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Monday, February 1, 2010

Literary Magazines on Life Support

Mother Jones has an impassioned article by the editor of Virginia Quarterly Review, Mr. Ted Genoways, about the herding of America's stable of (usually) university-hosted literary magazines into postmodernism's most distant pasture...or off to the glue factory.

The author gives a 1930s heyday example of then Connecticut governor-elect and editor of Yale Review, Wilbur Cross, who continued editing the magazine while in office, publishing Aldous Huxley, Sherwood Anderson, Maxim Gorky, John Maynard Keynes, and Thomas Mann. All he had to do was "get up early" to handle the 500 submission the magazine received each year.

That bit of trivia is the springboard to the problem. Mr. Genoways' magazine now receives 15,000 submissions per year. The fault belongs to the economy, the evaporation of short fiction from mainstream periodicals, and most interestingly, writers. Most of those time-soaking 15,000 stories were submitted by authors insufficiently skilled to write at the level needed to sustain interest in literary magazines. Says Mr. Genoways:

You may be a precious snowflake, but if you can't express your individuality in sterling prose, I don't want to read about it.

(Snork.) In other words, it's better (and more economical) to receive 100 gems in the mail than 10,000 stones. Authors have become gutless, afraid to write about big issues. Says Mr. Genoways:

Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ's sake, write something we might want to read.

Go here to read, "The Death of Fiction?" Take note also of the many comments following the story, including some responses by Mr. Galoways.

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Blogger Jake Freivald said...

Just to put some perspective on that, we receive 7-15 submissions per day, weekends and weekdays, holidays and work days. That's 2500-5500 stories per year. I'd have to do some digging to know the actual amounts received in 2009.

If this relatively small journal receives those kinds of submissions, you can imagine what it's like in the larger ones. I remember someone calculating a while back (perhaps even you, Bill) that Glimmer Train receives something like 40,000 submissions a year. I frankly don't know how they keep up.

February 1, 2010 2:34 PM  
Blogger William Highsmith said...

I was afraid that my post had a mocking tone to it. If it seemed that way, it wasn't intended. The number of submissions is overwhelming. I feel for agents, too. While few periodicals allow multiple submissions, few agents insist on exclusive submissions. So some writers use a shotgun-blast strategy, sending submissions to every agency in the book, multiplying the impact of each book on the fixed number of agents.

It's a two-edged sword. Some agents hold a book for six months; an unlucky author might only get two subs per year. That's unacceptable, too.

February 2, 2010 2:07 PM  

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