Last week, I drove to an Undergraduate College Literary Magazine in Danville, IL with seven other Creative Writing majors. It was a conference featuring seven universities between Pennsylvania and Illinois and panels focused on various aspects of running an undergraduate magazine. Preparing for the conference, I thought about how there is constant talk about how e-readers and Amazon change the book publishing and reading world (I get in arguments about the pros and cons of Kindle even outside the English/Writing major community). Yet, I rarely hear talk about how these changes affect the world of literary journals. This conference gave me the opportunity to see how literary journals have been dealing with the move from print to digital.
One of the biggest ways editors have been keeping up with this move is by creating online journals to supplement or replace the print journal. People are more willing to browse a website than purchase a journal, so the pieces get more viewers. It also saves money on printing and distribution. But editors seem under constant pressure to do more, to have more, in the online medium. Some presenters talked about adding videos, audio, art. One journal, for example, includes an interactive story of the month, which site visitors can add to and watch grow. Susquehanna Review uses the online space to include interviews with writers and visual art. There are hundreds of literary magazines in circulation, a large percentage being online, and many big name writers publish in them. The journals range in prestige, in genre, and in taste.
The variety of literary magazines and the lengths to which they go to stay relevant raises the question of why they aren’t more well known to the public. Annual, or in some cases monthly publications allow editors the opportunity to constantly take note of what the public wants and to mold their journals to fit this demand. They are always changing, offering samples of the most recent writing. As many of the panels at the Literary Magazine Conference suggested, these journals also help to build up a community of writers. It’s a chance to get publications credits, test your writing against others’, and to get to know other writers.
But maybe this is the problem. Maybe literary magazines are being made by writers for writers, excluding the general public. Undergraduate journals, which feature student work, are especially likely to fall under this category. Few students have the time or motivation to write stories and poems if they aren’t in the English or Writing departments. Therefore, it is the English and Writing students who are getting published, who the magazine is advertized to, and who create and launch the journal. Is it any wonder that non-writers don’t show interest in them? It is a publication that exists in a bubble. At the conference, some magazine editors spoke of opening their journals up to the university as a whole, encouraging non-English/Writing majors to submit. Yet, these editors seemed to do this out of necessity, because of a lack of a Writing major on campus. Their journals lacked the revised, professional quality of publications at other schools. It seems difficult to strike that middle ground, creating a journal that doesn’t exist in a bubble, while also maintaining a high quality of work.
I believe that literary magazines are important. They offer writers an opportunity to publish. They provide motivation to write and redraft and can lead to eventual book publication. To non-writers, literary magazines present an easy, fast way to read new literature. Unlike the Kindle or Nook, online literary journals are often free. The huge number of journals out there is reassuring, because it shows that people still care about writing and reading. It shows that stories and poems are circulating and part of the general consciousness. Hopefully, as they continue to develop and improve, literature magazines will become more well-known and widely read.