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Friday, February 5, 2010

The Death of Literary Fiction

Is Literary Fiction dead if University-funded journals go by the way side? That was the question posed by Ted Genoways in Mother Jones last month in his essay "The Death of Fiction?" and it has received strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

I for one think that Literary Journals have been leaning toward irrelevance for quite some time and they are trending similar to the publishing industry as a whole, so I don't really view them as the canary in the coal mine that Mr. Genoways does. But the evidence brought up in his article (i.e., there has been a significant increase in writers submitting to journals but not a similar increase in readership) is both damning and a little self-serving.

I think it is perfectly fair for Literary Journals to expect writers to read...everyone should expect writers to read, just like we should expect athletes to run and stay in shape. It's what we writers do, read and write. But Genoways stops short of following to the logical conclusion this evidence by not addressing the issue from a writer's perspective. Yes, it is unfair that journals are receiving thousands of submissions every year and yet not receiving a similar readership, but it is also unfair to expect every writer to subscribe to every journal to which they submit. In order to get published in today's marketplace one must submit one's work to, on average, 6-12 markets to get a piece published, and if one is an author who writes in various genres the number of markets one will submit to over a yearly period can literally tally in the hundreds. Considering most authors are only able to read and write in their free time it is ridiculous and selfish to assume writers can subscribe to, and read, hundreds of journals every year. Who has the time for that?

Among those who pay attention to the publishing industry (admittedly there are few now), Literary Journals maintain a high degree of credibility and importance and their decline is a woeful situation ideed. But the fault does not rest purely on writers who do not subscribe to journals, but rather on a complex set of variables that are being felt across the entire publishing industry. From declining readership, a flooded marketplace, lack of shelf space, the relative ease of self-publishing, and the stuffy reputation of Journals, the publishing industry is in dire shape and it is harder than ever for a new writer to break into the industry.

Regardless, the Journals have an important point: If you are a writer who consistently submits to Literary Journals, sack up and subscribe to at least one of them. It'll be good for the industry you love, and it will be good for your craft.

You can read the essay that started the debate here.

And here is a response from the editing staff of The Virginia Quarterly.

Here is a brief history of Literary Journals from Wikipedia.