I tend to stick to the same stable of magazines, but I thought I'd take a look around this year. What's changed?
- I have access to the online magazines that the University subscribes to - the full text of hundreds of literary magazines ("Poetry", "PN Review", etc)
- My local Borders has closed. They stocked many US and UK literary magazines
- WWW magazines have improved in quality and status
- Some magazines have gone. Others (e.g. Iota) have changed beyond recognition.
- I read that book publishers care less about slush piles nowadays. I don't know whether this means that they take more notice of magazines. Even if they do, I suspect that only a few magazines matter. More likely they're influenced by networking (of which online discussion boards - some associated with magazines - play an increasingly significant role).
What affects my choice of subscriptions?
- Brand loyalty
- Chance - I've tried renewing subs to 2 magazine lately but something's got lost in the post, so I might not try again. And chance encounters affect choices - what tipped the balance towards "The Dark Horse" was Hannah Brooks-Motl's article in the Summer 2008 issue
- I try to support prose-only magazines - "Riptide", "short Fiction", etc.
- I get magazines that supply something I can't get elsewhere
- I get magazines if it improves my chances of getting acceptances
Beneath it all though lies a feeling that paper magazines are doomed. In the UK the main poetry publishers and major magazines seem less influential now (to me and my peers, I guess I mean). There's more small-press infiltration of prize-lists, and more pamphlets are being published. Perhaps the Web has helped smaller magazines more than large ones - the small mags benefit more from the networking and wider visibility that the web provides. Magazines that I've unjustly neglected in the past are "Magma" (whose contents I like), and "Poetry London" (whose poetry I'm rather less sure about). I haven't seen "Tears in the Fence" for years - it's changed a lot, and is a good read. And "Brittle Star" has done well lately. Importantly for me, these latter 2 magazines publish short fiction. At the other end of the spectrum there are 2 venerable magazines I've never been in - "Poetry Review" and "PN Review". Though "PN Review" has a few interesting articles, I have trouble with most of the poetry and some of the chattier essays. I like its reputation more than its contents. But I'll keep posting to "Poetry Review" every two years or so.
I imagine many of these publications are under pressure. Now that US magazine are often easier to submit to than UK ones I wonder how many UK writers sent their work straight to the States. Besides, for fiction there are hardly any UK markets anyway, and "Rialto" tells people to expect to wait 6 months for a reply to a submission.
But all is not rosy for US magazines either. I'm told that "Story" and "New American Review" have gone, "TriQuarterly" has become WWW-only and "Southern Review" is shrinking.
As the water-hole dries up, strangers rub shoulders. On Poetry Publishing Amy De'ath suggests that both Carcanet and Salt cut through the mainstream/avant- garde divide, though Carcanet tends to print older, "established" avant-garders. On the more purely innovative side, Shearsman remains impressive and Barque keeps going. Magazines like "Tears in the Fence" are less mainstream than I'm used to, but not beyond my range. I need new challenges
In consequence of all this I think I'm going to adjust my magazine subscriptions a little, now that I can't buy off the shelf. I'll also send stories to the US rather than the UK, and take WWW magazines more seriously. But I still have trouble evaluating WWW magazines. I'm sending Flash pieces off, but I don't produce many so I don't want to waste them. I know of a few established outlets - "Smokelong", etc - but keep finding other possibilities. Even London Magazine's starting to print them. Time to take a few chances I suppose.