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  • [Reality Check] Print vs. Digital Magazine Publishing by Sally Whitney
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[Reality Check] Print vs. Digital Magazine Publishing by Sally Whitney
Written by
Zetta Brown
April 2014
Written by
Zetta Brown
April 2014

I've wanted to be a published author since I was a kid. My dream came true when I had a short story published in the literary journal of the junior college I attended. My next success came a few years later when I had a short story published in the literary journal of the university I attended. Both journals were in print, but the overall readership and distribution...I'd be surprised if more than 500 people read either story.

That was more than 20 years ago when ebooks were in their infancy along with audiobooks and a new creature called an "e-zine."

Electronic magazines were starting to pop up, trying to collect the musings of writers in thematic volumes before the blog boom. But did these pioneering e-zines cultivate or crash the dreams of the submitting authors? Did any of them rise to mainstream fame from such humble beginnings? Are eletronic magazines, digital journals, etc. relevant?

Author and She Writer Sally Whitney provides some interesting information and insight gathered from industry professionals in the know. Read the following and then decide if this is a venue for your writing.


To Leap or Not to Leap — Print vs. Digital Magazine Publishing
By Sally Whitney


I’m an old-school reader. I admit it. I like paperback books and print magazines. So, as a short-story writer I’ve been reluctant to make the switch from traditional print literary magazines to strictly online literary magazines. I don’t mean magazines with both print and digital versions. I mean those that have a digital presence only.

My reluctance is not based solely on aesthetics. I can’t help wondering if digital magazines have the same appeal and prestige as their paper cousins. Do readers actually seek out digital magazines? If I’m building an author platform, will digital publication credits have as much weight?

Ironically, I suppose, the first place I turned to find information about the true status of digital magazines in the publishing world was the Internet. At the website of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) I learned that digital magazines are welcome to join the group. In fact, according to CLMP’s Tasha Sorenson, there’s a separate application for digital publications and roughly 80 active e-publishers have current memberships.

Okay, so they’re recognized as legitimate publishers, but how well respected are they? One measure of respect is the Pushcart Prize. Since 2008, Clifford Garstang, author of What the Zhang Boys Know and In an Uncharted Country and editor of the online quarterly Prime Number Magazine, has analyzed the past 10 years of Pushcart anthologies and calculated the most-honored magazines. Poets & Writers magazine reported that according to Garstang, only one online journal was highlighted in the 2012 award anthology. 

When I asked Garstang via his website if any of the 2014 rankings were digital magazines, he replied, “A few are online. Not many.” Garstang noted on his blog, Perpetual Folly, in 2012, “Pushcart has for several years been criticized for discriminating against online magazines. . . . This, I think, is a serious flaw in the Pushcart Prize, and . . . I think change in this regard is inevitable.”

So that’s what’s happening with Pushcart. But if I’m building a platform, I also want to know what agents and editors think about digital literary magazines and what advantages online publications may give me.

To learn the advantages of digital magazines, I turned to an expert—Jen Michalski, author of The Tide King, Close Encounters, From Here, and Could You Be With Her Now, and editor of the online literary quarterly jmww. “Unless you’re published in The Paris Review or Granta or something that gets distributed to many brick-and-mortar bookstores, chances are your work [in a traditional print magazine] won’t be read as widely as an electronic publication,” Michalski wrote in an email.

“One of my favorite things about online journals is the ability to archive your work,” she continued. “In a print journal, with . . . [a] 1000-copy print run and two contributor copies, your mom reads your story and maybe your spouse or colleague. And then the issue disappears from the bookshelves, and unless it's republished in a collection, so does your story. With an online piece, not only can you share it with an infinitely larger audience through Facebook, Twitter, your website, etc., but when the online issue is no longer current, your story or poem is still available in the archives for the life of the journal, as easily accessible to anyone—mother, agent, or publisher—as it was on day one.”

Another advantage of digital magazines noted by the staff of Writer’s Relief Author’s Submission Service is searchability. “Literary agents, editors, and industry professionals (not to mention friends and family) will Google you if they are interested in your work,” the staff wrote on their website. “You’ll want to have something substantial online to show them. Lack of an online presence isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it certainly doesn’t help either.  . . . If you are publishing ONLY in print magazines, you cannot easily create an interactive resource, and readers may find it more difficult to acquire and read your work.”

Readers may find my stories online, but do the stories matter to those all-important readers, literary agents? Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency says yes. “When I evaluate a novel and an author for representation, I do value online magazine publications, and they are an important part of platform,” she wrote in an email.  “I would consider it the same way I would evaluate a print magazine publication—is it a leader in its field, does it have a national audience, what is the size of the audience, is it a well-respected e-magazine in the industry.”

Others disagree. “I rarely give any weight to short fiction published in either online or traditional venues unless the magazines are well known and well respected,” wrote Ann Collette of Rees Literary Agency. “So, six credits for online magazines I’ve never heard of don’t equal one story traditionally published in Glimmer Train.

Anne Bohner of Pen and Ink Literary explained that ultimately it’s a numbers game, which will validate the author’s platform. “Whichever publication has the largest and steadiest readership is the one that trumps. I want to know that an author either has a loyal and large built-in audience that will come out to buy her book or the potential to tap a large market via well-known publications.”  

So much information. So many ways of looking at the question. Am I convinced I need to make the leap from submitting my stories to solely print magazines to submitting to the new digital publications? I think the answer’s yes. At least a partial yes.

I like the idea of easy accessibility and creating an online archive. But I won’t give up submitting to traditional print magazines as well. Until the digital magazines achieve the longevity and prize record of the print magazines, I’m afraid they won’t have the same prestige. But that’s not the only reason to want my stories published.

Ultimately I want to connect with readers, to share my ideas. There was probably a time when readers were apprehensive about recorded novels and paperback books. The medium may change, but the story is what matters.


Sally Whitney’s short stories have appeared in literary and commercial magazines, including Bloodroot Literary Magazine, The Main Street Rag, Kansas City Voices, and Pearl, and anthologies, including Voices From the Porch, New Lines from the Old Line State: An Anthology of Maryland Writers and Grow Old Along With Me—The Best Is Yet to Be, among others. The audio version of Grow Old Along With Me was a GRAMMY® Award finalist in the Spoken Word or Nonmusical Album category. Sally blogs at her website, www.sally-whitney.com, and is a regular contributor to Late Last Night Books, a blogzine about novels, readers, and authors. She is currently working on a novel.


Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :)

©2014. Zetta Brown is an editor and the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. If you like this post, then stop by Zetta’s Desk or Zetta’s House of Random Thoughts.

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  • Thanks for doing the research and sharing it with the She Writes community. It's important to know what factors the people who decide whether to publish our work are currently considering.

  • Sally Whitney

    You're welcome, Kathleen. I hope you can put the information to good use.

  • Kathleen Kaska

    I've learned a lot by reading your post, Sally. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sally Whitney

    Mardith, I'm glad you found the information helpful. I know I certainly learned a lot in writing the post.

  • Mardith Louisell

    This is a great post, timely, well-researched and full of information.  Thank you so much. As someone who has published in both venues, I have wondered the same thing myself. Nice to have some opinions other than my own to help think about this. Again and again - it's the numbers that count.