New York Literary Magazine: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Posted: December 27, 2017 in Critical Hit, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s not every day that I’m indirectly accused of ruining someone’s business, but 2017 has been a hell of a year.

On Christmas Day, I – along with many other writers in the SFF community – received an email from something called the New York Literary Magazine, informing me that I’d been nominated for their Best Story Award. For a number of reasons, both the email and the site to which it directed me pinged as fishy, not least because nominees were directed to pay a submission fee in order to be eligible for the award itself. In response, I ended up writing this Twitter thread about it. Many other writers chimed in – some of whom had paid the fee, most of whom had not – and the whole thing was quickly reported to Writer Beware as a scam, or at the very least as an operation to be wary of.

Because, at first glance, there’s quite a lot that’s wrong with the NY Literary Magazine – hereafter referred to as NYLM – and its Best Story Award, and as such, it’s worth examining those issues in more detail.

The email NYLM sent out very clearly stated that works had been “nominated” for the award, with nominees encouraged to list the nomination in their author bios. However, even once the reading fee was paid, entrants weren’t told for which of their works the nomination had been offered, or on whose recommendation. Instead, they were asked to upload the works themselves in a digital format.

The NYLM site is full of pull quotes detailing the advantages of award nominations for both would-be and established authors, framed in such a way as to suggest the quotes are about the NYLM award specifically. This is born out in the wording on the main contest page, which claims that “winning an award from our magazine gives you great credentials which will impress readers, agents, and publishers.” On investigation, these supporting quotes are easily shown to be about either awards in general or a couple of major prizes, like the Pulitzer, in particular.

ny lit contest

This same section of the website also states that the Best Story Award has “monthly winners in each category, unlike other contests which only have 1 or 3 winners per year… We accept ONLY 200 entries per month, per category. Other contests have thousands or even tens of thousands of entries. It’s like trying to win the lottery when you enter them with average chances of 1:5000. Chances of winning our Exclusively Limited-Entry contest are much higher. Your chances are 1:200.”

How many categories are there, you might ask? Eleven in total: fiction; mystery, crime & thriller; action & adventure; dystopia & apocalypse; horror & paranormal; sci-fi; fantasy; children’s stories; MG; YA; and non-fiction, memoirs and bio’s [sic].

ny lit categories

And that’s before you factor in the additional question of what type of works are eligible. The NYLM Best Story Award rules states that the contest is open to “books/stories,” and as the only categories relate to genre rather than length, the unsettling implication is that short stories, novellas and novels would all be competing in the same weight class.

ny lit rules

This is, to say the least, a staggeringly broad mandate – and as writer E.B. Brown pointed out on Twitter, the sheer manpower required to read through all such works in the allotted time period is considerable. So considerable, in fact, that I broke my normal rules and engaged in voluntary maths.

use math

Assuming the contest filled up each slot in each category each month, with no duplicate submissions – which are permitted under the rules, provided you pay an additional fee each time – then that’s 2,200 potential entries. If even half of those were full-length books as opposed to short stories, then that’s 1,100 books to read and assess PER MONTH. The usual minimum wordcount for an adult novel is 80k, with a YA work starting at around 60k, so given the muddled categories, let’s split the difference and assume these hypothetical books average out to 70k a pop. If it takes the average person about four hours to read that many words, that’s 4,400 hours total. Given that there are only 730 hours in an average month, and assuming that each reader works 12 hours in every 24, including weekends, you’d need a minimum of twelve people employed just to read those submissions alone.

Now, given the kind of operation the NYLM appears to be, I don’t for a minute believe that they sell out every slot in every category every single month. But even if, as shown, they only receive half the possible number of entries for each contest, that’s still high-volume traffic with a hard, repeating deadline. The NYLM insists that the Best Book Award is merit-based, yet I find it very hard to believe that so many judges, whether paid or unpaid, could be found each month for each category – but if they could, the NYLM site ought to tell us who they are, or at the very least give some information about how submitted works are going to be judged, especially if short stories and books are going to be in direct competition with each other.

But no such information is listed. And you know what? I’m pretty sure that’s because it’s a fucking scam.

The NYLM, however, begs to differ – and has, in fact, taken the rather extraordinary step of using its mailing list to send out an open letter that is ostensibly addressing, but in reality complaining about, the criticism to which its contest has been subjected. The whole thing is some eight pages long, and if you want to subject yourself to the entirety, I’ve made it available here.

Says the NYLM:

There have been many inaccurate accusations circling around and cyberbully attacks upon authors who were awarded our award. This has ruined our business and caused us to permanently shut down our magazine and contests.

Everyone who purchased an entry into our contest has been refunded.

After years of work on this magazine, we have had to fire our entire team of loyal, hard-working, full-time employees.

Yes, you did read that correctly: the NYLM – which, at the time of this writing, is still online – is claiming to have been so harmed by a Twitterstorm over Christmas and Boxing Day that they’ve been forced to fire their entire full-time staff. Unless those staff were solely paid for out of contest entry fees – which, granted, is not beyond the realm of possibility – and unless those fees have further been cancelled forever, this decision makes literally zero sense. If the NYLM, which repeatedly claims to be a “distinguished publication,” is a genuinely a legitimate literary outfit, then the obvious response to the accusation of scamming is greater financial transparency: show the fee structure of the company and how the employees are paid, explain what aspects of the business the submission fees support, list the qualifications of the award judges, and, if revenues still stay down over time, then make personnel changes as necessary. Firing everybody overnight because the internet got mad at a shitty, unsolicited mailout is the kind of thing nobody actually does unless they’re either completely fucking incompetent or – you guessed it – a scam company full of lying liars who never had any employees to fire in the first place.

What happened?

Regretfully, we outsourced our marketing to an Asian company to help us spread the word about our Best Story Award contest.

We believed they were experts and could help us reach authors.

It was our terrible mistake to entrust the entire marketing campaign in their hands including the marketing methods, approach, and text.

They sent out a marketing email on our behalf, from an email at, at an unexpected time for USA time zone on Christmas.

Unfortunately, it appears they chose the wrong approach and terminology when inviting authors to our contest by telling them they were nominated instead of simply informing them of our contest and inviting them to join it.

It was our terrible mistake not to closely supervise and monitor each marketing action they did and the text they used.

Pardon my French, but that is some goddamn bullshit.

If, as this explanation implies, the NYLM is really so monumentally incompetent as to okay a global mailout on their behalf without vetting the contents, then they still deserve criticism for terrible business practice; but if they did vet the contents, then trying to pass that failure of judgement onto their contractors is skeezy in the extreme. But do I actually believe that there was a random “Asian company” involved in the marketing of NYLM’s contest in the first place? No, I do not, and for three main reasons: firstly, because it would be exceedingly simple to name that company itself, especially given the comfort with scapegoating them; secondly, because it makes little sense for a literary publication to outsource its marketing in the first place, let alone to a company with no experience in marketing to authors*, regardless of their worries about costs; and thirdly, because of what the letter says in the following paragraph.

For other businesses such as VIP Entrepreneur clubs (with ~$1,000 annual membership fees), sending a nomination email instead of an invite to join their clubs worked very well. Our marketing agency, therefore, presumed this was a good way to approach authors as well. They even thought that authors who didn’t want to/couldn’t afford the $15 entry fee to our contest would still be happy to be nominated and be able to mention it in their bio.

They did not think there would be an issue with nominating multiple authors.
Nor did they think it would annoy authors to be nominated.

We apologize to all the authors who feel they were misled by being nominated.

Look very carefully at the wording here. We are being asked to believe that this author-ignorant marketing company was astute enough in its research to know that award nominations should go in a writer’s bio for promotional purposes – the very same argument, coincidentally, that NYLM sells on their website, constantly, ad nauseum – but not the very crucial distinction between what it means to be nominated for an award versus invited to submit to a contest.

And then there’s that final telling sentence (my emphasis): “We apologize to all the authors who feel they were misled by being nominated.” Not by being invited, which they’re trying to claim was the real intent, but by being nominated. If the NYLM is truly trying to pass off the whole debacle as an act of linguistic confusion, with their “Asian company” to blame for one word (nominated) and their intentions kept pristine through use of another (invited), then it makes zero sense to continue using the two interchangeably, and especially not in a way that suggests they really did mean nominated in the first place.

So this is, of course, exactly what they proceed to do, as per the following section which addresses what the NYLM calls “inaccurate accusations.”

“They say you were nominated but have to pay to be nominated.”

Authors nominated were not required to pay anything to be nominated.
Some nominated authors posted the picture of our trophy statute they were nominated for and used it for their marketing without paying to enter our contest. They didn’t have to pay to be nominated.

I mean, honestly. “The picture of our trophy statue that they were nominated for.” Meaning, the statue that you can only win if you enter the contest, which you just tried to say was a different thing entirely to being nominated/invited, such that the “Asian company” telling authors to use nomination in their bio was a mistake.

kuzko's poison

Which is it, NYLM? Was nomination a slip of the digital tongue that got all mixed up with an invite, or does nomination entitle us to say we’ve already been selected? Either way, having admitted in the same section that yes, you used a mailing list; having doubled down on your claim that the award is truly merit-based; and having likewise included a section on your submissions page instructing authors on how to submit their manuscripts to NYLM when they pay their fees, it should be painfully fucking obvious that being nominated for the NYLM award isn’t remotely merit-based, because you haven’t seen any stories until “nominees” send them in to you, which is after their nomination.

And then comes the tale of woe (all bolding my emphasis):

For two years, we’ve been running free-to-enter poetry and short story contests and publishing free-to-read digital magazines and print anthologies. We even spent time training and monitoring 20 interns who read through thousands of free poetry submissions this summer.

We made tens of writers around the world happy… Even our interns enjoyed working for us and were grateful for all the things they learned.

Since our anthologies are free, our poetry contests are free, and submissions to our magazine are free, we needed a way to sustain our magazine for the future, which is why we launched the Best Story Award contest.

We are completely devastated and shattered from the extent of hate mail, comments, messages, tweets, lies and false accusations that were posted online which have totally blackened our name and destroyed our magazine – all based on a single email with one wrongly-worded sentence…

Worse still, it is truly horrible to see how cruel some humans can be.
Some unsuccessful, jealous authors are spending days contacting the fans of authors who won an award from us or received a book review, telling their fans lies in an attempt to ruin the author’s reputation, turn their readers against them, destroy years of their hard work to build up their careers and readership, and ruin their lives for no reason and under the guise of “saving them from a scam”…
We have closed our contest. Refunded everyone who entered.
There will be no more free-to-enter contests. No more free-to-read anthologies.
No more articles. No more anything.

We had the heartbreaking task of firing our team of loyal, hard-working employees. 10 people are now jobless after Christmas.

 I honestly can’t even.

Remember that math I did earlier, where it worked out that you’d need at least twelve people working continuous twelve-hour days to read even half the submissions the NYLM was trying to attract each month? Here, they’re saying they’ve had to fire ten full-time workers, which they’re calling their entire staff – meaning, people whose duties must also have included the creation, management and promotions for the website and its anthologies. THAT IS NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE, KAREN.

I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating: if the contest was legitimate, there was no need to fire anyone. All you needed to do was apologise for the mix-up and show some transparency! If we’re truly meant to believe that the NYLM was capable of doing everything it claimed it could with the number of employees it says it had; if it was a solvent, successful business able to take on twice as many interns as employees – if we’re truly, honestly meant to believe that everything was above board and legitimate, and that the whole thing was a big mistake, despite those several paragraphs where they made the same one over again without any outside assistance – then these business-savvy dumbfucks have just fired a two year team of literal superheroes over Christmas because of a marketing copy error and their own profound incompetence.

Or, in the alternative scenario: they are lying liars who want us to feel bad for pointing out that their scam was, in fact, a scam.

(Also: the idea that people have been “spending days” harassing authors over Christmas when this entire boondoggle is still less than 48 hours old is kind of amazing.)

I have no doubt that many of the people published by NYLM were happy to see their work in print, whether digital or in hardcopy, but that doesn’t make them a legitimate publication. At a preteen, I was over the moon when I submitted a poem to an online contest and found out it had won a place in a real printed anthology – the fact that I had to pay for my copy hardly seemed worth bothering about. It was my journalist parents who explained to me, gently, what vanity presses were, and how some people would claim to be running a contest as a way to sucker you in – you’d still get the finished product, of course; you just wouldn’t have earned anything through merit, and you’d end up paying for something which, if you were being legitimately published, you’d be entitled to for free.

While the necessary, pragmatic goal of any writer is to be paid for their work, at base, we still care deeply about whether that work is good. Scam awards like this, which claim to be “exclusive” while making the higher odds of winning a selling point – which make us think we’ve been nominated by others on the basis of ability, but which are really just clickbait to make us nominate ourselves – are designed to prey on that feeling. We want to be good. We want to succeed, and sometimes that means paying, doesn’t it? Yes, of course – but in a fair industry, that payment would net you something more meaningful and substantial than the reassurance that your odds of success are better than if you bought a lottery ticket. For that payment, we ought to know who the judges are and why they’re qualified, and we certainly shouldn’t have to pay extra to list our work as belonging to more than one genre.

If you don’t want your business called a scam – if you truly want to be taken seriously as a literary publication running a meaningful literary award – then you’d damn sure better be ready to take ownership of your errors. Passing the buck while trying to guilt strangers into feeling bad about their deployment of basic critical reasoning skills is shitty at any time; but during a major holiday, at the end of a year as treacherous and draining as 2017 has been, it’s somehow even worse.

And for everyone who’s been upset by this, or inconvenienced – or to anyone, really, who’s just had a difficult twelve months – 2018 is right around the corner. Let’s dig down and make it better for all of us.

*ETA 27 Dec 2017: The original version of this post included the line “secondly, because it makes little sense for a small English-speaking literary publication to outsource its marketing to a company based in a non-English speaking country,” which I’ve now amended to read “secondly, because it makes little sense for a literary publication to outsource its marketing in the first place, let alone to a company with no experience in marketing to authors”. I’ve made this change because it was pointed out by Aliette de Bodard that the original version was both racist and inaccurate: English is an official language in multiple Asian countries, and regardless of that status, Asian nationals can certainly be fluent in the language. This was a biased, racist lapse in thinking on my part for which I apologise unreservedly; I’m grateful to have been corrected, and will endeavour not to make similar offensive errors in the future.

  1. Reblogged this on Cogpunk Steamscribe and commented:
    I know several people who got this ‘nomination’ email. None of them fell for it.

  2. Oh, love it. I had an email for NYLM in my spam box which I found today. Curious, I looked at the page. One look (couldn’t be bothered to actually read it) and the word SCAM screamed in my head. So I closed it down and deleted the email. A few minutes later I found the email linking to this and so read it. Actually read more here than I did on the NYLM page. I didn’t see the Twitterstorm – been avoiding social media over the holidays – but this made me laugh. I always enjoy knowing that scammer have been upset about being called out as scammers. Well done and thanks for sharing – that’s made me smile this morning.

  3. […] ** edited to add link to an excellent blog post with updated detail by Foz Meadows HERE […]

  4. Reblogged this on adaratrosclair and commented:
    Wow. REBLOGGED! Thanks to Foz Meadows for alerting fellow writers about the NYLM scam! I spied one of these emails, but sensed it was a scam and I’m so GLAD I didn’t pay the entry fee! Sometimes, being in a crappy mood pays off.

  5. siobhanmuir says:

    There were twelve genres in my link. Romance was also included in the one sent to me (because I’m a romance author). I’m guessing it changed based on who they sent the email to. *shrugs* I just saw the “apology” email this morning and skimmed it to read the sob story at the end about how “cyberbullying” killed the magazine. If it was a real magazine, they would’ve been a lot more professional and people spreading the word wouldn’t have threatened them. I suspect this is their way of getting out of something that didn’t exist anyway, but whatever. And what was with them quoting all their detractors? If they were professional, they wouldn’t have brought it up again. Professionals admit their mistakes and move on.

    This part is the best: “Please leave the poor authors alone. They did nothing wrong by receiving a book review from our magazine or receiving an award from us. Stop ruining their lives for no reason. Go work on your book instead.” No one went after the authors, we accused the “magazine” of wrong-doing. What do the authors have to do with this? No one I know hunted down the authors who have used these people for reviews and said bad things to them. We only called out the ‘magazine’.

  6. I received the original NYLM email on Christmas morning. Being groggy and not feeling well, I accepted the premise as a lovely gift and put it aside to examine in more detail later – which was today. I guess it is a good thing I was forced by circumstance to wait. First I received the follow up email from NYLM about a twitter storm I knew nothing about, then I found this declamation. It has certainly been interesting reading. I reread the Christmas email. At the bottom, it says “You are receiving this email because a reader, family member or friend nominated you for one of our awards, you entered a contest, or signed up at to be notified of new writing contests, contest winners, articles, updates and calls for submissions.” Since I hadn’t done any of the later through them, the body of the email read as legitimate to my groggy mind. Paying for a submission was not a red flag to me, because I have rarely seen a contest that one didn’t have to pay some kind of admin fee to enter. $15 is really cheap by most contest standards. The math on the number of submissions per month though was troubling to me. The odds of winning may be increased, but the honour is rather diluted.
    Thank you for providing a forum for discussion

  7. Re the correction that lapse is of course one that you and everyone else was very actively being led towards by the email… Dogwhistles are fun!

  8. Don Winn says:

    I got the email and couldn’t figure out why, as I haven’t published any short stories or poetry, only picture books and chapter books and my blog. If I was nominated, then for what? It was obviously a go nowhere solicitation but it did make me wonder. And it still does. It just doesn’t make any sense. I can’t imagine anyone with any credibility being so careless with this type of solicitation. Sad.

  9. […] You know what does not satisfy? Some jerkwads deciding to try and scam writers over the holiday. Then, when said jackasses are caught doing it and the internet falls on their head, sending out a racist, self-serving “nopology”–Foz Meadows has the rundown on it, here. […]

  10. lrucker2016 says:

    “A friend or relative has nominated you” – yep, I remember that one from the “Who’s Who in High School Students” 30 years ago. Didn’t believe it then.

  11. I enjoyed your article. I hit delete on the “nomination,” but was curious if it was as fishy as it smelled. Good job. If Aliette de Bodard called your original comment racist in addition to inaccurate the wrong person is being corrected. I think the NY Literary Magazine is the offender, not you. Your logic still holds water. Why go offshore for a domestic campaign? The answer? NYLM lied. The sensitivity police at times over-rotate on the wrong factoids. Aliette de Bodard should be taking the NYLM to task for an obvious racist attempt at the blame game.

  12. tristisward says:

    Thank you for your detailed examination.

    I know it was hard to use “the maths” but that helped, too.

  13. megpie71 says:

    On a somewhat cynical note: if their business is so unreliable that a single bad day on Twitter means they have to fire ten full-time staff, then someone needs to look hard at their business model. (See also: It is not our job to make your business model successful unless you are paying us to do so).

    Also, I think they really need to think hard about the mention of “tens of writers” … While it may be a factually accurate summation of their level of influence, the idiom doesn’t quite work. “Dozens of writers” might have done. “‘Tens of thousands of writers” would also have worked. But “tens of writers” isn’t exactly idiomatic English for most people. Writers, oddly enough, will tend to notice these sorts of things, and even the most kindly-minded will tend to note them as “off notes” in the wider picture. The less kindly will point and laugh.

  14. sdreeves says:

    This whole thing was a nutty affair, from the awkward blame shifting, all the way to the salt filled tirade NY Literary Magazine sent out at the end.

  15. >>This was a biased, racist lapse in thinking on my part for which I apologise unreservedly; I’m grateful to have been corrected, and will endeavour not to make similar offensive errors in the future.<<

    Fire your whole staff.

  16. Amber says:

    Has anyone actually seen proof that any of their authors were attacked or cyber bullied over this?

  17. I really wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt and call it a mess of bad decisions made by a young company, followed by a harsh backlash. I agree that, as a business, NYLM should have been able to bounce back from this with a less defensive apology and more transparency in all aspects. I don’t like to accuse anyone of scams, which is probably why I wrote off the first email they sent as a mistake and felt bad the first time I read that they shut down. Though part of me wonders if this really is a result of bad decisions. Looking at the editor in chief on NYLM on LinkedIn, her work history is made of mostly editing positions, but no business management. Your alternative to this being a scam may be just as likely.

  18. J. J. Murray says:

    You have a brilliant, acerbic, Swiftian wit, and this was one of the best pieces of “comic logic” I have ever read. I, too, was nominated, clicked the link … shook my head, saw NYLM as another purveyor of “scam spam,” and moved on. (note: I, too, was first published by back in the early 1980’s).

  19. Johanna says:

    What I really want to know is how did they get all our emails, and how do I get a piece of that action!

  20. Pete says:

    They tracked me down on a secret unpublished email address. I’ve only used this account five times in seven years. It has a grand total of only 10 extremely private messages sitting in the inbox. And now 2 more have arrived from NY Literary Magazine. These guys are good. They found me.

  21. V.M.Sang says:

    Reblogged this on Dragons Rule OK. and commented:
    As a ‘nominated’ author, I was pleased to find this post. It did seem a little odd to me that I should be nominated in the first place, by an unknown person, too.
    Another thing, when I followed the link to check it out, the website was ‘under maintenance’ and I was told to come back in an hour or two. Two days later, it’s still under maintenance! This, when they’ve asked for submissions by Dec 31st. Most odd.,

  22. V.M.Sang says:

    Reblogged this on Dragons Rule OK.

  23. Toni vadala says:

    when I wad much younger I submitted one of my poems to a literary contest. I won honorable mention and received a certificate. They gave me the option of purchasing the anthem for fifty dollars. It would’ve been nice to see my poem in print, but that was asking a lot of me back then. Even now, I would question paying for the book. Is it different between a contest and a nomination? I am not knowledgeable on the ins and outs of the literary world. I could easily get sucked in out of pure excitement for being acknowledged. Thank you for pointing out the problems with this company

  24. Karee Mahurin says:


  25. […] Meadows has a breakdown of a writing contest scam that decided to target writers on Christmas […]

  26. Does anyone have an inkling what their intent was? Was it just to get money from people and give them a fake award? I’ll admit being a newbie author I thought it was kind of strange but I had been marketing my book a lot more. My book was already published so I didn’t have to upload anything, just put title and synopsis but I paid the fee with paypal. So if they hadn’t had paypal I wouldn’t have paid because I know paypal is safe so that the company you pay to doesn’t see your credit card information, but for those of us authors who paid (including myself), do you think there’s any harm done? They did refund the money so do you think they were trying to steal people’s original works or just after money?

  27. […] agree with the statement that they made a bad business decision if the contest was legitimate, but AS OTHER PEOPLE HAVE POINTED OUT, they could have easily apologized for the lapse in judgement and gone on with their magazine. […]

  28. Bill Stewart says:

    Sounds like the Who’s Who of Famous Science Fiction Authors Whose Names Will Be Published In Our Star Registry If Their Checks Clear Award. And another violation of Yog’s Law (money flows toward the author, and if they tell you it should go the other way, they’re ripping you off.)

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