Uncategorized | February 20, 2004

Let’s face facts: there will always be people out there who think a literary magazine is a fancy version of Better Homes and Gardens (not that I have anything against BH&G). In my opinion, these naïve folks are missing out on some of the best opportunities the publishing world has to offer. Literary magazines are fantastic places to publish (and to read cream-of-the-crop writing), whether your list of publications is virtually nil or a city block long, for several reasons:

1) Literary magazines offer a good venue for the previously unpublished poet, fiction writer, or essayist to publish in. Unlike trying to publish with the big houses, writers can send unsolicited manuscripts to a literary magazine and have their work read instead of chucked in the slush pile. With the gradual growth and proliferation of literary magazines over the course of the last century or so, aspiring writers can try to find their publishing niche in a multitude of locations. Previously marginalized voices can find a home in literary magazines. Callaloo and Calyx are some examples to check out. Also, literary magazines publish a number of different genres and genre-blends, often accepting more experimental work.

2) Many heralded writers got their start publishing in literary magazines. For instance, Jack Kerouac’s first publication was in The Paris Review. The Missouri Review has played a role in this trend as well, publishing Joyce Carol Oates’ “Déjà Vu” in 1978 and Gary Soto’s selected poetry in 1979. Occasionally (as The Missouri Review has done through its Found Text Features) literary magazines unearth previously unpublished or unrecognized writing and put it back out into the community.

3) According to the CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses), literary magazines serve as the essential backbone of the publishing world. The CLMP says: “Literary magazines and presses accomplish the backstage work of American literature: discovering new writers; supporting mid-career writers; publishing the creative voices of communities underrepresented in the mainstream commercial culture…” That’s quite a bit of responsibility to be shouldered by a constantly fluctuating number of literary magazines, but certainly a necessary burden.

4) Literary magazines have a great readership. Someone once told me that 5% of the general population buys 95% of the world’s books, and the other 95% of the population buys the remaining 5% of books. I like to think that the people who read literary magazines fall in the former category, the category composed of voracious, enthusiastic readers. They read because they are truly interested in opening their minds to fresh, new writing and ideas. What better environment could writers hope to send their writing into? There may be those who don’t agree, but in my opinion, the literary magazine is the publishing world’s diamond in the rough.