Literary Journals

“Someday I hope to write a book where the royalties will pay for the copies I give away.”

- Clarence Darrow

Spare a thought for literary journals, and the independent bookstores and magazine shops that carry them.

Literary journals are the training ground for serious writers who are trying to establish themselves. Most Canadian writers you’ve ever heard of got their start in literary journals and reviews – Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, MG Vassanji, Jan Zwicky, Joseph Boyden, to say nothing of countless lesser-known authors whose work is well worth reading.

Grain, The Antigonish Review, Descant, and The Malahat Review are some of the better-known Canadian journals which are actually able to pay their contributors, and exist largely thanks to grant funding. Smaller journals, such as Existere, Glossolalia, and All Rights Reserved manage on shoe-string budgets, countless volunteer hours, and the promise of contributers’ copies. No-one’s getting rich on literary journals: not the people who publish them nor those who write for them.

Who reads literary journals? Mostly writers do, and the friends and families of the lucky few whose stories are published, for whom writers gladly spend far more on copies than they’ll ever hope to earn.

Why bother with literary journals? By purchasing and reading them, people are exposing themselves to fresh, new voices, and supporting our own culture. Writers face constant rejection by submitting again and again, in hopes that their stories will be read and so they can add to their publication list. My record was twenty-six rejections over a six-week period in 2005. It took the wind out of my sails, but I persevered, keeping in mind that it’s wise to build a publishing history so that when the time comes to submit a manuscript to a publishing house, credibility is already established. My perseverance paid off, and in the spring of 2006 my first short story was published. Since then, three more have been published, and a dozen more have been rejected.

And rejected.

And rejected.

Until now… to my great delight, the latest issue of All Rights Reserved (2008 Vol. 2) has just been released, and one of my short stories is in it. I tell you this not to brag, but to inform (and it fits rather neatly in the middle of today’s blog, doesn’t it?). Cherry Pits is nestled in among an interesting assortment of short stories, poems, and some lovely art reproductions.

Why would anyone publish such a journal? The editors do so because they love it. They love good writing, and they love to support new authors and get their stories out in the world. Journal editors support an important part of our cultural life by giving unknown writers a leg-up in an industry that is nearly impossible to break into. They are to be commended for laying the foundation for tomorrow’s great writers.

The booksellers and magazine stores who carry the journals are also to be commended for supporting our writers. About 40% of journal copies sent to bookstores are sold; the rest are trashed. The print run might be around 1,300 copies in total. And no, you won’t find them in any of the big-box bookstores.

So, next time you’re in your favourite bookstore, do spare a thought to the literary journals. They’re there if you look for them, sometimes tucked away on a low shelf. For the cost of a movie rental, you can take one home and enjoy reading some great short stories and poems.

(Link to Binnie’s publications and reviews.)

(Link to National Post article on literary journals)


Categories: General.