There’s really no such thing as “job security” for most waiters or writers. The closest approximation is to make yourself a man or woman in demand. After a five-and-a-half-year tenure at the restaurant I simultaneously run and serve for, I’ve built up a fairly respectable client base. And, though our establishment has made it abundantly clear that we’ll fire anyone for anything—the owner’s children; employees who have been core staff members for more than a decade—it’s harder to fire the guy who has his own personal waiting line (“I’ll only sit with James, please”).
It’s not quite as easy in the world of literary publishing. Knowing people in helpful places helps more than I’d like to admit. But if the latest issue of Review X, featuring Writer Y, sells more copies and gets more positive feedback than the last issue of Review X (which didn’t feature said Writer), it’s like building a sort of job security. And if this happens enough (Journal Q, Magazine N, and Review X) always sell more copies and get more positive feedback when Writer Y appears, well then said Writer is sitting pretty. It’s a deliriously happy day for an author when he or she receives a phone call actually soliciting a submission.
This is why it’s important to the artists to buy literary journals. They’re hard to come by (you have to go looking for them because they only carry the same few—The Paris Review, Granta, Tin House, The Atlantic Monthly, &c.) at major bookstores); you might have to email someone and even break out the actual paper checkbook to order; they’re sometimes brimming with poetry which, in 2010, seems to alienate most readers on sight; and the good ones are never free. Nevertheless, the fact remains that even the bulk of well-respected journals receive 40,000 manuscript submissions each year, but only have a circulation of 5,000. If sales in general go up, these magazines can print more stories and take more risks on writers whose names aren’t already tacked to a corkboard at the Best American editorial offices. And the result is correspondingly dramatic if sales are going up while potential buyers are writing to say, “I’m looking for Writer Y’s story. Which issue was that?”