narrative uses the terrible and sterile term "Pass" in their submissions machine). On this occasion I was both surprised and disillusioned. I read some of the iPoems selected for publication to see where the bar was, how I might have approached this form differently.
Begging pardon, but what I read was crap.
One more confession while I'm at it: I entered the Fall 2011 Story contest. (See above references to gallows et al.) I had been working assiduously on a 25-page or so piece and had just finished final revisions. I busted open my piggy bank, pulled up to the toll booth, dumped two thousand pennies in the toll taker's lap, sent my ritual prayer off on the wind and forgot about it. Win, place or DNF, I do believe this will be my final dance with Narrative.
(Is there a Narrative 12-Step program? Just in case?)
In any case, thank you for this ballsy and informative thread.
Cheers to all.

the f word

There is no doubt that, however blunt and atavistic, "fuck you" is the only appropriate response to an online literary magazine that asks a twenty-dollar reading fee. We are watching the death-spasms of a sad and sniveling industry--almost as sad and sniveling as the similarly defunct compact-disk giants who in the 2000's made a pathetic attempt to recoup unearned or -justified revenue by sicking the FBI on one in every few hundred thousand file-sharers (this statistic and perhaps entire conspiracy completely fabricated by me for rhetorical purposes)--and all mature, self-respecting writers of fiction should boycott reading fees (at least those over three dollars ... I mean, I'd like to call for an all-reading-fee boycott, but where would that leave us? Posting on fan-fiction sites? One journal got clever and started asking the talent to pay for their own submissions and now the fever has spread, along with the vacuous justifications and the petty, declasse [accent assumed] bickering in which I am now participating) until the journals catch a serious head-check and come back down to earth (or the meta-earth of the interweb).

And the David Foster Wallace dig (or like a dig at Wallace fans or whatever) is also sad ... makes me sad. You know you're dealing with reactionary bastards when their default line of argument is essentially anti-intellectual, anti-style, anti-experimentation: the false logic being that anything self-consciously novel, smart, or brave is inherently trend-driven (as opposed to just plain good writing, which Wallace's is; anyone who reads Wallace conscientiously understands this and deserves respect for engaging with his work). Then they all circle around the freak and ridicule difference, like a pack of similarly-dressed and coiffured children. Who's being trendy, again?

Thanks for the laughs.

I paid before but won't again

I admit I paid the twenty-dollar reading fee several times over and got rejected (they've got work by Joyce Carol Oates in there and I love her!). Then I entered one of their 2011 contests and placed. Till date, I'm yet to receive the $100 I supposedly won. After reading this debate, I've had a change of heart. I'll pay a reading fee for a contest I respect. I'll even pay a three-dollar reading fee for a magazine I would like to see my work in as I consider that a fair admin fee. But I'll never pay Narrative's twenty-dollar fee again as I now see it's a scam. So, yes indeed, Fuck you Narrative Magazine!

payment for contest winners

I placed in a contest with Narrative Magazine, too, and I also had to chase payment. Have you tried to get the money from them? I bet if you chased them on it they would pay up. :)


You are all evidently unaware of Tom Jenks' past from which he can never escape as his illegal behavior continues to this day. He was eased out of Charles Scribner's & Sons for unethical behavior, though he was only employed as a minor editor for a short while. He had been hired on the strength of his so-called skills as magazine editor at Esquire--but he was especially dreadful at editing book manuscripts as he had no literary experience. I was against hiring him at Scribner's due to having checked his Esquire record and discovered then he had lied, exaggerating his talents and experience. Unfortunately, It was too late and he arrived at Scribner's with tremendous arrogance and absolutely no talent. However, when his work became fraudulent and once again became defensive when confronted by both the editorial director and the publisher, he spun more lies. It was the New York Review of Books that cited his irresponsible conduct in print for all to see; and, the New York literary circle tightened to the point that Tom Jenks had not a colleague left on the east coast. He did not go peacefully and made motions to actually sue Scribner's/Macmillan (at this point merged imprints), but a countersuit in-process of pursuing a case against Tom Jenks would have placed him in jail. Fearing this, Tom Jenks moved west to start anew, yet his past just caught up with him and all relevant consumer groups are now being notified. Deeply sorry, Scribner's did not create him though he continues to use the name of our scared imprint to cheat you.

Please more specifics on Jenks and Scribner

I have been finding comments on Tom Jenks and his past work with Scribner's and that he was terminated because of his lies and deception. I did not know about Tom Jenks and a lawsuit. Why would a counter-suit have placed him in jail. I am finding all this very disturbing.

The reason I am asking is that a friend of mine has worked with Jenks on her manuscripts. She is nationally published and swears by him, but over the years she has dished out thousands of dollars to work with him. I would like to share this with her with specifics.

I have unsuccessfully found any information about Jenks and Scribner's online. From your post (dated four years ago), it read as if you worked with him as a colleague. I would like to know what exactly happened. I can be contacted at savvyscribe17@gmail.com.

Narrative Nag's Reading Fee

Nag is not a typo. I use the term, instead of mag, to mean an old, ugly, money hungry horse. I don't mind paying a $3 electronic submission fee to submit my work on line because that's usually less or about the same as the cost of postage to, for example, The Paris Review or the Gettysburg Review which do not accept electronic submissions and still rquire snail mail delivery.

Nevertheless, the cost of submissions to Narrative Magazine is a scandal. It may be easy to mock all the writers who spend the $$ to submit (over $20 now), but I sympathize with them instead because publication in Narrative does insure a large audience and guarantee review of its stories for subsequent publication in anthologies or being chosen for an award as a winner or finalist in some other contest.

However, the general level of the stories, with few exceptions, remains scandalously low. The success of Narrative should remind the writer how much of a business publishing is and...not to whine over that fact, learn how to game the situation. Maybe this years Nobel prize in literature to Alice Munroe for her collections of short stories will induce agents to accept more such collections and try to sell them to brick and mortar publishers.

From a San Francisco writer,

Bill Masters