Songs for the Struggling Artist

Charging Application Fees
April 13, 2015, 11:14 pm
Filed under: business, class, Rejections, writing | Tags: , , ,

The day I published my blog about the math of rejection and patronage, I got a rejection notice from one of those very residencies I’d applied for. The cost of that application was $25.

In the rejection notice, they let me know that around 500 people applied. This is supposed to make me feel a little bit better, to indicate how competitive the program is. I think I’m supposed to take this news and go, “Oh well. It’s competitive then. Okay, I guess it sucks less.”

What I ACTUALLY did with that information was Math. Because what this means is that they made about $12,500 on those applications. On what this organization made from aspiring writers, I could have lived for a year. This makes me feel a little funny.

I understand that the cost of running residency programs is probably a lot more than this – that someone, somewhere is very likely covering the actual cost of the program – and probably all the help they can get helps. However – collecting so much money from people who just want a shot, well, it makes me twitch a little bit.

I understand why people charge for applications. It takes time and effort to read and respond to those things. If I ran a residency program, I’d want to compensate my adjudicators for doing that work. But I’d want that money to come from somewhere besides the applicants.

I also know a lot of places charge an application fee, not because they need the money but because they’re trying to weed out applications. The idea is that you’ll lose the less serious applicants that way, that you’ll get a higher quality of writing by charging a fee. Very reasonable, of course.

But the unintended result is that you privilege the wealthy artists over the poor. By charging a fee, you’re effectively saying “Economically privileged artists only.” Which, you know, everyone’s doing that in some form or another, so, you’re in good company – but it is definitely something I find troubling in a nation that prides itself on giving everyone a fair shot.

It’s not a fair shot. Application fees are a significant obstacle. I was only able to apply to this particular residency program due to the generosity of my Patreon Patrons – but other economically disadvantaged writers were not so lucky. $12,500 is a lot of money to collect from writers. I hope they do something awesome with it, like commission a writer to write something.


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