The silent death of literary magazines: Who’s to blame?

Death of Literature - Skull and Book

I felt a sense of being buried alive when I recently visited Wet Ink’s website and saw this note:

Wet ink is closing down

It is with great regret we have to announce that Wet Ink is closing down after seven years of publication; the current issue, number 27, is the last.

We were hoping for number 28, but it isn’t feasible.

“Wet Ink” is was an Australian literary magazine. And a darn good one. All of the stories it published were literary first, but they were also engaging, enjoyable and either quirky or really compelling.

I took their closing very personal because in Issue 13, they published my short story “Midnight” which also appears in my collection, “Amidst Traffic.”

I truly felt like my story had somehow died with magazine’s closing. I almost felt as though I had to retract my publishing and writing achievements and remove “Midnight” from the list of stories that had been published.

Then… I felt guilty. Guilty because I hadn’t done my job to support “Wet Ink” in  staying alive. After “Wet Ink” published my story in 2008, I simply moved on with my happy life. I deposited my check from the publishing (it was probably my highest-paid story ever picked up by a literary magazine), and forgot all about “Wet Ink” until years later when it was too late.

The truth is that I never thought that magazine could die. It was simply too good. I remember how I was in Iraq and stuck in a smaller military base due to a sandstorm and accidently coming across an issue of “Glimmer Train.” I thought I’d come across a small treasure. I had tried so many times to get my stories published in “Glimmer Train,” being one of the most well-regarded literary journals in the country, but none of my stories made it. So immediately I assumed that this issue in my hands would be rich with compelling, powerful and engaging literature.

But I was so disappointed.

The stories inside were dull and mundane and written with no particular sense of excellence. Maybe it was just that one issue, but I remember thinking that “Glimmer Train” couldn’t hold a candle to “Wet Ink’s” boldness and literary freshness.

And yet “Wet Ink” has died, much like many other literary magazines continue to die. And only few are the ones who mourn.

Why is readership and appreciation for literature dying so rapidly? And why is it only Genre Fiction that seems to do so well in sales? Is it because contemporary literature has failed to remain relevant and address contemporary topics?

Lincoln Michel writes:



People haven’t stopped reading literary fiction to read in-depth war journalism, they’ve stopped reading to go watch films, play video games, read blogs or watch YouTube.


Old BooksBy the end of his article, Lincoln Michel concludes that everyone is to blame (the writer, the editor, the magazine, the casual reader…) for the death of literature, and I can’t blame him for coming to that conclusion.

We’ve become a dull-minded nation. A nation that wants easy answers and doesn’t want to be provoked into thought to appreciate art. We want constant, immediate entertainment that can requires little or no thinking. And who’s to blame?

You are.

I am.

We all are.

So what are we going to do about it?

Since discovering the death of “Wet Ink” I decided I would purchase subscriptions to literary journals that have published my work in the past as a gift to my own fans and readers.

I’ve also commited 2013 to reading only indie and small-press authors. Big publishing houses will continue to publish things that sell. But what if we can change the market? What if we can tip the scale back and show our appreciation for the finer things in life… not just in theory but in action?

Not by just blogging about it, but by actually spending our money toward it!

Quit asking for free stuff, and pay for the things that deserve to be appreciated. Indie authors are the poorest of all authors, the most impacted by spending their own money to give away their work for free… and yet we’re the first ones expected to give away our labor for nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve happily given away more than 100 copies of “Amidst Traffic” for free as gifts or in hope for a review. But those “free” books cost somebody money. That somebody was me.

I once had a person email me with the audacity of asking for FIVE FREE copies. When I told her I had no more copies to give away for free, she said “Okay, just give me one.” She then emailed me repeatedly at least once a week for six or seven weeks straight asking when I would send her free copy.

I finally told her that since she wanted the book so badly, she could easily buy it from Amazon for less than ten bucks.

She stopped emailing me since.

The same is true for small literary presses and literary journals. Don’t expect them to pay to give you something for free. Support them not just with your words, but with your finances.


Want more?

This is another fantastic article about how the craft of writing (and reading) has become marginalized in our culture. Please be cautioned that the article contains strong, adult language.


What about you?

How have you taken action in supporting the world of literature?

About Michel Sauret

I'm a independent and literary fiction author and Pittsburgh-based photographer

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