Sunday, July 4, 2010

Who reads this shit?

This morning, while I was shampooing my hair and belting out Carley Simon songs in the shower (as I've been known to do from time to time), a question popped into my head: Who really reads print literary journals anymore, other than writers?

I imagine some people are already rolling their eyes, poo-pooing me. I suppose literary agents read them in search of the next big thing, and I guess the family and friends of the editors and contributors browse them and rightfully laud the hard work that goes into publishing a journal, but it seems to me if you really want to get your work out to larger and broader pool of readers then it makes sense to have it on-line and use resources like Facebook and blogs to direct traffic toward it.

Yet still, writers love to hang their hats on "pub-creds" that they can use in a CV or a query letter. Like braggart parents, they love talking about the places they've published. Therefore, it's not necessarily the fact that they're being read, it's that they got one past the editors, and THAT seems bogus to me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm guilty of it, too. Most writers need to feed the ego. Like anyone else in any profession, they need the validation that the work they're doing is good and appreciated by others. I get that. But publication in the slick prestigious literary journals seems more like winning a contest than it does sharing with others our thoughts and questions about the human condition. And maybe there are some purists out there who don't write for an audience and simply create for the sake of creation. This, however, is not me. I'm so vain (I bet I think this blog about me).

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, or what it is about Carley Simon songs that made me think of it. But I'd love to hear your thoughts, assuming, that is, you're actually reading this shit.


Robin S. said...

It's about validation as well, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I think traditionally there's been an expectation that editors have a certain expertise in choosing good work . . . so yes, validation. You and I know, Nate, with our work on our respective small press magazines in the past, that people are sending some pretty weak stuff out pretty often. I don't see it as a game of sneak-one-past-the-editor so much as, if you like that magazine and you respect that editor's editorial choices, you're getting sort of a stamp of approval with the acceptance. It can be a maddening convention to have to submit to lit mags though -- I've got, I feel, more than enough good poems to do a second full length collection, but will have to go through the rigamarole of getting pub credits for some poems because acceptance at a number of litmags tends to make people think the work is more legit - has passed a screening test, of sorts. Or maybe, um, kumbahyah, and can't we all be brothers here? - Steve H.