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The New Social Face of Lit Mags & Publishing

Full disclosure: I’m Fiction Editor for TIFERET: A Journal of Literature & Spirituality. We launched our remodeled website today. I’m also a writer who has subscribed to numerous literary magazines since he was a poor college student. So, I have my biases.

1. A Village with a Magazine Center

If you’re like most people – even if you’re one of many self-proclaimed writers – you don’t subscribe to any literary magazines and associate them with the opaque writings that turned you off of poetry in high school or college.

But lit mags are changing their face. Their social face specifically. And what they’re doing is what any smart solo-preneur, creative enterpriser, or writer or artist for that matter could learn from. They’re building relationships. They’re engaging their tribes in new ways.

They’re building communities and villages with a magazine at the hub.

 2. Not So Opaque Anymore

True, literary magazines for the past 50 years were largely funded by university grants or some crazed poor soul’s labor of love. And they distributed to and appealed to a rather limited lot of other writers and crazed souls.

That’s changing.

Small press and small magazine publishers are changing their design face. Creative Nonfiction – once a rather dry-looking journal – now has the feel of an engaging magazine with graphics. They also offer a mentoring program that pairs a professional with an apprentice. Tin House frequently publishes not only some of the best writers but also includes the work of innovative artists and designers. A recent issue featured Ohio artist Matt Kish who had designed a graphic for each page in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. And if you still think that most poetry and fiction and nonfiction published these days is rife with overly private and obscure references like T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland, you probably haven’t looked at one in twenty years.

The recent issue of Poets & Writers has numerous articles on this shift. Here’s what Michael Bourne writes on the subject:

[A]mong the top independent literary journals in the country, are at the leading edge of an effort to forge a new kind of relationship between literary journals and their readers, one that goes beyond the pages…. [T]hese editors are building a model for a twenty-first century literary magazine that combines first-rate fiction and poetry with a slate of hands-on programs for aspiring writers hungry for a sense of community.

Years ago, McSweeney’s publisher and author Dave Eggers started writer mentoring programs for youth in New York City and elsewhere (serving over 29,000 students last year according to their site), and he also delivered a compelling TED Talk on his Once Upon a School initiative. Other journals like Tin House host conferences for writers sometimes in exquisite locales.

At TIFERET, we’re building a global community of writers and non-writers alike – for anyone interested in topics related to literature, peace, social tolerance, justice, and spirituality. Author and editor Melissa Studdard hosts a provocative series of interviews called TIFERET Talk. And our workshops reach out to writers and other creatives.

 3. Your Social Face

If you’re a creative, you can’t hide anymore. Not for long if you want to survive. Even before the Age of Social Media, I implored clients to “get out.” Connect. Meet others in your field. Attend conferences. Workshops. You will not survive emotionally or professionally if you isolate yourself. And there’s too much proof these days that creativity often happens in combination not just in isolation. Stop counting on a deal with publishing house to find your audience.

Just as lit mags are reaching out to and re-defining their audiences and tribes, you would be smart to do likewise.

Why? As a once-staunch solitary writer, I admit the realities of what even the likes of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt have told me: We are social creatures. If you want to thrive as a creative mammal, find community. Find your Creative Wild Pack.

The other reason? You’re never offering a product, alone – although the product had better be a great one. You’re also offering an experience and a relationship.

 4. Three Reasons to Subscribe to a Lit Magazine

#1. It’s part of your professional development. If you’re a poet or fiction writer or creative nonfiction writer and say you don’t subscribe to lit magazines because you’re too poor, then count on continuing to be poor. You want to be a recognized writer but cannot spend $10-30 a year on your professional development? Really? Think about what else you spend $15 on in a year, and get back to me.

#2. Tune up your tongue and feel deeply. Literary writers spend their hours living in language like no one else. If you parlay in language in any way for your business or craft or blog, your ear could be tuned up by spending an hour a month absorbing poets’ and fiction writers’ and essayists’ nuanced phrases, word play, and twists of thinking.

#3. Amp up the serendipity. What will open your mystery box next? You rarely know what stimulation will trigger your next best idea or impulse that launches your next project or resolves your existing client project. So stimulate your creative mind with rich input.

 5. On My Shelf

Here are some of the magazines and journals I’ve subscribed to in the past few years.

Tin House – a stellar collection of writers along with photography and design features

Normal School – a smart collection of writers presented in a readable old-school magazine-like package

Creative Nonfiction – often theme-centered collections of intelligent, informed storytellers and researchers

River Teeth – a varied collection of personal essayists

Poetry Magazine – still a pleasurable collection of various styles along with brief topical essays

Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics – one of the best if not the best journal about, well, prose poetics or the prose poem (full disclosure: The founding editor is a colleague of mine at WestConn, and they have published a couple of my poems.)

Yale Review – I still like their essays and book reviews, however stodgy the name and presentation.

Tiferet: A Journal of Literature & Spirituality – Uh, they actually give me free copies. I do think we have the most community-driven mission of any literary journal, but then I’m biased. (And if you’re a fiction writer with an exceptionally well told story looking for a home, send it to us.)

Rain Taxi – consistently offers off-beat reviews of important but often little-known writers

Harper’s Magazine – Among the best collections of essays, topical and not, in my estimate.

Orion – Not exactly a lit mag, they do house some of the most provocative and thoughtful writings about place, environment, and mind that I know of.

And for the record, I also read AdWeek, Fast Company, Print Magazine (design-related), and a slew of non-writer-related magazines and journals.

What journals and magazines do you read and recommend? Do you feel connected to these publications’ “community” of readers? What have you done to gather a community around your brand?

See you in the woods,

P.S. I hope you’ll help TIFERET celebrate our new site and join our community at the website or at Facebook. Thanks! Jeffrey



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  1. What an inspiring post! One of the things I love about your writing is that you always help me see things in a new way. I subscribe to several literary journals, but after reading this, I think I will subscribe to a few more–you are so right about professional development and community!

  2. Melissa ~ Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad they inspired you to support your growth and the wider community. I appreciate your dropping in the Hut.