On reading fees, and why they are Not Done.

The short form: Reading fees. Don’t pay them.

“What?!” You’re saying, “But… but I paid for a critique at a conference.”

I know. It’s that ambiguity I want to address. Doing critiques is exhausting, but it’s also really valuable to attendees. So as a compromise, some writing conferences offer them with a fee attached. That way the agent/editor/author gets paid for their extra effort and the student gets the individual attention they need. Also, the conference makes money for providing a space, etc.

Personally, I would ONLY do this if if there were a problem with a piece of fiction that I couldn’t identify and thought that this specific agent/editor/author could help me puzzle it out.

Yog's Law says, "Money flows to the writer."I would never, ever do it if I were hoping to sign with that person. Why? Because I know I’m giving them something flawed. AND the ethical ones are super-careful about misusing their positions.

Outside of a conference, you should never pay a fee to an agent or editor for a critique.

(An exception is if you are hiring a freelance editor to actually edit your manuscript. That’s a whole different business arrangement.)

But if you’re looking to sell your work to an agent or editor and they tell you that they’ll look at it for a fee… Don’t. Run. That person is unethical and is taking advantage of you.

It’s like this… everyone knows how desperate writers are to sell their work. It’s super-easy to tap into that and add a little income stream by charging a “reading fee.” What early-career writers don’t grok is how equally desperate agents and editors are for good work. Selling your fiction is how they make their living. So anything that you have to¬†pay them to read? That’s not a thing they’re likely to be able to sell. Right? But the unethical agents assume you won’t know the difference. They’ll use your hunger as a tool and their position as bait to prey upon you.

Never. Ever. Pay a reading fee.

Money flows to the writer.

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5 Responses

  1. Denise Beucler

    If I may suggest…

    If anyone does find themselves being asked for a reading fee or another dubious sort of charge, report it to Writer Beware: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/
    You can do it confidentially.

    Another fabulous resource for checking out agents, publishers, and other writerly services is Absolute Write’s Bewares and Recommendation board. http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?22-Bewares-Recommendations-amp-Background-Check

  2. SherryH

    I’ve been wanting to ask a related question for a while now. What is your take on writing contests where entrants pay an entry fee, which usually goes to support the contest or the sponsoring group? Is this also unethical, or does it fall into a different category? Would you advise a beginning writer to try her hand, or to steer clear?

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      There are genre differences here, and literary fiction has a different tradition, so this only relates to things that fall under the SFF umbrella. Generally speaking, no, don’t pay an entry fee.

      Occasionally, there’s a very small fee and a ginormous prize. Those are generally legitimate and the fee is actually there to keep people from entering frivolously.

      The bigger question though is: Why are you entering it?

      If it’s to have your work read… that’s going to be a small audience.
      If it’s for the money… That prize better be worth more than you can make per word by selling it to a market.
      If it’s to prove you’re a legitimate writer… Unless it’s a huge award, no one in the industry cares.
      If it’s to impress your family… Okay, well. Fair enough. Family is totally different, and that’s a legitimate reason.

      1. SherryH

        Thank you, Mary! Excellent points, all!

        Our local writers group has a contest with an entry fee, and I couldn’t imagine they weren’t on the up-and-up. And, yes, theirs is a literary magazine, though they don’t explicitly bar genre fiction.

        I first got interested in writing contests when I started searching for scholarships for a mid-life return to college. I mean, write a targeted essay, do up a CV, ask teachers for references, round everything up by the deadline…or write a story and send it in. No-brainer, amirite?

        But, yeah. Find a contest, write a story, send it in along with an entry fee…or find a call for submissions, write a story, send it in without paying a fee…also a no–brainer, if the potential return is similar.

        So I guess the potential reasons to enter a contest would be: 1. a larger payout, if offered; 2. a (potentially) smaller pool of competitors; 3. a magazine/cause/group you wanted to support; or, 4. for fun.

        I guess it’s like a lottery, or a cakewalk: You pays your money, and you takes your chances. And there are not but so many writing hours in the day!

        Thanks, Mary! I really appreciate your perspective.

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