Maybe We're Not Doing It Wrong

This post, from Roxane Gay, originally appeared on HTMLGIANT on 12/23/09.

Every single writer and editor these days has some idea or theory about how to change publishing or save publishing because, haven’t you heard? Print is dying and people aren’t reading and the sky is falling and the literary world is coming to an end.

Criticism is leveled against big publishing and independent publishing and micropublishing and often times, that criticism is delivered with the rather self-righteous sentiment that everyone is doing it wrong. Often times, it seems that publishers spend more time detailing how they are innovating or how they will innovate rather than letting their actions speak for themselves. Some days, we’re talking about publishing more than putting out great books and magazines and just doing the work of publishing.

Two recent blog posts got me thinking about all this.

First, at the ZYZZVA blog, Howard Junker wrote an awesome post about the McSweeney’s Panorama issue. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Junker says but I really appreciate that he’s taking a critical stance instead of simply fawning all over the Panorama issue because it was published by McSweeney’s. The Panorama issue is an interesting but flawed endeavor. The issue is by no means a salvation, a notion which may not have been actively encouraged by McSweeney’s but wasn’t necessarily discouraged either.

The second interesting post is at Identity Theory in which editor Andrew Whitacre questions the relevance of the (small) print literary magazine in the digital era. Whitacre calls out many of the print journals on a list of journals he received from a professor in 2002 for not publishing content online, referring to them as “technologically stingy.”

Whitacre goes on to address out of date, poorly designed websites that are not taking full advantage of the technologies available in the digital era.  He says that in this digital age, people want access to literature and that many of the more established print journals are not communicating as effectively with their readers as they could. He suggests that print journals don’t need to print a bound issue four times a year because the purposes those journals satisfied are now being met by online journals.  Finally, Whitacre defines the mission of the literary journal in the digital age as such:

The mission of journals, as I now see it, is to contribute to and nurture conversation around good writing. To be experts without excluding. To offer literary context without condescension. To carve out space for literature.


Read the rest of the post on HTMLGIANT.