The Myths of Nonprofit Literary Publishing By C. Hope Clark

Nonprofit presses want your help – your writing and your money, too. Nowhere in the rules of a nonprofit does it say the entities cannot afford to pay a writer. As a matter of fact, a nonprofit that cannot afford to pay its bills is poorly run. Nonprofits are expected to operate with their financial records in the black, just like a regular business. For-profit magazines are expected to pay their writers. Why not the nonprofit publications as well?

A nonprofit immediately conjures ideas of volunteers and empty coffers, and most people feel sorry for them, often opening up their wallets in return to aid a struggling cause. In actuality, a nonprofit is simply an organization that is not allowed to make a profit, and when it does, it’s required to recycle the funds back into the organization. Why that excludes paying writers, we’ll never know.

Many of these nonprofit publications think you should be happy martyring yourself as the starving artist, and they’d love to assist you in the process. They even give you lengthy, comprehensive rules to expedite your suffering.

Nonprofits have no excuse not to pay a writer with these advantages on their side:

  • They are eligible for grants. For profit businesses are not.
  • They pay their other bills – the printer, the cover designer, often a website and many times the editor.
  • They are not required to pay income taxes.
  • They talk many people into working for free, thus saving payroll.
  • Those affiliated with universities often use students for their administrative duties.

If a for-profit group had grants, no income tax liability and a free workforce,
someone would be making good money and fewer small businesses would go under. Why does a nonprofit have these savings and still claim to be too poor to pay its bills, namely the writing content that serves as the very foundation of the publication?

You might be amazed at what a nonprofit publication calls expenses, thus absorbing funds that could be used for writers.

  • Advertising, including in such places as Poets & Writers with advertising ranging from $120 to $2630. Many literary reviews take out a quarter page ad running in the $735 range.
  • Fundraising dinners and auctions. Such functions cost several thousand dollars to orchestrate. One floral arrangement could pay a couple of writers.
  • Local readings. Costs are always involved. Do sales or subscribers at these small events justify the expense and negate the ability to pay writers?
  • Travel expenses for staff to attend events.
  • Scholarships for other writers. Bet that one blows you away.

Not all literary reviews and journals are nonprofit. Investigate who you submit to and determine if it is a nonprofit or for-profit organization. A nonprofit is designated by the IRS Code that defines it – usually 501(c)(3) – and a request for your donation. Also, their financial records are public information. When you see a publication operating on a gross income of $250,000, it sure makes you wonder why they cannot find $50 to pay writers for the very short stories and poetry that enable the publication to exist. For some reason, nonprofit status gives them a license to beg.

While there isnít a logical reason not to pay writers, you can better understand a for-profit publication shortcutting their writers than nonprofits. After all, they have to make a profit and pay taxes without financial donations. They have less to work with.

Also, many of the large contests are featured by literary reviews. Some
of these presses exist solely to publish contest results in a select volume. The non-winning writers not only donít get paid, but they also pay for the privilege via entry fees. While entry fees are a justifiable expense to compensate judges and the administration of the event, the fact that sometimes non-winning entries are published without payment under the guise of honorable mention or runner-up designations is just wrong.

Nonprofit literary reviews that are not paying writers, are not being managed as they should. They do not have enough funds or do not channel their revenue in an appropriate manner, both managerial flaws. What a shame that many nonprofits acquire longevity through the use of an IRS Tax Code which gives them excuses not to operate with the common sense of a small business. A normal business that cannot pay its employees goes out of business.

Before publishing with a literary review consider these issues:

  • Are writers paid for regular submissions? Be wary if guidelines do not mention compensation. That usually means martyrdom.
  • Are non-winning writers of contests giving the press permission to publish their work without compensation? Read the fine print after the wording on entry fee, first prize and deadline.
  • Does the entity have a contact online to discuss topics other than submissions? Even better, would that contact be willing to show you their financial statement as required by law?

Some literary reviews, however, continue to operate with writers in mind. Before I leave you with a bad taste in your mouth for all things nonprofit, consider these that fight to continue paying writers. Not all editors, magazines and presses are difficult to work with, and neither are all literary reviews mismanaged. As with any writing submission, know who you submit to. There is power in knowledge, and usually a few dollars to go with it.

HAYDEN’S FERRY REVIEW
Accepts year-round submissions. Response time is 12-16 weeks. Payment $250 per page/maximum of $100, two copies of the magazine, and a one-year gift subscription to HFR. Authors/artists receive page proofs for review prior to publication.

POETS & WRITERS
Pays writers competitive rates with enough left over to sponsor readings and book events. They operate like a business should.

ORCHID
Pays writers a minimum of $15 and a maximum of $150 per story. Pays $75 for interviews. Contributors receive three copies of the issue in which their work appears and a 50% discount on additional copies. Unlike most literary journals, Orchidís editorial staff operates independent of a university or college English department. Staff members work on a volunteer basis. Orchidís operating funds come from subscriptions, donations, and the annual Fall fundraising party and auction. The current goal is to keep paying the writers that are published.

BLACK WARRIOR REVIEW
Black Warrior Review pays a one-year subscription, and up to $150 for prose and $75 for poems, depending on availability of funds.

NEW ENGLAND REVIEW
A contract is sent upon acceptance, and payment is $10 per page, $20 minimum, plus two copies of the issue in which work appears. Authors proof the galleys. Copyright reverts to the author upon publication.

STICKMAN REVIEW
The Stickman Review pays $20 per fiction story, $10 per poem, up to a maximum of $20 per author. Nonfiction is $20 per essay.

C. Hope Clark worked 25 years with the federal government in loans and grants, often involving nonprofit organizations. She is editor of FundsforWriters.com and author of The Shy Writer.