Monday, August 6, 2007

Playboy Shuts Out Authors

Somewhere between naked women and ... more naked women, Playboy is suddenly missing something.

I was recently readying a sexually-suggestive short story for submission and, upon a colleague's recommendation, prepared a mailing for Playboy. So it was with some disappointment that I learned that, as of November 2006, Playboy no longer accepts unsolicited manuscripts of any kind, including fiction, nonfiction or poetry.

Many people may find themselves suddenly asking, "Playboy published fiction?" Others yet, "Playboy actually has articles?"

Hugh Hefner once told a reunion of Playmates, "Without you, I'd be the publisher of a literary magazine." It's funny, but it's true. High-quality writing has always been part of the Playboy mix. For more than 50 years the magazine has presented its readers with new writers and modern masters, running the gamut from Woody Allen, Margaret Atwood, Arthur C. Clarke, Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, Stephen King, Vladimir Nabokov, Chuck Palahniuk, Hunter S. Thompson, to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

What is more, Playboy has been traditionally regarded as one of the best paying markets for serious contemporary stories, mystery, suspense, humor, science fiction and sports stories. With the highest monthly circulation of any men's interest magazine (est. 3,200,000 in 2006), the magazine also paid unusually large fees for approximately twenty fiction stories a year: $5000 for pieces up to 6,000 words in length – $2000 for short pieces. And almost any form of fiction could slide between the centerfold. The only exception, as their writer's guidelines once stated: "Fairy tales, extremely experimental fiction and out-right pornography all have their place, but it is not in Playboy."

Playboy even reminds readers of its esteemed place on the American literary landscape. A recent issue carried four classic pieces first published in Playboy magazine and penned by writers who are established as notable figures in popular culture:

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, by Cameron Crowe
The Purpose of the Moon, by Tom Robbins
Carny, by Harry Crews
The Dead Astronaut, J.G. Ballard

But the closure of this high-profile fiction outlet to unrepresented and unsolicited authors strikes the aspirant writer as a double whammy. First, it shuts out all but established writers from yet another of the dwindling supply of non-genre magazines that publish creative fiction. Second, it signals the end of Playboy as a career-making publication. At least Playboy's annual college fiction contest appears alive and well.

For my part, I knew Hef's magazine was a long shot. The mere act of applying to such a well-known and, in some circles, infamous publication is exciting. Like Stephen King, I imagine I would have treated my Playboy rejection letter as a trophy.

So while Playboy closes its doors, aspiring writers will have to point their literary searches elsewhere. And, one can imagine, they may swell the publishing reputation of some other men's magazine which, 20 or 30 years from now, will proudly publish collections of its own famous authors alongside Playboy's elite volumes.

Look out Esquire.

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