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

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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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