Monday, July 8, 2013

New Lit Mags: The Pros and Cons

There’s a scene in the first season of HBO’s Girls that often gets forgotten among the much more GIF-able quotes from the show.  In this scene, Jessa meets up with an ex-boyfriend, who begins to brag about his new, older girlfriend.  “She’s a publisher,” he says, “She has a small press.” To this, Jessa instantly replies, “Have you ever looked into that?  She could just be running off copies at Kinko’s, and saying she has a press, but who’s to say that she actually has one?”

I love this quote because Jessa is actually touching on a fascinating trend in the contemporary literary world.  With the rise in online- and self-publishing, several people do claim to be published authors, when in reality, they’re working with nothing more than a printer or a WordPress site.  And one of the most common places I’ve noticed that writers are finding to quickly publish their work is through small online literary magazines, dozens of which pop up every week. 

As someone who loves the idea of DIY and underground art, I think it’s amazing that nowadays anyone can get their work out into the world.  But not everyone shares this view, especially when taking into account the many potential issues that can come along with submitting to just any online magazine.  Brandon Tietz’s column, "Author Beware: New Lit Mags," gives a cynical heads-up to writers looking to submit to a new lit mag.  As Tietz writes, “here’s the reality: anyone can register a domain and designate it as a lit mag. Anyone.” So in many cases, the editors actually have no experience or credibility in the literary world.  In addition, he goes mention how “a large percentage of new businesses fail within the first year, and lit mags are no different,” meaning submitting to one of these mags could easily be a wasted effort.

There are other potential issues that can arise when submitting to just any magazine too.  Victoria Strauss's blog post, titled "Submission Guidelines to Beware of: Midwest Literary Magazine," points out a few more red flags to watch out for, including publications with anonymous editors (giving them no credibility), and publications who claim the right to publish work at any time in the future, with or without the author’s input.  In extreme cases, publications may even ask for copyrights to the piece, or could eventually make money off of it without ever compensating the author.

Yet despite the potential dangers that come along with sharing one’s work with the world, there’s something very cool about submitting to a brand new lit mag as well.  Creating, supporting, and submitting to small lit mags can be a great way for writers to network and take part in a community, assuming they’re still maintaining ownership of their writing, even while accepting that they may not receive any major recognition or compensation in return.  After all, every project has to start somewhere, and there’s nothing to say a certain publication won’t one day lead to literary success.

My personal rules for submitting are that I’m not comfortable sending my writing anywhere that doesn’t grant me full rights to my work, anywhere where I don’t either know the editors personally or know them to be qualified, or anywhere that asks me to pay to submit.   These are some of the biggest issues I’ve come across while exploring the lit mag world, and I’m only just learning the ropes myself.  However, I think it’s important for every writer to acknowledge these potential dangers, in order to start to develop their own personal set of rules when it comes to submitting.

Write on,

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