Friday, October 22, 2010

On Canadian Journals and US Journals

I guess this might be as good a time as any to meditate on the difference between Canadian journals and journals in the United States. Though recently I've set my sights on writing for, and about, my homeland, this isn't the first time I've published down south. And something happens every single time I publish work outside of Canada - I feel obligated to change my contributor bio, the 50-some-word description thingy that appears at the back of the book, magazine, etc. Part of me really wants to erase the selected list of places I've been published and say something like: ANDREW HAS BEEN PUBLISHED IN CANADA, SURE. BUT ALSO IN THE STATES! IN YOUR COUNTRY! TRUST HIM, HE HAS!

Is that unpatriotic? I feel like it might be. Maybe it's only natural to feel like America's sad little brother when it comes to the international publishing scene. We don't have a long, star-spangled literary history; people from Britain make fun of us (see Glendenning, Victoria); most of the time we don't even know where 'here' is, ontologically, and spend way too much time prancing around trying to figure it out (thank you, Margaret Atwood, for establishing Canada as a nebulous blank bereft of identity).

I think there are real, tangible differences between the journal / magazine scenes here and in the US, and anyone who's written a story and wants to publish it and wonders if maybe they should expand their horizons beyond Canada's border will probably have to confront these differences eventually.

Many are the advantages to publishing locally, in your own country. It means that I can walk to the bookstore and find something I've written there. People I know can, and often will, read my stories, essays, or whatever. Plus it sort of builds a base for you in the place where you're most likely to seek publication for a book later on in your career. You're also eligible for Canadian awards, which is good (because there's a smaller pool of published writers to draw from, you have a better shot at getting an award nod) and bad (because, well, there aren't many awards in the first place).

On the other hand, we just don't have that many venues for writers, especially now that the Federal Government seems hell bent on snuffing out artist grants (which, I should probably mention, is another reason why I'm happy to be a writer living in Canada; where else can artists in the early stages of their careers get funding to help them develop?). It's a handful. Before sending a story out I pull out my handy dandy list of places in Canada I'd like to publish. Beside every name is a tally of how many times I've submitted to them in the past.

And I have submitted to each and every one, at least once.

Let's be honest: America has hundreds of journals. Aside from the biggies (New Yorker, here I come!), I can't keep track of them all. And again, this is good AND bad. It's good because it affords more opportunities to be seen by more editors; it's bad because a lot of great, great publications get lost in the mix simply because the mix is too, like, mixed. There are reasons why that's the case. Population size could be one; more people means more readers means more demand for reading material. Legacy could be another. And the number of academic institutions willing to foot the bill for a quality magazine or journal is exponentially higher in the US than in Canada.

For the record: I am happy, boundlessly so, to be a Canadian writer. Even though I like her biographies of other people, I really do think Glendinning is wrong about us. There are a wealth of Canadian writers producing exceptional, and exceptionally risky, work, and I think our smaller publications - our New Quarterlies and our Fiddleheads, our EVENTs and our Prisms and our Geists and our . . . - are every bit as good as journals published down south.

Is it harder for younger writers to get published here? I don't know. Canada has fewer journals to choose from, which makes competition stiff. But I think good writing is good writing and will, with some elbow grease, always find the home and readership it deserves.

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