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Jurgen Fauth

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Transcend and Include: Fictionaut and the Future of the Literary Magazine

Posted: 11/05/09 02:04 PM ET

The fear and uncertainty brought about by the "digital revolution" are no surprise: where there is revolution, the specter of the guillotine can't be far behind, and necks everywhere are worried about their future. However, it may be more productive to consider the changes roiling the publishing industry evolutionary rather than revolutionary. According to integral philosopher Ken Wilber, one of the tenets governing evolutionary processes is "transcend and include" -- something I've found to be true in the way literary journals are embracing Fictionaut.

In case you were too busy fretting about some other industry to notice: the literary journal is every bit as embattled as the rest of print. After 40 years, the staff of TriQuarterly was dismissed and the magazine moved online. Southern Review faces significant cuts, and New England Review has to become self-supporting next year -- or else. Aspiring writers gingerly confess they don’t actually read literary magazines, anyway.

In this environment, it's easy to understand why Fictionaut’s radically open approach can seem threatening. Fictionaut, as I've mentioned here before, is a social network and crowd-sourced magazine that allows anyone to publish short fiction and poetry. Since we launched last month, conversation about the site has frequently turned to Fictionaut’s disruptive potential: how does a highly visible site that offers both new and previously published work by writers of all levels of accomplishment affect struggling journals? If Fictionaut is "litmag 2.0," what does it mean for the future of the traditional magazine?

The wonderful thing about running a site as open as Fictionaut is that when you give up control, good things happen. When we gave users a way to form subcommunities, forward-thinking magazine editors and small publishers like Keyhole, Praire Schooner, Barrelhouse, Mississippi Review, Flatmancrooked, Electric Literature, Everyday Genius, Word Riot, Gigantic, Wigleaf, Dogzplot, Featherproof, and Matchbook started their own groups on the site.

Unlike Facebook fan pages, which offer little more than a handy way to fire off email blasts, Fictionaut groups allow members to post, share, and discuss their work. Editors engage readers and writers in the forums, soliciting feedback and submissions. Occasionally, stories are picked up for publication. Writers add previously published stories to the groups of journals they originally appeared in – thereby getting more exposure for their writing and, in turn, leading a new audience to discover magazines they might not have heard of otherwise.

Attention creates more attention, and Fictionaut connects interested readers with new writers, journals, and small presses. On our blog, we feature weekly interviews with groups, and every Tuesday, Luna Digest surveys the landscape of literary magazines. Instead of usurping the market, Fictionaut creates a new layer on top of old structures -- and invigorates them in the process.

This new layer of interaction -- unthinkable without the Internet – transcends and includes the traditional model of what a literary magazine can be. The revolutionary mindset demands that the new displace established structures, but evolution implies an increase in complexity that creates room for both. I strongly believe in Fictionaut’s open posting and crowd-sourced recommendations, but they were never meant to replace the singular taste, mission, and vision of individual editors and their magazines.

 

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