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Narrative Magazine offers a new twist on an old form

Last year I ran across an online literary magazine called Narrative Magazine that operates with a fresh twist. While some of the traditional literary magazines make a portion of their issues available online at no cost, Narrative makes all its contents, including archived pieces, free and available online. This is a great opportunity for readers who enjoy reading quality fiction and nonfiction by well-known writers such as Rick Bass and Joyce Carol Oates and by emerging new writers. Even more interesting for writers is that they pay their contributors $350 on publication. Even better, they will consider unsolicited, multiple-submitted manuscripts. The magazine also offers an annual $4,000 prize for the best work published during the year by a new writer. (Last year’s winner, Axis of Happiness by Min Jin Lee, is available to read online.) The editors also have admirable goals:

Central to our goal was the conviction that Narrative should be offered for free, with all its contents, both front-run and archived pieces, readily available. We have furthered this aim by establishing the magazine as a nonprofit publication, and we are currently working to build support that will allow Narrative to increase its payments to contributors; to collaborate with schools, libraries, and other institutions to encourage reading and literacy; and to establish internships and opportunities for students and young graduates interested in literature. Many of our friends who are writers, and other friends who are not writers but who love good writing, have given generously of their work, time, and support. As a result we are moving forward with plans to expand the magazine’s reach and to deepen its offerings to readers.

Now for the twist: the magazine charges a $20 reading fee for each unsolicited manuscript submitted–except during the two month open submission period in February and March when reading fees are waived. Monies collected go to the contributor’s payments and the annual prize. Before you print out your latest masterpiece, take the time to log on and review Narrative’s submission guidelines—online submissions are the rule except during open submission time—and make sure you’ve read through several issues so you send the most suitable manuscript. If you don’t have a manuscript handy or even plan to submit one, you might check out the new Readers’ Narrative section. You may have something to add to the conversation.

Even though the writer pays a reading fee, I think this is an interesting and positive approach. The aim is to increase readership and that’s happening on a global level. The fee keeps down the temptation to toss a lot of manuscripts their way in hopes of one sticking to the proverbial wall and makes the writer focus on presenting the best work and not just any work. It’s good to see an emphasis on finding new voices. The fact that a hefty annual prize is awarded makes the opportunity even more challenging and the fee can be equated to that of most contest entry fees—except here there is an opportunity to enter and not pay a fee at all.

If you are inclined to write the type of material that Narrative Magazine publishes, the issues not only provide a free source of published material to read and enjoy but to review and critique. Let the magazine become a source of inspiration. Set a goal to produce a work to submit during the upcoming open submission period during February and March. If you decide to take up the challenge, be sure and let me know.

If you enjoy the magazine, tell others.

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