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Why Tolerate/Support/Buy Literary Magazines?

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 “We’re four years old. Give us some money.” – Subject line of Email received from “The Desperate Review.”

Writers benefit from the existence of literary magazines. That editors publish such and work for little or no money deserves respect. Most editors understand that writers spend more than they earn, partly because editors double as writers. But not all. Here’s a solicitation with nothing changed but the review’s name:

Some of my literary magazines

Dear Readers, The Desperate Review is four years old. For our birthday we’d like some money.

Oh—was that too forward? Did we mention that we’re FOUR YEARS OLD?  Four-year-olds are forward. Now please give us some money.

What do we need money for? Well, in addition to keeping all issues of the magazine free to read and paying our writers, we’re redesigning our website to make it phone and tablet compatible (and easier to read on all platforms). This will cost money. Won’t you give us some? Even just a little bit?

What’s in it for you, other than making a four-year-old happy on its birthday? We’re sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, meaning if you do give us some money, your donation is tax deductible.


Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to jump in an inflatable castle until we barf.

Happy Birthday to Us, The Desperate Review

Dear Desperate Review:  Many editors respect the business and art of writing. They don’t exploit or solicit writers. I realize you’re on the inside, but it seems you’re oblivious to the turn offs that derive from unearned solicitations. Are you Editors-with-Agendas – editors self-promoting on other people’s dimes? Who are you to ask for money? University or government grant (VQR) supported lit mags are another topic. But no matter where funds originate, good editors understand that writers implicitly know they should support literature.

Do not become a vile rag that scrounges up dollars to publish established literary figures. Of these, Narrative Magazine the most egregious, existing so their editors-with-agendas can make contact with Sherman Alexie-types while taking advantage of unpublished clueless writers for financial help. How? Narrative charges upwards of $15 just to submit. Really. Sherman Alexie has been published six times by Narrative, others include Margaret Atwood, Ann Beattie, Robert Olen Butler, Junot Diaz, Mary Gaitskill, Charles Johnson, Jhumpa Lahiri, Joyce Carol Oates, James Salter, and Tobias Wolff. To lay on some necessary redundancy, Narrative doesn’t pay these writers, poor suckers hoping to be discovered, through submission and contest fees, pay them.

Why would anyone buy a literary magazine? To participate in the conversation, to read familiar writers, and to support literature. Successful writers should throw money back at places who have published their work and helped said writer attain their goals. Your self-conscious “barf” comment does not save you. You should feel nauseous. As lit mag editors and writers your struggles and glory double, namely, you pay twice unless your material is so desired that people will buy mad volume of your product.


Caleb Powell


On Getting Paid: Literary Magazines and Remuneration – The Millions

Give Money to the Arts? – An Exchange with Tim Jones-Yelvington at The Rumpus

Dear Zoetrope: Your Submission Guidelines Are Fucked Up – at The Nervous Breakdown

A Radical Idea:  Pay the Writer  – The Saturday Morning Post


Written by Caleb Powell

May 28, 2013 at 4:20 pm

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