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.