Online literary scene: The lowdown

Online literary scene: The lowdown

By Kirsty Logan 25/05/11

While expensive, print literary journals are struggling to stay afloat, online literature is booming. Fiction writer and online enthusiast Kirsty Logan gives us the lowdown on getting published on the web – and suggests that print isn't dead...

Five years ago, getting a story published online was about as prestigious as winning a church raffle, but now some of the finest and most interesting literary magazines exist only on screens.

Paper and distribution are expensive, and most literary print magazines run at a loss. Each print issue must be subsidised by Arts Council grants or private investments – both of which are very tricky to come by – so it’s no surprise that many are going digital.

Online magazines are not required to appeal to such a wide range of punters as print magazines, so they’re free to publish the most innovative and unusual work. For Every Year features one story dedicated to every year since 1400, and Expanded Horizons publishes stories that feature characters who positively reflect minorities of race, gender, sexuality, and physical ability.

There’s the issue of frequency, too. Online magazine Metazen publishes a new story every single weekday – what print magazine could possibly compete with that?

It’s not just for up-and-comers, either: the downloadable PDF magazine Five Dials features such huge names as Zadie Smith, Louis Theroux and James Kelman; on the non-fiction front, Brevity publishes ultra-short personal essays, most of them written by successful, widely published authors. Meanwhile, Shortfire Press sells downloadable short stories by both emerging and established writers – for 99p a pop.

That’s not to say that print is dead. Popshot, a poetry and illustration magazine, publishes high-quality print issues once per quarter, and each one is a little slice of perfection that just wouldn’t be the same on a screen. Abe’s Penny is a “micro-magazine” that produces a photography and literature magazine in the form of postcards: subscribers receive a story and photo on a postcard through their letterbox once a week. It’s fun to look at the postcards on the website, but that can’t compete with the thrill of getting a weekly piece of art through your front door. As Anna and Tess, the sister-team behind Abe’s Penny, put it: “each issue dispenses art and literature while becoming a collectible, temporal object”. This is a million miles away from disposable, fast-food culture.

Perhaps the answer is to compromise. Literary magazines PANK and Spilling Ink Review walk the line between online and print perfectly: PANK publishes monthly online issues and an annual print version; Spilling Ink’s online issues are published quarterly, while they reserve the spots in their print anthologies for contest winners and the best-of-the-best from the online issues. By giving a nod to both forms, these magazines provide the accessibility and immediacy of digital with the durability of print.

We’re in a golden age of literary magazines, with more stories out there then you could ever read in one lifetime. Whether you read lit mags on your smartphone, tablet or a clunky beige PC, have a look at some of the creative, unusual work being published online. There’s something for everyone – and most of it is free.


Read: How to set up a small press and Write Now: Short Stories.

Image: afternoon tea in the sun by Melissa Gray, available under a CC BY-ND license.

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