Cory talks about the decision to charge $6 to submit to Visible Ink, the viability of a student press publishing high quality books, and why student presses are important to indie publishing.
People like having money. We like it, and we’re sure you do too. It’s nice! Money leads to good things like food, clothes, and not dying prematurely. In Visible Ink’s case, money leads to publishing a book. This is a post about our finances, and why we charge for submissions.
Visible Ink’s $6 submission fee is divisive. Some people really don’t like it or understand it! Others don’t seem to care that much. The former camp can be quite loud. They send us emails “just to point out” things. And that’s okay! (Kind of – “I just want to point out…” implies, to me, that we haven’t thought our decision through. We did, and we considered every angle that has been “pointed out” to us thus far.) We here at Visible Ink are open to discussion and, while those discussions won’t alter the course of this year’s Visible Ink, we will pass on all knowledge to the next committee. Maybe your email could change the course of the Visible Ink future! You never know.
But we can’t speak for next years committee, or any of those that have charged for submissions in the past. We can only speak for ourselves and thank god we have a blog to do that.
The main reason that we charge for submissions is straight forward: we need/want the money it brings in. Thanks to innovations in printing technology, Visible Ink could pump out a book at a reasonable quality with only a (relatively) small amount of money. Think somewhere between $1000 and $2000. I think we could safely raise that money without a submission fee. But here’s the thing: no one would buy a book of reasonable quality put out by a group they’ve never heard of. And we don’t want that. It’s not good for Visible Ink, and it’s not good for those who submit.
Sadly, Visible Ink isn’t the household name we’d like it to be. And the publishing world is increasingly crowded, what with new-fangdangled ebooks and such. So books need to do more than just be a book to get noticed. They need to be an amazing book. And that doesn’t start with content. That starts with looks.
If you take a look into the Visible Ink storage cupboard, you’ll find a healthy amount of old iterations of Visible Ink (and if you want to see them without opening the cupboard, you can buy them!). But you won’t find a single copy of last year’s Visible Ink. Why? Because it sold out. Because it was gorgeous. That’s probably not the only reason (props to the committee for getting the word out about it) but I can guarantee it was a major reason. Part of that is the design, part is the quality of the materials. Every option was set to highest and it showed.
For a print run of that high a quality, we would be looking at close to $5000 for 250 books. That’s a lot of money. And we can’t raise that alone in a few short months.
That’s not to say we rely on your submissions to get us through. We sell books (and jam), we hold fundraisers (come along!), and we apply for grants. We hustle. We’re hustlers. Your $6 helps. And this year it’s even more important.
In addition to printing a book, Visible Ink will be producing an ebook. We’d be crazy not to. It just means that we want to make the physical object even more desirable. We want to emphasise and highlight its physicality. Beauty is the one thing digital copies cannot replicate completely, so beauty is what we want to achieve. And submitters are a key part of that, both as financiers and artists who add to the beauty through their work.
We charge for submissions not to put people off or to emphasise our ‘gatekeeper’ status. We think everyone should submit! But we acknowledge that they won’t. Every decision that we made about submissions cuts away a percentage of our population. Some people won’t submit because of the charge, others may feel Visible Ink is more exclusive and submit because of that. By not having a theme we may inspire people to send any of their work, others may be put off by the freedom we allow. The same goes by accepting a variety of media: some may feel liberated, others may think we’re watering down the product by allowing scripts.
There’s no sure way to attract ‘good’ or ‘the best’ writing. Every choice benefits some and disregards others. We’re aware of that and we’re okay with that. But we didn’t make any choice lightly. The choice to charge for submissions was discussed at length. We decided that the benefits outweighed the negatives. So far, I think they have. But we understand the hesitation.
Visible Ink isn’t a Voiceworks or an Overland. We don’t offer the prestige or distribution of either, so if you wanted to submit to them instead, I’d understand. In that light, Visible Ink charging to submit seems odd. Crazy even. What do we offer? There’s no cash prize, and the name value isn’t as high as places that are free to enter and in some cases, pay for the work. Why Visible Ink?
Because you support student presses. Because you support the writing community at an ‘emerging’ level, be it emerging writers, editors, or publishers. Because you believe in what we’re doing and what we hope to do.
More than anything, I think Visible Ink, and student presses at large, are about community. Student presses are a vital part of the independent publishing world. It’s the place where people ‘cut their teeth’ and the rules are a little bit less defined. Risks are easier to take, and experimenting is second nature.
Communication is a lot more simple.
Maybe that’s where we slipped up. We didn’t communicate what we want to achieve, and how charging $6 to submit factors into that. Maybe people would’ve been more receptive to the idea if we had. I don’t know.
The short of it is that it’s getting harder and harder to stand out in the publishing world, and it takes a decent amount of money to do so. And we want to stand out. We want to live up to the standard set last year, sure, but more than anything Visible Ink 2012 wants you to read their book. We want it to be picked up from a crowded shelf.
Maybe it’s misguided. Maybe charging $6 for submissions will blow up in our face. Until then, we’re okay with our decision. I just hope you can see why we made it.