This is a continuation of my analysis of the barriers involved in replacing Irreantum, the now defunct literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters. Other installments:
You would think that with so few outlets for Mormon short fiction that submissions wouldn’t be a problem for any successor to Irreantum. My understanding is that that’s not necessarily the case. Very few Mormons fiction writers write Mormon fiction that shows the craft and maturity and potential appeal to readership that one would want in a lit mag that publishes more than four or five stories a year. A key reason for that, of course, is that there is little incentive to do so.
Any potential successor to Irreantum is going to have figure out how to increase both the number of submissions and the overall quality of them. That’s may be difficult, but I don’t see why one would even bother to launch a Mormon lit mag if you’re not going to aim to increase the number of stories written, submitted and published. If all the field needs are 8 or so short stories a year and a dozen to two dozen poems then that’s already covered between Dialogue, Sunstone and BYU Studies. So what can/do lit mags offer submitters?
Exposure: exposure, as in producing work for free for a publication, has become a hiss and a byword among writers. The gaping content maw of the internet (minus solid financial models for getting consumers to pay for work) runs around sucking up creative work and promises the empty reward of exposure in return. Empty especially since it’s just as easy for creators themselves to publish their own work online and try to find an audience. That being said, exposure can be an incentive that leads to submissions (especially when paired with prestige [see below]). However, especially for short fiction, the function of exposure is to lead to book contracts (as in something that can actually put food on the table). Considering there is virtually no market for book length Mormon fiction (other than the LDS fiction/Deseret Book market and a few self-publishing/small publisher successes), it seems unlikely that any successor to Irreantum can generate submissions with the promise of exposure.
Prestige: in a world where anyone can publish their own work, this may seem no more , but some literary magazines continue to have enough juice that the prestige of appearing in their pages is perceived as enough of a reward to generate a steady (overwhelming) flow of submissions. The problem with any successor to Irreantum (even if one were able to carry on with the same name) is that it doesn’t have the history and influential readership to generate submissions based on prestige alone. I’ll be honest: even if Irreantum hadn’t gone defunct, with me writing so little Mormon fiction these days, I had intended to solely submit to Dialogue going forward because of a) their editing and b) their audience.
Editing: this is one that isn’t often mentioned, but the chance to work with a great/known editor can be incentive for some authors to submit to a particular publication. I’d work with Nicole and James Goldberg again in a heart beat (and, no, they aren’t the solution to a successor to Irreantum — they have children to raise and classes to teach and day jobs to attend to). The only reason why I might consider submitting to Sunstone is so that I could work with Lisa Torcasso Downing.
Contributor Copies: this is a nice add in, and it’s what the Mormon journals have typically offered, but I don’t know that it does anything to increase submissions. This is doubly true if the successor to Irreantum focuses on electronic publication (and I don’t see how a print-only/print-centric version is viable).
Cash Prizes: In its later years, Irreantum was able to shorten its reading window and generate a decent amount of submissions (I believe between 70 and 120, depending on the year) by funneling all work into the Irreantum Fiction Contest, which offered cash prizes to first, second and third place winners. It was a very good system for them and one that deserves consideration by any successor. Although, the issue with cash prizes is that they need to be substantial (more than $100) to generate interest and then you only reward a limited number of contributors. It doesn’t exactly seem fair to me that the top 3 get cash and then those who place get nothing, especially if you’re going to publish more than four or five stories a year (which I think you would need to).
Token Payment: this usually takes the form of either a flat fee per piece (typically $5, $10, $25 or $50) or 1-3 cents a word. With a sea of internet publications that offer no payment, token payment can be a viable way to and can be a starting place from which to grow into a market that can offer pro payment.
Pro Payment: five cents a word. Usually more in the six to nine cents a word range in the genre mags world. More for the top tier publications (like The New Yorker). Actually just as I’m posting this, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has raised the rate (starting July 1, 2014) on the markets it qualifies as pro markets to six cents a word. Pro payment pretty much ensures a steady flow of good publications and would possibly even cause some of the Mormon short story writers who have abandoned the field to take up the pen again.
Revenue Share: I’m not aware of any literary magazine or journal that does this, but I’m wondering if potential contributors would find incentive in shares of a year’s worth of revenue (however that revenue comes in). Technically this would also give them incentive to help build an audience (whatever that means for the particular financial model). I think this would require a unique set of circumstances to pull off, but I’m trying to be thorough here.
Next up: Financial Models (how to pay for whatever it is you’re going to pay for).