Here’s how it used to work in the old days. If you wrote literary short stories, poetry, or literary criticism, you published those works in small literary journals. Some of these journals were famous, like the Paris Review, others not so famous, but the common bond was respect for artistic merit — however that might have been defined at any point on the often-trendy cultural continuum.
Last time I checked, most literary journals published only a few times a year, as most. Most paid little or nothing, or provided compensation in the form of one or more copies upon publication. Many if not most had stringent requirements about submissions, including refusing to consider multiple submissions. Many if not most took months to respond to authors, such that an author armed with a literary short story who followed all the rules might only be able to submit to two or three journals in a calendar year — with little or no assurance of eventual publication.
As the internet has grown, I do know that literary journals have added new wrinkles to protect their reputations, markets and cultural standing. One of these rules is that publication online in any form disqualifies a story or poem from consideration. It’s an understandable adaptation, but ignores the reality and importance of the internet in liberating the very voices that literary journals traditionally advocated for in the face of entertainment-driven commercialism.
All of which leads me to a whole spate of related questions….
- In the context of the internet age, the turn-around times for many of these journals — including many respected publications — are absurd. Are physical literary journals going to be able to hold the line on these practices, or will they be eroded and eventually consumed by online versions? Is the literary-journal tempo increasing? Should it?
- Can literary journals insist that works not appear online prior to publication? What constitutes ‘appearing online’? If someone workshops a story in a private online forum, does that exclude the work from consideration? If a writer posts the work on their own site for comments, but does not seek publication elsewhere, is that still a violation?
- How can these journals continue to publish when price pressures are as great for them as they are on any other publisher? Are they subsidized? Do they have benefactors? Deep pockets? Rich and crazy uncles and aunts?
- How is the academic world responding to the internet, and how is that affecting relationships with literary journals? It’s an open secret that if you want to be a big name in the academic world (as an artist or scholar or both), these journals can have a serious impact on your publish-or-perish career. Is that still true?
It’s interesting to me that I’ve run across no stories about the convergence (or collision) of literary journals and the internet. Granted, I’m not digging, and the entire industry is quite small, but it still seems odd.
On a related note, the literary journals I’ve seen lately all look as if they were self-published in one form or another. In this sense, literary journals seem to be cutting edge. Then again, many literary journals have been self-published by their owners/editors for decades, meaning this small niche of the publishing industry actually has more cred on the self-publishing front that any other niche I can think of.
Is there something to learn from the long experience of the literary journal practice? What do they know about the business of publishing that would be useful to others?
It seems inevitable to me that literary journals must transition to online publication. Are there any that have already made their mark? Which online journals are driving trends? Who is publishing the best and brightest online fiction?
— Mark Barrett