Many literary publications charge writers a small submission fee to help cover expenses. These fees may pose a financial barrier to some writers, so a few publications waive them—if a writer fits a certain profile. Financial hardship doesn’t always factor in.
One publication waives fees for Black, Asian-American-Pacific-Islander and LGBTQ writers during months that honor them. (I’ll leave queer writers out of this discussion). February, for example, is Black History Month.
Another offers periods of free submissions to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) writers. At other times, any financially challenged writer may request a waiver.
I can afford submission fees and don’t begrudge assistance to those who can’t. But why is any literary publication’s fee policy ethnic-based?
By definition, can BIPOC writers not afford the $3 or $5 fee? (Contest submissions may cost more). Fees add up when a writer submits to multiple publications, but are BIPOC writers being pre-judged?
I’ve had Black friends and clients who were very successful. They’d easily cover submission fees. So would my Latino plumber if he wrote fiction. I worked with Chinese-Americans and Indians (South Asian). A recently deceased neighbor—a structural engineer—was born in India. These BIPOC folks needed no financial assistance.
Then again, some (many?) white writers struggle to pay their bills. As I mentioned, a publication will consider their circumstances—at a later date. These writers are met with a figurative asterisk: You enjoy white privilege, so we’ll put you in a second tier of those with challenging finances.
I’m neither a literalist nor a simpleton, but I take to heart Martin Luther King’s comment in his speech during the 1962 March on Washington: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Conservatives often cite this sentence in their opposition to affirmative action. Frankly, I’m not sure what affirmative action is beyond a broad, rhetorical sense. I do, however, acknowledge there’s legitimate work to be done to lift many minority Americans into the mainstream. Waiving submission fees for all BIPOC authors strikes me as undercutting King’s dream.
That said, does racism still exist? The nation has made strides, but it does. Did literary publications and publishing houses once overlook worthy ethnic authors? They did. But the literary world moved on.
BIPOC authors now are published in great numbers. Many agents and editors make clear that they’re looking for BIPOC authors and BIPOC themes. Some literary publications devote entire issues to BIPOC subject matter.
Still, as to telling tales about ethnic Americans or refugees, a gripping story and quality writing may not be enough. The author’s own ethnicity may have to pass muster. Cultural appropriation has become a cudgel some editors, critics and readers wield with abandon. In this regard, see my take on the fuss over the novel American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins.
I believe in leveling the playing field. I question how that purpose is served by granting across-the-board fee waivers to BIPOC writers regardless of ability to pay. Any writer’s declaration that a fee is unaffordable should be sufficient.
America will never become color blind as long as long as we find new ways to be color bound.
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