Contractual obligations are probably not the first thing the average writer thinks about when the adrenaline-laced sense of accomplishment that comes with having a poem or story accepted for publication brightens an otherwise dull day. That's because literary magazines tend to offer similar terms: a relatively small sum of money (or not) for first serial rights, electronic rights, and nonexclusive reprint rights along with the option to publish the work in an anthology or other publication that the magazine may want to produce in the future. That's about it. Of course, a lot of journals don't even have contracts, just the literary equivalent of a strong handshake. And even if they do offer a written agreement, it usually makes no mention of royalty rates, subsidiary rights, indemnity clauses, or any of the other line items that appear on the substantially more complicated contract offered by most book publishers. But the terms offered by GUD, a journal published in Laconia, New Hampshire, are unique, at least in terms of the ever-expanding universe of small literary magazines. GUD, edited by Kaolin Imago Fire, a fiction writer who calls himself "a conglomeration of ideas, side projects, and experiments," requires first world electronic and print rights as well as permission to archive the work indefinitely. "Whoa now," one might say after the aforementioned excitement has subsided. It does sound rather comprehensive, but GUD has a pretty good (which is how the title is pronounced, by the way) reason for the request—and it's actually in the author's best interest. Once a poem, story, or article is accepted by GUD, the author is paid an advance against royalties at a rate of three cents a word—a pittance, but still better than a lot of journals that don't pay anything. The accepted work then appears in a print and a PDF issue of the journal, both of which are available for order on the Web site. It's also available in the journal's archive, where the individual text can be purchased as a PDF on a pay-per-view basis. When either a copy of the issue or a single work is purchased, the author receives a royalty. For example, "Poetry's Yellow Warbler," a poem by Beverly Jackson that appeared in the third issue of GUD, can be purchased for $1.33, which, after PayPal's fees are subtracted, is split 50/50 with Jackson who, once her advance is paid off, gets to pocket a couple of shiny quarters. So far GUD has published four issues and sold only twenty-seven single-text PDFs. Among cash cows, it's on the willowy side—it's not even distributed to bookstores—but proactive contributors could find ways to beef up their biannual royalty statements. "We know we're a pretty niche market in a pretty niche market," says Fire, "and we do what we can—via MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, advertising via Project Wonderful, Google Adwords, Adbrite, putting an ad in the back of a video game, and so on—to get the word out, but contributors really could make things take off, and see a benefit from it."
Why are there so many literary magazines in Boston? Sure, the Boston-Cambridge metropolitan area is the tenth largest in the country, but by that logic, Dallas-Fort Worth should have as many. Perhaps it's because Boston is the cultural center of the entire New England region, and journals like Night Train, Quick Fiction, and the New Renaissance are published and supported by such an engaged community. Or maybe it's because of the number of colleges and universities in the area that offer institutional support. This would account for Boston University's AGNI, Emerson College's Ploughshares, Suffolk University's Salamander, and Boston College's Post Road, which until recently was affiliated with Lesley University, in Cambridge—where the Harvard Review is published. Either way you shake it, Boston's a pretty powerful magnet.
Kevin Larimer is the deputy editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.