Are Literary Journals Relevant? You Bet!
By Elizabeth C. Crozier
You’ll likely get blank stares when you mention literary magazines unless the person you’re talking to attended a writing program. Even some of the biggest book nerds have never heard of, or don’t know much about, this tight-knit community of literature lovers. Unfortunately, this is because these publications aren’t mainstream, and you’re unlikely to find reviews for them in newspapers and similar media. Many run exclusively out of universities because they don’t bring in much—if any—money. For most journals, the only people who read their issues are the writers published in them (and possibly some of the friends and family they get copies for).
It’s no wonder some people are concerned about the relevancy of literary magazines, but I believe they still serve several great purposes. From enriching students’ reading agendas to fostering the best ever community of literature lovers, the literary magazine unites voices of all types and is often like a melting pot of vastly different tales contained within one binding.
Keeping the Pot Hot (and Fresh)
Like receiving the paper or your favorite newsletter, literary magazines are exciting because they feature the latest and greatest from authors of all genres and levels of experience. From Stephen King to unknowns like myself, you get to experience a range of poems and stories you likely wouldn’t get to access otherwise, and you get to see them before anyone else can “discover” them. Following literary magazines keeps you up to date with the most recent stories and styles of writing that exists today.
Along the lines of trend setting, without literary magazines, writers might not have much of a way to promote their craft at all. Having work published in magazines is a great way for a writer to get their name out and into the community and it could lead to a book deal. Trade publishers have to produce what “the people” want, though and as we’ve touched on, that doesn’t typically include literary fiction or poetry. Today’s readers may prefer Danielle Steel and Nicholas Sparks, so literary works get a small percentage of a publisher’s time and money. Just because most people want murder mysteries and saucy romances doesn’t mean the literature cravers aren’t still out there. The demand is there, and literary journals are just what’s needed to supply and satisfy.
Passing On the Recipe (for Publishing)
One major reason I will always be grateful for the existence of literary magazines is that I got to help create them in college. The Evansville Review comes out of the University of Evansville and is completely student run. Those who are interested are encouraged to read and rate submissions, which gives them a feel both for what it’s like to be an editor and for the competition their own writing is up against. After a year or so of assisting, students have the opportunity to join the staff, as I did my senior year. As the Editor-in-Chief, I got to take control of just about every aspect from cover design to content. Many students across the country gain valuable publishing experience in this same way which they can use to help steer their career in the future.
How You Fit Into the Mix
Probably my favorite thing about literary magazines is the communities they foster. If you’ve never been to a conference, reading, or other literary event, such as AWP, you have to go and have the experience of being surrounded by a sea of like-minded people. Whether they work with poetry, nonfiction, or anything outside and in between, everyone wants to connect with you because you love literature. This isn’t something you often find in the world, sans a writing workshop or literary café, so it’s refreshing to feel connected even amongst strangers.
All the Best Ingredients
From huge conventions to your 10-person writers’ group, literary journals are part of what helps keep these amazing communities going. At the end of most semesters, I would search for the perfect one(s) to send my amateur verse to, and even when the inevitable rejection came, I still felt like I was part of the conversation and that I too would find the light at the end of the rejection slip, which, thanks to a couple wonderful literary magazines, I eventually did.
Elizabeth C. Crozier is a writer and editor based in the Greater Chicago area. She has a BFA in creative writing, and her work appears on several websites and in a few literary journals. When she isn't working, Elizabeth enjoys reading, coloring, and catching up on the news.