Behind the Scenes
Publishing In Print Literary Journals Is Useless
Between watching my eight-month year old son try and cram his fist into his mouth (teething) and stuffing envelopes at work for eight hours a day (busy work), the following question wouldn’t leave my head: what’s more important in the “world of writing” (sorry, can’t word this any better) – publishing in print literary journals or establishing a following online? Does anyone care about your new piece in the Iowa Review? Can’t you publish online in small journals and build up a following through places like twitter and facebook and reach a wider audience?
Let me back-up.
I recently received more feedback online from posting a picture of Lays potato chips than publishing a story online. It took me approximately one minute to photograph the potato chips and post to instagram, while the short story, estimating drafting/editing/submitting, took approximately ten hours. It was this juxtaposition that triggered the question above. I understand the two aren’t necessarily connected, but it’s interesting to question the contemporary importance of traditional literary print magazines in a world where even writers are obsessed with online promotion where many of the things they randomly say/do on twitter/facebook/instagram/tumblr gets them more attention.
Who cares about literary journals when a writer can publish work on their tumblr/blog, gain followers from being funny/weird, and spark conversation and interest that way? Does it make sense to spend hours researching print literary journals, submitting, waiting months to hear back? And if your story does get printed in the journal, does anyone read it? The possibilities to reach an audience with your “art” are easier, faster, are larger in scale, than ever before because of social media and blogs looking relatively professional and not like a pimped out and re-colored geocities site. What I’m trying to say is that there’s new avenues to reaching audiences, and these new avenues seem to be reaching and swallowing up the old like the standard print literary journal.
I understand that publishing your story in a print literary journal can be rewarding and prestigious and build your resume, and all that. Sure. Okay. Good for you. But what if you get more feedback, reach a wider audience, and I don’t know, maybe attract the attention of other editors by posting your story online and tweeting it out?
Maybe the question is absurd because I’m currently blanked-out on Lays chips. I’ve eaten three mini-bags today. I tried to think of who would have an answer and thought about other writers but other writers would be biased depending on where they fell on the scale (writer A has published in print journals and has an ego, writer B loves the online shit). I thought about agents. What would agents be more impressed by – a writer with the print journal pubs, or a writer with an online following? Would I just be laughed at? Probably.
I emailed the following question to a literary agent at a reputable firm (I actually emailed the question to a dozen agents, all of which ignored me with the exception of one, which seems and feels about right). I said that if she put up with my nonsense I’d post her responses anonymously:
When considering taking on a new writer, what carries more weight (besides the work itself) – a writer who has published in several print academic journals (ex: Denver Quarterly, Mid-American Review, Iowa Review) or a writer who has published in small/obscure journals with a large online following (ex: several thousand followers on twitter)?
Here’s the email exchange:
Agent: For me, since I represent many literary fiction writers, those print-journal credits are important. Getting published in a top-notch literary magazine means that a writer made it through a very competitive process, and was selected as part of a small group for that issue. That still means a lot to me in terms of building a literary fiction author’s career.
So, am I totally wrong in thinking a writers social media presence is stronger/more important than publications?
Agent: I don’t think it’s more important no, though I think it DOES depend greatly on what type of market they’re writing for and how big their audience in each format is. It certainly matters a lot for certain writers. But then there are folks like Malcolm Gladwell who doesn’t even Tweet.
Do you ever look at potential writers social media presence? What if a writer may not have any big market literary publications but they are gaining buzz through small online publications and, say, twitter?
Agent: That certainly counts for something, yes! It just doesn’t count for everything.
So those publications do matter, according to this agent, who I respect and has published authors I respect. I’m wrong in my initial assumption. I still think it’s an interesting question to think about, especially with the always discussed end-times of print, online pages and colors spanning outward over everything constantly. But publishing your epic prose poem in Kitty Fart Face Review and tweeting it out could still get you a lot of attention, right?