Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pushcart Prize Litmag Rankings -- Debate and experiment

As always, my ranking of literary magazines based on the number of Pushcart Prizes and Special Mentions they've won (see 2011 Pushcart Prize Ranking) has attracted some attention and some detractors who object to the list on one ground or another. Some people just don't like rankings, it would seem, and I understand that--usually there is some unavoidable subjectivity in a ranking that may render it valueless, or not of general applicability. I've tried to avoid this criticism by being as objective as I can based on data, understanding that the Pushcart Prize itself is the subjective judgment of the editors.

A respectful commenter on the above-linked ranking (I emphasize the respectful part because critics of the list aren't always so respectful) doesn't care for the list because, among other things, it encourages careerism in writers. (I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, although I don't think the list encourages anything.) You can read his comments for yourself and judge whether you find them valid. I don't, particularly. A writer must always take into account whether the work he or she is producing FITS into a particular journal, and whether the writer LIKES the work in a journal. One shouldn't submit to Ploughshares solely on the basis of its standing in my list. This seems to me to be understood. Perhaps I need to make a bigger point of emphasizing that. On the other hand, if Ploughshares is recognized in the industry as winning the most prizes (as evidenced by its place in my ranking), and I think my work would fit its aesthetic, then that would be a place I'd want to submit.

The commenter seems to think that there is no way to measure "quality" in a literary journal, and I would disagree with that.

Now, methodology in the list is a different matter. The commenter objects to the ten-year time period I use in my calculations. Fair enough. I like ten years maybe because I'm older and think a decade is a good amount of time to achieve some perspective. Yes, the industry is changing rapidly and there are new, high-quality magazines that don't show up very high on the list. On the other hand, a couple of years isn't much of a track record. Anyone can go out and buy this year's Pushcart Prize Anthology and see what's winning prizes and special mentions this year. In fact, you should do that. But one year isn't a lot to go on. What's the right number of years?

So I plan to stick with my ten-year list, but as an experiment I ran the list based on five years, and I've included below the top fifty magazines based on that period. Maybe you'll like this better.

I few observations. Ploughshares is still No. 1, but only barely, just ahead of Conjunctions, the No. 2 on both lists. One Story leaps to No. 3. Paris Review drops. Narrative, the only online journal on this shortened list, climbing a few spots from its ranking of 53 on the ten-year list.



2011 (5-years)
Magazine
1
2
3
4
5
5
5
5
9
10
10
12
12
12
12
16
16
16
16
20
21
21
21
24
25
26
26
28
28
28
31
31
31
34
34
35
36
36
36
36
41
41
41
41
41
46
46
46
46
46


5 comments:

Scott Garson said...

i do like the 5-yr list better...

now in yr spare time maybe mix in success in BASS, BAMS, and O'Henry..... :)

F. Escobar said...

"The commenter seems to think that there is no way to measure 'quality' in a literary journal, and I would disagree with that."

I know you touch on this implicitly whenever you review New Yorker stories and fiction in general, but I would love to see you expand upon this particular comment. I'm keenly interested because the more I delve into the world of publishing (magazines, contests, anthologies, etc.), the more convinced I become that the arts are a field in which the "I liked it" part trumps whatever follows the "because." I know there are manual-endorsed reasons as to why fiction works and why it doesn't, but in evaluating a piece of fiction those reasons tend to come as an afterthought. Furthermore, they are very mercurial, and they tend to be as ineffective as any well-thought-out arguments as to why champagne is better than wine.

I found your stance (in the quotation above) refreshingly different from that impression; hence my question.

Bunny said...

Cliff, do you know if anyone has taken up your suggestion and started an analysis of Pushcart poetry? I'm thinking this would be a great project for me to get my teeth into (it appeals to my love to charts and stats!) but I don't want to reinvent the wheel.

Clifford Garstang said...

Bunny, I don't think anyone has done that yet, although I've been thinking I might do it over Christmas--maybe just the last 5 years instead of 10. But if you want to, that would be fine.

Mary Miller said...

What I find interesting is that so many of these journals don't take online submissions. Sadly, I hardly ever submit to places that don't.