Surviving the Latest Literary Extinction Event

July 16, 2019 § 34 Comments


sarah+anne+strickleyBy Sarah Anne Strickley

I recently read a piece online about how the Internet is like the industrial revolution in that we won’t understand its impact until we’ve gained significant distance. But, as an editor with more than twenty years of experience and as the current faculty editor of a bi-annual journal, I think I can say right now that the Internet has transformed the business of literary journals into a system that actively works against the practice of reading for pleasure.

For more than two decades, writers have argued the various advantages and disadvantages of digital media. Digital journals are more portable, accessible, cheaper, and more easily transmitted than print journals. They have, for all intents and purposes, won the war. Case in point: the idea of starting a new print magazine now sounds insane; only the bold, the idealistic, and the angry endeavor to do it. Shout-out to my good friends at Oversound!

The comparatively smaller monetary investment required to start an online journal means that a broader range of literary tastes are serviced in a digital publishing landscape. It also means that traditionally marginalized voices have a greater chance of circumventing those old, fusty gatekeepers. But the massive proliferation of literary journals online has, among other things, diluted the meaning of publication to the degree that we’ve clung to pre-digital hierarchies as a defense against chaos.

Despite our market-expressed preference for disruptive digital technologies, we still trust The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Paris Review, Granta and handful of other top-tier publications to tell us who is writing the most important, must-read work today. (There are notable all-digital exceptions to this rule, of course. You’re reading this diatribe on the Brevity blog, after all.) The important difference now, though, is that we don’t want to pay for access to that information, which is one of the reasons why journals like Tin House, Glimmer Train, and The Normal School, to name only a few recent (and painful) examples, are closing up the print-issue shop.

As many avid readers are quick to note, the experience of reading physical books is different enough from the experience of reading digital books to retain its value. That’s why indie bookstores are in the midst of an exciting resurgence. But there is a broader audience for books than there is for literary journals. The audience for literary journals is predominantly made up of writers. We can quibble over the reasons, but the cold, hard truth is that writers have decided that they don’t want to pay for access to literary journals. The medium has not retained its value; it is, therefore, unlikely to experience an approximate resurgence. But does that necessarily mean that it’s dead?

Only publications with established, dynamic, and diversified funding structures—and a heaping helping of straight-up grit and luck—will survive the current extinction event ravaging the literary publishing planet. I won’t sentimentalize the days of yore (journals have always been propped up by generous donors, selfless editors, and affiliate institutions), but I will say that I deeply regret the disappearance of so many wonderful and daring publications. It is my sincere belief that the world will be less interesting for the loss of them.

Like many writers who are also editors, I have the very clear sense that we are reaching a highly regrettable inflection point. As a writer myself, I know the frustration of paying journals to spend a year (or more!) not reading my work only to fire off a form rejection, but I also know what the back end of a literary journal looks like: a tiny budget, a reliance upon an unpaid editorial staff, a fraught relationship with costly digital submission managers, a shrinking audience, and an unwieldy fire hose of digital submissions aimed directly at our heads.

My experience is anecdotal, but it’s also common enough among literary editors as to be depressingly representative of the state of affairs. We know that a substantial percentage of the writers who submit to our journals do not read our journals; many of us have long-since abandoned the hope that a readership of writers would be willing to pay to sustain our literary journals; and we’re also often the targets of some writerly hostility. (Ask me about the writer who began e-mailing one of my undergraduate editors when he didn’t like the response he’d heard from me, or the writer who decided her best poems were too good for us post-acceptance and sent us three others instead.)

It’s easy to become apathetic in the face of apathy, to throw up your hands and say: what’s the point of all this? Two recent trends have convinced me that the meaning may have fallen out of the endeavor: It’s not at all uncommon for a certain tier of writer to demand as a prerequisite to responding to a query letter that an editor promise to nominate the work (sight unseen) for certain honors and awards. And it’s not at all uncommon for a different tier of writer to list the number of publications earned (sans titles of journals) in cover letters. As in, “I have published in 122 journals.”

That’s the problem in a nutshell, isn’t it? Increasingly, it’s the mere fact of the publication in the context of cover letters to editors and agents that matters, not the fact that the reading of the publication might offer a unique (and valuable) pleasure to the reader. It’s a numbers game. And, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had much of a taste for math. What I love, instead, is the thrill of discovery, the opportunity to reconsider what I know of genre conventions, the chance to lose myself in a story and wake up an hour later with my head on backwards.

Where else can you read Lydia Davis or Carmen Maria Machado published alongside writers publishing their first poems? Where else can you encounter variety within variety: a creative non-fiction category, for example, that features flash, longform reporting, and lyric essays? Or an 83-page poem published alongside a series of translations? Where else can you read literary reviews that are written in the service of explicating a book-length work in literary (and distinctly non-commercial) terms—for the sheer love of it?

The work of the literary editor is about providing a rich readerly experience to an audience that is far more likely to read a tweeted photograph of a printed page or follow a link posted to Facebook than to purchase an issue and/or read it whole. But those of us who keep on keeping on are often the ones too in love with the business to ever stop. Bringing writers together and sharing their work with others is often a thankless, soul-wearying endeavor. It’s also the most wonderful job I know.

I’m convinced that online journals have a shot at sustainability (the journal I edit is online, so I have become a digital strategizer and a shameless crowdfunder) but we appear to be reaching a point where writer/reader apathy collides with editor apathy. I fear that the tension might erupt in a conflict that precipitates yet another round of extinctions. I’m not sure how we fight back—perhaps no one knows—but I do know that it would help if the tone and tenor of the business were less antagonistic and more celebratory. We’re all on the same team, I find myself repeating to myself. And then, in my darker moments, I find myself wondering: Are we on the same team?

There are certain technologies that always endure cultural paradigm shifts and words are one them, of course. I hope we come around to discovering their value in the context of the literary journal again—and soon. With any luck, I’ll still be here. Reading the slush. Forever.
__

Sarah Anne Strickley is the author of the short story collection, Fall Together (Gold Wake Press, 2018). Her stories and essays have appeared in Oxford American, A Public Space, Copper Nickel, Witness, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing and serves as faculty editor of Miracle Monocle at the University of Louisville. Visit her online at www.sarahannestrickley.com and visit Miracle Monocle at http://louisville.edu/miraclemonocle

 

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§ 34 Responses to Surviving the Latest Literary Extinction Event

  • Thank you for this frank and beautifully stated wake-up call.

  • Thank you your faithfully Ropian

    On 16 Jul 2019 14:16, “BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog” wrote:

    Guest Blogger posted: “By Sarah Anne Strickley I recently read a piece online about how the Internet is like the industrial revolution in that we won’t understand its impact until we’ve gained significant distance. But, as an editor with more than twenty years of experience an”

  • ccbarr says:

    I am a reader. Since I could read Dick&Jane,I’ve hardly been without something to read. Handy on long bus rides to work. I dislike reading on the net. Eye strain,having to recharge the device(I never re charged a book or magazine).The net inspires a sloppiness in writing. Like they give up because people will hop around looking at the next shiny object. Paper magazines are getting to skinny with “read the rest on line”. Its like reading for pleasure is being killed off

  • kim4true says:

    You hit the proverbial nail on the head with this essay. Thank you for writing it.

  • So sad to hear of Tin House and Glimmer Train closing–I am a Portlander and will miss sering their lovely issues on news stands–and buying them there!

  • I, too, am a writer and an editor. May I add that the “acquiring editors’ for many journals and little magazines are graduate students in MFA programs. MFA programs, witting or unwitting, promote aesthetic homogenization. And, it is time for op ed writers to stop using the term “we”. There is no “we”. “We” nearly always reveals class, race and gender privilege.

  • rauldukeblog says:

    Well, yes but…some 75 years ago Joseph Roth said: I wouldn’t mind publishers being businessmen if they weren’t so bad at it.

    The idea that publishing (large scale and small, The New Yorker and some zine you’ve never heard of) exist separately from the all-consuming corporate Borg Assimilation machine is at best, silly.

    The culprit, if one exists, is the totality of the system – not the internet, or digital tech but, a system that takes no prisoners.

    MFA factories, a debased education system, a socio-economic Gulag that gives people the jitters and shakes and yet somehow, every single piece on the “state of publishing” however well intentioned, is written as if publishing is somehow still at its heart, a small batch artisanal endeavor.

    Why are writers listing publication credits but not the magazines in which they claim to have appeared?

    Why are (some) people still dependent upon the editorial judgement of The New Yorker, or Granta or The Paris Review?

    Perhaps because deregulation which led to the assimilation of nearly every major independent publishing house, the whole sale destruction of the economy (insert Springsteen reference of your choice), the rise in student debt, the housing crisis, inflation, the exploitation/gig economy, and assorted other plagues, have created a kind of literary thunder dome.

    “It’s a number game” because the entire system is a number’s game.

    Not just publishing, or magazines, and not just the internet’s impact on the economy but the entire system – where every facet is connected to the rest of the machine.

    And finally, let’s be clear: The only reason anyone still depends on The New Yorker or The Paris Review et al is because were living in a company town.

    If you want a table at the in bistro in NYC, you have to be nice to the editors at the right magazines. If you want a good review and a shot at tenure, play ball or go home.

    Here’s Mark Edmondson in an essay entitled, Poetry Slam, which ran in Harpers back in 2014:

    “Mass culture and mechanical reproduction surely play a part in the current retreat of American poetry, but what about MFA programs? Poetry now is something of a business. You make your way into the game by getting a sponsor: often it’s a writer in residence from your undergraduate school. Then come the MFA and the first book, both of which usually require sponsorship — which is to say pull.

    To thrive in this process you often must write in the mode of the mentor — you must play the game that is there to be played. You must be a member of the school, you must sing in the correct key. If you try to overwhelm the sponsor, explode his work into irrelevance — well, the first law of success is simple: Never outshine the master. The well-tempered courtier knows how to make those above him feel superior. He knows that in his desire to succeed he must not go too far in displaying what he can do. The master will not like it — and there will be no first book, no fellowship, no job, no preferment. It is only by making the master look more accomplished, by writing in his mode, becoming a disciple, that the novice ascends.”

    I’m willing to believe he’s wrong but I think he’s right and it’s well past time for us to tell the truth about how corrupt the “writing industry” has become – precisely because it exists as a nesting doll inside the rest of the system which is just if not more corrupt.

    • Eddith Wartorn says:

      Yup, yes, you’re correct, it’s going on all over the academic place, been there, seen it, filled out the MFA apps, cried over the rejection(s) until I realized I didn’t want THAT “in” anyhow. I’m better than that game. And in some places trading s#x for an in. Yup, seen it, was propositioned by it. Shame, shame, shame on y’all. Thanks for sharing Mark Edmondson and company. Knowing all this drill, do the literary journals still possess any clout? And if not, who/what/where/when/how then?

      • rauldukeblog says:

        I hate to say your experience with MFA/s#x doesn’t surprise me. I attended a grad writing program at a “prestigious” East Coast University and there was a lot of ugly to how the sausages were made.

        As to clout and the lit mags I guess it depends on what one wants. I’m currently reading Chronicles Vol 1 and that prompted a jump down the YouTube video vortex – came across Bob saying that what’s defined as “cool” is a product of what’s defined as financially valuable and that the authentic art is always off stage to begin with because it hasn’t been monetized – yet.

        If you/one wants to be respected by the New Yorker/Paris Review then they will have a lot of clout.

        But here’s a story: Many years ago, while editing a lit mag, I spoke with the agent for a Nobel winner. Said the agent: I’m selling Coke and Pepsi. Not one person at any of the slicks (Harpers, New Yorker, etc) has ever said a single thing about content. They just want to know how many words the piece is so they can fit it in-between the adds.

        Then I’d say it’s good news bad news. The bad news is while there are hundreds of small magazines many of them aren’t just boring but, far worse, they are all boring in exactly the same way – products of MFA Incorporated. (caveat being feel free to make your own list as mine as subjective and arbitrary)

        But the good news is it’s always been dismal and rough and corrupt.

        Harriet Munroe started Poetry Magazine in Chicago over a hundred years ago precisely because the then current scene was dismal and corrupt.

        Fast forward a few decades and the story is repeated with some other gang pushing their way in and saying you squares suck! Followed by the rebels becoming the establishment, pause, rewind, press repeat.

        It’s a brutal situation but so far the interesting innovative work finds a way.

        Of course amid the 24 hour media thunder dome it’s probably harder then ever but…

        “So it goes” seems about right and I can only say I am cautiously optimistic except when I’m wallowing in depression about the state of contemporary writing/publishing.

        Favorite line attributed to Camus: Should I shoot myself or have another cup of coffee.

        Filler up!;-)

        PS I recommend the entire Edmundson piece – search engine of your choice: poetry slam Mark Edmundson – it’s both depressing and fascinating.

    • Wow! You nailed it, all of it. Here is the provincial view of NYTimes Book reviewer, Sarah Ferguson, of my 2017 short story collection, The Talker: “If only her characters felt as real and specific as her locations. Instead, they can veer dangerously close to caricature. In “Nautiloid,” a tough-talking older woman dying of colon cancer doesn’t want anyone to make a fuss over her. In “Cyndra Won’t Get Out of the Truck,” a depressed young housewife turns a weakness for Palm Springs slot machines into a full-blown gambling addiction. Heavy on the folksy charm, the dialogue never feels quite as right as Sojourner’s deftly rendered settings. “Me? Standard getting-by getting-older single chick in a one-horse town,” one woman says, by way of introduction. (Does anybody anywhere really talk like that?”
      Why yes, Sarah, most of the American population west of the Hudson, maybe even in Maine and all of rural America, talk like that. Sarah has published in Elle, Vogue, The Guardian and New York magazine – and missed the point of “Cyndra Won’t Get Out of the Truck” about a Marine Corps couple putting their marriage back together; and “Nautiloid” in which a gay man and single straight women love each other. (Ooooohhhh, how banal.).

      • rauldukeblog says:

        Criticizing establishment organs like the Times sparks fear that one is going to start barking about how it’s all “fake news” – but one can be harsh about establishment mouths without being a reactionary let alone a malignant troll.

        It doesn’t have to be “fake news” in order to be a more sophisticated version of Pravda.

        Having said that, I take your point: The Times is in a bubble.

        I can understand a certain hurumph from places like NYC, Paris, or London because of the history, the cultural heft and enormity but even a cursory excavation of establishment publishing and its remoras in the media reveals something not very different from what you can find under any old rotten log in a bog.

        The byzantine blood feuds, the petty assassinations of reputations and the equally violent curating and creation of reputations all reek of the same slaughter house floor – to swipe a line from Hunter S.T – like a man coming down from an ether binge – they (the official voices) are as prone to bs, lies, kickbacks, corrupt deals, favors, and the general mess of life as everyone else.

        But, (to swipe another line) the first rule of the Culture Industry, is, don’t talk about the Culture Industry.

        Consider this: A prestigious university employs a famous poet to read the annual submissions of 12 poet-students at said prestigious university.

        Famous poet reads 12 MS and concludes the annual, reputation-making prize, will not be awarded that year as the 12 MS aren’t, in their opinion, up to snuff.

        A prof at said university steps in, hands famous poet a 13th MS, (by a grad student whose dissertation just happened to be a flattering portrait of the famous poet) and says, here read this one.

        Famous poet says, great, reads it, awards reputation generating prize and grad student-poet is then famous.

        Famous poet #1 later admits he hadn’t understood a single poem in the MS but, so the fuck what – reputation manufactured via handshakes, discarding the “rules” and now famous prize winner goes on to have an astounding career as a literary chieftain and poetic hep kat.

        Our “industry” has long been a sewer.

        While there are plenty of writers who think they’ve written the next Dubliners but haven’t the fact remains, corruption is systemic.

        People quite rightly, highlight the damage done to a “free” society when the majority of the “news” is produced by an increasingly small group of people or is disseminated to thousands of stations by a small block of corporations.

        While there are hundreds if not thousands of small(ish) literary magazines the fact remains that in a country of over 300 millions, almost all major publishing houses are owned by two giant corporations.

        The decrease in diversity in media leads to a sclerotic environment in which risk taking vanishes, diversity of styles, voices and content all evaporate like water on cement on a hot day.

        Add in that the system essentially terrorizes people into conformity by constantly threatening to take away their job and then their home, and you find an increasingly monolithic voice that does not review literature so much as it offers an official statement of what has been approved by a network of people who are each, metaphorically speaking, in bed with one another – the agent who depends upon the PR hack, who answers to the accountants, who answer to the CEO who answers to shareholders who in turn work like Borg drones in an enormous company that owns vested interest in media platforms that “review” literature.

        This is not freedom, it’s a damp squib.

      • Simon Nagel says:

        I think your book sounds awesome. I want to read it now!

      • Thank you, Simon N. I’d love to hear your response to The Talker. Try to buy it in an indie bookstore. You can reach me at my mentoring website: http://www.breakthroughwriting.net

    • sarabfraser says:

      On a maybe more optimistic note: the proliferation of small publishers, online and otherwise means that writers have a shot at publishing…somewhere. Even if their readership won’t be very big. I published a novel with a small publisher and have sold about a hundred copies. I won’t be quitting my day job (which also means I won’t have the time to read every journal I submit to) but at least there is a tiny venue for me to be able to reach a few readers. I’ll also never be too big to be able to interact personally with readers.

      • rauldukeblog says:

        Perfectly valid points and it’s well worth remembering that quite a few people we now regard as literary deities began with sales in the hundreds or less (though one then has to remember the media environment was very different). A cursory look at Poets & Writers listings of lit magazines reveals hundreds if not a thousand places to send work.

        There is seemingly a dismal sameness to a lot of what gets printed but there remain a lot of venues. It’s an odd situation as the Gioia linked in my comment below shows.

  • T says:

    Very nice. Thanks for articulating some of the truths behind what editors and writers are going through.

    Signed,

    T, an editor at Plazm magazine, which is actually going to produce another print issue!

  • Jim Piatt says:

    I admired your piece, “Surviving the Latest Literary Extinction, it was very informative. I wasn’t aware that writers are the primary ones who read Literary Journals, and therefor (??) subscribe to them. That is a shame. There must be a better way to interest the public! That is the enigma that needs solving!

    I do know that publishers are only able to put out their journals because of the free poetry and free stories they receive, which makes me wonder if too many are really more interested in making money instead of ethical reasons. Then there are the fees! I myself have never submitted to journals, magazines, contests, or anthologies that charge a fee, that includes your, so called, top tier magazines. Tiny budgets are the norm, I would guess. But, to belittle the essence, or soul, of writing in order to make money by charging fees, in order to stay afloat, in my humble opinion, is quite obscene. If a journal cannot make it by getting all their material free, without charging a fee, they should be in another commercial field rather than in publishing! I am aware that the top tier hardcover publishers have been in that moneymaking mode for years, and that is why they seldom publish great novels anymore. But, they survive, don’t they, even though what they publish is often rubbish!

    As someone, (guess who?) once said, “Bringing writers together and sharing their work with others is often a thankless, soul-wearying endeavor. It’s also the most wonderful job I know.” That is the quintessence of what it is all about, isn’t it: The writer spending countless hours pouring out his/her heart and soul, for whatever reason, and the publisher who loves the written word so much, and who sees their obligation to give beauty, questions/answers, stimulating poetry, or thought provoking writing, to a public that needs it to sustain a literate mind, in a somewhat uninformed society.

    To get to the point, maybe we need are huge numbers of extinctions in order for the most dedicated to rise to the top. I am afraid, though, as I look at the increasing number of journals that are into the fee business, especially the university journals, unless writers eschew submitting to these journals, that they will win, and the literary business will be like the hard cover publishers, and so many non-literary business models in our society that are based solely on making money. The culture- for-money paradigm is quite disgusting, but not at all at odds with our greed-oriented society at this time.

    Good luck in your endeavors, and keep the faith.

    Sincerely,
    James G. Piatt
    jimp8164@gmail.com

  • geodutton says:

    I’m with rauldukeblog and her/his respondents. Sarah Anne is not seeing the elephant in the room that has been driving the monetization of literature, a dreary trend that filters down from the Big Five all the way to MFA programs. After umpteen submissions, I’ve had no luck with any print journal but one, whose editor I was personally introduced to. If everything published for profit on or off the Net seems subject to corrupt impulses, why not literary journals?

    I’m sure Sarah Anne does the best she can to triage her inbox to find and put out quality submissions, but she’s right in wondering if anyone reads them or they make any kind of impression on data-sodden readers.

    My advice to writers: focus on venues where what you are saying might make readers think and act. Don’t expect prizes or even payment. Whatever you have to say is marginal to almost everyone who reads it, so concentrate on hooking a few live ones who might read your next piece no matter where it shows up. (You do publicize your publications, do you not?)

    My advice to managing editors: Pick a POV and publish writers who either have it and hate it. Address what’s going on in the world, not inside writers’ navels. Make a difference that is more consequential than critical acclaim.

  • Glenn I says:

    Are we on the same team?

    The editor/publisher puts forward her vision of what literature is — she uses the labor of writers to enact that vision. Thus she rejects or molds or endorses the writing offered her to make sure the world as she sees it is expressed in her product. Literary magazines do not reward the best literature — what is “best”? — but what the editors like. This is not a bad thing. An editor with a clear vision can produce a magazine (using other people’s writing) that a reader can have confidence in — loved last month’s issue, love this month’s, expect great things next time.

    If the editor likes your writing you get recruited to the team. If not, you don’t make the team.

    Are we on the same team?

  • geodutton says:

    I thought the SF media elite prized authenticity, social justice and authenticity. Yet here you go extolling the experiential delights of a fast food franchise that underpays employees, sources irresponsibly, and loads up customers with bad calories. I expected better of you.

  • Hispanophile says:

    Sarah Anne, the lack of manners by writers that you report here astounds me. I wonder about the top-tier magazines, some of which I subscribe to and then scratch my head and trying to figure out why there is value in some of the texts I find there. I think about a publication like The Sun out of Chapel Hill, NC and how it keeps chugging along and producing an interesting magazine every month. How? I think what The Sun has that other print and digital magazines lack is a real conversation going on with its readership and a clear and present moral standard. In short, the editors give a damn, both about good writing and the society in which they are functioning. They take a position. I don’t know if The New Yorker is giving away subscriptions to prisoners, but The Sun is, and that connection between literature and life that is present on every page keeps its readership interested and loyal. I find myself annoyed by the constant refrain, found also in the comments here, that MFA programs are somehow the source of the worst literary poison in our nation. MFA programs vary in quality, but they are no different from any other graduate program in that those who attend them will apply themselves or not, and those who do not or who choose to be imitative will simply not be the writers who are remembered. There is another element, however, that I think counts: the failure of our state and federal governments to support the arts. My translation work takes me to Mexico and there the government puts a great deal of money into supporting prizes, fellowships, promotion of Mexican culture abroad, and creating opportunities for artists of all types. The so-called free market will never be adequate to the task of nurturing great art and supporting the development of great artists. Thank you for your essay and the work you do.

  • David K says:

    After I retired from full-time work I set about learning how to write short stories, and I have been willing to use getting published in literary journals as a gauge of the quality of my endeavors. I know “getting published” is an unreliable metric, due to a number of factors, including luck, but because I’m not interested in (or it’s too late for) establishing a career as a fiction writer, it seemed reasonable at the time. (In addition to being a submitter, I also am a fiction “first reader” for a well-respected literary journal.) I quickly learned that, primarily because of the Internet, there are thousands of both literary publishing venues and aspiring writers out there, and the availability of searchable data-bases like Duotrope, free or nominal submission costs (other than optional contests), the acceptance of simultaneous submissions, and the utility of the Submittable interface has made both publishing and submitting fiction, nonfiction, art, reviews, memoirs, etc., within the reach of the multitudes. There’s no real money in it for either publishers or writers, so it seems it’s primarily about the love of literary art, the desire to support and disseminate it, and the desire many people seem to have to be a “published” writer.

  • adminclouds says:

    I got in a pissing match with a literary journal. Our exchange inspired a poem.

    Befits
    By Lynn Johansen

    It seemed a pretentious journal
    Long in the tooth, satisfied
    But poems were there
    That drew me

    My email was curt
    Your pages don’t work,
    The online subscription
    Broken

    Their reply, equally forced
    With a homepage link
    Press a button,
    Clearly there

    And my reply, their direction
    Sends me in circles
    And never
    An ever-loving form to fill

    Now, with usual frustrations
    My temperament is cool
    But this exchange befits
    How lost poetry has become.

    • rauldukeblog says:

      For what it’s worth you’re not alone. I know someone who usually never responds to rejections but recently got pissed off by the tone of the American Journal of Poetry because their submission guidelines make a direct statement about what they want in a poem but their rejection letter said their rejection was down to their being “quirky.”

    • rauldukeblog says:

      Sorry hit send by mistake! To continue: Asked to explain how to reconcile the difference between specific requirements based on specific aesthetics, and the arbitrary nature of “quirky” the AJP editor said: “Yeah, whatever.”

  • DavidWBerner says:

    Great insight. As a writer and teacher, I have begun a new literary journal with its debut this fall. For now, it will be annual and yes, digital. It’s the only cost efficient way to do it for me. It will be offered as a Kindle-only version. Yes, I am bowing to the evil Amazon. Although I don’t see Amazon as Satan, only one of his lesser disciplines. I am not one of those that believes Amazon is destroying literature. In some ways, it has helped. But that’s for another discussion. Still, I, like you, believe in words, believe in voices that may not readily get through the gatekeepers, although gatekeeping is a good thing sometimes. All in all, words will always find a way to their readers. I have to believe that.

  • The title of this magazine is “Brevity,” people. Get to the point!

  • rauldukeblog says:

    An interesting addendum: “And that is the real issue. The poetry subculture no longer assumes that all published poems will be read. Like their colleagues in other academic departments, poetry professionals must publish, for purposes of both job security and career advancement. The more they publish, the faster they progress. If they do not publish, or wait too long, their economic futures are in grave jeopardy.”

    From an essay by Dana Gioia published in the May 1991 issue of, The Atlantic. Though problematic and in some places deeply flawed, the essay offers an interesting context considering it’s now nearly 30 years old.

    See the entire article here: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1991/05/can-poetry-matter/305062/

  • dlrreads says:

    It’s absolutely true that there are legions of literary journals online and a dwindling few in print. That any of these should take a year to 18 months to respond is appalling, and makes me wonder why they are in the publication business at all. Yes, a journal is a business, and it should be managed like one with at least one or two permanent staff to counteract the whim and fancy of a revolving door of grad students who know bupkiss about looking at a publication as a WHOLE. Journals must be funded, and seriously funded, either supported by ads or an academic institution or the generous pockets of some nonprofit that supports literary excellence. Libraries, support groups (like Women Who Submit) and other venues both poetry and literature-based are good sources for samples of journals. However, it is astonishing how many well-published poets, in particular, use the shotgun method and it works! It belies the idea that knowing the journal’s style is the key to getting your work published by them. The only obvious caveat is don’t send a haiku to a narrative journal or a narrative work to a formal verse pub. Good work does rise to the top, eventually, but there’s a lot of crap published, including and especially lately, in Poetry, much to the dismay of many. I agree with other posters who bemoan the cookie cutter result of many MFA programs who graduate writers who know where the comma should be, in what form the work should be shaped, and the result is dull dull dull stories about people or ideas it is a Sisyphusian task to care about. Where’s the humanity in today’s literature? Where’s the heart? Where’s the STORY?

    • adminclouds says:

      Bravo. Finally dropped my Poetry subscription just last month. Hard not to despair.

    • rauldukeblog says:

      Excellent points. In regards to this: “That any of these should take a year to 18 months to respond is appalling,…”

      Consider that 20 years ago a quarterly that ran 8 to 16 short stories a year received 15,000 unsolicited MS a year.

      While it is absolutely true that there is an irresponsible whimsy and caprice involved in the “hey let’s start a literary magazine” attitude (by people with little sense, and less money) the other issue is that the mass production and mass proliferation of poorly run lit mags is a reflection of a wider systemic defect in the culture and the economy.

      The refusal of the literary community to address the deficiencies you mention, the systemic corruption and the ill effects of a mass production Borg cube culture, are guaranteed to atrophy the Art – as your comment about Poetry makes clear.

      Consider that almost all novels published must have a minimum length. Why?

      Because the size of the product is a measure of shelf space and the cost of paper as a subcategory of the cost of overhead which is rent in an office in NYC which is in turn attached to the cost of living for the agents, editors and accountants.

      None of which has a damn thing to do with “story” but everything to do with money.

      The result is “Art” Incorporated not, Art and certainly not, Literary Art but a dreary, dismal paint by numbers sameness.

  • Andrew Kass says:

    Point taken, with a caveat from the exo-MFA space. I am submitting to scores of journals a year, often paying for the privilege. Though I have published in some of the fine magazines cited, I cannot afford to subscribe to every journal to which I apply. A handful, yes. Sometimes I’ll get an issue from a new application and find that I actively detest the selections and strike that title from the list.
    Are we on the same side? After pondering the writer’s life for several decades, I’m on my side: studying the market, crafting the best prose possible, supporting worthy endeavors, reading where interest takes me. Can an editor reasonably ask for more of a writer?

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