Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thinking about Print Mags and Contests and Things

Four print mags here, each of which runs full-length short stories. I'll list them alphabetically. Which ones would you most want to publish in? How would they rank in terms of that?

Avery Anthology
Crab Orchard Review
Nimrod
One Story

I'll give you my rankings in a second. I ranked them holistically, but here were the factors I think were most involved for me:

*Pay

*Profile (i.e. will it look good on the resume, will agents maybe read it -- that kind of thing)

*Impact/Reception (not circulation numbers so much as this: is there editorial continuity and a known aesthetic? Do readers know what they're getting when they buy the mag? How much might readers want to read the thing before they have it in their hands? How devoted might those readers be?)

For me, it worked out like this:

1. One Story
2. Avery Anthology
3. Nimrod
4. Crab Orchard

I want to offer some thoughts on this but before I do a disclaimer: I've got a story forthcoming in Avery Anthology. If they'd ranked low on my list, probably I wouldn't have 'published' it; probably I would have chosen to replace them. Obviously, right? But if I had replaced them on this list with Keyhole or with Hobart (mags that would have fallen in the exact same spot, at #2), there'd have been the possibility of bias of another type -- because I've submitted to each in the past and would love to have stories accepted in those places....

Anyway.... One Story. They pay well. Agents read it. People have got NY book contracts out of a One Story pub. Related to this stuff -- hopefully, anyway -- is the fact that there's editorial continuity, and that people love reading it. One Story scores high across the board.

One thing that's interesting to me about Crab Orchard: besides One Story, they're the only one that pays. Not tons -- like $20/page or something. But pay is pay. So why would Nimrod rank above them? They do better in 'Profile,' I think. I woudn't mind having 'Nimrod' on my CV. But neither of these does nearly as well as Avery in Impact/Reception. Nimrod and Crab Orchard are both funded through universities. I don't know that there's rotating editorship, but I wouldn't doubt it.

In a way, I wish Nimrod were at the bottom of my list -- because they do the thing I really hate most: they're a university-funded mag, but they run contests each year: pay $20 to enter our short story contest; if you win, you get $2000; if you lose, you get a year subscription to our mag, which we are unable to sell to you in any other way!

I often wonder what on earth people are thinking when they enter these contests. They've got a story, right? A story they like and think is good. And they're wondering, Where do I send it? They're thinking about that. So many different outlets.... How to know what all these different mags are looking for...? Then they hear about a contest. I know! I'll send my story to a mag that wants to publish the 'best' story! I don't really need to know what they're looking for, because they just want the 'best,' for their contest..... Yeah. For sure that's worth $20, knowing that a place is going to be looking for the 'best' story...

I mean, what do they think? They think that readers at other places aren't judging their stories against others and picking the ones they like best?

I don't know..... Maybe they're right, these contest submitters: maybe readers who are selecting prize winners don't just choose the stories they like best.... Maybe they're thinking, We could pick this story that rocks our world, this story we love, but instead we're going to pick this other one, because it's 'better'...?

Back to the rankings: Seen from the selling-yourself-through-contest-funds angle, people at places like Avery Anthology are really the good guys: they've got a vision for the mag, they seem to love running it, they send long notes to people whose stories they don't take, even though there's not much economic advantage in doing so.....

Is there more to say on all this? Probably. BUt time to go....

15 comments:

Molly Gaudry said...

Thanks for this post. It's got me thinking about things.

Brad D. Green said...

Interesting. Are there any journals that one should NOT publish at?

Scott Garson said...

brad-- i'm pretty much 'yes' and 'no' on this one.

'No' in the most basic sense: when you publish stuff -- whether in print or online -- what it means is that people have read your work and are appreciating it enough that they want others to read it.... THat's an essentially positive thing.

Still, I avoid certain situations:

* mags that are poorly designed -- mags whose stories are hard or unpleasant to read on the page/s.

* mags funded by colleges and run by undergrads: there's no real-world readership for these things. They're playing editor, and you're playing writer.

* any mag that's currently running a contest (I don't know that this is the case, but I suspect editors are going to prefer to fill issues w/ runners up--people who have contributed their $20)

* mags that I would not want to read if I had a choice..... If I don't like what I read in a mag, I definitely don't want to see my story there....

Brad D. Green said...

Sage advice. For a new writer, or at least a writer new to the pursuit, the trick would be to not hyperventilate and frantically submit to any and everywhere just to build up a bio of credits. It's hard to maintain a "taste" or "culture" when the plate is empty and white, however.

I appreciate your ranking of the journals listed. Do you know of anywhere where journals are ranked in a similar manner? I've run across lists based on the Million Writers Award or some such, but not one where journals are ranked according to "prestige" or "influence."

Thank you for taking the time to give me your thoughts.

Scott Garson said...

know what you mean about that empty plate.... This is exactly why third-rate pubs sometimes end up w/ first-rate stuff...

'Prestige' reliably follows the 'Pay' category. If you publish in the glossies, you're going to get paid, and people think highly of getting paid....

Clifford Garstang did a ranking based on success in the Pushcart Prize annual. The top twenty in this list are mostly prestigious. They pay -- a little to a decent amount -- and they're generally old and well established. In my view -- and maybe we can get Cliff over here to comment on this -- these rankings are off because the Pushcart is fairly conservative. It shouldn't be! Not if it's dealing w/ independents. But it is. Most of the top 20 are university funded, and a good half of them generate much less excitement upon their release than do some mags at the other end of Cliff's rankings -- like Ninth Letter, and like Quick Fiction, which I think is easily one of the top publications in the country.

Clifford Garstang said...

Hey, Scott, thanks for the mention. I've got a couple of thoughts about your ranking, which seems close to where I would have put those 4, although Crab Orchard in my book might have been a place or two higher, largely because I know the editors, who are faculty members at SIU (I think MFA students rotate through the assistant editor positions) which gives it a more consistent aesthetic. And it's a nice looking magazine.

I wish someone would rank all magazines using something like the criteria you've listed, and there have been a few attempts. The subjective elements make it tricky, though. Prestige is just too hard to measure.

Which is why I chose the Pushcart Prize as the basis for an objective ranking system. You're absolutely right that the prizes tend to go to more traditional magazines, so magazines with edgier, experimental work, will be further down the list. But it's not like there's a plaque that goes with being ranked number 1! The way to use the list, I think, is to factor it into the equation for choosing where to submit, but that equation hast to start with where the story that's been written would fit--not how high I might want to aim in the rankings. If I write a wacky story, I know that it doesn't have a chance at Ploughshares, even though that magazine has been at #1 for the 4 years I've been doing the ranking. It might fit at Ninth Letter or Fourteen Hills, though, which would be among the more prestigious magazines that take edgy stories. My ranking algorithm doesn't help there.

One more thing: about contests. I enter contests and have wone a few, enough to at least pay for the fees and subscriptions to lots of litmags. I enter contests if I'm going to get a subscription or at least one copy of the journal, or if the judge is announced in advance and I have something I think will appeal to that writer.

Scott Garson said...

thanks for these thoughts, cliff

I guess 'prestige' would go in my Profile category.... I tried to bury it there because I have an immediate and irrational reaction to the notion of prestige: I want to yurk.

More important for me is the third category, Impact/Reception, and, as you say, C, it's very difficult to be objective about this stuff.... In fact, your take on Crab Orchard has me reevaluating. I'm officially moving them to #3.

re: contests: fair enough, fair enough....

I would say this: if you're a university-funded mag running pay-to-enter contests, you're effectively sealing yourself off from the question of whether anyone wants to read what you publish, or how much anyone wants to.... And that may be to your detriment.... Independent mags have build communities of readers, and I think there's vitality in that...

ryan call said...

scott, congrats on the avery take

Scott Garson said...

thanks, r.

you realize: this whole thing was just a way of slipping that in there....

I got a story coming out in Avery! yee-hoo!

Kay Sexton said...

From an international perspective this is fascinating - and pretty useless! If you're outside the USA it's almost impossible to find four journals to rank, let's try the UK:

Granta (as if they took work from anybody who wasn't already a well-regarded novelist)
The London Magazine (lost its funding and its editor recently)
Ambit (great guys, pay a bit and have superb design)
Brand (a new magazine and a bit of an unknown quantity)

There are a few more, Aesthetica doesn't pay, Crimewave pays but is genre, Chroma pays but is LGBT, Pulp pays but is online only ...

Just finding four is an effort, ranking them is a joke. To get into any one of them is pretty well a success that precludes you getting into any of the others!

Ravi Mangla said...

http://www.mamohanraj.com/Writing/litmarket.html

I just like that it still has Antaeus on the list.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Kay, what about the Stand magazine?

Scott, one reason that I enter contests - in addition to the considerations mentioned by Cliff - is that the odds for winning are actually higher than acceptance from regular submissions. This is probably because many writers, like you, refuse to enter contests. And I have won several times.

Scott Garson said...

kay-- I got a letter from GRanta once. An actual letter. Now I shake my fist at them. Granta! How evil of you to encourage me! I could have been a doctor by now!

anyway, this is another reason to like online lit. Erases borders. I think there's at least 3 stories coming up in Wigleaf from writers who live in the U.K....

Xujun--you know, I've always suspected that, about the odds. You write a pretty mean story, though; that has a whole lot to do w/ the wins.

Xujun Eberlein said...

I wrote a pretty mean story?? Which one?

Scott Garson said...

are you hitting me for my outdated slang?

I can go back even further than that!

You write a swell story, X.