Paid and Published: What Motivates Writers To Submit and How Publishers Can Respond

01/10/2020

The hunch has been confirmed.

While many writers prefer not to pay for submissions, many will do so for a chance at publication. And they’ve got some good ideas on what publications can do to improve the submission process.

To verify these suspicions, Submittable surveyed 202 users on their platform to better understand the submitter experience and how publishers might respond.

Here’s a bit more on what submitters shared and the implications for publishers.

Almost half of the writers surveyed are willing to pay per submission

Almost half of the writers surveyed are willing to pay per submission

Writers tend to embrace a “shouldn’t have to” attitude when it comes to paying for submissions.

But there’s one important caveat to that conventional wisdom: Writers are willing to fork up the limited cash for potential publication.

When asked how likely they are to submit an opportunity that charges various amounts in submission fees, about half of writers (48.4%) expressed a willingness to pay at least $3-5 per submission.

A fifth of writers (20%) even shared that they’d pay up to $6-10 per submission. At the same time, as potential submission costs rose, writers’ willingness to submit declined significantly, demonstrating the limitations of such an approach on the part of publishers.

Writers are motivated by publication quality and potential payment for submissions

Writers are motivated by publication quality and potential payment for submissions

Writers were asked about the elements of the submission process that would most affect their willingness to pay a submission fee.

They had two clear answers.

The first was the quality of the publication, which makes sense. Submitters surveyed were keen to get published in well-regarded publications as it could boost their professional reputation, the perceived quality of their work, and increase their ability to get published by peer publications in the future.

The second element was some sort of financial incentive. Those submitters surveyed expressed a strong interest in receiving prize money or payment for their hard work upon submission.

In an industry where writers are often being paid less and less for their work, this data makes a lot of sense.

Writers create content mostly for supplemental income

Writers create content mostly for supplemental income

Writing continues to be all about the benjamins.

The primary driver for content creation for just under half of the writers surveyed was additional income. This aligns with the previous question about financial incentives as well as declining willingness to pay as the price per submission increases.

Writers are striving to keep money in their pockets and it’s not always easy.

At the same time, many writers (roughly one-fourth for each survey selection) still embrace it as a hobby as well as a research practice for academic purposes. When structuring submission experiences, compensation, and promotion, publishers would be wise to understand these motivations for writers and integrate them into how they refine their processes.

How publishers can use this data

So what are the big takeaways for publishers from all of this data?

Publishers can leverage this information to better understand active literary submitters, help themselves decide whether or not (and how) to charge submission fees, and determine how much they charge per submission.

If they do decide to charge for submission, publishers need the right systems to make it seamless and convenient for everyone. Deploying modern tools like integrated payment features allows publishers to collect fees at the moment of submission.

This information can help publishers understand how desirable their publication is to those willing to pay fees if they analyze what percentage of submitted pieces they publish and looking into how they are perceived.

Armed with this data, publishers can consider how to frame their decision to charge fees in ways that address arguments against paying fees. One good strategy for publishers here is to develop a clearly detailed mission statement about how and why their fee policy evolved.

Writers are eager to hear how publications might support their supplemental income and other creative writing submission goals, so this should be part of any external messaging coming from publishers.

Streamline communication to help writers find and track opportunities

Streamline communication to help writers find and track opportunities

Writers were also asked which capabilities would be most helpful in the submission process.

Their top two answers focused on the idea of discovering and being reminded about opportunities. In other words, writers want a submission process that supports their abilities to find and keep track of writing opportunities.

At a granular level, those surveyed specifically asked for personalized reminders about submission opportunities that apply to them. This reduces the need to sift through submissions guidelines that aren’t the right fit. Writers know that time can be better spent on creative pursuits.

Submitters also shared that they’d like workflow improvements like deadline reminders so that they don’t miss the mark on the opportunities for which they do qualify.

Methodology

With 202 submissions, Submittable surveyed some of the most active users on its platform. These users voluntarily spent 10-15 minutes to submit their survey responses. For some questions, the number of responses exceeded the overall number of submissions as users were asked to indicate all responses that apply to them.

A better submission experience for writers

The data paints a clear picture.

Writers are hungry for better submission options. They’re willing to pay for them. And they’ve got clear ideas on ways to improve the overall submission process.

The good news is that many publishers have taken notice. They have adopted, and continue to move towards, more modern, streamlined submission platforms that make things easier on submitters.

Publishers just can’t depend on outdated systems to meet these demands from submitters. Moving to a modern submission platform allows publishers to better communicate with writers while optimizing the overall submission experience based on the feedback we see here in this survey.

Acting on this data to enhance the submission process isn’t the only thing publishers can do to attract and serve writers, but moving to a streamlined submission system is a key first step.

Paul Perry
Paul Perry

Paul Perry is a writer and former educator with significant experience in nonprofit management. He has a soft spot for grant-seekers striving to make the world a better, more just place.