On Submitters and Subscribers

I suppose this post is something of a riff on Michael’s first rule of good literary citizenship: read literary journals. It’s good advice, and Michael rightly invokes the communal spirit of journals in support of his point. I’m not going to be quite as nice, however. Consider this the grouchy old man version of the argument.

Two questions: 1) Do you submit work (poetry, fiction, or nonfiction) to literary journals? 2) Do you subscribe to any literary journals?

If the answer to Question 1 is “yes” and the answer to Question 2 is “no,” then we have a problem.

In fact, many literary journals have a problem. At IR the number of submissions we receive annually across all genres is disproportionately larger than the number of subscriptions we sell annually, and I suspect that many, if not most, non-profit and university affiliated journals face a similar imbalance between the aspiring writers vying for space in their pages and the dedicated readers actually flipping through said pages. I want to argue that more aspiring writers out there need to become dedicated readers.

Now, this isn’t a call for all of you IR submitters to become IR subscribers overnight (though that would be great). Instead, this is a call for anyone who answered “yes” to Question 1 to make sure that you can also answer “yes” to Question 2. If you send out short stories, poems, and/or essays to literary journals, you really should subscribe to at least one journal. Any journal will do, though it might be nice to subscribe to one of the journals whose staff members have given their time to read and consider your work.

As Michael points out, literary journals like IR are important venues for writers trying to establish themselves in a highly competitive field. We love publishing new authors, and we love supporting authors on their way to fame and fabulous riches. The more issues we deliver to the reading public, the more support we’re giving to our writers.

When you submit to a literary journal, you’re essentially asking the good folks who run the journal to support you through at least one step of your journey to the aforementioned fame and fabulous riches that inevitable come from writing fiction, poetry, and/or nonfiction. That’s cool. That’s what we’re here for. I would argue, however, that if you’re not willing to help us support other writers who, just like you, are struggling to find readers for their work, then, well, you’re worse than a grouchy old man.

I understand that it’s not economically feasible for most writers to subscribe to every journal to which they submit. If, however, every writer out there who submits work to literary journals would subscribe to at least one journal to which you submit, then we (the journals and the writers) would see a dramatic increase in the exposure and support that comes to a writer who gets his/her work published in the journals.  One great way to support the journals you want to support you is to submit to contests that include a subscription with your entry fee.

Personally, I try to maintain active subscriptions to three or four journals at any given time, but I always feel that I could subscribe to a few more. So take a minute in the comments thread to share the names of the journals that you think I should be subscribing to. Tell us why you love those journals and why more people should be reading them, and this grouchy old man will choose one of the suggested journals and subscribe to it by the end of the week.

UPDATE:  Thanks to everyone for your comments on this post.  It’s heartening to see so many of you speaking up for the journals you love.  I had a hard time deciding which journal to add to my running list of subscriptions, but I decided to go with The Common because I’m intrigued by their project.  If you haven’t heard of The Common (I hadn’t before this post), you should check them out.  In fact, you should check out every journal recommended by our commenters.

16 Responses to “On Submitters and Subscribers”

  1. Brandon

    Slice. Slice magazine is not very old, but has published really stunning work. The voices are strong and daring. I really recommend it. Also, although it’s poetry, if you’re interested Rattle is a great magazine that publishes a wealth of different styles of quality poetry.

  2. Jeannine Hall Gailey

    I love and recommend subscribing to as many journals as possible. I try to rotate mine so I get different ones every year. Some faves are Rattle, 32 Poems, LA Review, American Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, and of course I’m biased because I volunteer there, but Crab Creek Review.
    I would also say, though, that we cannot rely on poets alone to support poetry magazines. As literary editors (and board members and volunteers) we need to try to find new ways to reach out to new audiences, people that might not yet consider themselves “literary magazine types.” Writers can not be the only audience for writers if literature is going to survive.

  3. Holly

    Willow Springs (poetry, fiction, non-fiction): It’s got a beautiful aesthetic (as a book that feels good, not unwieldy in the hand) and it reads like a cohesive whole. It’s one I can read cover-to-cover. Issue #70 was a particularly sharp and lovely entity.

    One Story (fiction): One story, as it says on the tin, simply presented. I’m thrilled by the deliberate, sometimes even lush, stories that arrive in my mailbox. (Added bonus of only getting one story at a time, but at least one every month = not feeling buried in unread journals.)

  4. Rolf Yngve

    I recommend to people that they subscribe to something old, something new. Something old: Ploughshares’ fabulous fall non-fiction issue edited by Patricia Hempel and the previous fiction-poetry issue edited by Nick Flynn should not have been missed. And I’m loving the new mag, The Common, for their dedication to works concerning place. The Common also has a fine website associated with a great weekly section, Dispatches, writings about place and travels. Disclaimer: Dispatches has published some of my short work.

  5. Joshua Pasternak

    The Journal out of OSU. I enjoy their free online content. And like receiving subscriptions with contest entry fees, The Journal offers a discounted subscription to submitters. Good incentive.

  6. Sophfronia Scott

    I subscribe to many journals, but the one I suggest you add is Ninth Letter. The work they publish is excellent, but I also like that they are hugely experimental with art, design and layout. I never know what it will look like when it shows up in my mailbox–kind of like an unexpected gift. I also subscribe to:

    Harvard Review
    Glimmer Train
    Colorado Review
    One Story
    Tin House
    River Teeth

    I’ve only recently discovered IR, but plan to subscribe as soon as I can.

  7. Sophfronia Scott

    Almost forgot! I also subscribe to Hunger Mountain, the literary journal of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Again, another publication that is visually stimulating. I guess I like my journals to look good AND read well.

  8. Ellie

    You do realize, I hope, that in accusing writers who do not subscribe to journals that you are lumping in those writers who cannot even pay their bills, are on food stamps, have children or overdrawn bank accounts, etc? Flies, honey, vinegar…

  9. May Kuroiwa

    Seconding One Story and adding their brand new line, One Teen Story. Stories about, for, and (soon to be) by, teenagers. Let’s start ’em young.

  10. Anthony Martin

    “One great way to support the journals you want to support you is to submit to contests that include a subscription with your entry fee.”

    I agree. If you have read the publication, done research about it and have concluded that it would be a reputable place to publish your work, then why not support it with a submission fee? If a complimentary subscription is included, then it’s a no-brainer for me.

    A submission fee would be a deterrent for me if I was unsure of the merits of the publication itself. If that were the case, I probably wouldn’t submit to that publication anyway.

    I recommend Zyzzyva.

  11. Lori A. May

    Like Anthony’s comment above, I am a big supporter of the ‘contest submission includes subscription’ tactic. This is how I keep up many of my annual subscriptions knowing a) I was going to subscribe anyway and b) I was going to submit anyway. It’s definitely a win-win for me and I am more likely to enter a contest if a sub is offered with the entry fee.

    Many of the journals I was about to recommend have been mentioned already, so I’ll throw in a vote for a Canadian favorite—The Fiddlehead. This is the oldest lit journal in Canada but it remains relevant today and includes international content; so, yes, you get the Canadian content and voices (excellent, though excuse my bias as an expat) but you’ll also be exposed to an eclectic range from around the world. The Fiddlehead publishes short stories, poems, book reviews, and a small number of personal essays. The journal is affiliated with University of New Brunswick and you’re guaranteed to receive an impressive and timely issue, even on this side of the border. It’s costly, of course, for an international mailing, but oh so worth it. Find out more here: http://www.thefiddlehead.ca.

    I will say, also, that in addition to subscriptions, one of my favorite ways to pick up journals and support our own kind is by planning a binge for AWP’s bookfair. I consider this my annual splurge where I welcome new and new-to-me publications into my life and often, later, become a dedicated, continuing reader. Too, as others have mentioned online content, I have just as often fallen in love with a journal’s online material enough to convince me that a printed and bound subscription to my home is the natural next step in our relationship. But I’m easy that way.

    Great blog post, Joe. Thanks for touching on this subject.

  12. CD Mitchell

    I subscribe to Missouri Review, Southern Review, River Teeth, and Real South, a brand new on-line journal. I also subscribe to The Southeast Review, VQR, Big Muddy, and for years had subscribed to IR but for some reason must have let my subscription lapse–a problem I promise to remedy!

  13. Linda King

    Ah yes….the question….to subscribe ….or to support my
    local magazine shop that carries journals…..and also brings
    in journals that I recommend…..

    My solution is to shop locally but also enter contests where
    part of the entry fee is a subscription….which…sometimes
    results in my passing on extra journals to friends or just
    leaving them in my local coffee shop…..

    Linda King

  14. Elsie Gray

    Completely agree. But journals don’t always help themselves. I have a limited budget for subscriptions, so every journal has to win its place. Here’s my submitter’s guide to what’s going to make me look at a journal twice.

    1) A particular voice. Very few people like both poetry and fiction equally. If they do, they probably don’t like all poetry and all fiction equally. There has to be something to make us want to subscribe to a particular journal, whether it’s an experimental edge, support for the long poem, an interest in new writers or old writers or frontier writers or … any kind of USP at all (“based in the university of wherever” is not a USP). Me, I always start with the all-fiction ones and then narrow down based on the online extracts.
    2) Online extracts. How is anyone supposed to know what the journal’s about otherwise? Not to mention online information about contributors, back issues, staff, etc.
    3) A website that isn’t a year out of date.
    4) A friendly website. Some journals seem to think we’re privileged just to be reading their website. Don’t even think about submitting unless you’ve got 3 Pushcarts, you’re using 1.5123 inch margins in 11.45 point Times Old Particular, and you’re the editor’s dog’s personal babysitter.
    5) A blog that is about something other than the parties you’ve attended is a bonus(well done IR).
    6) It has to be easy to subscribe. Remarkable the number of journals that hide away the subscription details on some obscure corner of their website, or fail to provide information about shipping rates or which issue your subscription will start with. Some journals still seem to expect a letter and a cheque – what year is this?
    7) Basic admin. I’ve had journals fail to respond to email enquiries about subscriptions. That’s one subscriber lost. One very eminent journal mentioned by other commenters here failed to remind me even once that my subscription was coming to an end. So it did come to an end. These things are basic, and in the real world we’d lose our jobs for them.
    8) And of course, quality. Yes, we want it to be so good we miss our subway stop. Or so good we don’t even read it on the subway, we save it for when we’re home, with bath, bed, candlelight, locked doors. That’s the journal I want to subscribe to, and the journal I want to submit to.

  15. Dominique

    As a newcomer to the literary journal scene, it’s great to see all of these wonderful comments full of advice! I don’t have much money, unfortunately, so multiple subscriptions are kind of beyond me at the moment, but I’ll have to agree that subscriptions and submissions should probably go hand in hand. After all, you can’t very well submit to a journal if you’re not familiar with the content! Everyone’s journal suggestions are very helpful, so thanks!