Literary Arts Career Field Structure
Writers constitute by far the largest segment of the literary arts community, although publishers, editors, and literary agents who deal exclusively or primarily with literature must also be considered members of that community. Publishers such as James Laughlin of New Directions (who has published innumerable important works), and editors such as Harry E. Maule (who worked with Sinclair Lewis and Edna Ferber) and Maxwell Perkins (who worked with Tom Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway) have played important roles in the history of 20th-century publishing.
Although there are some opportunities for literary writers in the world of commercial publishing—especially in high-profile magazines such as the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Esquire, and in some book houses, which often make little money on literary works but make up for the shortfall in more profitable areas of their businesses—for the most part, literary works are published by small presses, university presses, and literary periodicals.
Publishers at small literary presses are typically devoted to literature and go out of their way to publish the best works they can find. Most of them have made their peace with small profits, but they, like all other publishers, try to be as profitable as possible. Because they have small profit margins, they cannot pay their authors very well, but those authors usually do not mind, since they know that the publisher is not getting rich at their expense. Besides, many of those authors would not be able to find publishers at all if it were not for dedicated small press publishers.
University presses are also important outlets for literary publishing. University presses do not experience the same degree of pressure to make profits that commercial publishers experience, but they try to do as well as they can. These presses tend to publish books written by academics, since they are located in academic communities, but each press has its own specialty; university presses are always looking for well-written and well-researched books in their areas of interest.
Among the best arenas for literary writers are literary magazines and journals. Some of these magazines are independent commercial ventures, but a substantial number of them, such as Ploughshares and Carolina Quarterly, are run by universities. Publication in one of the major literary journals, such as the Paris Review (an independent publication), can enhance a writer’s reputation and increase the likelihood that his or her work will be published elsewhere. In addition, the best works published in these journals are selected and republished by annual prize anthologies such as The Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses.