Why I Write: Becky Tuch Explores the World of Lit Mags
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Becky Tuch is creator of The Review Review, a website that reviews literary magazines, and a founding member of the literary blog Beyond the Margins. Tuch interviews journal editors and offers publishing tips to writers. She shares her thoughts on the evolving role of literary journals in the world of writing.
Why do you write?
Writing is always about exploration for me. We have our daily lives, full of conversations, tasks, chores, and activities. But beyond that, I believe there is something inexplicable, timeless, transcendent.
When people pray, I think that's what they're trying to tap into—something higher or larger than themselves and their daily routines. For me, that's the purpose of writing. I want to capture every aspect of the mundane, the routine and small, in order to explore beyond it, to find something transcendent. I don't always know whether or not I believe in God. But I will always believe in words.
Why did you decide to write about literary magazines?
In 2008, I realized that I was spending way more time submitting to literary magazines than actually reading literary magazines. Needless to say, I sent a lot of my work to inappropriate venues, and was very appropriately rejected!
It occurred to me that the truly best way to ensure publication in literary magazines—to know that you are sending the right work to the right places—is to read as many lit mags as possible. So I began to do just that. Eventually, I wanted to do more than just read the journals. I wanted to share my experience of the journal with other people. I wanted to tell people what I thought of this or that story, to raise questions about this or that poem. Plus, I wanted to share my insights about a journal with other writers also trying to find the right venues for their work.
Reviewing lit mags has been a way for me to engage more deeply with the work published there, to ask questions or just share my admiration. Plus publishing my reviews online offers a way for other writers to respond and also learn.
Literary magazines have been the crucial vehicle for writers to "be discovered" in the last century. Do they serve that purpose now?
Definitely they do. I hear from agents all the time that they look through literary magazines to find new talent. Now that there are so many online journals, and so many ways for writers to promote their own publications, I can only imagine that more writers will continue to be discovered through these publications.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the validation that writers get from seeing their work in print can provide the much-needed confidence for them to go on, to keep writing over the many years required to develop their craft. So, yes, they can be discovered. But more significantly, lit mags offer a way for writers to discover themselves.
Where do you see literary journals in the overall publishing world? What role do they serve?
Well, for one thing, you don't see many literary magazines being bought out by large corporations. While so much in publishing has changed in the past ten years, I think we can count on the fact that Walmart won't be merging with Barnes and Noble to buy any small journals any time soon. I love that. I love that there is still one arena in our culture that is simply not on the market.
Because of that, the work published in lit mags does not aim to meet commercial interests. Lit mags are where we find work that is edgy, experimental, that crosses genres. For crying out loud, this is where we find poetry! In our literary magazines! And poetry is so important. Of course, literary magazines also publish work that is commercially marketable, that is entertaining, pleasurable, fun. But as a reader, as a consumer, I love knowing that the work produced in these magazines remains, for better and worse, untouched by the profit motive.
Most lit journals don't make a profit. Why do you think there are so many of them? Why do people have such a need to start lit journals?
Oh, this is a question I ask myself all the time: Why do so many people want to start lit mags? To answer that, I can only talk about my own experience. Writing and submitting work requires so much patience and so much isolation. Young writers are so full of fantasy—the fantasies of reading to a crowd, of signing books, of greeting fans.
The reality of the first ten years of most writers' lives is, in fact, not like that at all. Apart from writing workshops and the occasional open mic, there is just not that much chance to connect directly with people, through your work. The people who start lit mags do tend to be young writers, early in their careers. So I think the impulse comes from this deep desire to connect with people through your art, through something that you've made.
What are your favorite journals and why?
I do have many journals that I truly admire, some of which I am in awe, and many for which I feel a deep respect. But, since I am the editor of a site that reviews journals, I feel it would be a bit indecorous to name favorites. Plus, to be honest, I just like all of them. I like what they do. I like that they exist. I love their changing covers and the rotating contributors and I admire all those editors who work so hard to get their aesthetic so right.
What's the strangest journal you've come across?
Ha! I have a very high threshold for "strange." I am still waiting to get a journal in the mail that really makes me think, "Now that is weird." Hasn't happened yet.