On Being a Writer in Korea – A ‘How To’ & ‘Where To’ Guide

Part 2

*This post includes a few new additions, as well as the removal of another apparently dead ‘magazine’*

Of course, to be a writer you have to write. But of equal importance to the writing element is you have to be read. There are many different ways to be read, but rest assured that for all the fantastic poetry and prose you scribble in your fancy notebook and for all the standing up on stage you do at open mic nights, you will never be never be read if you do not approach the media.

Of course you could argue that you write for yourself, which is fine, but if that is your take on writing then this post is not directed at you. And even if that is your take, you probably want to write for someone someday.

On a number of occasions in my short writing career I’ve come across the idea before that a person should be published without having approached a person in the business of publishing. It doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t happen anywhere, even in the music business. Sure a manager, like Brian Epstein or Andrew Oldham, might discover some talent, but it was the manager who hustled with venues for gigs and sent recordings to record labels so that the band or musician could get the record deal required. Writers have agents, and agents don’t take on anyone, and much like in the music business you have to be good and you have to have a proven track record.

Getting back to getting published; I’m going to stick with the levels I’ve reached because I don’t have the experience to talk about finding an agent or finalising a draft of a book, and there are far more accomplished voices out there who could offer advice on this cloak and dagger area of the literary business.

There’s no reason ever to expect editors or publishers to be scoping out open mic nights or combing through the blogosphere for new talent. While you might think it a great idea, they’re probably far too busy with other writers to want to have to think about you. Either way, when you think how much effort it takes to write a book you can appreciate why they wait for people to approach them. The people who do get it together to present a completed manuscript are clearly committed enough to their craft to take the time and effort to finalise something. Someone waxing lyrical on a stage or spending hours berating away in a blog is not their idea of prime produce. If you feel that your writing is good enough you need to take it to the next level. No one else will do it for you.

Of course much of this has to do with confidence. Never believe that you are a good writer, know you are. Look for ways to justify people labelling you as one, as opposed to deciding that your writing is good. There are all kinds of ways to do this but chief among these is to find as many ways as possible to get criticism.

There are all kinds of ways that you can do this. One of the easiest ways to start is staring you in the face, and that’s write a blog. Reading in public regularly and in many different locations is another effective way to expose your talent and to gain confidence. The third way is to submit what you write to magazines and journals regularly; by getting something printed would imply that someone thinks that what your writing is good in some way.

So that’s that, right? There’s a good chance you already knew that because any book or website advising you on writing will tell you that. So, let me talk about doing this in Korea, because I’m pretty sure no one has ever done this in enough detail.

There are very few avenues to submit creatively written material in Korea, which is a shame. Much of the problems with this relate to the relatively small population of potential customers within the expat community, which is the most likely source of customers willing to buy something like this.

The one publication that does come to mind is The Seoul Writers’ Workshop which has been running an annual publication for several years quite successfully. The SWW does have the advantage of having a very good reputation and a large number of people that submit. Whether this has anything to do with the fact that it’s the only printed creative outlet is something you can think about in your own time.

Most important, the SWW do an annual anthology that is well edited and packed full of content, which makes it worth the five or ten thousand you pay for it. The number of contributors probably adds to the value with more possible purchasers and referrals from these contributors adding to the value. Regardless of these less than encouraging remarks, the SWW anthology is considered the anthology of the year in terms of creative writing.

For a country whose community relies on the internet more and more, it’s strange to think that there is not more creative magazines online. In fact, it’s hard to understand why there aren’t any?

In terms of finding other avenues to submit non-creative writing, well there are no excuses.

When I first arrived in Korea the options were, for want of a better word, limited. The option was, well, K-Scene. That soon folded only to be replaced by Groove, which at its outset encouraged submissions from the general public by offering a prize for the best submitted article. Obviously, there’s no lack of material to print these days.

A few years back there was ROKON and Eloquence, both of which were bought and ran into the ground by a certain publisher.

Now, there are more magazines than you can shake a word file at, and that’s just in print. Here’s a list, of which I’m probably going to leave a few out due to my own general ignorance: 10 Magazine (nationwide), NEH (originally Bucheon but now all over Seoul), Seoul Magazine (run by Seoul Selection and the city’s official cultural magazine), InDaegu, Daegu Compass (both Daegu…obviously), Busan Haps (Busan), Gwangju News (Gwangju), The Jeju Weekly (which may actually qualify as a newspaper), and there may be a few more. If it’s in your locale pick up a copy (thus supporting and encouraging further publication and preventing another magazine from folding), see what they cover, get in touch with the editor with a few ideas, write a few articles, and see what happens.

I was going to include Daegu Pockets in this but when researching I found out that the magazine had to close down due to problems with money. This points to one of the major problems with running a magazine in English in Korea; mainly, where do you get your money from. I don’t really know the background to the reason it has closed down so I won’t speculate any further. The mention of money problems though is enough to highlight the importance of money and its necessity.

Seven life and culture magazines for the country is pretty small you’d think, but then you have to consider how large the reader market is, and how many people are willing to pay to read a publication, and where can those publications be distributed? This is a reason why many magazines only operate by subscription or as free copies.

Before I move on from the printed magazines, let me go into a few areas you may not have considered previously. These magazines have different audiences and have different sources of income, so be aware of this.

There are several airlines in Korea that have monthly magazines and they may consider contributions from you that relate to Korean culture and the experiences awaiting visitors on arrival here. Remember, Korean Air and Asiana are two of the best airlines in the world, and their magazine’s audience would be international and open to varying topics (in a typical talking about Korea way). I think that you would need some very strong credentials to get something in either of these magazines, but there’s no reason not to try.

It’s also worth noting that there are a few professional magazines that are printed in English, such as the Invest Korea Joural. If you have specific interests in a particular industry, it’s worth searching around as there are large expat communities involved in many areas of the economy, especially ship building on the south coast, and there may be an avenue worth investigating here.

Of course you have to consider that there are a whole host of newspapers publishing in English. Some take this seriously, such as the Korea Joongang Daily, The Korea Herald, and The Korea Times (no snickering at the back), and of course Yonhap News. The Chosun Ilbo, Donga Ilbo, and recently the initiated version of  Hankyoreah (otherwise known as the hanky) all run English news services. But, I’m not really sure if they are serious about supplying a valid English news service or massaging their egos with the honour of providing a bilingual news service. Most of their material is only translated from Korean, and if the Chojoongdong’s reputation is anything to go by, most of what can be read here is best appreciated with a spoon of salt of two. The Joongang Daily is a little more respectable as it does invite criticism and it does invite contributions from the general public – whether it publishes them or not depends on the contribution’s content.

The apparent lack of print media is countered by the huge wealth of online magazines that cover the coming and going of life and its excitements. Setting up an online magazine is a lot easier than setting up a print magazine, and it requires a little less expertise and man power. Korea has seen more and more of these websites emerging, many serving a similar function but many also serving specific communities. That being said, there seem to be more opening quickly and closing just as quick, so caution is required. They all accept contributions from the public and many rely on the public’s enthusiasm for contributing for keeping the content fresh and relevant.

I’m going to do my best here to go through as many as possible and you can check them yourself to see what they are really like. Please add to this list in the comments section if you think I’ve left any out.

Before I arrived in Korea there was Worknplay.co.kr and English Spectrum (which is now HiExpat). Worknplay has always had its own content, and HiExpat was related to Groove up until recently when the magazine finally set up its own website. The first one that I can recall starting up from scratch was Expat Advisory, now an Asia wide web based information service based in Cambodia (which appears to have discontinued its coverage of Korea). It started off in Korea and is run by a guy called Anthony Galloway. As well as these there is very useful Korea4Expats, The Yeogiyo (this website appears to have not been updated for a while so I’ve removed the direct link to it), Seoulstyle (another website that has been associated with Groove), Korean Beacon (although specifically related to Korean-American life, it could be relevant). One final site worth thinking about is CNNgo for Seoul; this site has regular contributions from bloggers and journalists, both Korean and foreign, who live in Seoul. The content is mixed but can be worth a read from time to time.

The final area I’m going to detail is news sites based on the internet only. Yonhap, which I mentioned earlier in the newspaper section, is an actual web based service but seeing as it is the Korean wire service for newspapers around Korea and also the world, I reckon it’s worth keeping out of this category.

This category is small unfortunately, but those who are in it are significant. For starters there’s the Seoul Times, a foreigner orientated web based newspaper. To be honest I don’t really know much about this, but it is specifically geared towards foreigners in Korea, but there’s not much info on the website about who runs it or who funds it.

But, you know, in spite of all I’ve written here there’s only one publication in Korea that actively accepts articles on Korean culture, society, and the experience in Korea, as well as analysing the situation on face value. It also likes to rattle the cage a bit, and to support the community. Like it or love it, being a writer in Korea can be taken seriously thanks to the one and only, The Three Wise Monkeys.

So that’s it, as far as I know, the list of printed English language media in Korea. You don’t have to write for all of them, just a few, but write regularly regardless of who it is you’re writing for. The more you write the more consistent your writing will get, and regular contributions will benefit you when you need to ask an editor for advice or a reference.

So that’s it. It’s thumb removal time. What are you waiting for?

***

Here are a few more websites that I left out in my original article but which I was aware of previously:

Seoulist – includes a section that says contribute! – covers life, living, adventure etc. in the capital. Has a nice feel to it.

Busan Awesome – includes a section that says write for us! – life, liberty, musings, and other isms from Korea’s second city.

Yahae – I’m not sure whether or not this fella is still up and running, but it’s supposed to be Korea’s first indie fashion mag, whatever that means. Has material in English and Korean. Looks like it could be done with though.

 

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