Are There Too Many Literary Journals? Editors Weigh In.
Whenever I bring up literary journals in conversation amongst my coworkers, friends, and family, I often draw blank stares. Many of my peers are no more invested in literature than any casual reader. This always leaves me wondering where, if at all, pockets of literary fanatics reside in the world, gorging on print journals and online publications, keeping the editors inspired to churn out more. But if the audience for literary journals is really as minute as it seems, than how are there still so many publications? And how do they survive? I asked around for some input…
- Matt Broderick, Reviews Editor, TRR
Question: One could argue that there is an oversaturation of literary journals, both online and print, with new entrants joining the field every year. Is there an audience to support these publications? What is the current state of health for literary journals?
Jessica Rosevear Fox, Editor and Publisher, Killing the Angel:
I think the issue is not a lack of audience, but the willingness to do what it takes to find and connect to your readership. There's an audience for everything, and it's the publication's job to find its audience and market to it.
Heath Brougher, Poetry Editor, Into the Void:
I think the current state of health for literary journals is really bad. I say this for one reason: because virtually none of these journals read blind and therefore allow cronyism to overrun the choices of who they publish. I think the only proper way to run a literary journal is to read blind. If you want to find the best poems and put out the best quality magazine, then this is how to go about doing it. I've always been very disillusioned at how blatantly corrupt some of these journals can be as they continuously regurgitate the same boring poems by the same boring poets with each issue. Most of the more well-known journals leave no room for new voices. In my opinion, a journal isn't a true journal until it reads blind. I want to see a time come when a journal is not considered a "real" journal until it reads blind.
Kris Baker Dersch, Producer/Editor, No Extra Words:
That's a great question, and I think it is bigger than journals. The real question is, do we have enough readers for all of the content we are creating? We know that a lot of adults, once they finish their education, will not pick up a book again. If that's true, they probably aren't going to leaf through a literary journal, either, maybe not even an online one. I worry a lot that we will see a tipping point in my lifetime where there are more writers than readers, if we haven't already. My strategy for fighting it in my own small way is threefold: keep creating good content, keep reading (don't be part of the problem,) and keep growing the next generation of readers.
Lucie Shelly, Associate Editor, Electric Literature's Recommended Reading:
There are a lot of journals, but there are also more than enough writers to put in them. I think the best place to get published is anywhere reputable that's also online because work is so much more shareable. I think more journals is also a good thing because they fortify literary publishing.
Kelly Davio, Publisher and Poetry Editor, Tahoma Literary Review:
This is likely an unpopular opinion among editors, but I think a proliferation of journals is a great thing. If the literary community had only a handful of journals, only a handful of writers would ever see their work in print, and no doubt only a few literary styles and tastes would ever be represented to the reading public. It’s also a positive for writers to work on the editor’s side of the desk, even for a brief period; understanding the nuances of the publishing process can only benefit the writer who’s trying to build a literary career.
Jacob Weber, Fiction Editor, Baltimore Review:
On the surface, the idea that there are too many journals seems absurd. If a journal can support itself financially, even by the seat of its pants (as many do), then that is an indication that there is enough demand to validate the supply. Few journals run off a for-profit model, but that doesn't mean there is no demand. If a journal can keep the lights on through some combination of reading fees, contests, donations, subscriptions, and book sales, then its existence is economically justified.
There is possibly an argument, though, that the fiction market is saturated from the perspective of cultural influence. Our best fiction writers don't have much place in the major issues of contemporary public discourse. Anis Shivani, the contentious literary critic, asserts that saturation has something to do with it: "There is too much writing, so overwhelming in volume that the most committed reader can't keep up. The little good writing gets drowned out...But we can already tell who the very good writers of the age are. Why do we need the rest? Accepting the existence of bad writing, being casual about its profusion, dulls the critical sense."
If "the literary community" (does such a thing exist?) put forth a limited number of representatives to speak for it, its impact on society and political discourse would not become so diffuse as to be meaningless. One could argue that literature's influence in the world is so weakened, we can't afford to offer too many voices. We need to "stay on message," as they always say in politics, not have a thousand messages.
But that's really the business of the rarefied end of the literary world. The average literary journal does serve a critical purpose that is quite different. The hundreds of journals out there are essentially our version of the minor leagues in baseball, with some being the equivalent of semi-pro ball and some being like a quite competitive AAA league. Without these journals and the attendant anthologies of the best they produce every year, it would be harder for some of our best writers to emerge. We might know who our best writers are (do we?), but those hundreds of journals were how many of them emerged in the first place.
I personally find it exciting to watch the best emerge and separate themselves from the pack.