Of Books and Tin Houses
July 6, 2010 § 10 Comments
There has been scads of talk this past week about Tin House magazine’s new submission policy, asking writers to buy a book from a bookstore, and prove that they’ve done so, before submitting. At first there was misinformation — people thought Tin House was demanding that writers purchase Tin House books, which was not the case — and now there is simply confusion. We love bookstores, we love books, we love literary magazines, so why does this feel somehow wrong?
Michael Nye, managing editor of The Missouri Review, has elevated the discussion nicely. Here’s a bit:
The relationship between the literary magazine and its audience has grown increasingly combative over the years … and, more than dollars and cents, this poor and deteriorating communication seems to be at the heart of this controversy. Literary magazines are feeling increased pressure to remain fiscally sound, if not profitable, as seen by the recent pressures on TriQuarterly, The Southern Review, New England Review, just to name a few, and are looking for ways to monetize just about any aspect of their organization, not out of greed, but out of the increasingly desperate need to remain alive. Readers and submitters sense not only are the major venues and financial support vanishing as the slicks stop printing fiction, but that that magazines that do publish fiction are increasingly chosen because of agents and a writer’s “platform” in cooperation with the literati’s self-fulfilling prophecy of annointing the 20-Under-40 (and so forth). Further, readers and submitters believe that the literary magazines are closed to them: the quality of the work is poor and the editors are only publishing their friends based on who they went to graduate school with or who can do them a favor (“Publish my poem and I’ll publish yours!”).
So, literary magazines believe readers and submitters aren’t financially supporting their journals; readers and submitters believe literary magazines are a clandestine society off-shoring their money woes onto the backs of others.
Frankly, I think both parties have valid complaints.