I recently sat down with Michael Fitzgerald of Submittable to talk about the service and business, alongside his personal writing. While it’s been a long path for the company, I believe there are key insights in the interview and Michael’s path to help entrepreneurs and artists alike.


Christopher Bowen: Thanks for giving me some of your time, Michael.  For those not aware of it, could you give a brief history of Submittable over the last five or so years?

Michael Fitzgerald: Thanks, Chris. I appreciate your interest.

History: My partners, Bruce and John, and I were friends through our day jobs as software developers. In 2008, Bruce and I were bored and thought starting a company together would help. (We had previously worked on a film together about people who climb mountains with letters on them.) So we went out to lunch one day and made a list of things that we thought sucked. One of them was the various ways you send out work. We didn’t know exactly how to fix it, but we came up with the name “Submishmash” because we thought it described the crappiness of the existing process, and we started writing code that afternoon.

We went in the wrong direction for about a year.

During this time, our friend John joined us. He’s a musician and an incredible developer. By early 2010, we had the first version of Submittable (then still  Submishmash). It started to get some traction with literary and academic publishers. Then we just kept working and working (we didn’t really pay ourselves until 2012) and added video and audio transcoding, worked to make the UI better and better. We added the ability to share among multiple people and multi-file usage which is great for poetry. We basically just asked the people using it how to make it better and did whatever they told us.

Also, in 2012,  we applied and were accepted into arguably the most elite start-up accelerator, YCombinator. It was an amazing experience. YCombinator helped launch Dropbox, Airbnb, and a few other billion-dollar companies. They really got us to focus and grow up a little as a company. Before that it was all pretty much by the seat of our pants. No one was being paid and the company was always inches away from combustion. We’re on a much more solid foundation now. We have an office and 10 employees.

CB: You’re a writer yourself. How did this concept develop for you and how do you handle or separate your life as an author from that as a ‘techie’ or business owner?

MF: I don’t really separate my life as an author or developer or business owner. In the beginning, I used to try to turn things on and off, but slowly it became apparent all these things are more or less the same process. You’re making things that didn’t exist. You’re trying to get strangers to spend time with your thing and hopefully pay you so you can keep the thing going. You’re living without any kind of safety net. It’s all the same process.

 I remember when I finished my first novel, Radiant Days, I was completely exhilarated for the first few days, but then it began to dawn on me that no one actually asked me to write it. This was a sort of blunt and obvious thing that just wasn’t crystal clear until I had the 400 or so pages in my hand and the words “The End” typed on the last page.

I’ve also since realized that the best business minds are similar to artists. Most truly successful business people are total freaks. Before starting Submittable, I assumed “business” meant playing around in Excel sheets and honing insincere marketing slogans. I assumed I needed an MBA to start a company, but it’s a little known secret in Silicon Valley that MBAs actually suck at starting companies. They’re good at working within large companies, they’re good with asking bullshit questions that make you feel like they know something you don’t, but ultimately they are horrible at making something out of nothing. Starting a company is a weird, personal, and organic process. You’re doing it with no money, no support, no marketing budget. It’s just you and your friends in your basement desperately trying to get a stranger to give you a dollar for this weird thing you may have spent years working on. You have to be constantly resourceful. You have to thrive on rejection. You have to be, not just comfortable, but enthusiastically working in the face of almost certain failure.

Incidentally, the most successful artists generally have a bit of business savvy.

Also, after trying both, I’m finding both art and start-ups are horrible ways to make money.

Regarding the “idea”: I knew as a writer (and previously an editor at Cutbank and having started a magazine in college) that the existing process sucked a little and that as electronic communication became ubiquitous, the problem was going to get bigger and bigger. Also, any developer understood that cloud computing was going to make processes like this less and less expensive.

CB: Where do you see Submittable headed to in the future?

MF: With Submittable, we’re going to keep adding new features while desperately trying to keep the UI simple and hopefully beautiful.

But the biggest thing on the horizon is Submishmash… an intergalactic creative content marketplace that will allow creators to sell anything they make.

CB: Where do you see your writing headed?

MF: I’ve continued to publish fiction and non-fiction here and there, but my big project is a non-fiction book called Startdown. It’s mostly about the process of starting a company in the middle of nowhere. (We live in Montana.) The nuts and bolts: how to create a life that lets you work on something for 2-3 years without going bankrupt, how and when to raise capital, how to hire (and fire) people in a small town where everyone knows each other. How and when to get an office. The aim of the book is to show people how to do it outside existing tech and financial hubs like Silicon Valley or New York.

Also, I’ve found a new appreciation for “writing” in the process of building Submittable. Writing well is so undervalued in our world, oddly enough, especially by writers. I think there’s a huge opportunity to infuse art into what we traditionally call the “business world.” “Content marketing” has become kind of a bullshitty buzzword. The vision isn’t to have poets doing marketing as much as to make businesses understand that eclectic and interesting writing has a huge value to them. Businesses can gain so much from demonstrating personality. An example would be to have a poet or novelist on staff at a shoe company, but not to write a blog post about the company’s innovative new lacing system, but about some general and interesting story like the history of the high heel.



Christopher Bowen is an Ohio author and culinary chef. His recently-released personal fiction chapbook, We Were Giants, is available from the publisher, Sunnyoutside Press. He blogs at

1. ”Map Reading” by Helen Rossiter, winner of Alice Munro Prize 2013, suggested by Rose Gardener.

2. “Drinking in the Loons” by Stephen MacKinnon in Carve Magazine suggested by David James.

3.  “Water Liars” by Barry Hannah in Garden and Gun Magazine suggested by David James.

4.  “Pounds across America” by Meg Pokrass in Wigleaf Magazine suggested by David James.

5. “Turkey” by Andrew F. Sullivan in Hobart suggested by Neil Serven.

6. “The Visitation” by Brad Watson in The New Yorker suggested by David James.…/06/090406fi_fiction_watson

7. “The Sentence is Always Death” by Ken Gerber and Brian Hirt in Daily Science Fiction suggested by Von Rupert.…/the-sentence-is-always

8.  “He Pulled Me From the Sea” by Frank Haberle in Smokelong Quarterly suggested by Jim Harrington.

9. “Grackles” by Barry Basden posted on Fictionaut suggested by David James.

10. “The Prune Eaters”by Alex Pruteanu in Brick Rhetoric suggested by Susan Tepper.

11. “Remembering Awe” by Mira Desai in Pure Slush suggested by Susan Tepper.

12. “Mother in the Trenches” by Robert Olen Butler in Narrative suggested by Susan Tepper.

13. “Blackened Catfish” by Christian Bell in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

14. “Making it Right” by Jane Hammons in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

15. “Why Aren’t There Fireflies” by Doug Bond in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

16. “Husk of Hare” by Christopher Allen  at Referential Magazine suggested by Robert Vaughan.

17. “Speed Date” by Meg Tuite at Wigleaf suggested by Robert Vaughan.

18. “Dead Letters” by Gary Moshimer in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

19. “Heading West” by Martha Williams in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

20. “maybe” by DsD in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

21. “Losers” by Megan Lent at Shabby Doll House suggested by Robert Vaughan.

22.  “Dressing Room Fashion Show From An Ex-Fiancee in Iowa” by Mike Joyce at The Molotov Cocktail suggested by Robert Vaughan

23. “Tuesday Afternoon” by xTx in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

24. “Messes of Men” by Michael J Seidlinger’s (an excerpt) at Atticus Review suggested by Robert Vaughan.

25. “Forging” by Jane Hammons in kill author suggested by Carol Reid.

26.  “Triplets” by Len Kuntz at JMWW, Spring 2013 issue suggested by Robert Vaughan.

27. “Leaving Lena” Jeanann Verlee’ at JMWW Journal suggested by Robert Vaughan.

28. “Last Night in Big Sur” by Sara Lippmann at Flycatcher Magazine suggested by Robert Vaughan.

29.  “Healthy Start” by Etgar Keret in Tin House suggested by Alex Pruteanu.

30. “Funky Little Blaze Orange Pork Pie Hats” by Michael Gillan Maxwell at Metazen suggested by Robert Vaughan.

31. “They Will Tear You Apart” by  Bud Smith at Zygote in my Coffee suggested by Robert Vaughan.

32. “The Embassy of Cambodia” by Zadie Smith in The New Yorker suggested by Christopher James.

33.  “The Naturals”by Sam Lipsyte in The New Yorker suggested by Michael Dwayne Smith.

34. “Safety” Mary Miller  in Tin House suggested by Michael Dwayne Smith.

35. “Is That Rain” by Leesa Cross-Smith in Spartan suggested by Michael Dwayne Smith.

36. “Collision Course” by Stephen V. Ramey in Nib Magazine suggested by Susan Tepper.

37. “The Abridged Biography of an American Sniper” by Linda Simoni-Wastila in Smokelog Quarterly suggested by Susan Tepper.

38. “I Named the Stars for You” by James Claffey in Blue Fifth Review suggested by Nate Tower.

39. “Annette and Florian” by Beate Sigriddaughter in Eclectica suggested by Susan Tepper.

40. “Piglets” by Rae Bryant published at Matter Press suggested by Christopher Allen.

41. “What Rachel Didn’t Know” by Denise Howard Long in Burrow Press Review suggested by Liz Wallace.

42. “The Cartoonist” by Kathy Fish (originally at elimae) suggested by Christopher Allen.

43.  “Heart” by Ethel Rohan at Connotation Press suggested by Christopher Allen. (scroll)

44. “Skirt” by Ethel Rohan at Connotation Press suggested by Christopher Allen.

45. “Dying Juices” by Ethel Rohan at Connotation Press suggested by Christopher Allen. (scroll)

46. “Salvador Dali Eyes” by Douglas Campbell, winner of the Press 53 Flash Fiction Contest, published at SmokeLong Quarterly suggested by Christopher Allen.

47. “Swim” by Owen Vince, winner of the Press 53 Flash Fiction Contest, published at Prime Number Magazine suggested by Christopher Allen.

48. “Lithopedion” by Randall Brown, winner of the Press 53 Flash Fiction Contest, published at Metazen suggested by Christopher Allen.

49. “Puppy Wonderland” by Nadine Darling at Eclectica suggested by Timothy Gager.

50.  “Written in the Bones” by Christopher M. Jones and illustrated by Cary Pietsch at Carey Draws suggested by Jane Hammons.

51.  “Her Hair” by Erica Stern at Metazen suggested by Christopher Allen.

52. “The Girls” by Rachel Sherman at n+1 suggested by Sara Lippmann.

53. “Shadow Play” by Stephen V Ramey at Every Day Fiction suggested by J. Chris Lawrence.

54. “A Glimpse” by Jen Knox at Fiction Southeast suggested by Michelle Elvy.

55.  “A Woman on her Way to Work” by Chris Okum at Fictionaut suggested by Michelle Elvy.

56. “Houseboy” by Sara Lippmann in Bull suggested by Jane Hammons.

57. “Luring” by Jane Hammons at Tupelo Quarterly suggested by Sara Lippman.

58. “We Three” by Frankie McMillan at Truck suggested by Michelle Elvy.  (scroll down, mid-page)

59. “Heartworm” by Zoe Meager in Penduline suggested by Michelle Elvy.

60. “The Light Eater” by Kirsty Logan at the Scottish Book Trust suggested by Michelle Elvy.

61. “The Hard Years” by Emma Lincoln Pattee in Carve Magazine suggested by Leesa Cross-Smith.

62. “Steaks” by Guy Anthony de Marco at Every Day Fiction suggested by Kathy Kingston.

63. “Birthday Cake” by Rayne Gasper in Word Riot suggested by Leesa Cross-Smith.

64. “The Siege Of Eristavis” by Tara Isabella Burton in the Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review suggested by Virgie Townsend.

65. “See Jane” by Kathy Fish in Together We Can Bury It suggested by Virgie Townsend.

66. “Mornings with Teenage Genius” by Jacob Drud, at Every Day Fiction suggested by Sarah Crysl Akhtar.

67.  “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” by A. Merc Rustad in Scigentasy suggested by Alexis A. Hunter.

68. “The Art of Memory” by Annam Manthiram in Camroc Press Review suggested by Barry Basden.

69. “Tenderoni” by Kathy Fish at Smokelong Quarterly suggested by Ellen Parker.

70. “The Meat Sweats” by Michael Czyzniejewski in SmokeLong Quarterly suggested by Matthew Dexter.

71. “Treading Water” by Amanda Miska in Storychord suggested by Leesa Cross-Smith.

72. “Birdman” by Gary Moshimer at Necessary Fiction suggested by Matthew Dexter.

73. “Year of the Queerling” by Joseph Dante at Metazen suggested by Christopher Allen.

74. “A Haunt of Memory” by Tara Masih at Awkword Paper Cut in video-story form suggested by Michelle Elvy.

75. “Providence” by Christopher Allen at Pure Slush suggested by Michelle Elvy.

76. “Dancing with the One-Armed Gal” by Tim Gautreaux in Zoetrope All-Story suggested by David James.

77.”Natural History” by Daniel Enjay Wong at  Metazen suggested by Christopher Allen.

78. “Like a Family” by Meg Pokrass in Juked suggested by Christopher Allen.

79. “Summer of Pinbugs” by Kate Folk at Smokelong Quarterly suggested by Gay Degani.

80. “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl.

81. “Mama Maggie’s Pies” by Leanne Gregg in Contraposition Magazine suggested by Mike Joyce.

82 “The Belt” by Julie Innis in Underground Voices suggested by Jane Hammons.

83. “Projection” by Lisa Mecham from Cheap Pop suggested by Amanda Miska.

84. “Sport” by Carol Reid in Stymie suggested by Jane Hammons.

85. “Desilu, Three Cameras” by Alicia Gifford in FRiGG Magazine suggested by Dave Clapper.

86. “The Woods Behind” by Marek Jones in Literary Orphans suggested by Jane Hammons.

87. “Every Time a Fairy Gets Laid” by Ryan W. Bradley originally in Space Squid suggested by DaveClapper.

88. “Mobility” by Ellen Parker in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts suggested by Dave Clapper.

89. “The Vegetarian Eats the Vegan: Five Scenarios” by Michael Czyzniejewski in PANK suggested by Dave Clapper.

90. “Aquarium” by Nadine Darling in SmokeLong Quarterly suggested by Dave Clapper. So many lines in it are eminently quotable.

91. “Stray Dogs” by Steven Gullion in Night Train suggested by Dave Clapper.

92 “Waiting for the Grassy Drop” by James Claffey in The Manifest Station suggested by Mike Joyce.

93. “The Sun Eaters” by Alex Pruteanu published in The Monarch Review suggested by Carol Reid.

94.”Storm in a Teacup” by Dan Powell published at Carve Magazine suggested by Christopher Allen.

95. “A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf in public domain suggested by Christopher Allen.

96. “This Program Contains Actual Surgical Procedures” by Roxane Gay at Twelve Stories suggested by Matthew Dexter.

97. “Ditch” by Eric Beetner at Thug Lit suggested by Matthew Dexter.

98. . “One Trip Abroad” by F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested by Matthew Dexter.

99. “Show-and-Tell” by George Singleton in Atlantic Monthly suggested by David James.

100. “The Guy” by Isaac Boone Davis at Two Hawks Quarterly suggested by Virgie Townsend.

101. “The Good Book” by Cynthia Larsen at Hobart Pulp suggested by Meg Pokrass.

102. “While You Were Away” by Tara Laskowski in matchbook suggested by Gay Degani.

103. “A Few Bedbugs” by Susan Tepper in Cape Fear Review suggested by Bonnie ZoBell.


by Andreé Robinson-Neal

christinefandersonChristine F. Anderson is the force behind CFA Publishing and Media; of her many talents, she is a skilled marketer. After shopping her own manuscript, she gained deep insight into the process of bringing a book from idea to manuscript to bookshelf/ebook seller. She took some time away from her work to share insights on the value of marketing with FFC.

What is your relationship with writing?  How long have you been writing? What have you had published?

I have been writing since my earliest memory, including writing haiku in the third grade. I was alway one to journal, write letters, and keep meticulous notes in school. I wrote and self-published my memoir, Forever Different, in 2013.

What was your experience like getting published?

I had several contracts from various publishers, all who required an astronomical retainer for marketing services. With more investigation I realized that what they wanted was for me to do a lot of the work before submission, so I decided that since I didn’t have the type of money they were requiring I would try self-publishing.

What made you start your own publishing company?

I started Christine F. Anderson Publishing & Media in order to give authors who have a story to tell fair representation when it came to publishing and publicity and marketing.

Talk a bit about your marketing background; how did you decide to focus that experience toward the world of publishing?

I obtained my MBA (Masters, Business Administration) in Marketing from New York University’s Stern School Of Business in 1991 and felt that in order for a book to be well-represented it had to have a considerable amount of marketing.

Let’s face it: this is a saturated market, particularly since the advent of self-publishing opportunities. I utilize various methods, including  social media outlets, and have developed a plan that works for my authors.

Why is the marketing aspect so important for new authors? How does it differ in the small press or self-publishing market as compared to the larger market?

Since we are on content overload when it comes to the publication of books, it is important for new writers and those who are looking to work with a small press or to self-publish to develop their own unique brand. I encourage all my authors to be different. Dare to be different!

What marketing skill or advice do you believe is most important to new writers?

The most important marketing skill I can suggest to a new author is to start by doing the research: who is the audience of your book? Start by knowing that and the rest of the marketing process tends to go smoothly.

What have you seen as one of the biggest obstacles for new writers wishing to get their work to market? How do you see yourself helping them overcome this obstacle?

I think the biggest obstacle facing writers is the lack of guidance; the key is to publish good work and I feel that accepting mentoring and guidance is vital to success. I would like to think that my authors can learn from my experiences since I am a writer, I self-published, and already made all the mistakes!

In your experience, in what areas do traditional marketing strategies fall short for new and existing authors?

I think the old adage of “build it and they will come” is nonexistent in the pro-publish market; taking an ad out and waiting for sales just won’t cut it. In this era, communication and contact are key and if you are not accessible and don’t stay in tune to current demand, you are dead in the water. Thank the good Lord for the dawn of social media, because it gives us access to that market demand in ways we never had in the past. It has helped answer a lot of the prayers of marketing executives.

What one piece of advice would you give to writers looking to publish?

I would tell them to write from the heart and to tell their story with the intention to inspire others!


Christine F. Anderson obtained her MBA in Marketing from New York University’s Stern School of Business in 1991. She has a long successful corporate career working for such companies as Citicorp and MGM Grand, Inc. She became an independent author in 2013 and while working on self-publishing her memoir, Forever Different, discovered a void in affordable book publishing and couldn’t find a publisher that provided a pro-active and  aggressive publicity and marketing strategy, so she decided to launch Christine F. Anderson Publishing & Media. It is Christine’s desire to give a voice to fellow authors’ works and guide them through the difficult world of publishing and promotion and assist them in achieving the greatest level of success with a fair business model. Her motto is “Tell your story to inspire others.”


by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2Markets Added

Resources Added

  • ShortbreadShortbread Stories aims to build self-confidence in writing ability through the mentoring, advice and encouragement forthcoming from both its writing and reading community.
  • The Write Life – provides writing, marketing, and publishing articles

View the complete markets list here.

View the complete resources page here.


Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears,  Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at


by Christopher Bowen


Many authors see publishing contracts as a given, or a dream come true. When one is offered to you, you take it.

When I ran a chapbook press, it was expected that all the authors sign individual contracts. Some of the stipulations included a percentage of each print run returned to the author, as well as reduced lifetime cover costs for those authors. There was some give and take in them, such as design, public appearances and, of course, review copies, with all of it based on time-lines.

I wanted my authors to challenge themselves as much as their work challenged me. I got the first draft of the Burning River agreement skeleton from a Toledo attorney. He had been listed years ago on the VLANY website (Volunteer Lawyers For The Arts) and after a phone conversation mentioned he was now a criminal defender. Though he had worked mostly for visual artists and galleries.

For a two hour road trip and two hundred bucks, he drafted what would become a two page agreement between myself and other authors. It was worth just the security of its intent, protecting myself and the authors from third parties who could misuse copyright or their or my own work in the projects.

But what comes to mind for first-time signing authors? It can obviously be a really intimidating experience.

I asked Tyler Crumrine of Plays Inverse Press a simple, small set of questions on what or how his small press sees signing authors.

Christopher Bowen: What do you see as the most overlooked yet challenging part of an author’s understanding of their commitments to a small press?

Tyler Crumrine

Tyler Crumrine: As publishing becomes more and more remote online, communication between press and author is key. One of my authors, for example, lives and does a lot of readings in Chicago. I, on the other hand, live in Pittsburgh, and because this is a SMALL press, I’m also its marketing/PR/social media department. It’s super important in small press publishing in general to let people know when/where they can find your book, but because I’m not a part of my author’s local scene, unless he gives me a heads up on a reading that I haven’t organized or I happen to catch an announcement over social media or via Google Alerts, there’s no way for me to know about it. Same thing with publications in journals, etc. Even though you’ve signed a contract with someone, continued promotion of a book, as well as an author, is always a collaborative effort, and the more you keep your publisher in the know, the more they’re going to be able to promote you, your work, and by extension, their press. And that means letting them know as early and promptly as possible so they can help spread the word in a timely manner.

 CB: How do you see interaction and commitment between small presses and small press authors evolving?

TC: I’m a sucker for audio & visual art, and I always love seeing multimedia collaboration between presses and their authors. Book trailers are really coming into their own, especially within small press circles, and I’m starting to see more small presses putting out audiobooks too (frequently read by the author). Sometime these “extra” things are author driven (if the author has the time/connections to put something extra out, awesome!) but I wouldn’t be surprised if more presses start to make a multimedia component standard for their releases. Maybe it’ll be a podcast series interviewing each of their authors, maybe it’ll be videos of strangers reading from an upcoming work, who knows, but as it gets cheaper and easier to put cool things online, I’d love to see more cool things online, whether that push is author or publisher motivated.

I’d also love to see more collaboration between other small/indie/DIY scenes and small presses. Recently Tyrant Books and Holler Presents teamed up with Fat Possum Records to help distribute the Hill William audiobook (as well as a 7″ from Scott’s band). How many other small labels would be jazzed to add new and unique audiobooks/spoken word to their catalog… especially if they had a publisher to help select pieces, advertise, and divvy up the work? Or small performance companies to help produce readings? Those are some of the things I get most excited about, and hopefully more folks will start teaming up with authors and their presses in the future.

CB: Have you ever had to overlook an author or their work because of their inability or want to commit to a contract?

TC: Kind of. As a small press publisher of drama, some of the playwrights we’d like to work with already have agents and relationships with big script publishing houses. While our focus is on creating high-quality, reader-focused books, there’s more money in cranking out acting editions as quickly as possible so you can collect royalties on performances. The trick is finding authors who have just as much love for the page as the stage and would be interested in the kind of literary/artifact editions we offer, despite smaller runs and distribution. Sometimes it just doesn’t make as much sense career-wise, which while I hate reading acting editions, I totally understand. That’s part of why we love working with cross-genre writers who are starting to toy with drama though, to serve as a kind of mid-way point between the small press and play publishing worlds, maintaining book-quality printing standards while also introducing them to things like performance rights, etc., on a smaller scale. Ideally as we expand, however, our size will be less of a limiting factor in regards to contracts and representation.


With this in mind, I also gratefully turned to Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director of CLMP, the Council for Literary Magazines and Presses based out of New York. Taken from one of their monograph series on contest code of ethics:

CLMP’s community of independent literary publishers believe that ethical contests serve our shared goal: to connect writers and readers by publishing exceptional writing. We believe that intent to act ethically, clarity of guidelines, and transparency of process form the foundation of an ethical contest. To that end, we agree to 1) conduct our contests as ethically as possible and to address any unethical behavior on the part of our readers, judges, or editors; 2) to provide clear and specific contest guidelines — defining conflict of interest for all parties involved; and 3) to make the mechanics of our selection process available to the public. This Code recognizes that different contest models produce different results, but that each model can be run ethically. We have adopted this Code to reinforce our integrity and dedication as a publishing community and to ensure that our contests contribute to a vibrant literary heritage.

 Christopher Bowen: There’s a code of ethics that CLMP has developed over time for literary contests that has been repeated throughout the small presses. While this code may be implemented by a small press, what do you believe fundamentally does this mean for a small press author?

Jeffrey Lependorf pic

Jeffrey Lependorf: We developed the CLMP Contest Code of Ethics in response to what had been not only a major issue, but also one developed in response to multiple problems. For one, there were (and sadly still are) a number of contests out there by unscrupulous publishers that existed for only one purpose: to make money from writers. Some of these, with names like “United States Library of Poetry,” awarded anyone sending in anything with the dubious honor of paying various amounts for different levels of deluxe editions that contained all of the winning poems. Contests like this euphemistically call what is vanity publishing a contest. The “winners” essentially pay to be published. Legitimate publishers do not charge their authors for the privilege of being published. These volumes of prizewinning poems would never be found in bookstores or ever receive a review. At the same time, and more importantly for our purposes, some well-meaning contests by legitimate publishers (those actually mission-driven to make the work of authors known to a reading public) had genuine breaches of ethics by judges, plus sometimes real or simply perceived or implied breaches of ethics due to contests not being run in the best possible way, even if the intentions may have been good.

The CLMP Contest Code of Ethics goes along with a set of guidelines for publishers for various models of ethical contests. The primary takeaway for us was that there are multiple ways to ethically run contests, any one of which can be of value to certain writers—ethics has to do primarily with intent, transparency and clarity. Whether a contest, for example, is judged by a single well-known writer, or by an editorial staff, or whether the judge or judges sees all entries or only reads finalists, what the prize may be, or any number of other factors, have little to do with ethics. The important thing is for the exact process and intent to be made known, and then of course that that process to then be followed ethically as defined in the guidelines. It’s up to a writer to determine the real value of a contest to her and if, for that particular contest, an entry fee or judging process is appropriate. What makes a contest ethical or not then is not implicit in any mechanism of the contest, or what it might cost to enter, but in whether or not that contest follows through as promised. In the case of my example of an unethical contest above, something presented as a contest was actually a marketing scheme. The breach of ethics there is clear. In the case of a judge in a contest from a legitimate publisher, for example, choosing a current student as the winner, if the publisher holding the contest presents along with guidelines how they define a conflict of interest (and this is an obvious one; harder when it’s something like a student who attended a school where one teaches but never took a class with the judge, for example), then this is a breach of ethics.

What the code of ethics does for writers at the very least is let them make an informed decision about the value of a contest to them. If a publisher follows the code of ethics (which is not a law, it’s a guideline for ethical behavior), and a writer doesn’t like the process, she can simply not enter that contest. At the same time, it serves as a guide for publishers about how to go about doing the right thing, which comes from making their judging process clear, defining conflicts of interest, and specifying exactly what one actually gets for winning, being it a cash prize, publication, etc. My advice to authors looking at contests, before they even try to determine if the publishers follows the Code or not, is to first ask themselves if this is a publisher they would want to be published by. She should look over the list of previous winners and judges. It’s generally self-evident even just from this if a contest is legitimate. If the publisher is a CLMP member and states the code, in all likelihood the contest is being run with the best intentions. Lapses of ethics can of course always happen (i.e. a judge picking a former student even though a conflict of interest policy may clearly state not to), and in that case one should look at how any former breach of ethics was handled. The community we are a part of (independent literary publishers) share information; a bad-acting judge will generally not be asked to judge again. Ultimately, the real question for the author is “do I really want to win this contest?” This may seem obvious, but most of the contests that have clear breaches of ethics are being run by publishers that any writer having done just a little due diligence (i.e. perused the catalog of the press) should never have wanted to have as a publisher. The most important things to know is that legitimate publishers, such as those in the CLMP community, really do want to help writers’ work get out there, and that most of them are writers themselves. The overwhelming majority of small presses holding contests also function as nonprofit, mission-driven organizations whose primary shared goal is discovering new literary voices and connecting them to readers. It’s also true that many hold contests to provide essential earned income streams. It’s up to a writer to determine if a contest charges too much given its possible reward, and if so, not to take part. If a contest really does seem to have acted unethically in terms of not doing what it claimed it would, they should begin by letting the press know and seeing how it’s handled. Again, in terms of contests, ethical behavior has to do with intent, clarity and transparency; many excellent models of ethical contests exist, but not all contests suit all authors.

CB: In your opinion, is there an author’s code of ethics out there somewhere?

JL: I’m unaware of one, but there certainly could be one. Ethics should be a two-way street. As much as authors should expect ethical behavior from a publisher, they should act in kind. Ethics are what someone should do, not what one legally has to do. For authors to work well with legitimate publishers—who really are on their side—I think it’s generally less a matter so much of acting ethically and more a matter of acting kindly toward folks who are doing their very best for you. For example, if a writer has a work accepted for book publication through a contest or by a literary magazine, where what a publisher gains from this exchange is “first publication,” and it’s then accepted for publication elsewhere or wins an award somewhere else, the author should ethically decline that second award or publication, or at least be in immediate communication with the publisher who first contacted them to discuss what to do. Publishers and editors think of themselves as partners, not gatekeepers, and certainly not as “the enemy.” If an author feels that she isn’t being treated right by a publisher, she should first simply talk to the publisher about her issue before jumping to seek legal counsel. In terms of the legal, if an author’s going to have a book published, she should make sure that any concerns are addressed in her contract to avoid any possible issues later. I think that ethics and legalities are frequently confused.

CB: Taking this all into consideration, what do you personally believe are an author’s rights? Not necessarily in legal terms, but in being people and when presented for the first time with a small press contract?

JL: I think the only real rights are legal ones, but it might be helpful for authors to remember that (until they are signed) “all contracts are negotiable.” Every author should feel she can question anything in a contract that she doesn’t understand. She should know that if a particular specified right (i.e. anthology rights, digital rights, etc.) is not explicitly given to a publisher in a contract that the publisher does not automatically have that right (and vice-versa). Writers should probably make sure that there is a provision for how the rights of a book might revert to them (i.e. if a title “goes out of print” for some period), and how they might purchase discounted copies of the book (or receive some number of books without cost as part of the deal). They should know that they can choose to retain certain rights even though their publisher may be publishing their book. Finally, they have the right to decline a contract if they don’t feel it’s fair. When we’re talking about rights, though, we’re really ultimately talking about legal rights. Simply put, if a right is not in your contract,  you don’t have it (this goes for the author and the publisher). Making sure a contract is not only fair, but that it addresses all of the things it should, is a primary function of literary agents. Some kinds of books, such as poetry books, generally do not have complicated contracts or address certain kinds of rights (i.e. film rights), and even royalties may be a non-issue in the case of poetry books where the authors frequently simply receive a fee. In all likelihood, if it’s a legitimate publisher, it will be a fair contract, which is not to say that various issues may still be negotiated. One should of course have a contract before a book is published. A contract is common sense. If things do go sour, nothing really matters except what is in writing. I would say that it’s an author’s right to request a contract. Most importantly, though, being published should be thought of as a partnership. You should want to be published by the press offering you a contract. If it doesn’t feel like a good match, chances are it isn’t.


So, after all this thought and information, what do you believe a writer should do when approached with a publishing contract? And I think that’s what really matters. What “you” as an author feel is right and what has been alluded to above, that sometimes you just have to go with your gut. And if that isn’t working, much less in the end will for the book itself.


Christopher Bowen is an Ohio author and culinary chef. His recently released personal fiction chapbook, We Were Giants, is available from the publisher, Sunnyoutside Press. He blogs at

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