Last February, I left the AWP conference swelling with optimism that the “digital future is currently up for grabs” and that literary presses and magazines had an opportunity to act swiftly and capture the attention of a broader audience to forge a more widespread literary culture. Since then, I’ve slowly climbed down from my optimistic peak. Amazon continues with its evil plot to take over the world. Big publishers have yet to crash and burn. And literary publishers have not magically conjured a widespread literary culture. Lately, my disillusionment has forced me to reconsider my belief in the importance of the digital adaptation of literary publishers.
But last week some obvious writing advice struck a chord to help me remember. I happened across a blog for beginning writers with a post on how to negotiate the tension between writing from your soul and fitting in with market trends. Rachelle Gardner’s advice, of course, is to do both: “It’s important to be yourself in your writing, find your unique voice, do your own thing . . . But if you want to be published, a certain degree of paying attention to the marketplace may be helpful.” This wisdom is constantly echoed in the academic creative writing world: The best writers are the most voracious readers. Understand the personality of the journals you submit to. Find your idiosyncratic point of view. Just write, keep writing, and things will happen.
Just as most writers strive for a balance of both fitting in and being themselves, so too most publishers need to balance following the movement of the industry and upholding their values. Though the literary wonderland of my dreams may never become a reality, my original conviction stands: literary publishers need to keep up with digital developments or risk becoming irrelevant. The best literary publishers, like the writers they publish, are the most voracious readers. They understand the personality of their readers. They find their idiosyncratic point of view. They just publish, keep publishing, and things happen.
Sometimes we just need to be reminded of that which we already know.