Can Electric Literature Save the Short Story?

11/17/2009 4:00 AM |

To publish in the majority of new print and online literary magazines, fiction writers must be satisfied with the thrill of readership and acceptance. In other words, they can’t pay for your work. Electric Literature comes to the table intending to get noticed and encouraging writers to expect more. They will compensate you $1,000 for an accepted story—its part of their business plan (yes, a literary magazine with a business plan). Editors, Andy Hunt, Scott Lindenbaum and Jeff Price, all graduates of Brooklyn College’s MFA program, are hoping to initiate a new model in literary magazine publishing by repackaging the short story to make it more marketable and downloadable. A bi-monthly publication of five stories that can be purchased as an on-demand print issue, e-book, for a Kindle, or iPhone, Electric Literature launched with its first issue in June 2009. The editorial mission is to “select stories charged with wit and emotional gravity right from the first sentence. You choose how you want to read them. We deliver content in every viable medium.”

Gabrielle Mitchell-Marell
: What gap are you trying to fill in the literary landscape with Electric Literature?

Andy Hunter, Editor-in-Chief
: We think that the shift we’re undergoing in media presents an opening for short fiction that is accessible and has narrative drive, without sacrificing depth or literary merit. Honestly, we want to reach people who don’t currently read literary magazines. We are great supporters of many of the existing, venerable print magazines and the audiences they serve, but over the decades short fiction has been reaching fewer readers, and we want to reverse that trend. The gap, I suppose, is people who would enjoy short stories but currently aren’t exposed enough to them, and aren’t seeking out literary magazines.

GMM: People who enjoy reading stories but aren’t writers, you mean?

AH: Definitely, we want to reach readers, not just writers. We certainly don’t want to encourage a future where the only readers of short fiction are fellow writers. We want to focus on compelling fiction, and curate it to be as taut a reading experience as possible.

: How does your magazine plan to reach these new, mobile, non-writer audience members?

AH: We are trying to reach them through advertising, releasing videos and other ‘viral’ techniques, using street teams a la skateboard companies, events, and most importantly, building community. We are in Brooklyn, one of the most literary cities in the world, and of course New York City is visible from our porch. We need to grow a community of readers and writers who support literary fiction, and advocate for it.

GMM: Yes, I see publishing in literary magazines mostly as currency for later book publication, because only a small population within a population of writers will read it.

AH: I was discussing the state of the short story with Jim Shepard before we launched this project, and he said most people look at literary magazines and think, this isn’t for me. Even someone who might enjoy a literary novel. Part of the reason I think that is, is that lit mags try to be too many things—essays, poetry, and drawings are often in the mix—which waters down the publication’s editorial identity, and limits their audience. New mediums, like the iPhone, require gripping narratives. They seem less meditative than books. But people read on them, especially younger people, and we need to reach those audiences. You may not bring a book everywhere, but you bring your phone. If you have great stories on your phone, you need not be bored next time you’re at the airport or DMV. You could actually gain something valuable in that time. It is always good to view limitations as a structure in which to create something better.

GMM: Is what you’re describing writing as more cinematic, less focused on the inner life? And isn’t that what separates writing from visual mediums, and is arguably the value of it?

: I don’t think so. I think inner life can be as compelling as external incident. A strong voice is very important. Fiction is unique in its ability to capture consciousness, and that’s its strength. While we may care a bit more about plot than has recently been fashionable, we are literary at heart.

4 Comment

  • short or long; fiction will live on in our Kindle’s imagination, and there mustn’t be actual pages to show for it. the medium speaks to an on-the-go culture in need of something more toothy than OK!Magazine. If the lit mag is hobbling along it seems only right that we honor its essence in whatever form palatable. Great Q’s and equally great A’s. thanks gmm.

  • A great read, thanks Gabrielle! I’m particularly glad you asked the gender question as I feel more and more that the only authors I read are men, unless I want to read more Twilight (I don’t), and that literary journals sometimes perpetuate this. I’m definitely going to add this one to my reading list, even though I have to go the old-skool paperback route. ~Amy B

  • Wow – This is a fantastic interview. Informative yet intimate, and really useful, too. I’m going to email this link to my entire grad school alum listserve. Then I’m going to submit to EL! Thanks, Katey Schultz

  • Yeah, excellent interview. The questions are as rich as the answers!