Why Do Lit Mags Exist?

CC image by mark sebastian

Our 2015 volume is coming out next month, and we’re thrilled for you to see it. Thanks to our awesome contributors, we have a collection of literature, visual art, and photography that we’re supremely proud of. As we near the end of the creation process for this volume, I’d like to pose a question to all of you—why do literature magazines exist?

It’s a question that has been on my mind for a while. I obviously feel lit mags are worthwhile, and so I tend to think the reasons for their existence are obvious. But the reasons aren’t obvious, not to most. I’ve talked to numerous people who don’t seem to know what lit mags even are. When I discuss them with non-writers/artists, I usually get a look that says, “Well, that’s nice.” They just don’t get it.

Here are four reasons why I believe lit mags exist. So the next time someone asks you “what’s a literature magazine?” you can be prepared instead of giving that small, embarrassed smile.

1. They are the ultimate alternative to the mainstream. There just isn’t a large commercial market for short stories, poetry, and short play scripts. You also aren’t likely to make your fortune off of your photographs or sketches. This does happen, but it’s not the norm. If you create these things, you more than likely have realized that they won’t make you rich. So why do you continue to do so?

I’ll tell you why—they’re magical, super condensed narratives that have the potential to stick with a reader longer than a novel. There’s a reason they’re used to teach people how to write. If you studied writing in college, you more than likely wrote short pieces for your workshop classes. I still remember many of the stories I read in college. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell has stayed with me since freshman year. So has an ocean poem written by one of my class members that same year, and a short story by a girl in my advanced fiction class about a unicorn and a robot going bowling together. As for art, it speaks a language even deeper than literature in many ways.

Lit mags are the beating heart of the independent writer/artist world, and this is a huge reason why I believe they’re here to stay—they provide something other publishing arenas aren’t willing to provide.

2. They give writers and artists—regardless of publishing credits—an outlet. Not all, but most don’t care if you were published in three print mags, two online mags, and one print anthology. They also don’t care if you’ve never been published before. They just want to see what you created. When a lit mag does select you for publication, congratulations, you have a publishing credit! That’s great. However, I will say that there’s a large number of writers out there who only see this point to lit mags—what can you do for me? Publish me! But I insist you fight this impulse.

Don’t submit to magazines you aren’t passionate about, those that you just want a credit handout from before you mosey on down the road. Your work is your baby, so send your baby to a home built on a mission that inspires you—maybe it’s The Paris Review, or Zoetrope: All-Story, or Embers Igniting. There is far more to lit mags than the gimmies of publishing credits, and if you don’t see that, you’re missing out.

Nonetheless, this is one reason they exist—to support writers and artists by getting their names out there. The really great ones offer resources beyond a “yes,” but at a minimum, lit mags exist to provide the “yes” that talented writers and artists so desire to hear.

3. Editors are artists with a unique vision, creating a coherent quilt of art out of these beautiful pieces from people all over the world. Quite simply, lit mags exist because editors are creators, too. Yes, without the work of contributors, the magazine wouldn’t exist. But neither would it exist without the editors who pull it all together, who read tons of submissions, edit for hours, and design everything in the magazine down to the kerning.

We editors are making art, and the lit mag is our medium. We don’t do this for money (most lit mags struggle daily for funds) or fame (how many names of staff members of even big name lit mags can you say off the top of your head?). We create because we must, just like the contributors who send in their work.

CC image by Chris Potter

CC image by Chris Potter

4. Lit mags help us engage in the writing and art community at large. Imagine people who have never met getting together for coffee and bringing their treasured writings and art to show one another, reading and discussing them until the wee hours of the evening—that’s a lit mag. That’s what we’re doing when we read them. We engage with the community of creators around us. They help us connect with like-minded souls.

Read these magazines, engage in discussion on social media and on the sites of magazines that inspire you, and submit your work to make those connections. We’re all in this together. Why go it alone? Lit mags provide this almost
spiritual networking opportunity, so take advantage of it.

That’s my brief opinion on why lit mags exist. Now for the bigger question: how do we inspire people to actually crack one open? I know very few people who read lit mags at all, much less with any regularity. Why? I have a few theories, but we’ll save those for a later date.

If you’re reading this, then you obviously have a connection to the literature magazine world to some degree. So engage in conversation with us, build that community I talked about under number four above—why do you think lit mags exist, and what role can/should they serve today? Let us know below or via social media. Discuss.

By Madeleine Mozley