Posts in "Literary Journals" category

Seattle Review Overhaul

The Seattle Review is overhauling their entire journal, swinging from very short stories (all stories had to be under 4,000 words), to novellas (if it’s not more than 40 pages, they don’t want to see it).

They haven’t posted anything on their submissions page yet, but I’ll repost what they mailed me:

“The editors of The Seattle Review are pleased to announce that, starting with our forthcoming Fall 2010 issue, The Seattle Review will publish, and will only publish, long poems and novellas.”

It’s a bold strategy, and one that really gives them a niche in the literary journal sphere. No journals I know of concentrate exclusively on the long form.

It’s also a good move because when I spoke to a former editor at The Seattle Review (who shall remain unnamed), they said that virtually all material was solicited, and that they only took a single story from the slush pile a year. You expect those kinds of odds for The Paris Review, but you hope regional journals like The Seattle Review could be a bit friendlier to slush pile submitters. Hopefully, this change opens up the field.

New Platforms for Literary Journals

Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and smart phones are not merely new avenues of disseminating fiction. They create new parameters and challenges for fiction to utilize. The medium matters — there is no such thing as a "neutral" medium. 

The main mistake readers make is believing that the content is transferable between mediums — that a story on Twitter is the same as a story on Facebook or on a blog or a cellphone. The printed word, though we're grown accustomed (comfortable!) to reading it between bound sheaves (a codex), was formerly read and written differently when in a long, continuous sheet (a scroll).

So what will fiction look like when explored in new electronic formats?

New literary journals are trying to show us.

Shape of a Box, on youtube, is a type of spoken word/image-enhanced literary journal. It only publishes on youtube — no other medium — which I think is crucial for journals trying to hone in on the heartbeat of a particular genre.

Cell Stories, designed only for reading on your cell phone.

And though it's not exclusively published on Twitter, don't forget Electric Literature's experiment with Rick Moody's Twitter-specific story. 140-character bursts, from the alpha to the omega. It's doesn't take much of a soothsayer to predict a full fledged lit journal only publishing Twitter stories in the future. The constraints only make it seem more enticing. 

[Update: The always wise comments section has alerted me to Nanoism, which publishes Twitter fiction. @nanoism.]

And though this post has mainly focused on new technologies, how about springing for the old? Abe's Penny serializes short stories on four postcards. That's right — through snail mail. They call it "micro-publication," but I call it cool.

And The Facebook Review started a few years ago. It's hoary and venerable now. Online journals don't age in dog years, they age in flea years. Three years is geriatric. Anyways, The Facebook Review publishes, markets, and edits all within the confines of facebook. 

AWP Journals

So these are the journals I got my grubby fingers on and humped back to California in my carry-on backpack.

Total # of journals: 18

Total # of pounds lost while carrying them through airport: Unknown, but likely substantial

  • The Sun
  • Blue Mesa Review
  • Crab Orchard Review
  • The Gettysburg Review
  • Third Coast
  • Colorado Review
  • Nimrod International Journal
  • Ninth Letter
  • The Missouri Review
  • Willow Springs
  • PEN America
  • Ruminate
  • Open City
  • Fence
  • Fugue
  • Black Warrior Review
  • Florida Review

Out of all these journals, my favorite is Ninth Letter. It is such a beautiful journal, with innovative design and edgy graphics, and the stories, like “Man of Steel,” are killer. I got a 2009 issue, not the most recent, but I have to say, it wins my Best Journal of the AWP Conference Award. No, this award does not have a history and I just made it up, but still. Get a subscription.

Literary Journal Hierarchies

"Even esteemed journals sometimes seem like they're run by squirrels, marmots, or lemurs."

— Timothy Schaffert

At the AWP panel "The Road from Journal to Book," five writers/editors talked about the fiction of literary journal hierarchies. They named Cliff Garstang's Perpetual Folly Pushcart Rankings and the Top 50 Journals by Every Writer's Resource as examples of journal hierarchies (the latter woefully dated — they have several dead journals and glaring exceptions).

The best point made during the panel was that journal editors don't think of journals along a spectrum from worse to better, but more like least favorite to most favorite. In other words, every editor has a personal hierarchy of literary journals. Therefore, attempts to make static, universal hierarchies of literary journals are doomed to fail.

This means some "good" journals might mean little to a journal editor if they know that journal's aesthetic clashes with their own. Or conversely, if a lesser known journal matches the aesthetic of their journal, it could really boost a story's chances. 

So writers should be focused less on trying to make it into the best journal they possibly can (So many writers I know always send out a new story to Atlantic Monthly, Granta, Paris Review, and Ploughshares), and more on trying to make it into journals that really matches the type of fiction they write.

Those are all great points. I agree with them wholeheartedly. But despite the antagonism of the panel to hierarchal lists of journals, I believe Perpetual Folly and the list here on BookFox and Duotrope's statistics of acceptances all serve a useful, if limited, function: they give newbie and emerging writers a chance to get acquainted with the relative status of a journal in the literary community. I don't think any of the list creators would fight to the death for a particular spot for any journal — they're just guidelines, and by triangulating between these multiple sources as well as prizes like O'Henry and BASS, beginning writers can figure out where to send. The lists just helps establish relative difficulty of acceptance — that's it.

For example, someone just left a comment on my blog that they were preparing to send stories out to the Tier 5 journals on my list. I think that's good — my list saved them from the futility of marching through all the top journals who accept a tenth of 1% of their slush piles. It gave them a list of good journals that are publishing a number of emerging authors, where they have a chance.

Ultimately, though, it is about taste. It's about the type of story editors are accepting, the type of aesthetic they're publishing. You can't rank aesthetics. You can't rank taste. So as one member of the panel said, read the journals. If you read a journal like The Gettysburg Review and find the stories boring, don't send them your "exciting" story, because to them those "boring" stories are exciting. Find a journal that thrills you and send stories there.

Literary Journals Segregating Fiction

In the last few years, many prestigious literary journals have moved to a two-tier model for publishing: they maintain their print journal for the big-name authors, and create an online space to publish emerging authors. 

Granta now has their "New Voices" program, started last year, which publishes new authors online every month. American Short Fiction has began to publish a story a month online. Kenyon Review has done likewise, publishing a number of stories in an online format. Zoetrope has long published their contest winner in on online-only format. And of course AGNI might be the longest-running example, with its AGNI online section. Even the glossies have begun to glom onto a similar strategy: Atlantic Monthly attempted to sell (overpriced) short stories via an iTunes model.

These bifurcated fiction offerings accomplish a number of goals:

  • It allows the journal to highlight up-and-coming authors that wouldn't make it into the print issue.
  • Maximizes the potential revenue from the print journal (Big names sell mags)
  • Provides fresh content online, driving traffic to the website
  • Helps the biggest journals appear hip and relevant by launching burgeoning authors, rather than only publishing established authors.

I think it's telling that many of the journals that have adopted this model have been the top in the industry. Also, the top journals have the most sharply demarcated lines between established/print and emerging/online.

But this type of system has a number of problems, as well:

  • Perpetuates the stereotype that print is prestigious and online is second-grade.
  • Divides the journal brand, where some authors put in their bios "Famous Journal X" and others have to add an additional caveat, "Famous Journal X online." It's a false dichotomy — if you wrote an online piece for Esquire, you would just put Esquire in your bio, not Esquire Online.
  • Creates less of an incentive for journals to invest in a young writer, to stand behind them strongly enough to publish them in a print journal. Instead, younger writers can reliably be shuffled to the (cheaper and safer) online spaces.

I'm guessing this model of original content in both print and online capacities will slowly erode the current dominant model of Print as primary, with a website as the second-tier source of bulletin board and excerpts. Perhaps this is actually a transitional stage: we've seen virtually all literary journals ramp up their online presences in the last five years, and now we're entering a stage where journals are starting to blend their print/online production, and in the future we might see another shift.

Yes, I know about all the online literary journals out there, probably screaming at the screen right now that they've led the way. And Electric Literature and Narrative have plowed a road into that frontier as well. 

But five years ago, big literary journals were still staunchly sticking to print. I wonder if in 2015, how many big literary journals will have shifted to online only. More importantly, how many of them will be able to maintain their prestige (e.g. when you shift online, don't pull a TriQuarterly and fire all your paid staff).

Electric Literature #3 Review

Issue #3 of Electric Literature just came out, featuring Aimee Bender and Rick Moody, among others. I got my hands on a copy of the print journal, and I’m glad to see that a journal that touts itself as being available on so many digital platforms hasn’t let the print side languish. It’s a beautiful design, better than many journals only publishing in print. Inside, it showcases the art of Adam Thompson — simple but fun sketches between the prose, like a genie lamp coming out of a genie lamp and an automatic rifle controlled by marionette strings.

“The Red Ribbon” makes me glad to see the way Aimee Bender’s fiction has matured. I thoroughly enjoyed her early stories — “Girl in the Flammable Skirt” — as well as her novel “An Invisible Sign of My Own,” but this story seems to bear the traces of those early fabulist fictions, while moving on to a more grounded realism. As always, her more fantastical elements are balanced by deep and bracing humanity.

Rick Moody’s story, “Some Contemporary Characters,” was first published via Twitter (to much fanfare). While I admired the attempt to publish a story through Twitter — as much for the new form of dissemination as for the natural constraints of 140 characters — I had a hard time reading it. I started in the middle, where several friends were re-Tweeting the story. Then I backtracked to the source at Electric Literature and tried from the beginning. It never gelled. Thankfully, when I read it here in the journal, I liked it much more. The haiku-like story switches between the points of view of an elderly scholar and a textophiliac girl with “three different hair colors, none of them found in nature.”

It’s nice that this third issue has begun to highlight emerging writers. The first two issues were stocked full of brand names — Michael Cunningham, Lydia Millet, Jim Shepard, Lydia Davis, Colson Whitehead — and now the journal has built the cachet to explore lesser known names, like Matt Sumell. Sumell’s story, “Little Things,” starts like this:

“I folded my arms. They felt big, capable of anything. Lifting, carrying, digging, feeding cows PCP so they revolt with unexpected and tremendous violence — anything. Wrapping gifts in tissue paper and busting teeth out of Christian heads. Pumping bicycle tires, pumping gas, pumping iron, bagging my own groceries and skipping boulders across the Long Island Sound all the way to Connecticut. Cracking eggs with one hand and folding laundry. Pushing my Mexican neighbor’s broke-down car across the street Thursday mornings to avoid street sweeping tickets and tossing my cell phone to a friend who needs to make an important call to his mom. Opening every jar for every lady. Helping. I felt like helping. I felt like I could help.”

The strong voice carries this short piece about a family dealing with their dying mother. Not an original topic, but certainly told in an entertaining way. There are fisticuffs between brothers, a father losing his gallbladder, the man who never stopped walking (like “The Unnamed,” yes), murders with chicken soup cans, Catholic girls dying for human touch, and icing that scalds. Miraculously, it all sticks together.

By surrounding the story of the mother’s death with the violent, odd, and melancholy ephemera heard on the news or happened to friends, the normally isolated event of death is seen with a wide-angle perspective, a single star in a constellation of pain. In fact, I like that this story precedes the Rick Moody story, because the way that a Twitter story communicates is only through and amongst the welter of thousands of other tiny stories. It’s important to recognize that no single narrative takes primary stage — it’s always filtered through all the other tragedies of the world — and Sumell captures that well.

It’s tough to characterize the aesthetic of any journal, but E.L. hovers in that liminal space between traditional and experimental. At least in regards to the first three stories in this issue, it could be called innovative without sacrificing the foundations of fiction. But whatever you call it, it’s good.

Ted Genoways Screed in Mother Jones

Ted Genoways, editor of VQR, wrote an impassioned call for action in Mother Jones. Essentially, he laments the decline of the literary journal and the explosion of creative writing programs and writers who don't read.

About those writers who don't read:

"Last summer, Louis Menand tabulated that there were 822 creative writing programs. Consider this for a moment: If those programs admit even 5 to 10 new students per year, then they will cumulatively produce some 60,000 new writers in the coming decade. Yet the average literary magazine now prints fewer than 1,500 copies. In short, no one is reading all this newly produced literature—not even the writers themselves."

The flaw in this thinking is that writers are either reading literary journals or not reading at all. "Newly produced literature" is a malleable term. As a writer, I read "newly produced" collections every year — a lot of them (20, 30). But I read few journals because I need more of a winnowing process. 

There's a winnowing process — from unpublished manuscripts to literary journals, and from literary journals to Pushcart/BASS/Collections. I've read the unpublished manuscripts in slush piles, and I've read literary journals, and I tend to prefer collections (even more than Pushcart and BASS). 

Why? Because for one, many stories in literary journals don't make it to collections. That winnowing process allows me to access a better bank of literature. Two, I like reading numerous stories by a single author, onhealthy pharmacy online without prescription because the stories connect more than many journals.

And three, because pragmatically, I have far too much to read (no, really — it's impossible to keep up). Everyone has far too much to read. Not only because we're bombarded with all sorts of flashy doohickeys like Twitter and DVR and Netflix and computer games and video games, but because the sheer amount of fiction produced each year is overwhelming.

In other words, while Genoways notes quite correctly the proliferation of creative writing programs and writers, he fails to take into account the impact of the proliferation of words. We're drowning. And we cope with that drowning by moving up the ladder: by choosing to read books, which offer a further winnowing process than literary journals.

I'm not saying that I don't like or read literary journals — I do. I'm just trying to trampoline off Genoways argument to show how and why things are the way they are. And I'm not saying it's right, just that this has been the pragmatic route many have slipped into.

I don't know the solution. But as the era of e-books dawns, I suspect that ten years from now, Genoways and other literary editors will be looking back on the '00s as the good old days. Because if you can't get anyone to subscribe or read journals now, just wait until there's an infinite amount of stories, novels and nonfiction available for free on e-readers. 

TriQuarterly Shuts Down

Okay, so let's get the order of events correct.

First, Cliff at Perpetual Folly tipped me off to Evanston Now, a local online news source in the Northwestern area (where TriQuarterly is published). Evanston Now reported that the Northwestern University Press, which publishes TriQuarterly, would be scaling back a number of its operations. Mentioned in the article is the idea that TriQuarterly would move to an online venue rather than print.

Okay. That didn't sound disastrous to me. A number of new journals have used the online format rather than print. Plus, two powerhouses are now in the online arena — Electric Literature and Narrative. I think they lend a lot of credibility to the medium.

Is it a shame to all us print-and-ink nostalgiacs that TriQuarterly has to stop printing after 45 years? Absolutely. But does it ruin the literary journal? Not at all. In fact, I think that in the future the hierarchies will be reversed, and online publication will be more highly prized than print.

But then Hannah Tinti of One Story tipped me off to this new post on Work In Progress, which says TriQuarterly isn't moving online, it's being shut down. Apparently, "moving online" was a euphemism for cutting all paid editorial positions and giving some open-source software to students. Bleh.

Apparently, associate editor Ian Morris apparently sent out this email:

"After terminating TriQuarterly’s print operation and our editorial positions next April, Northwestern University will be giving the name TriQuarterly to an online “open source” student-run journal in the university’s department of continuing studies."

I'd like to wait and see what shape this new journal with the old name takes, but cutting all the funding virtually guaruntees a plunge in quality.

The real question on everyone's minds: Which literary journal will be next to fall?

Short Stories as Moles; or, the Literary Journal Scene in Germany

Thanks to Absinthe Minded (great name, by the way), for referring me to this article in the Goethe Institut about the literary journal/short story scene in Germany. Love the opening:

“Like moles, literary magazines burrow through the subsoil and often bring literary treasures to light. They live on self-exploitation, are sometimes short-lived and bizarre, and publish against the mainstream. And they sometimes feel out trends that later rock the literary scene with truly eruptive success.”

The article goes on to discuss the career of Günter Eich, how circulations run between 30 and 30,000 (ha! — love the lowballing), and the stubbornly long literary journal name “das heft das seinen langen namen ändern wollte.”

Rolf Grimminger, quoted in the articles, notes the changing role of literary journals:

“The significance of literary magazines has changed greatly in recent decades. In the 1950s is canada pharmacy online safe they were still a real medium of information about what was going on and about authors and the possibilities of writing. Then competition came in the form of features articles in newspapers and audio-visual media”. Today the charm of many magazines is precisely their niche existence and their subversive subterranean activities.”

He’s right about the persevering charm of literary magazines — for many of them, it is about filling a (admittedly small) niche. In the U.S., though, I doubt that feature articles in newspapers were ever offering competition. The rising competition is certainly audio-visual media, especially since publishers are now wanting books themselves to be multimedia shows.

The course for most journals seems not towards mainstream status and struggling against the parameters of their niche, but working on embracing, exploring, and digging deeper into those niches.

John Freeman on Literary Journals

Here’s John Freeman brilliant description of the role of literary journals:

Their primary function, after all, is to undermine this economy of prestige, to promote gross miscegenation, messiness, conflict and disorder; to subvert the market; and to place writers in unexpected places, where they can create their own unlikely community of readers.

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