Friday, February 10, 2012

What Is It All For?

That post title isn't an angst-ridden lament. No, it's a real question I've been thinking about since reading a lot (a lot) of articles and blog posts about electronic submission fees and the comments that follow them. I won't rehash my arguments for the fees here; this post is completely tangential.

Some comments I've read have raised some really good questions, questions that anyone considering launching a literary journal should be able to answer:

What is the nature of the relationship between journal and submitter?
Is the relationship, as some assert, that of journal entirely dependent upon submitter (because the journal must have material to print, which comes from submitters), or is the relationship one of journal as producer and submitter as customer (because the journal offers opportunities to submitters who want those opportunities)? I've read both these arguments. I haven't, however, seen many people respond with the suggestion that both of these views are too extreme.

The relationship between journal and submitter is symbiotic. Journals need material, and those who submit to them need outlets. Remember, submitters are writers. And writers who submit do so because we want our work to be read. Some of the more foolhardy among us will say aloud that we want to earn money from our writing.* Of course journals need writers to attract readers. And of course writers need journals for exactly the same reason.

Why do we need another literary journal?
There are many, many literary journals already. Why do we need another? I suppose there are those who will say that any propagation of the written word has value in a society many fear is becoming less literate. I can't really agree with this; I fear some publications do more harm than good where grammatical influence is concerned.

Good short stories, though, and good poetry? Those we should propagate. Those cannot fail to move, educate, and entertain.

More specifically, though, I believe we need the journal I am trying to create. The most important question any publisher should be able to answer is Why do we need this literary journal?

Why do we need this literary journal?
There are several qualities I enjoy in journals as both a reader and a writer. Many journals have some of these qualities, but very few journals have a great many of them. I want to create a journal that incorporates as many of these qualities as possible. I believe great art and great accessibility belong together, and that good writers should be financially compensated. To further explain what I'd like to do could be interpreted as tacitly criticizing the way things are being done, and that's not what I want to do at all. I simply want to provide an alternative aesthetic, one perhaps reminiscent of one more commonly seen a generation ago.

I can answer the preceding questions, but that does not mean my answers will satisfy the great majority of readers or writers. What it does mean is that I believe, passionately, that what I'm doing has value. And I believe that anything of value has a place in the world.

*Don't think it's foolhardy? Then you either haven't experienced the helpful cautionary lectures and derisive laughter that many of us have, or you have an unbelievably strong sense of self. And you also write fiction. On a message board devoted to fiction, those who submit to journals that don't pay are often helpfully informed of their ignorance. Bring up money on a poetry board, and you're likely to be taken to task as not writing for the right reason, the love of it. Argue rationally enough and you'll eventually see those who schooled you qualifying their answers: "Well, you write for the love of it. You submit for pay." Really? You don't say!

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