What is the future of the Small Literary Magazine community?

Short story writers and small press literary magazine editors are an important community.  This wasn’t apparent to me when I first started submitting my short stories around, “way back” in 2010. I also didn’t understand the majority of these magazines operated with volunteer staffs and a lot of love, fantatical dedication and sweat equity.

Think about that for a moment. The time it takes to create a short story and then the time it takes for a staff of dedicated volunteers to assess that work and determine if it’s a fit for a journal. We all keep doing it, in a positive reinforcing circle, and it’s produced inspiring work.

There have been several postings I’ve seen around the web recently about what it takes to run a small literary magazine (SLM). Most of these discussions talk about the financial, or lack of financial, support for the small literary magazines (SLM).

As a writer who has placed 15 of my pieces with SLM’s, and I’ve not gotten (nor expected) any payment from it, I can tell you I’m also personally unwilling to pay reading fees to an SLM to read my work. This would be the case for me if I got paid for my short stories or not. It’s also why I don’t participate in contests that charge reading fees. To me, that feels more like gambling than a contest. It’s more like a poker game where everyone puts money into the pot and winner takes all.

(As a side note, and my apologies to the U.S. Post Office notwithstanding, I’m also unwilling to kill trees to circulate my work. It boggles my mind that some of these ancient, old-guard SLM’s …The Paris Review, for example… still get away with living in the 19th Century when it comes to accepting submissions. Get with the program, people. The New Yorker accepts electronic subs, so there should be no excuse for others. Support Submittable and get a Submishmash account for your SLM and come into the 21st Century. You know, where the real people live with computers, email accounts and everything.)

I’m ready, willing and able to interact with a volunteer staff as a writer volunteering to provide my short story for free in exchange for publication, and I’m also ready to help publicize that SLM and encourage others to read it. I’m happy to see (some) advertising on the SLM’s website, or for people to pay for subscriptions, or merchandise, or door-fee fueled special events. I have no issue with SLM’s that solicit for donations on a voluntary basis either.

I volunteered for a short while as a slushpile reader at an SLM, and I’d be willing to do it again. I enjoyed it tremendously and I felt like, even for a brief stint, I was able to give back to my community.

Where does all this leave us as a community of writers, editors and staff, small literary magazine afficianados, readers and everyone else who participates in this wonderful machine we all feed every day of the year?

You may not like it, but it leaves us exactly where we are today. We have decided to participate in this thriving community because we are compelled to write and produce our work, and others are compelled to dedicate themselves to provide venues for writers, artists, photographers, etc. to showcase that work.

While it’s unfortunate that the economic climate for artists in the United States has never been fantastic, it’s never going to stop writers from doing what they need to do: write. Short story writers and SLM editors are no different. Their compulsion to support the community is real, and their dedication to it palpable.

I’m grateful to be a part of this community, and proud to count myself among their multitudes.