-3

There have long been accusations of nepotism and elitism within the world of publishing. In this case, I am referring specifically to literary magazines rather than publishing houses that publish novels (where the importance of established names and reputation is a lot more obvious). There have been testimonies by former insiders who work for literary magazine firms confirming these accusations. Also, many experiments have been carried out in which stories that had been previously published under people with established names were sent to magazines with the name on the transcript substituted for that of an unknown individual and the stories were rejected in such a way that it was clear that the people doing the rejection were unaware that the story had been previously published.

Furthermore, I myself have seen quite a number of stories that were published in magazines by well-known authors that were of shockingly inferior quality, both in terms of prose and engagement, to stories that I and other relatively new and unknown authors have written. One example I will use is that of a very famous person: Stephen King. I know that this may be sacrilege to many people, but the fact is that, while King is a very admirable novel writer, many of his short stories have been very unimpressive. One glaring example of this is the novelette ‘The Moving Finger’. This story is light years away in quality from ‘Children of the Corn,’ for example, which was a shorter story and truly entertaining and well-written. The Moving Finger drags on for far too long and is basically pointless. Yet, remarkably, this dull and rather ridiculous story was published by Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. What makes it even more remarkable is that I know from experience that this same magazine (as well as others) rejects submissions (even with forms) that are far superior in quality to this story. In other words, stories that are far more engaging, profound and meaningful.

Is it right that this sort of thing regularly happens in the literary publication industry? These are the sorts of perceived problems involving professional ethics and honesty that I have been trying to draw attention to but which my attempts to do so are met with resistance by people who favor the status quo.

I know that one can argue that stories with big names on them attract readers, but, at the same time, I think literary magazines should hold big name authors to the same high standards that they presumably hold others. I think it is better not only for their reputation and sales but also because it is ethical. The same reply applies to the argument that they are private entities and are thus entitled to do whatever they want. After all, they strongly give authors the impression on their websites that quality is what they are after. Nowhere on their websites do they say anything like “Oh, by the way, if someone with a well-known name sends to us, we will still prefer that one over yours even if yours is more engaging” or “make sure you send us a really good and engaging story OR, alternatively, make sure you have a relatively big name.”

[If you feel threatened by this question, you may feel free to close it.]

5
  • 6
    It is traditional to use the body of the "ask a question" segment to clarify your question, rather than to post your own answer to your question. Additionally, half of your answer appears to be editorializing, rather than even answering the question. – Jedediah Aug 24 '20 at 13:12
  • 3
    The question in the body doesn't match the headline. The headline is "does this happen?" which is a yes/no question with a fairly unambiguous answer. The question in the body is "is this right?" That's a complex philosophical discussion question which likely can't be approached successfully on this site, given its scope and mandate. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Aug 24 '20 at 15:33
  • 4
    The fact that it was Stephen King who wrote The Moving Finger almost certainly gave it an advantage when it was being considered for publication in the Fantasy & Science Fiction: Special Stephen King Issue – motosubatsu Aug 24 '20 at 16:46
  • 1
    @motosubatsu They should have given that spot to the vastly superior Richard Bachman. – Anna A. Fitzgerald Aug 24 '20 at 17:56
  • Your insistence that the only reason to close a question is that users feel threatened by it does not help your case and is borderline offensive. This question is closed because it doesn't really ask an answerable question that is on-topic for our format. – linksassin Sep 8 '20 at 3:49
7

Yes. Authors with proven appeal are much more likely to place a story, if only because it's much more likely for their stories to get a fair read by the editors. Unknown writers go into the "slush pile," their stories may get at most a cursory read, perhaps by someone who is tired, at the end of a long day. This almost certainly means that SOME superior stories are passed over for SOME inferior ones by more famous writers.

This actually makes a certain amount of sense. Readers, like publishers, gravitate to familiar names. I'm much more likely, as a reader, as an occasional purchaser of literary magazines, to take a chance on even an unpromising story by a favorite author like Murakami than on someone I've never heard of. That said, even famous and successful authors do get rejections. The chief difference between them and us is often that they are not as derailed by rejections as we are.

At root, even literary magazines are a business, if rarely ever a profitable one. They are not given a divine mandate to be fair, or to recognize talent. Nor are their choices a divine imprimatur of quality or worth. They don't have an objective rubric to grade submissions against. They print the stories that are the best combination of what their audience expects, what they think will sell, and what they personally gravitate to (among those they have access to). If you get printed by them, it doesn't mean your work is good. If you don't get printed by them, it doesn't mean your work is bad. It means they did or didn't think your work would sell copies of their magazine.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.