All the latest news, ideas, and opinions from Denver's Independent Literary Center: lighthousewriters.org
by Laurie Sleeper
Friday morning, I decided to attend Digital Lit: Why Online Magazines Deserve More Respect. Since I haven’t had much respect for online magazines up to now, I wondered whether the panel could change my mind. Consider me a convert!
The Digital Lit world was well represented by the panel members, all either the editor or editor-in-chief of their respective publications: Martha Nichols, of Talking Writing (talkingwriting.com); Lee Hope of Solstice (solsticelitmag.org); J. W. Wang of Juked (juked.com); and Matthew Limpede of Carve (carvezine.com). Talking Writing is the youngest of these magazines, founded in 2010. Even so, at four years old, TW has outlived most online and print journals, which typically fail within the first three years. Solstice was formed a couple of years earlier, while Carve has been online since 2000 and Juked since 1999. Ancient history in Internet years!
Martha opened by admitting that since the time she submitted the panel proposal for AWP 2014, she had already seen a shift in the respect given towards online magazines in just one year (but still not as much as they deserve). The world of Digital Lit is changing every second, and in another five years, a panel like this might not even exist. Given the amount of work these people do for their publications and the seriousness with which they take their work, I believe she’s right. As J. W. pointed out, the distinction between print and online is disintegrating. Even the Best American series and the O. Henry awards have allowed submissions from online journals for the last couple of years.
Lee discussed how Solstice does not try to imitate a print journal, and that they want to exist outside of print. For example, Solstice has a performance poetry editor as part of their staff, something that would be impossible for a print magazine. But she also emphasized that although Solstice likes to push against the boundaries of print media, every piece they publish still has gone through a juried review by at least three readers and editors. At this point, Solstice only publishes 5% of all the submissions they receive, further proof of a careful selection process.
Matthew continued by emphasizing that online journals can offer benefits that print journals cannot. For example, Carve allows comments on the stories they publish online, which develops a community of readers and writers. Some stories receive comments and discussions years after they are originally published, something that print publications simply can’t provide. He also suggested that part of the increased respect for online journals resulted from the recession, which caused some print journals to go online due to budget cuts.
The major advantage for writers publishing with online magazines is the potential for a much larger audience than a traditional print journal. Talking Writing gets 250,000 page views a year. When Solstice publishes their triquarterly journal, they get 12,000-14,000 hits in the first few days. While Best American or O. Henry may not be awarding prizes to the work published in these online journals quite yet, is this the only measurement of writing quality? Solstice was won Best of the Net, as well as the Million Writers Award. Who gets to decide what recognition is the best?
For me, I’m going to give online magazines serious consideration. As a writer, I have to decide whether getting into a print journal with less than 1,000 subscribers is “better” for my writing career than getting into an online journal which, if not quite as “respected,” could potentially provide me with thousands of readers. Do I want to send my work off to a print publication, never to hear from it again, or would I rather discuss my story online with an interested and engaged community? Digital Lit will never replace print journals, and no one on the panel wants this—we all love our books! But what an exciting time for writers and their publishers, as we embrace the Digital Age and explore new ways of delivering and receiving literary content. Online literary journals are here to stay, and it’s time for us to welcome them.