The Strange Underworld of Literary Reviews

by criticalhit009

I’ve been perusing the websites of literary magazines, looking to see if my work could be accepted. This mostly rises from my desire to be published, and get my name recognized. Ultimately, its just another way of validating my own work.

This isn’t a fruitful search. I find a lot of publications, but not many that accept criticism, and for other more prose-like pieces, they would require a lot of editing and reworking to make them acceptable. Often blog posts aren’t accepted (seen as “previously published work”), though one could just turn an older blog post private or delete it in that case. I know I’m searching in the wrong field: my focus is on criticism, not necessary the art of the written word. This isn’t to say I don’t have any roots in the English department, I minored in Literature, after all. But I’m searching for a venue to support my own voice. I should probably turn towards my own discipline first.

Film and Media Criticism have the academic journals, which would be work that is the culmination of a lot of research. In sum: I should try to get my research papers generated from school published or presented. On the opposite end, in the public sphere of criticism, there are websites devoted to film news and criticism. I watch the freelancers work, and marvel at their output across the various publications. Of course, I’m in school again, graduate school in fact. Having limited time to try an expand a freelancing work on the side is completely understandable, and a questionable desire in the first place.

But having this desire unearthed another world. All that being said, let’s dig into the strange world of domain stealing from literary review websites!

When searching the obscure webs of literary review websites, a few gems can be found hidden among the hyperlinks. Many reviews and presses link to others, and these networks are frail and seeded with dead ends. Using a list courtesy of Colorado State University as an example, let’s search some links!

First, we’ll click on Fence, stylized as fencemag.com. I clicked on it thinking it might be more of a vanguard press, and therefore be more accepting to other forms of criticism. This is what I found.

Fence magazine

Car insurance. Home insurance. Help.

If you pursue the website page, you find article on Arizona car insurance, New Jersey home insurance, and most humorously, “Caroline home Insurance”, a SEO phrase whose lack of specificity (i.e. “North” or “South”) improves the web page’s likelihood to be clicked on. All articles are posted by an undisclosed “admin”, and the comment function is disabled. How unfortunate. This decision adds to the website’s attempt to appear respectable and reasonable, cultivating an ethos of trustworthiness that in theory is bolstered by such a domain name as “fencemag.com”. But really, how shady can you get?

Let’s try Palooka. With a domain name of palookajournal.com, surely pop and pulp works would be accepted here, right?

literary review journal taken over by SEO bots!

It’s called Palooka because you’re a palooka for foolishly clinking on this site!

Looking for literary review sites and finding SEO-primed filler content is becoming a norm for me. The strange thing about this and other websites is that the content isn’t overly scummy. This site links to the Foundation of Advancing Alcohol responsibly, and appears to give some decent advice on San Antonio DWIs. Of course, the site also links to a San Antonio DWI lawyer’s site, belying the site’s true reason for its existence.

Let’s finish with Small Spiral Notebook, of smallspiralnotebook.com. It sounds like small form confessions work, that of creative non-fiction and other forms of micro-writing. Surely I could toss off a short reflection on my life and get it published here, right?

Furniture store website revealed

I can’t really say what I was expecting. Just not this.

This site is unusual in that it isn’t deceptive ad content pointing specifically towards one specific service, but rather a multitude of companies and products, specifically furniture. Looking at the archives, you can see whoever is running the site lost interest after 2013, and posted sporadically from there. SEO baiting just isn’t rewarding you, is it undisclosed admin?

Let’s surmise what we’ve found so far.

  1. Many literary reviews and presses are in a state of transience. Being smaller and homegrown means the press is ultimately impermanent. Thus their website domains (usually run by WordPress) are eventually up for grabs when they close shop.
  2. Smaller service providers with specific localities in mind (Arizona, San Antonio, Los Angeles) snap up these domains, hoping their pre-established literary networks will generate traffic for them. The pages lacks advertising, but have articles pushing a particular service linked to within the articles.
  3. ???
  4. Profit!

As I search in vain for publications places, I’l be sure to keep my eyes out for more gems and further explore this strange ecosystem of literary press domain squatting.

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