An Ode To Clarity

February 15, 2018 § 14 Comments

Members of the Brevity staff sporting their formal writing daywear

Some time ago, I wrote at The Review Review:

…when a magazine elides their lack of cash compensation or makes it hard to find, they insinuate it should not be the writer’s concern, or a criterion for submission. It becomes another subtle signpost to writers: Your work shouldn’t be for money. At its worst, not actively sharing the information says, you shouldn’t care, writer. You shouldn’t ask. As if it’s money-grubbing or disgraceful or besmirching the purity of the art.

It’s not.

It’s perfectly in keeping with being a writer—even a “literary” writer—to want to be paid.

Today, jet-lagged and still trying to track down payment info, I am moved to poetry. With apologies to Tennyson and Elizabeth Bishop–


I sit and surf the internet
My list of brand-new journals set
There’s just one thing they oft forget
To tell me if they pay.

Their mission statement’s pure and strong
They’ve published memoir, poem and song
Their limit’s twenty pages long
Now tell me, do they pay?

I read through issues old and new
Decide that I admire you
One detail more I need to view–
To find out if you pay.

We’re literary citizens
Buying chapbooks by the tens
Sharing work from all our friends
No matter if we’re paid.

We’re told to have a long-term plan
Submit near-daily if we can
But our hearts turn pale and wan
From never getting paid.

I’m happy to publish for free
Or for an honorary fee
To choose a venue for prestige
And sometimes I want pay.

It’s not a crime to build on love
To work together for the cause
It’s just that I would like to choose
To sell my words for pay.

It’s not enough to think it’s clear no
stated fee means no pay here. Oh
don’t default to author=zero,
Own it! “We don’t pay.”

There’s lots of ways to sweetly say:
We pay in copies!
Old jalopies!
Just the fame–
We’ll make your name!
We’re all hard-working
No-one’s shirking
We’re not sad or even mad
If your rule is iron-clad
For newer rags we’ll join the bet
But please be clear, “no budget yet”
For big-deal pages we’re excited
Just the print makes us delighted
But let us please decide ourselves
Whether to donate or sell
And tell us journals, far and near
(we promise we’ll still hold you dear)
Just make the information clear
Please tell us if you pay.

Allison K Williams has been Brevity‘s Social Media editor since 2015. She promises to wait another three years before again committing poetry.

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