It’s an online litmag, but…

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I was at a reading, when during the pre-reading socializing session, I was introduced as the fiction editor over at Kartika Review, to which was added, “It’s an online litmag, but it’s great!”

I smiled, noting the use of the conjunction, “but.” He meant the phrase as a compliment, but here’s the thing: “but” is a word used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned. In this case, by using the word “BUT” he was saying, “It’s an online litmag (which is a totally sucky thing to be), but it’s great!”

“Actually–” I interrupted, “we like being online for the purpose of reaching a larger audience. Print journal distribution is limited in number and duration–we want people to read the work.” (G*d, I hope I didn’t sound as pedantic as I do when I read what I said). The small group, used to deifying print journals, suppressed raised eyebrows; after all, we were in a BOOKstore… (Well, maybe that never happened. Nevertheless, I felt doubt).

I continued. I said that if we were to raise enough money, we’d rather pay our writers than funnel the money into a print run. Our fledgling litmag doesn’t know if we’ll ever raise enough money to do either, but our priority is to pay our writers before we buy into the prestige of going into print. At least, that’s how we feel today.

The Famous Writer nodded his head. “That’s true, you’ll reach more readers.”

I nodded back at him. He is a Famous Writer whose class I once took as an undergrad, and someone who mentioned that he chose University Presses for his books, primarily because University Presses don’t ever stop printing. I reminded him of the same. A diplomatic and neutral end to the exchange, we moved on to other topics like a reading the night previous, old times at Berkeley, and new books.

An online litmag offers free content to readers. An online litmag has an archive of past issues available online for the foreseeable future. Despite Because of being online 24/7/365, an online litmag offers access if not prestige. And there are established litmags with prestige that are online, too: Narrative, Literary Mama, failbetter.com, and The Barcelona Review, for starters, are pioneering a space that I predict will be joined by many more familiar and upstart litmags names.

Don’t writers want a bigger readership? Don’t writers want to be paid? Shouldn’t writers have a bigger readership, and shouldn’t writers be paid for their work? And given the advent of the Kindle and iPad, isn’t the readership going towards an electronic format, anyway?

I used to be of the mindset that wanted my work in print–but these days, I’m changing my mind. As a fiction writer I’d rather my work be read by more people, than gather dust on a few bookshelves, and perish in garbage cans or recycling bins. Of course, I’d like to be paid, but the reality is that the vast majority of litmags do not pay their writers.

I’m wondering what the mindset of other writers might be? Are you becoming more open minded to online literary journals? Do you refuse to submit to online literary magazines? If so, what’s the reason for your predilection towards print journals?

And…if you want to read more on the subject, my friend Andrew Whitacre, fiction editor of the respectable online litmag, Identity Theory, states something similar but with more eloquence and insight in his post entitled, The end of the small print journal. Please.

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5 Comments

Filed under literary magazines, Publishing

5 responses to “It’s an online litmag, but…

  1. If Electric Literature is any indication, online journals are the future. I think the stigma still exists, but its changing. I never really thought about my personal preference, but I can see the value of online lit mags more than print journals, for the reasons you’ve stated and more.

  2. Nate

    Many Famous Writers of the early/mid 20th century have made self-deprecating comments about the quality of their short stories (Fitzgerald and Vonnegut come to mind) but as readers we cherish so much of that work.

    The fact is that for better or worse, online is what most people read and if you want to build an audience, then you need to work in the dominant medium. The last thing literature needs is to become a closed community of scholars exchanging stories with each other.

    • @mensah and @Nate: we’re in the middle of a shift–i’m interested in where we go with all this, and i am looking forward to more literature in an accessible medium.

  3. I’ve run into this prejudice against online—interestingly most of my thinking on this has come from my own recent attempt to bring a journal into the world. My thinking matches much of your own—keep the costs low, simplify access to readers. It’s sensible thinking.

    But you can’t deny: the reduced risks to online publishing has also lowered the prestige bar. I don’t think this means all online journals are lower prestige, but you have to work hard to be one of the good ones. One way to combat this might be to offer higher standards of professionalism—consistent publishing dates, reasonably quick turnaround on submitted material (I say all this without having even set firm dates for my journals first issue, or even having sent out the initial press release –hoo hum!). And I’m also interested in unique opportunities to create a community around an online journal, which seems like something an online has over print, but hasn’t really come into its own.

    I think you were smart to speak up for yourself at the reading. Booya! I like to think I’d have done the same thing, but I can also easily see me letting something like that go, and then cursing myself after, or worse, constantly reliving the conversation, coming up with exactly the right dialogue, often in the shower, and then having my wife tap on the bathroom door, “Everything ok in there tiger?”

    God I hate when she does that.

    • @Tim: I’m glad you started something up! I think it’s important to increase venues for reading. And I as a writer have learned a lot sitting on the other side of the fence. btw, I don’t always speak up for myself in the moment; I’ve been in that bathroom scenario lots of times. 😉

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