Dispatches | July 16, 2010

Brevity, the awesome online journal of (very) short non-fiction, has been around for over a decade, publishing, in 750-words or less, wonderful work that has been anthologized in Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, and Utne Reader, among others.  Heavy hitters published by Brevity include Sherman Alexie, Terese Svoboda, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Robin Hemley, Lee Martin, Rebecca McClanahan, Robin Behn, Abby Frucht, Bret Lott, Ira Sukrungruang, Rigoberto González, and Diana Hume George.  Also:

“The three most recent issues also include work by graduate students, recently graduated students, and those still very much at the beginning of their publishing careers. We have featured at least one undergraduate in our pages (though we didn’t know she was an undergraduate student until well after we accepted her stunning essay), and we read always with an open mind.”

In a blog post this week, Brevity asked readers what they thought about a new policy the magazine is considering: charging a submission fee of two to three dollars.

Fast and furious, Brevity has, in less than 24 hours, received over 220 blog comments and who knows how many links, pings, trackbacks, and blogger commentary.  Along with this month’s press release from Tin House that they will be requiring a receipt to be accompanied with all submissions this fall (see our thoughts on that matter here), once again, the discussion about magazines and their audience is back in the crosshairs.

Originally, I wrote up a lengthy post about Brevity’s decision, but really, everything that crossed my mind was brought up by the comments in the original post.  Go back and read them carefully because there are many thoughtful ideas and strong emotional responses that editors and readers alike need to consider.  There are comments from Travis Kurowski, Karen Craigo, Chris Offutt, Leslie McGrath, Liz Prato, J.T. Bushnell, Amy Holman, Antonio Vallone, and Mary Tabor.

From Dinty:

“I have logged many personal man hours contacting the schools that have gone overboard with sending unprepared students, and the following semester, even more schools show up doing the same thing. Very disheartening.”

Based on what was written in the comment section, a submission manager system would be a tremendous benefit (Travis Kurowski’s suggestion).  Submission managers require registration, and usually ask for basic information such as an email address, mailing address, as well as the option to be added to the mailing list.  This is information that a journal can use to not only control submissions (particularly writers that ignore Brevity’s guidelines and send work more than twice a year) but can provided subscription deals, coupons, links, and so forth.  Currently, submitters to Brevity fire work off to a Gmail account, and without explaining it here, I bet you can imagine how quickly that can get, um, messy.

Anyway, to me, the most important and laudatory aspect of all this is that Brevity asked its audience for their opinion first.  Whatever decision the editors make—and to be clear, a decision has not yet been made—Brevity first went to the most important people: its reading audience and its submitters.  Those two camps (which are not mutually exclusive) are the reason Brevity exists.  And asking for their opinion first is a strong indicator of a magazine that gets it.

Oh, and if you read the comments, and actually, even if you didn’t, you should enjoy this and this.

Michael Nye is the managing editor of The Missouri Review.