It's been a long time since I've dropped in here, and I sincerely hope this forum's the right place to ask my question; if I've got it wrong, I apologize and hope you'll redirect me.
Today I received an email from Omnidawn Publishing calling for submissions for a new anthology series. I'm on Omnidawn's mailing list and I've never seen any reason to be concerned about their competitions. They hold judged contests regularly, sometimes with rather steep entry fees, but that's how contests work -- everyone knows what they're getting into; the winners get publication, and the work they select seems to be solid and as often as not to receive good notices elsewhere. Fine. For-fee judged contests; ethically transparent selection process; appropriate award to the winner. No problem.
But the project described in today's email looks a little different:
"Omnidawn is delighted to announce BAX: Best American Experimental Writing Anthology is now open for submissions
Guest Editor: Cole Swensen
Series Editors: Seth Abramson & Jesse Damiani
Open Submission Period: March 6 to November 15, 2013
The Best American Experimental Writing anthology ("BAX" for short) will be an annual anthology of approximately 200 pages. The first issue will be published in the spring of 2014 by Omnidawn Publishing. The Guest Editor, Cole Swensen, will choose 60% of the content; the Series Editors, Seth Abramson and Jesse Damiani, will select 20% of the content, and at least 20% of the content will be chosen by the Guest Editor and Series Editors from submissions received via the submission process described below.
The cost for a submission is $9 for three pieces of writing or nine pages (whichever is fewer). If you have ever been a colleague, student, and/ or close friend of the Guest Editor (for 2013: Cole Swensen) or the Series Editors (for 2013 and beyond: Seth Abramson and Jesse Damiani) there is a question on the Omnidawn Submittable web page where you can indicate any Editors with whom you have had such a relationship so your submission can be read by someone other than the Editor(s) you know. Selections for the anthology will be announced publicly in spring 2014, though authors whose work is selected will be notified electronically in winter 2013-14.
For full guidelines visit www.omnidawn.com/bax
If you have questions, please send an email to: email@example.com
Visit BAX's Twitter to follow the latest conversations about writing."
Upon my initial reading, I felt deeply disturbed: I first read this as saying that the project, despite a name implying that it was anthologizing "the best" work published in the preceding year, would _actually_ be drawn entirely from the submissions of anyone willing to pay a $9 fee per nine pages submitted (or 3 short pieces, whichever is less). That looked clearly misleading and unethical.
On more careful rereading, and on following the link, I understood that the CFS -- whose phrasing, to be fair, is a little confusing -- is actually saying this: "At least 20%" of the content (possibly more, presumably no less) will be drawn from that unsolicited slush pile from folks up for paying that $9, or dollar a page, for the honor of being considered. Presumably, the other material will be gathered from previously published places in more traditional "Best Of" fashion.
My feelings now are... ambivalent. What do you think? Is it, well, kosher to create and advertise a "Best Of..." anything anthology while guaranteeing that a certain percentage of the material will come from unsolicited, paid submissions?
I guess what bothers me here is that it _looks_ like a money-raising publishing competition -- which, of course, is not inherently unethical -- which has, however, been combined with and is being entirely _labeled_ as a "Best Of..." anthology.
That makes it look as if part of what Omnidawn is "selling" to paying submitters is the chance to be published, not just in a book, but in a "Best Of" book. Is that a transparent marketing tactic?
And what about buyers and readers of the end product? When we buy "Best Of..." collections, is it normal for 20% to 40% of the material to be previously unpublished slush-pile submissions? Is that what such a title leads us to expect?
I guess I'd like to know your thoughts. I'm not sure how to think about any of this, much less whether or not to consider submitting to the project.
(Direct link to the CFS page: http://www.omnidawn.com/bax/ )