Looking to the Literary World

Adapting to Change

By Mako Duvall and Gabrielle Thurman

The publishing industry has seen, in just a few short years, a drastic shift in many areas, from where employees work to how consumers are marketed to. Of course, these changes did not come to exist vainly or in a vacuum. Rather, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 forced many companies across the planet and across almost every sector to adapt to the needs and demands of a pandemic and (hopefully) post-pandemic world. 

One industry affected strongly by the pandemic was, of course, publishing. Rising material costs forced larger publishing houses to reconsider what kinds of books they wished to prioritize and how many of those books they could reasonably expect to publish profitably. The unfortunate truth of the pandemic was that, as with most crises, larger houses and firms had a much easier time weathering the storm, but not even they came out unscathed.

Some smaller publishers, including literary magazines and journals, struggled to deal with these costs. To adapt, some were reducing their annual publishing, switching to a primarily digital publication format, or shutting down entirely under strain. As more publications moved exclusively online, income sources became more flexible, with some presses moving toward subscription or membership business models. 

On a more individual level, employees frequently had to attend staff meetings and other important events over digital platforms like Zoom. Literary conferences and other large-scale gatherings had to either adapt quickly to the new norm of Zoom, postpone, or cancel completely. Publishing’s slow tumble into decentralization became a free fall. With more conferences, book tours, and everyday communications occurring over Zoom, the publishing industry post-vaccine is making its way out of New York City, which is a good thing; the average editor’s pay is $10,000 less than the cost of living. Editors feel burnt out, and overall, the mental health of the public is on a decline. The publishing industry is no exception; the consequences of long-term social isolation brought on by the pandemic aren’t fully known yet, but it is likely to have a prolonged negative impact on those most affected by structural discrimination, such as children, people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, ethnic and racial minorities, and rural populations. 

On the consumer’s end, reduced access to physically printed materials due to supply chain disasters, materials shortage, and limited access to retail stores—thanks to limited staffing and (necessary) social distancing—led to frustrations that have ultimately been answered by an even greater emphasis on home delivery and no contact checkout services, a fact that has left Amazon keenly better off than most companies and driven a greater expectation for home delivered products going forward. 

However, the current state of the industry isn’t all doom and gloom. Some smaller publishers were able to find and fill new niches in the publishing space, especially online, as the demand for digital media soared to unprecedented heights. As the pandemic has begun to recede somewhat from the public consciousness, publishing houses that were once on the brink are now finding new footing and new life as physical storefronts and writers’ conferences open once again. The trials and tribulations of the past few years certainly seem unique, but the demand for the written word still exists, and as long as there is a demand, the publishing industry will be here to fill it.

Mako Duvall is an undergraduate at the University of Central Arkansas and a student intern for the Arkana Issue 13.

Gabrielle Thurman is a new writer, book lover, queer woman, professional editor, and native Arkansan. She majors in creative writing and plans to attend law school in the fall of 2023.

Looking to the Literary World

Erin Beliu and VIDA: A Retrospective

By Jeremy Quinn

“Male writers may suffer strains on their single-minded dedication to their art for reasons of class or race or nationality, but so far no male writer is likely to be asked to sit on a panel addressing itself to the special problems of a male writer, or be expected to support another writer simply because he happens to be a man.  Such things are asked of women writers all the time, and it makes them jumpy.” – Margaret Atwood

Jumpy.  Classic Atwood, that word choice.  So understated as to be a whisper (gender bias having, of course, made women so much more than ‘jumpy’affronted, insulted’, enraged come to mind), it is yet a deadly whisper, a warning, even, to WATCH OUT, for women, you see, have been put on an irregular course; after centuries of gender bias, they’re at an unpredictable, jumpy stage, and their actions might still upend the status quo. 

One way to do that?  Hold the publishing world accountable.  If gender bias is a cloudy term, so vague of an accusation that powerful men can deny or evade it with disarming ease, then deploy careful, fact-based research – free of anecdote or bias – to discern and disseminate the exact figures and dispel the clouds.  Gain the means to state that __ journal published # __ women and # __ men over the course of # __ issues.  Publish the results annually.  Establish patterns and prove the bias.  The hope, as voiced by Erin Belieu, in this interview from 2015?  That, once faced with the incontrovertible reality that men’s voices are systematically valued over those of women, editors and publishers responsible for the bias will naturally seek more equality, and “deserving women’s texts – across the globe – [which] remain unpublished or out-of-print” will find their audience.[i]  Belieu references two journals whose editors have made efforts toward more equitable publication numbers, Tin House and the Paris Review.  In her words, “Their editors said, ‘Yep. VIDA makes a good point.  Let’s fix this.’  And they did.  No drama… They decided that what VIDA is saying matters” (108).

“Speaking truth to power is not about moral superiority.  In order to be effective, it has to be aimed at changing the target’s fundamental attitudes.” – Bayard Rustin

“The Satyagrahi’s {Truth-Seeker’s] object is to convert, not to coerce, the wrongdoer.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“I can’t think of a woman writer I know who doesn’t have stories about the disturbing things that were said or done to her because of her gender while pursuing her writing career… Some women will share their stories readily, and some are more reticent… VIDA’s presence has made a lot more women willing to take the risk”, Belieu claims (103).  More women sharing their stories, risking the label ‘Crazy’, ‘Bitchy’, or ‘Selfish’, for the Sake of Truth EQUALS = more power to women, more women’s voices published, and less power to the Patriarchy.  A very healthy equation!  And one very familiar in the #MeToo age.

“Of course, it was illegal and criminal and that was very satisfying, to tell the truth, and be supported in telling the truth.” – Gloria Steinem, on the first issue of Ms. magazine.

… but (and also, ‘of course’) the health of the above equation very much depends on which women’s stories are deemed worthy of being heard.  Tarana Burke (an African-American woman) founded MeToo in 2006, but it was the tweet of (Caucasian woman) Alyssa Milano in 2017 concerning (Caucasian man) Harvey Weinstein, which took the movement viral.  While fully aware of the movement’s radical international impact, Ms. Burke has often expressed concern that MeToo, conceived as a platform to assist women in neighborhood communities of color, was co-opted by the white entertainment industry.  “We are socialized to respond to the vulnerability of white women”, she states.[ii] 

In her July 1972 New Yorker article The Women’s Movement, Joan Didion implies that minority groups, in their efforts toward justice, lose their cause when they work for ‘social ideals’ rather than issues of immediate reform – i.e, ‘class interests’ rather than a seat on the bus.[iii]  She identifies feminism’s Second Wave as falling prey to just that; its inauguration, she claims, arrived with “the invention of women as a ‘class’.  The women’s groups spearheading this Wave “seized as a political technique a kind of shared testimony… They purged and regrouped and purged again, worried out one another’s errors and deviations, the ‘elitism’ here, the ‘careerism’ there.”  A question looms large here: whether women (and, perhaps, by extension, other underrepresented groups) do best to control/create their own means of production, or to demand a greater share of those which exist?  Returning to the interview under discussion: “I don’t think we address gender bias by taking our ball and going off to make our own game,” Belieu claims, “Why should women writers want anything less than their male counterparts have?” (109).[iv] 

“Why were we constantly told, you can’t do this, don’t do that, temper your ambition, lower your voice, stay in your place… Why wasn’t a female striving seen as life enriching?… If I felt that way, I wondered how the people of color around me felt.” – Billie Jean King

The VIDA Board announced in 2019 that the organization’s programs would be put on pause to “focus inwards and re-examine our foundations” due to a “climate of white feminism with racist, cis-centrist, and ableist overtones” within the organization that was allowed to persist.[v]  2019 marked the last VIDA Count.

Gender equality is a valuable social goal; in the struggle for that achievement, it must be acknowledged that all women don’t share identical advantages or the same goals.  The longer one sits with Belieu’s interview and considers the motivations for the VIDA Count, the more questions arise concerning the struggle for gender equity.  Do women compose a class?  If not, where is the line between gender and class drawn?  Should the language of oppressed racial minorities be used in women’s liberation?  Where does the experience between these groups diverge, and where is their cause the same?  And how do answers to these questions apply to our understanding of Arkana’s purpose or the literary journal as a form? 

“Speaking truth to power makes no sense.  Instead, speak truth to the powerless.  Or better, with the powerless.  Then they’ll act to dismantle illegitimate power.” – Noam Chomsky 

[i] VIDA’s website.

[ii] https://www.npr.org/2021/09/29/1041362145/me-too-founder-tarana-burke-says-black-girls-trauma-shouldnt-be-ignored

[iii] The New Yorker, July 1972.

[iv] In 2016, a year after giving the interview discussed here, and in direct response to the result of that year’s US Presidential election, Belieu founded “Writers Resist”, a feminist literary collective.  Its last biweekly issue launched January 2021.  Today, Belieu is a full professor at the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Department; of the paragraphs in her bio, only one mention is made of her participation with the VIDA Count.

[v]  VIDA’s website.

Jeremy Quinn is in his first year in the MFA Creative Writing program at the Univesity of Central Arkansas. After specializing in Fiction Writing at the University of Montana (BA) and working/publishing years thereafter in the fields of travel and taste, he is now honing his genre voice at UCA with a strong emphasis on creative nonfiction.

Looking to the Literary World

Writing Contests: Value and Expense

By Grace Burns

The competitive spirit manages to find its way into every career field: writing and publishing is no different. If you simply look up “writing contest” in your chosen search engine, thousands of pages of articles outlining the best contests will pop up. What is it about these contests that draw in striving writers? What kind of effect has this had on the publishing industry? What can you do about it?

A large part of the draw contests has come from the prestige that a writer can get from winning. They have a new feather in their cap! From then on, a writer has that accolade that they can put on resumes, and cover letters, as well as a confidence boost. Who doesn’t like to hear that their writing is worth a reward?

These contests also have impacted the publishing industry by providing a venue of funds for literary magazines. In Nathaniel Tower’s article “How to Host a Writing Contest”, he details the pathways that a literary magazine can take to properly run their own contest. It’s possible for almost any publication to run these contests and even if they are too small for the contest to turn over a profit, the exposure can benefit the growth of that publication.

However, even with all of the upsides to these contests, it has struck up a new debate in the industry. With the increase in the number of contests and deep looks into accessibility, the ethics of contests have been questioned. The main argument against contests remains about the monetary aspect: the entry fees.

Standard contests run around $10-$20 (USD) for submissions. On one hand, this is necessary for the publication to support itself, and on the other hand, it decreases the possibility of people in unstable financial situations getting their work. The publishing industry itself has its struggle with diversity, and it’s made even more apparent in situations such as this, where a class disparity is clearly laid out: you have to pay-to-play, and sometimes you can’t pay.

As discouraging as this can be, the main advice that can be given is this: weigh the costs and rewards and make informed decisions from there. Holly Lyn Walrath says in her article “Are Writing Contests Worth Entering?” that writers should focus on “writing the best thing you can and submitting it to the best market for your genre.” Research your field! Research the contests that interest you. Prioritize the ones where the benefits outweigh the initial cost. Think of it as a submission fee that has a set payout.

In the book Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century, Kevin Larimer summarizes everything perfectly. “At the end of the day, publishing is a competition. The real question is whether you want to pay an entry fee to be in it.”

Grace Burns is a first-year MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas studying creative writing with a focus on poetry.

Looking to the Literary World

Diversity and Inclusion in Publishing

By Scarlett Castleberry

It is our goal at Arkana to foster creative writing and to give previously unheard voices a place to call home and an audience who will listen. Editors and readers alike should be taken out of their comfort zones from time to time to explore a part of the world they may not yet be familiar with but may nevertheless resonate within.

“We strive to create a space that brings together diverse voices and champions stories that embody our mission,” the Arkana website states. Arkana seeks unification in our human sense of “shared wonder” by remaining open to new walks of life and focusing on inclusivity and inspiration. Of course, seeing your blind spots is never easy, and that is something we and other publishers alike are working to be more aware of as the market has begun to move in new directions.

The world of well-established big-name publishing still has enough momentum to stay afloat as they are for maybe a few decades longer perhaps, but even they see change on the horizon–or rather banging at their doors–as “diversity” and “inclusivity” are what people have explicitly looked for in literature for at least a generation now. Editors and publishers have been able to brush off stories from people whose experiences are different from their own for a long time now, which has built a very homogeneous market. But today, in virtually every field, we are seeing a greater demand for diversity and inclusivity. The tides are changing (albeit slowly), and people are becoming curious and interested. It would actually be an excellent opportunity for major companies like “the Big 5” to lead that change.

The problems in mainstream publishing resulting from long-term biases and discrimination are multi-layered and cannot be solved overnight by simply opening some gates. Major publishers like Penguin Random House may boast increasing numbers of “diversity,” but audiences have yet to see those numbers reach numbers close to resembling that of the general population.

In the wake of all this, however, there are arising smaller independent publishers, self-publishers, online publishers, and other means of producing and distributing that the mainstream guys have been too content to think of. We live in an innovative time, especially for the arts, and there has perhaps never been an opportunity to shake things up quite like this in the world of writing and publishing. Lots of writers, readers, editors, and publishers seem to be taking advantage of these loopholes and backroad opportunities to cultivate a new world of literature, and it’s those individuals who partake in the new (and at times uncertain) changes that lead the way for progress.

Still, the “right” way of doing diversity has yet to really be established, thus the shift to other, less contaminated terms like “inclusivity.” Actual steps taken towards attaining diversity have varied in their effectiveness and side effects. Bookselling behemoth Barnes and Noble provided us with an excellent example of how not to do diversity with their 2020 “Diverse Editions” Classics scheme. Rather than seeking or promoting new and unheard voices, the company created new covers for 12 classic novels. These covers featured people of color, but the texts themselves remained unchanged, meaning no real “diversity” was achieved because the books were still white stories.

Again, we essentially return to the issue of sugar-coated statistics without having any real change to show for it. So as we continue to broach this subject and, more importantly, as we make concrete moves to improve things, we must do so with the intention of opening our ears more than our mouths and our sense of wonder more than our preconceived notions.

Scarlett Castleberry is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Arkansas. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology and communications from Ouachita Baptist University and now seeks to combine those interests with her lifelong love for storytelling.

Arkana News, Editor Notes

Arkana Issue 13 Virtual Launch Party

Join Arkana editors in celebrating the launch of Issue 13! Join Arkana editors and friends on December 7th, 2022, at 6 pm CST!

Arkana Readers, Friends, and Family,

Please join us Wednesday, December 7th, at 6pm CST via Zoom for Arkana Issue 13’s Virtual Launch Party.

Issue 13 contributors will read their poems and stories, we will host our usual rounds of trivia, and come together to celebrate yet another Arkana Issue!

Save the Date! Find a link to our event here!

Read the latest issue of Arkana here!

Looking to the Literary World

The Key to a Literary Journal’s Survival in a Digital Era Without Limits

By Charles Franklin Quaas

For any literary journal in circulation today, be it print or press, sustainability is frequently tied to visibility. In a time in which new journals begin and old ones fold, a journal’s ability to not only sustain its current readership but attract new readers is key to its survival. Data collected by the Association of American Publishers and posted in Publishers Weekly shows during the pandemic years, sales were up across the board in nearly all major categories. When offered the time to read, people did just that, be it in print or online. But as we transition to a post-pandemic landscape in publishing, how can journals already struggling to maintain their relevancy capitalize on this renewed passion for the written word?

Several trends mentioned by Andrea Firth in her post on Jane Friedman’s blog “How the Literary Journal Landscape Is and Isn’t Changing” emphasize the “visual accessibility” of journals today. Simply put, this argues a magazine’s greatest challenge is not the quality of its work or what is included within the pages but how these are shown to the audience. A journal’s format, lettering, layout, and design must connect in a way to separate itself from its peers. These can include having audio versions of its stories as Arkana does or by diversifying its content, as Frith mentions with the Scoundrel Time, a journal that also publishes “original songs that people record and send in.”

But that is not to say the pieces within a publication should be allowed to suffer. All forms of literature should strive to include works that reflect the mission of their editing teams. It means nothing for a magazine to be aesthetically pleasing only. If a potential reader sees enough to deem a journal worth their time, we as literary editors must reward their interest with only the highest quality work. And if we, as the editors, receive a submission worthy of publication but not right for our journal, we must redouble our efforts to find another which does.

And it’s this interaction, this sense of community, of belonging, which will allow a journal to survive as long as it can in our current capitalist-based system. A journal’s mission is to create art, not profits, but as Firth discusses, everything from supply-chain issues to budget cuts have driven many respectable publications out of business. Many of these have a legacy beyond their immediate readership, and where they failed, perhaps the plethora of new publications created during the pandemic can succeed by fostering a community tapped into not only their readership but the local, regional, or statewide art scene. Everything from literature to painting could be discussed, be it current events or things that happened a hundred years ago. By finding these voices and bringing them to the forefront so a discussion can be fostered, magazines without the national limelight, such as Arkana, can be to its community what a newspaper is to its readers.

A chance for everyone to be seen.

Charles Franklin Quaas is a first-semester MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas. Currently residing in Conway, when not outdoors, he spends his time in the worlds of De Lint, Windling, and Tolkien.

Looking to the Literary World

Marketing for Yourself: How and Why You Should Have a Social Media Presence

By Melanie A. Wilson

You have finished writing your novel, your collection of short stories, or your poetry collection. 

Now what do you do? 

You contact editors and proofreaders and then literary agents in order to publish your work. One of the first questions a literary agent will ask you is if you have a social media presence. Do you have followers? Do you have a group of people already willing to buy your book?

The literary agent and their company will be able to do some marketing for you, but depending on the size of their company, it will limit how much support they can give you. A large company, like one of the Big 3, will have an entire team dedicated to marketing your book, as well as many others coming out around the same time. An indie publisher will most likely have a marketing team, as well, but it is usually a small group of people. What about self-publishing? Well, that is all up to you. If you choose to self-publish, you are the only person pushing that book out. 

Now you may be thinking that marketing for your book sounds like a daunting task and it can be. Here are five tips that would be helpful when you are ready to start marketing for yourself. 

  1. Find the best time for you to start marketing.

Knowing that you are responsible for creating more revenue for yourself is a scary thing to think about and it can stress a lot of people out. The important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong time to start marketing for yourself. Should you start marketing before you even finish the book? Probably not, unless you have a deadline and know exactly when the book needs to be finished. Trying to market yourself can distract you from finishing your work so worry about that later. 

What about when the book is finished and you’ve been accepted by an editor? This would be a better time to start marketing and contributing to the literary world online. This can be engaging in online discussions, starting your own blog, or simply commenting on other authors’ social sites. If you want to, you can create your own Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok, and/or create your own website. The point is to get started somewhere. AND if you are so overwhelmed with editing, then wait. 

The worst time to decide to try to market yourself is never trying in the first place. 

  1. Don’t feel like you have to use every platform. 

You can do whatever feels comfortable for you. If you don’t feel comfortable posting videos of yourself, then stick to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you don’t like being limited on character amount, don’t use Twitter. Do what feels right for you. 

Let’s go through each platform. 

Facebook is well-known and allows you to post text, photos, and short videos. You can write long posts or short ones, as well. Audience-wise, younger generations are less and less likely to use Facebook, so if you are marketing a YA novel, Facebook might not catch all of your potential readers. 

Instagram is owned by Facebook, so whatever you post on Facebook, can also be posted on Instagram. Although, Instagram is a little different because its main focus is posting photos with shorter captions. Younger generations are more likely using this platform. 

Twitter also allows you to post photos and short videos but you are limited by a character count. Twitter is made to be straight to the point so if you want to tell detailed stories, Twitter isn’t the platform for you. Younger generations are also on this platform. 

Tiktok is its own breed of social site. It is only videos that can be 15 seconds, 30 seconds, or 3 minutes long. You don’t have to show your face in your videos, but it will be a lot easier to create a following if you do. The younger generation is most likely most active on Tiktok so it would be perfect for marketing for YA. 

Creating your own website is also a great way to start marketing yourself. You can create it however you want to and there are templates that can help guide you, as well. Your site may not be able to get as many views as a social media post, but you could post a link to your website on social media and encourage people to visit it that way. 

The important part is to only use what makes you feel comfortable. If viewers can tell you are uncomfortable, then they will most likely not want to follow you. 

  1. Determine your audience.

As was mentioned in the last tip, some platforms can be geared more towards certain demographics or age groups. Your genre and subject matter will impact who you plan to market to. For example, if you are marketing for your poetry collection, you won’t want to engage with sites or groups for fantasy writers and vice versa. If you decide to start writing book reviews on your blogs and all the books you review are memoirs, then you should probably be marketing for a memoir. 

The need for consistency is key because you don’t want to confuse your audience. 

  1. Don’t compare yourselves to other writers.

A quote I found recently sums this up perfectly. 

“Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.” – Unknown

Just because your fellow writer started marketing for their book before they even finished writing it, doesn’t mean you have to. Take it at your own pace and remember that all marketing plans are different. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other writers. 

If you follow writers on social media then reach out to them and ask what they have done. Most of the time, writers will be more than happy to help you out and give you advice. We may be competing against one another for book sales, but our love for reading and fellowship is stronger.  None of us want to be alone in this huge industry, so don’t be afraid to ask. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no. 

The main point here – do what you want. 

This is your journey, not anyone else’s. Do what is best for you.

Melanie A. Wilson is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Arkansas. She is a fantasy and speculative fiction writer and an avid D&D player and creator. Check out her website.

Looking to the Literary World

The Future of Digital Publishing

By Janet Holmes Uchendu

Let me start with a definition of digital publishing. Often referred to as online publishing or e-publishing, it is any content made available electronically on websites, social media platforms, and electronic devices such as Kindle. Ebooks, eMagazines, online literary journals and even YouTube videos are forms of digital publishing.

According to various internet sources, digital publishing started in 1971 when the Gutenberg project was launched with the digitalization of the US Declaration of Independence.

My google search revealed that SwiftCurrent was created in 1984 and lays claim to the distinction of being the first online literary magazine. My search also revealed that in 1995 the Mississippi Review became the first large literary magazine to launch a fully online issue.

Some scholars believe that modern technology and social media are having an effect on the styles of young writers. Speaking at the Lahore Literary Festival in early 2014, Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid specifically made this observation and at one point asserted that the way young writers write today is very different from how people used to write ten or fifteen years ago. I agree with this observation, and I don’t see this change as necessarily detrimental. In present day, we are bombarded with so much information that we need faster and more efficient ways to disseminate and have access to the information. Technology has changed the way we take in this information and yes, it is affecting the way we read and write for online publication. Brevity is a necessity and digital publishing lends itself well to that brevity.

Digital publishing is a fast and efficient platform to reach many who may not have access to printed materials. Maybe the printed material is cost prohibitive whereas access to digitally published material may be free or available at a much lower cost. Digital publishing certainly bodes well for Arkana because it allows us to reach a much broader audience in the most cost-efficient way possible.

I believe there will always be a market for printed materials. There are those, myself included, who simply enjoy the tactile experience of being able to hold a book, or magazine in their hands, who enjoy the experience of being able to slow down, relax, and enjoy a good read. However, digital publishing has a function, and place. It is an invaluable platform and I would venture to say that digital publishing has a solid future.

As a first-year graduate student it is a richly rewarding experience to be part of the staff that produces our online literary journal, Arkana. It is a privilege to be able to read great works and participate in the decision-making processes that uphold our mission which is to seek and foster a sense of shared wonder by publishing inclusive art that asks questions, explores mystery, and works to make visible the marginalized, the overlooked, and those whose voices have been silenced. This is my first experience with digital publishing and it will not be my last.

Janet Holmes Uchendu is a first-year MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas. She lives in Little Rock, writes nonfiction, and loves music.

Looking to the Literary World

How Diverse is the Publishing Industry?

By Morgan Adams

The New York Times reported that of the 220 books on the Best Seller List in 2020, only 22 were written by authors of color. Only 10%.

Here in the twenty-first century, there has been a push for more diversity and representation in media, but just how successful has that push been?

In 2010, Erin Belieu and Cate Marvin created the VIDA Count, which tracks the number of works written by women that are published in major literary journals. The count compiles data from these journals to track trends. Unsurprisingly, the numbers are quite unbalanced, favoring male-presenting authors over female-presenting. The VIDA Count has been running for ten years to keep a running list of the top literary magazines in the country in order to hold those magazines accountable in this push for more representation of writers.

The most recent VIDA Count compiled data from 2019 releases. Out of the top ten literary magazines in the country, only three of those magazines had at least 50% of the authors were non-men. To top things off, one of these three publications announced that the issue in 2019 would be their last. Tin House shut down that year. The purpose of the VIDA Count is not to force literary magazines to change but to ask them to take a look at their own practices and push their staff and readers to be more conscious of the subject as they are accepting and what kind of authors they are choosing to showcase in their publications. The organization serves as a presence to hold those magazines accountable.

Sources like the VIDA Count aren’t perfect, of course. There is a disclaimer on the website that acknowledges that the VIDA Count wasn’t always conscious of non-cis writers. Trans and cis writers are included together, and the category for genders that are outside of the binary is broad and non-specific.  There is also a lack of intersectionality in the VIDA Count. Writers of color are lacking in the publishing industry. No matter what sort of influence the VIDA Count has on the publishing industry, it still has a central focus that results in another minority group to be overlooked.

There are countless opportunities in the age of the internet to go out and create a brand-new literary magazine that fits a certain niche. By doing this, writers can find an audience that will be acceptive of their own works and receive praise within their own group. However, as Belieu quotes in an interview in Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century, “I don’t think we address gender bias by taking our ball and going off to make our own game.” In order to continue the push to include diversity in the literary world, staff and readers alike have to be more conscious about the content that they consume and promote.

Morgan Adams is a first-year MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas.

Looking to the Literary World

We Live in a Diverse World: Our Literature Should Reflect This

By Amber J. Wagoner

The New York Times reported that of the 220 books on the Best Seller List in 2020, only 22 were written by authors of color. Only 10%.

I can assure you we live in a world where more than 10% of the population identifies as Non-White. This overabundance of White, whitewashing if you will, extends beyond authors. It applies to our literary characters, our television shows, and our films. Even our holidays are typically viewed and showcased through a White lens. When confronted with this fact—this lack of diversity, this White everywhere—the thought of achieving diversity can seem near impossible. It’s system-wide.

Here’s the thing about systems. They don’t change all at once. Some gears grind, change the pattern. The new pattern those gears created affects the other pieces. Eventually—perhaps after years, decades, despite the hope for a quicker turnabout—the system changes.

The lack of diversity in publishing is a publishing-wide problem. Diversity won’t spring into publishing overnight, as great as that would be.

Diversity, of course, extends beyond skin color. It includes ideas and beliefs generally overlooked, the LGBT+ community, and multiple other factors. All these different types of diversity must be acknowledged and welcomed into our literature.

And how do we accomplish diversity?

Diversity is our responsibility—each individual’s, regardless of whether they consider themselves a minority or not. Editors, publishers, even readers all have a responsibility to welcome and honor diverse literature.

We should learn to empathize and connect with characters who are not just like us. There is humanity in every individual, and we should connect with that humanity—with the character just for being a person—rather than if they are like us. What if Harry Potter or Percy Jackson had been Non-White? Would that have made Harry any less a loyal, brave friend? Would that have made Percy any less a witty, cheeky hero? Absolutely not. Non-White readers and authors have always been asked to identify with White characters. Now, White readers must identify and connect with Non-White characters.

We should not use quotas. Already have one Black editor on staff? Hire another. Already published a book by a Latinx author? Publish another. Already told one story centered around queer characters? Tell another. The world we live in does not have quotas on diversity. People are who they are. The use of quotas is justified by the argument that quotas match the diversity of society. They don’t. Publish good stories, regardless of who the protagonist is. People will read them.

We should celebrate diversity. Read books by colored authors. Read books by queer authors. Read books with Non-White characters, with queer characters, with characters who did not grow up in the same socioeconomic circle you did. Read diverse, and the system will adjust. Read diverse, enjoy and embrace diversity, and what is published will become more diverse.

As I said before, diversity is the individual’s responsibility. However we identify and define ourselves, we are responsible for diverse voices being heard and represented.

Readers must welcome diverse stories and diverse authors.

Editors must read and accept diverse stories and diverse authors.

Publishers must publish and market diverse stories and diverse authors.

Authors must praise and recommend diverse authors.

Here at Arkana, we strive for diversity. We welcome stories that are told beyond the scope of the identifiers we use for ourselves. We want those diverse voices out in the world.

We’re just one drop in the bucket.

But even one drop of food coloring can change the color of water.

Imagine that one drop changing to a multitude as individuals everywhere strive for a new, diverse publishing industry.

Just how rich and deep could we make the color of that water?

Amber J. Wagoner is a fiction writer and a keen reader. When not engaging with language, she enjoys hiking, horseback riding, or catching a film. She is a first-year MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas and currently resides in Conway.