What Do Editors Say to People Who Don't Read Literary Journals?
I’ll admit, prior to my time with The Review Review, I could’ve told you about as much about literary journals as I could about space shuttle engineering. It’s not that I didn’t have interest, I just didn’t know that the field had such enormous range, and contained some of the richest writing I’d ever read. Now, I can’t turn around in my apartment without catching sight of a different cover or binding. Ploughshares stacked on the kitchen counter. Redivider lined from front to back underneath my coffee table. Copies of Tin House, Granta, and N+1 tucked in between novels and story collections on my nightstand. They’re everywhere. So when I encounter someone who stares back at me with blank confusion when I mention one of these titles, it takes a little out of me, and I wish they understood what they were missing. I asked a group of editors to weigh in…
- Matt Broderick, Reviews Editor, TRR
Question: When in conversation and faced with the line, “I don’t read literary journals.” How do you respond?
Ruben Quesada, Senior Editor, Queen Mobs:
Not reading literary journals is like showing up at your polling place impassioned and ready to make an uninformed decision. You should never go blindly into the world--it's naive. If you're a writer, it's necessary to ready literary journals and to read them widely. It's good to find journals that appeal to your sensibilities and tastes, but if you're not reading as many of them as possible you're not going to be in tune with so many elements of literature in the world around you--the state of contemporary writing can be found in literary journals. Even if your tastes are for, say, Renaissance poetry, how are you to know whether you're writing for or against tradition? Whether you're reinforcing or challenging both the status quo and yourself. Every reader, especially poets, should have a sense of where their influences and innovations lie in the spectrum of literary history. No writer ever truly reinvents the wheel and if they think they are they haven't read enough.
Zachary Cosby, Editor, Fog Machine:
There is a huge glut of media right now (e.g. novels, poems, journals, Netflix series, films, novelty Twitter accounts, Youtube channels, streaming music, etc etc etc). It's only reasonable to narrow your focus down to what is most relevant to your life. If lit journals are not a pressing concern at this moment, then recognize it, keep moving, and feel no guilt. There's innumerable people -- careful readers, engaged thinkers, leaders of fascinating & interesting lives -- who do not read literary journals. This doesn't need to be for everyone.
Alexander Smith, Editor, Creative Writing Outloud:
Literary journals can be intimidating. Because content is often exploratory and experimental, it can be challenging. For those that "don't read literary journals," understand that literary journals come in all shapes and tastes. While some share complicated and difficult stories, others offer genre work and more linear storytelling. Because Creative Writing Outloud is a podcast, we strive to share work that tells well verbally. As the editor, I sometimes work with the writers to ensure their work is written best for presentation for voice. It is a different medium than text alone. Literary journals are wonderful outlets to discover what is new in the literary world, and even if they seem intimidating to you, I suggest you check a new one out.
Yi Shun Lai, Nonfiction Editor, Tahoma Literary Review:
"Well, that's okay. But if you're planning on submitting to us, you need to know what we're looking for. Plus, you're missing out on many of the voices that will produce fine longer works later, so I think you'e missing out. And you're also missing out on a lot of great stories and essays. Did you know that reading makes you more empathetic? But that's a personal professional opinion, and you should take it as such.”
RW Spryszak, Editor at Large, Thrice Fiction:
Yeah. Neither do I.
Michael Fischer, Assistant Editor, Profane:
If it’s a writer saying that, my response is, “Well, then don’t submit to the ones I work for.” Any great conversationalist loves to listen; they appreciate the other person’s words as much as their own. Writers should be the same way. Any great writer loves to read what’s out there. If someone isn’t doing that—not taking any one of the million opportunities to learn, be inspired, appreciate the work of their peers—then they don’t really care about writing or getting better at what they do. They just want everyone to read their work. They just want to hear themselves talk.
Lorcán Black, Editor-in-Chief, Anomaly:
Someone recently said it to me, actually (my flatmate). He’s a voracious reader but he asked me where I got all the literary journals I have under the coffee table because he was almost done reading through them. I literally sat down and gave him a list of every literary journal I could think of right there and then.
What you get on a bookstore shelf is so limited in comparison to the vast amount of truly wonderful contemporary writing that is being published by literary magazines and journals not just in print but online, at no cost, by writers you might never have discovered otherwise. For anyone who enjoys literature and doesn’t read literary journals, they have no idea the sheer amount of fantastic work they’re missing.
However, if that were to come from a writer, I would seriously question how they expect to get published in literary journals if they’re not reading them- and it does happen! Sometimes you can tell a submitter hasn’t read a word of what’s been previously published, they’re just submission bombing.
Kris Baker Dersch, Producer and Editor, No Extra Words:
This is a “know your audience” question. When talking to people who are not the ordinary audience for literary journals, I don't usually use the term, I will say indie lit magazines or just ask if they read short stories. I have a podcast and we also have a terminology problem...people who aren't into podcasting are confused by just the term. I see it as an opportunity to present myself differently.
R.M. Cooper, Founder & Managing Editor, Sequestrum:
I try and sell the length of the content in (most) literary journals as a possibility of filling in the gaps in their current reading habits. Do you sometimes not have the time to dedicate to a book-length work? Do you generally not read much (cringe)? Most people will answer yes to one or both of these questions, at which point I pitch literary journals as shorter options for adding more quality reading into their life. Because everyone can read more, and many people honestly want to.
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