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The Importance of Literary Magazines

I’m a lit mag newbie. I stumbled across the world of literary magazines and journals on Twitter and, as both a reader and hopeful writer, I was intrigued. The indie lit mag community is a hub of creativity, combining multiple art forms: poetry, prose, non-fiction, personal essays, book reviews, graphic design and photography, among others. Such magazines are rarely discussed in the world of publishing, yet they provide underrepresented voices with opportunities to find their footing in the literary world.

Literary magazines themselves are not new. From the Nouvelles de la republique des lettres in 1684 to the Edinburgh Review in 1802, they’ve been around for centuries. After an increase in the number of journals in the mid 20th century, the late 20th century saw the emergence of online lit mags, thereby revolutionising small presses. Lit mags rely heavily on social media in order to gain submissions, which are often based on a particular theme.

While some lit mags do print runs of each issue, others have a solely online presence, sharing their work for free via a blog or website. Founder and editor of lit mag Opia and member of the editorial team at The Publishing Post, Olga Bialasik believes that magazines and journals “are a really great way of gaining publishing credits, especially for writers whose goal isn’t necessarily to write a full length novel, which is a common assumption.” Being published in a small press brings with it the chance to win the Pushcart prize, honouring the best "poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” from the previous year, as well as the O Henry Award for short stories. These awards can provide early recognition for writers without the need for book deals or the expense of self-publication in print.

And technology isn’t the only reason that lit mags are a step ahead in terms of accessibility. Independent publications are so often disregarded by the publishing industry in favour of traditional print publishing, where underrepresented writers are consistently overlooked. 2020 saw an examination of the lack of diversity in the publishing industry, with LL McKinney’s #PublishingPaidMe hashtag highlighting the pay disparity between white authors and authors of colour. It saw publishers paying 6-figure advances to white authors, while award-winning Black authors had to fight for such salaries. Olga Bialasik also says that magazines “offer an opportunity to get published that… is a lot more attainable and accessible, particularly for underrepresented writers.” Opia is one of the many magazines dedicated to “elevating marginalised and underrepresented voices, including (but not limited to) BIPOC, LGBTQ+, women, immigrant, disabled, neurodiverse, and working-class writers, artists and creators.” Editors, most of whom work voluntarily while juggling jobs and degrees, are able to cultivate spaces that allow BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and disabled people to tell their stories and share their art in an industry that is 76% white, 74% cis, 81% straight and 89% non-disabled. (Lee and Low Diversity Baseline Survey, 2019).

Journals and small presses can also provide publishing hopefuls with invaluable experience in editing, social media marketing and web design. Many lit mags search for staff via Twitter, and these positions can almost always be carried out remotely, meaning that those living outside of London can still develop skills within a publishing environment. These positions, like so many in the industry, are usually voluntary as lit mags are almost exclusively volunteer run. However, having your name as part of a masthead can be a great addition to your CV and give great insight into the world of digital publishing.

It is clear that literary magazines are a modern medium in publishing, taking steps to carve out spaces that amplify the voices that go unheard in traditional publishing. They bring together art and aesthetic, and create a sense of community for writers of all backgrounds, while also allowing publishing hopefuls a chance to learn more about e-publishing. “The community is wonderful, friendly and extremely supportive… collaborating to make the space more, open, honest and safe for everyone.”

Check out more amazing literary magazines below:

With thanks to Olga Bialasik of Opia

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