Is Pushcart Pushing Out Online Publications?

Graphic courtesy of Perpetual Folly

With every new year comes a new edition of the Pushcart Prize and with it, the names of publications and pieces lucky enough to grace its pages. Known for compiling submissions from small presses all over the world, Pushcart has created a high standard of quality that authors and literary magazines alike hope to achieve. Perpetual Folly has released a ranking of Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry submissions published in the Pushcart by each literary publication for 2012.

While some notable names like Tin House, Poetry, and Ploughshares grace the top spots, some new faces have also joined the ranks. The rankings are a great way to discover new publications and revisit some familiar magazines. You can also see rankings from 2010, 2009, and 2008.

The Pushcart Prize, known for its prestigious spot on the small press altar, has come under recent criticism for its narrowed scope. Pushcart editor Bill Henderson wrote in his introduction: “I have long railed against the e-book and instant Internet publication as damaging to writers. Instant anything is dangerous – great writing takes time. You should long to be as good as John Milton and Reynolds Price, not just barf into the electronic void.” There’s an excellent article about this comment in Luna Park, but we’d like to add our thoughts as well..

Publishing has come a long way since the days of stone tablets. Digital media has become a rapidly evolving field that is changing the way we consume literature. While some literary magazines have already converted to online platforms, other notable publications stand by their steadfast printers and traditional paper mediums.

The Pushcart’s bias against online publishing is apparent: only one submission from an online publication was printed in the 2012 Pushcart anthology. Pushcart had long been known for incorporating the best of the best small presses, but if it continues to disregard online publications, it will no longer be representative of small press publishing.

While not all online magazines uphold the same rigorous editing procedures of their print counterparts, many maintain traditional practices of print journals, with the only change being that they are free and immediately accessible.

We can understand Henderson’s argument to some degree. Online publishing, after all, is a double-edged sword. Often, editing is sacrificed in the name of immediate publication. An author can write a sentence and hit submit without a second thought. It can lack the craft and artistic value that many unplugged authors have spent years honing. However, online publication also opens doors to high-quality work. Connecting in a digital environment increases accessibility,  eliminates physical printing constraints, and fosters collaboration and community. We have to ask ourselves, how long will Pushcart continue to ignore the growing field of online lit mags?

9 thoughts on “Is Pushcart Pushing Out Online Publications?

  • January 23, 2012 at 1:35 pm
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    Hmm, I think accessibility and breadth of appeal is at the heart of this debate, as well as many similar debates about literary prizes today. Henderson has a point about the dangers of online publications, but the solution to that isn’t to condemn all online magazines, but to search for and recognize those that are raising the standards for online magazines, publications that are publishing the same caliber of work that print magazines are. Whether Henderson likes it or not, online magazines are the future. And that’s good news, because a lot of magazines (like ours) can be offered for free, making great literature available to everyone. As forward-looking publishers our job isn’t to cling to the mediums of the past, but to communicate with and adapt to the culture.

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  • January 24, 2012 at 11:40 am
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    Your post makes me wonder how can Apple filter high quality materials with the birth iBook Author…

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    • January 26, 2012 at 8:01 pm
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      It will either become a revolutionary change in the world of literature, or plummet the standards of publication. It will be interesting to see how this will affect literature of the future.

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  • January 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm
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    In such an increasingly global and technological world, online literary magazines make sense. I am very proud of Superstition Review’s reach. Google Analytics shows just how far our readership spans and it’s impressive.

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  • January 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm
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    I understand a certain wariness when it comes to technology, but in some ways it has greatly improved our lives. I think easy accessibility to well-written, well-edited literature is a plus in our world. Making literature more available to a wider range of people can only lead to a larger audience. What can he have against that?

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  • January 26, 2012 at 7:29 pm
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    Technology definitely has a delicate relationship with writing and the arts: it makes certain tasks far easier, and allows for other actions to be given less than the proper amount of attention (like editing and revision). I feel, however, that the primary benefit of technology is the way in which it is allowing for a broader, more global writing community to interact in ways that no one ever could have imagined. Online publications with the proper standards, procedures and pedigree should be given the same amount of due respect, and lauded for their ability to broaden good literature and art’s audience capabilities.

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    • January 26, 2012 at 7:58 pm
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      Very well-written Daniel. I have to agree that there is a fine line between accessibility and maintaining a certain publication standard. We have to maintain the sanctity and the respect for literature, and yet, we don’t want to fall behind in innovation and change.

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  • January 29, 2012 at 9:42 pm
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    Years ago I swore I would not purchase publications online but as the Internet has gone on it is inevitable it’s here to stay. Quality is lost in many aspects of having literature online but there’s not a lot that we can do to stop it. Technology has also done wonders for us and in that respect like Caitlin said, what can we have against it. I never thought the day would come that I would purchase anything on line but now I work on the Internet daily and have come to take the good and leave the bad.

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    • January 30, 2012 at 12:57 am
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      There are two sides to every issue, and online media is definitely a multi-faceted monster. In some regards, it has made life easier and increased availability of material, but like you said Karene, there is a cost to such open accessibility. How does someone determine where the line should be?

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