May 17, 2014 by Nathaniel Tower
As writers, we jump for joy at the news of every acceptance. When the story is published, we rush to promote it on social media. Many times, we put a link on our own blog or website. But if you visit any writer’s publication list, you are bound to find some dead links.
One of the most frustrating things for a writer is to see one of our published stories suddenly disappear. When an online literary magazine closes shop (which seems to happen just about every week these days), our story often vanishes.
If you look at my publication list, you’ll find plenty of these ghostly stories (I try my best to remove the dead links, but it’s hard to keep up). When this happens, not only do we lose the visibility, but we also have very few options for getting that story back out there. After all, it is previously published, and we no longer have those first time rights to give away again.
While there are some options for handling these stories (post it on your blog, put it on Fictionaut, etc.), we’d rather avoid this fate altogether. Our stories deserve better. That’s not to say our personal blogs or Fictionaut aren’t worthy places. However, these options simply don’t provide the same satisfaction (or prestige) as an official acceptance and publication by a venue with an editorial process. How often do you see a writer bio that says, “Her work has appeared on Fictionaut and her personal blog”? Doesn’t sound very impressive, does it?
The big question isn’t what to do with these stories once they are surreptitiously “unpublished.” Rather, the question we should be asking is how to avoid this fate to begin with. The solution lies in finding the most sustainable literary magazines we can.
Evaluating the sustainability of a lit mag takes a bit of time. If you are the type to submit to everything you find on Duotrope, then this isn’t really for you. However, if you are a writer interested in finding the best publications that will provide a great outlet for your work, then this is an important process. Here are some factors to consider when evaluating whether or not a lit mag is sustainable.
A sustainable literary magazine usually looks the part. That doesn’t mean it needs a cutting-edge design. Rather, search for websites that look like they were designed with a little thought and care. If it looks like the site was slapped together in five minutes, then the odds of it being around in five years aren’t very good. At the same time though, you shouldn’t necessarily dismiss a lit mag with a website that looks like it hadn’t been updated for ten years. After all, if the site is ten years old, it must have a little sustainability built in already.
Quality of Writing
A sustainable lit mag publishes high quality work. Granted, not everyone has the same tastes, but I think we can mostly tell the difference between poor writing and good writing. If a lit mag is filled with stories that just don’t seem very good–and this can mean a wide variety of things–then it’s not a very good candidate for sticking around for a long time. A magazine that doesn’t publish quality work will eventually disappear because of lack of readership and lack of interest.
Quality of Editing
A sustainable lit magazine puts effort into editing. If you see a lot of typos and sloppiness in the stories, then you definitely should be concerned about how much the editors really care about the venue. Even worse is finding a lot of typos in the content created by the magazine (about us page, submission guidelines, etc.). If the editors don’t seem to care about the magazine, you can’t count on it to be around long.
Aside from just reading what’s on the site and evaluating the design, there are several other methods for determining the likelihood of a lit mag sticking around for awhile. Here is a longevity test you can use:
- How long has the publication existed?
- Does the magazine discuss the future (future issues, future projects, etc.)?
- What are the backgrounds of the staff members? (If they’ve been known to open and close other publications, you may want to stay away)
- Is the lit mag active on social media?
- Does the lit mag utilize the tools of the trade (Submittable, Duotrope, Poets & Writers, etc.)?
- Can you find any reviews of the lit mag?
- How long does the domain exist, and when does it expire?
Compiling the answers to these questions should shed a lot of light on the seriousness of this lit mag. Of course, none of this is foolproof. After all, some great publications will close their doors completely from time to time. While their disappearance may cause a lot more chatter in the literary community, the types of publications that simply vanish from the web typically aren’t the ones that meet the above criteria. On the other hand, some publications that look like they wouldn’t last more than a month end up publishing great fiction for years. While we can never be completely certain how long a publication will last, we can find the venues that have the best odds to survive. We don’t have to send out our work just anywhere.