Look, the people who run our fine magazines and web sites where fiction is published are hard-working, good-hearted people who no doubt have nothing but the best intentions. And selling a story and getting it published someplace is a thrill as well as a professional achievement.
That being said, don’t pay submission fees. Or contest entry fees. Ever.
Some will disagree, and that’s fine; you are allowed to be wrong.
Death by a Million Cuts
Writing isn’t the most lucrative career in the universe, for the most part. For ever writer making a fortune, there’s a whole lot more making a living. And for every writer making a living, there are a whole lot more not making much at all. In fact, writing is one of those careers where you can be both relatively successful (in terms of publication credits, fan base, etc.) and flat broke.
So, no, a $3 submission fee to Literary Journal Run by Sophomores in College or Literary Journal Whose Subscriber Base is 100% Writers Hoping to Sell Stories isn’t a lot of money, and the arguments that these fees go to cover the costs of the market itself seem innocuous. But if you submit a lot of stories, that $3 adds up. If I’m spending $300 a year on submission fees, and I sell one story for, say, $100, then I am very, very bad at my career.
Personally I think the odds that the staff at these journals simply orders pizza every time some writer gives them $3 is pretty damn high. Then they pour a few fingers of Writer’s Tears into paper cups and laugh and laugh and laugh.