Last year we had fun comparing the U.S. and U.K. book cover designs of a sample of the Rooster contenders, so I decided to do it again with this year’s batch. There are all sorts of marketing considerations behind these designs, and it’s interesting to see how designing for these two similar markets can result in very different looks. The American covers are on the left, and clicking through takes you to a larger image. Your equally inexpert analysis is welcomed in the comments.
1. David Lynn began his Editor’s Notes for the Autumn 2004 issue of The Kenyon Review with some necessary questions: “How much is a fine story worth? What monetary value does a superb poem possess? How much -- and this is the inexorable point -- should authors be paid for their long, solitary work?” The questions were particularly appropriate to his magazine: The Kenyon Review published writers such as Thomas Pynchon, Flannery O’Connor, Robert Penn Warren, and yet the magazine closed in 1969, and was not revived until a decade later. Lynn assumed the editorship in 1994, and the magazine “struggl[ed] toward financial stability,” only paying contributors “fifteen dollars per page for poetry and ten dollars per page for prose.” Lynn’s introductory note served two purposes. The first was to announce an increase in payment rate for writers, which managing editor Tyler Meier attributes to the generosity of “a great Board of Trustees [at Kenyon College].” Lynn admitted that even an increased rate could not compete with the dwindling “commercial magazines” who still published fiction, but his qualification leads to the second purpose for his introduction: a philosophical consideration of the economy of literary magazines. Lynn wonders about the rewards of writing, quipping that “a fiction writer may serve an apprenticing of sorts by fashioning short stories (all the while harboring a fantasy of blockbusters and screenplays down the road)... [while] poets, even the best poets, daren’t delude themselves in this particular way.” Lynn engages a prescient point: are literary magazines an end, or a means toward an end, for writers? From an economic standpoint, he reaches a practical conclusion, shared by most writers involved in the submission process: while publication in literary magazines might be an aesthetic end, it is no means an economic one. Since “many authors today hold academic positions... promotion in the academy often depends on generating vitae with lists of publications that otherwise have earned them little beyond the price of a meal or two.” The obvious irony needs to be unpacked. Scan the contributor notes of any contemporary literary magazine, and you will find Lynn’s statement true: writers are often employed by university English departments, or are students in MFA programs affiliated with those departments. Other than a few and often notable distinctions, the economy of literary magazines appears to be a closed system: writers publish in literary magazines that are often read by writers. Money is tight, payment is low, and subscriptions and institutional support appear to be the final hope for sustenance. Does it have to be that way? 2. The Kenyon Review paid me for a story they published in print and online. They, like Shenandoah, West Branch, and other magazines, mailed me a contract. The process felt official and professional; in fact, even if I did not receive monetary payment, the exchange felt necessary, a recognition of acceptance beyond an e-mail or phone call. Contemporary literary magazine contributors are often remunerated in three ways: a nominal to generous monetary payment, contributor copies, or simply the exposure, and sometimes status, of publishing in a particular journal. Like most Americans concerned with mortgages, bills, and the prospects of frozen wages, I would not mind the first form of payment. Publishing in literary magazines does not constitute the majority, or even a significant minority, of my income, but it certainly feels a necessary one, in the professional sense. Writers sometimes lament the dearth of paying markets, but they should be reassured that often nobody wants to pay writers more than those same editors, who are increasingly subject to institutional budget reductions. When faculty jobs must be cut and tuitions raised, the “little magazines” become difficult to justify. In May 2009, Middlebury College’s Budget Oversight Committee recommended that the college end its financial relationship with the New England Review, a magazine the Vermont school supported since 1987. College president Ron Liebowitz extended the magazine’s grace period for a few years, but was clear that a reevaluation of the university’s support of the magazine was necessary: Given current financial circumstances... I find asking families who are paying $50,000/year in comprehensive fees to, in effect, subsidize a literary magazine that serves a very small slice of the general population and is known only to a handful of Middlebury students, a very hard sell. Middlebury College has recently extended its support of the magazine through 2014, but Carolyn Kuebler, managing editor of the magazine, notes that “we continue to seek outside support.” Of course, when a magazine struggles to simply remain publishing, paying writers becomes of secondary concern. But writers should take heed that the philosophical concerns are never ignored. Kuebler said that: ...we believe that most writers would probably publish with us without the monetary incentive. We also think it’s important to offer this payment, which is more of an honorarium. It matters to writers to get even a small check for their work, as it makes their writing something more than a hobby. And it helps, as the word implies, to "honor" their contributions. Writers should remember that most editors -- often writers themselves -- understand the desire for monetary payment, but are sometimes forced to decide between remuneration and publication. New England Review’s conundrum will likely be repeated elsewhere; in fact, other magazines, such as The Southern Review, based at Louisiana State University, have had to reassess elements of their operating budgets. For other magazines, paying contributors has not been a possibility, regardless of institutional support. Alaska Quarterly Review offers contributors a copy and a one-year subscription, but no monetary payment. Editor Ronald Spatz explains: “[we] would love to be able to pay authors for their work. But we simply do not have the funds to do so. We use all available funds for the production and related costs of the books, ensuring that each author’s work is elegantly showcased.” Several years ago The Idaho Review became a paying market; usually $100 a story. Editor Mitch Wieland thinks the moderate payment is complemented by the magazine’s strong track record with “prize anthologies,” which helps “attract good work.” Wieland also cites the goal “to make each issue as beautiful and elegant as we can -- a book that would look good on the shelf in years to come.” Some magazines, like The Missouri Review, have been able to weather the budget storm. For managing editor Michael Nye, the key to success is having: ...several revenue streams. We are based at the University of Missouri, which provides institutional support; we have a large subscriber base through print and digital subscriptions as well as through library services like Project MUSE; and we have a loyal and generous donor base that has supported us in the Columbia community for over thirty years. The Missouri Review pays $40 a page for all genres and, though subscriptions certainly help, Nye admits The Missouri Review is “unique” in its consistent receipt of other support. But what of magazines that have already lost, or will soon lose, the support of a sponsoring institution? Or the many independent magazines whose print runs seem tenuous at best, with each issue nearly being the last? 3. David Lynn’s earlier statement feels even more prescient, and perhaps troubling, as universities move toward part-time, adjunct employment, while also reassessing the financial realities of tenure and benefit structures. The world of literary magazines is at a complicated intersection: can, and should, literary magazines remain affiliated with the universities in an economic sense? Do the educational benefits of such an affiliation justify the parsing of funds? A change in system seems to be in order, and both new and established magazines are offering possibilities. Electric Literature is one such publication: the paperback copy uses the print-on-demand model, and they also publish “ebook, Kindle, iPhone, and audio versions.” The magazine pays $1,000 per story. Six issues into the magazine’s run, co-editor Andy Hunter reflected on their experience: “We have been able to pay writers and our rent, and sometimes make a small profit which went to our staff, but Scott [Lindenbaum] and I have never been able to pay ourselves.” In order to maintain such a generous payment, the magazines needs “to get more than 1000 paying readers” for each issue, which is “a lot of work,” but it is “the minimum level to make a model like ours function.” Paperback copies of Electric Literature can be purchased for $10; digital versions are half that price. Hunter elaborates: “we want writing to be a sustainable career choice. It doesn't take much money to pay for literary content that makes our lives infinitely richer. Everyday, I see people pay for lattes, beers, and cupcakes.” Certainly Electric Literature’s record of publishing established writers has helped -- Jim Shepard, Joy Williams, Rick Moody, and Lydia Davis have appeared in their pages -- but Hunter qualifies this: We also championed new writers, for example Patrick deWitt, who was just short-listed for the Booker prize. This is why we didn't choose to publish single stories for $.99 each, which is one model we were considering - we didn't want everyone to buy the Michael Cunningham and let the unknowns languish. Do the editors of Electric Literature think such a successful model should be tested by other publications? Hunter thinks “university-supported magazines should take this approach, especially if they have the money to pay their staff. But they are very slow to evolve, and few are publishing digitally even now.” Independent literary magazines “likely don’t have the money” to sustain such a model. Hunter “admire[s] anyone who puts out a literary magazine, especially the independents; it's always a labor of love” and “hope[s] that most publications will eventually emulate at least parts of our model, like accessibility across platforms and compensating writers.” Even if they do not directly appropriate Electric Literature’s model, established print magazines are being forced to reconsider their modes of publication. Shenandoah and Triquarterly shifted from print to online-only issues. The Kenyon Review introduced KR Online, which has become a place for writing that is “more timely, and a little more experimental.” Print magazines have made the shift toward electronic submissions, with some using the model developed by the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and others selecting a sleek alternative, Submittable. Both services cost the participating magazines. Some magazines using these electronic systems, such as Sonora Review and Hunger Mountain, have begun charging a “nominal” fee for electronic submissions. There is no industry standard definition of nominal: when New England Review and Brevity use such language, they mean 2 or 3 dollars; Narrative means 15 or 20 dollars. The latter example might sound steep, but Narrative has a generous payment structure: “$150 to $350 for 500 to 2,000 word manuscripts, $350 to $1000 for 2,000 to 15,000 word manuscripts, $50 minimum for each accepted poem and audio piece,” and additional payment for stories and poems of the week. The magazine’s Content Supervisor, Joshua Clark, explains their approach: “submission fees help fund administrative costs and writer payments, and also fund our annual $5,000 Narrative Prize.” When asked if advertisements that populate Narrative’s site help defray costs, Clark notes “sources of income such as advertisements and donations allow us to expand our features and reach out to larger audience, but they won’t necessarily replace submission fees in the future.” Two of Narrative’s articulated goals include “giving our content to our readers for free, and paying our writers well in the process.” Despite the high payment rate, in such a system the onus for revenue is placed on writers rather than readers. Is that good for the economy of literary magazines, or will it continue to perpetuate the idea that literary magazines are an insular, provincial artistic world? Narrative has gained a reputation for being one of the best paying online publications. Most online journals must rely on the third potential payment for writers: exposure. Pebble Lake Review, edited by Amanda Auchter, made the switch to online in 2009. Contributors to the previous print edition received complimentary copies. Although the online version is not able to provide monetary payment, potential contributors do not pay a fee to submit. Save for “a grant or a big fat check from an anonymous donor,” Auchter doesn’t see the rate changing, noting that “Indie journals and presses [publish] out of love and stewardship. I think that the writers who submit to such places understand that and don't do it for the cash.” Such a perspective is shared by Matt Bell, editor of The Collagist, an online monthly from Dzanc Books. Bell says “the money’s just not there” to compensate contributors. He adds “I think of what we’re doing together [the magazine and contributors] as being engaged in the making of art and community, rather than an exchange of goods or the manufacture of a product.” Bell’s point is worth considering, and extends the economic conversation. The Collagist has done well to cultivate a particular literary community, “thousands [of readers] per issue” who are “interested in unconventional and innovative literature.” Bell applies such a philosophy to his own writing, saying he’s “much more interested in the writing a magazine puts in its issues than the dollar amount it puts in its guidelines.” Brevity, edited by Dinty Moore since its inception, switched to fee-based submissions after 12 years of publication. Moore said that the online journal’s move “took a lot of soul-searching, but we send all of that money back to the writers.” Brevity now pays 45 dollars an essay, and Moore says “it feels very good to pay our writers. It has buoyed our faith in what we do.” The magazine has applied for non-profit status, and has a volunteer staff. Recent years have also seen an increase in fee-based, magazine-affiliated contests. While the purses are higher than the usual payment rate -- the Iowa Review pays $1500 to the winner of its fiction contest, nearly ten times its regular remuneration -- the monetary pool is still built by writers: all of whom, save for the winners, leave empty-pocketed. Writers who view their entry fees as donations to the magazines are taking the more optimistic opinion. The opportunity always exists, unfortunately, for such contests to descend into exercises in nepotism. Where does this all leave writers? It would be selfish to merely balk at editors, to complain that magazines are uncaring when they expect writers to be satiated with publication. Jeff Crook, editor of Southern Gothic, an online journal from 2003 to 2007, speaks to the problem: “Writing is work, and people should be rewarded for their work.” Crook’s magazine closed, and though he paid writers, he did so on his own, not under the auspices of the magazine. It’s a curiously fine line, but it speaks to a concrete philosophical distinction. Some editors and writers view the literary magazine world a necessary one for the ends of aestheticism and intellectual conversation: for, simply put, a piece of writing to live, and to be read. Yet those who hope for monetary payment are not automatically writing for that sole purpose; often times they are part of the mechanism that allows the system of literary magazines to survive. It is possible to write for the passion of the art, the possibility of discovery and revelation, and still want to get paid. Image: Self caricature as poor artist, Edith Mahier, via Wikimedia Commons
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Most people in the literary world are now aware that the New Yorker has selected the “best” 20 writers under age 40. This is a follow-up to the magazine's 1999 list, which was fairly prescient in spotting some soon-to-be superstars in the book universe. There are some wonderful writers on the new list. The ages range from the early 20’s to right on the cusp of the big 4-0. The list is evenly split between men and women. From the names alone you get a much more international flair this time, reflecting how the world has changed in the past decade. But when you look at the 1999 list and the 2010 list side by side, one must wonder if the predictions will play out in a similar fashion. There is no doubt that within this group there will be some Pulitzers and National Book Awards to throw around. But I do worry if the world had changed so much that these young authors, despite talent or skill, won’t be able to reach the same level as their predecessors. The majority of these writers are in their mid-to-late 30’s and are just now at the start of what we hope will be a long and fruitful career. But if you look back 40 years to the year 1970, there were many more established, award-winning authors under the age of 40. They were often times both critical and commercial successes. If the New Yorker had released a “20 under 40” list 40 years ago, it might have looked something like this… 1970 Philip Roth Joyce Carol Oates Raymond Carver Donald Barthelme John Updike Shirley Hazzard John Barth Thomas Pynchon Susan Sontag Toni Morrison Frank Conroy Ken Kesey Don Delillo E.L. Doctorow Jerzy Kozinski Hunter S. Thompson Alice Walker Michael Crichton Tom Wolfe Cormac McCarthy 2010 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Chris Adrian Daniel Alarcón David Bezmozgis Sarah Shun-lien Bynum Joshua Ferris Jonathan Safran Foer Nell Freudenberger Rivka Galchen Nicole Krauss Yiyun Li Dinaw Mengestu Philipp Meyer C. E. Morgan Téa Obreht Z Z Packer Karen Russell Salvatore Scibona Gary Shteyngart Wells Tower 1999 George Saunders David Foster Wallace Sherman Alexie Rick Moody A.M. Homes Allegra Goodman William T. Vollmann Antonya Nelson Chang-rae Lee Michael Chabon Ethan Canin Donld Antrim Tony Earley Jeffrey Eugenides Junot Diaz Jonathan Franzen Edwidge Danticat Jhumpa Lahiri Nathan Englander Matthew Klam Bonus Link: The Risks of Fiction: On The New Yorker Writers Under 40 List
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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. For more March titles, check out the Great First-Half 2017 Preview. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: In an unnamed city, two young people fall in love as a civil war breaks out. As the violence escalates, they begin to hear rumors of a curious new kind of door: at some risk, and for a price, it’s possible to step through a portal into an entirely different place — Mykonos, for instance, or London. In a recent interview, Hamid said that the portals allowed him “to compress the next century or two of human migration on our planet into the space of a single year, and to explore what might happen after.” (Emily) The Idiot by Elif Batuman: Between The Possessed — her 2010 lit-crit/travelogue on a life in Russian letters and her snort-inducing Twitter feed, I am a confirmed Batuman superfan. This March, her debut novel samples Fyodor Dostoevsky in a Bildungsroman featuring the New Jersey-bred daughter of Turkish immigrants who discovers that Harvard is absurd, Europe disturbed, and love positively barking. Yet prose this fluid and humor this endearing are oddly unsettling, because behind the pleasant façade hides a thoughtful examination of the frenzy and confusion of finding your way in the world. (Il’ja) White Tears by Hari Kunzru: A fascinating-sounding novel about musical gentrification, and two white men whose shared obsession with hard-to-find blues recordings leads them to perdition. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called White Tears “perhaps the ultimate literary treatment of the so-called hipster, tracing the roots of the urban bedroom deejay to the mythic blues troubadours of the antebellum South.” (Lydia) The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy: A memoir from an intrepid journalist who wrote, among other things, a truly unforgettable essay about losing a baby while on a reporting trip to Mongolia. The memoir documents the forging of an extraordinary career, her loss and its aftermath, and the disintegration of her marriage. The Atlantic writes, "She plumbs the commotion deep within and takes the measure of her have-it-all generation." (Lydia) South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion: Excerpts from two of the legendary writer’s commonplace books from the 1970s: one from a road trip through the American south, and one from a Rolling Stone assignment to cover the Patty Hearst trial in California. Perhaps the origin of her observation in Where I Was From: “One difference between the West and the South, I came to realize in 1970, was this: in the South they remained convinced that they had bloodied their land with history. In California we did not believe that history could bloody the land, or even touch it.” (Lydia) All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg: A novel about a 39-year-old woman taking stock of her life, from the best-selling author of The Middlesteins and St. Mazie. This one prompted Eileen Myles to ask “Is all life junk — sparkly and seductive and devastating — just waiting to be told correctly by someone who will hold our hand and walk with us a while confirming that what we’re living is true.” (Lydia) Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell: A singular debut describes a woman taking on the role of detective to account for her brother's suicide. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the novel "complex and mysterious, yet, in the end, deeply human and empathetic." (Lydia) Ill Will by Dan Chaon: Dustin Tillman was a child when his parents and aunt and uncle were murdered in his home, and it was his testimony that sent his older, adopted brother, Rusty, to jail for the crime. Forty years later, he learns that Rusty is getting out based on new DNA evidence. As that news sends tremors through Dustin’s life and the life of his family, he buddies up with an ex-cop who has a theory about some local murders. As often happens in Chaon’s book, you’ll be gripped by the story and the characters from the first page, and then all of a sudden you suspect that nothing is as it seems, and you’re sucked in even further. (Janet) The Accusation by Bandi: For readers interested in a candid look at life in North Korea, The Accusation — originally published in South Korea in 2014 — will immerse you via the stories of common folk: a wife who struggles to make daily breakfast during a famine, a factory supervisor caught between denouncing a family friend and staying on the party’s good side, a mother raising her child amidst chilling propaganda, a former Communist war hero who is disillusioned by the Party, a man denied a travel permit who sneaks onto a train so he can see his dying mother. Bandi is of course a pseudonym: according to the French edition, the author was born in 1950, lived in China, and is now an official writer for the North Korean government. The stories, written between 1989 and 1995, were smuggled out by a friend — and will be available to us via Grove Press. (Sonya) The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge: Fiction meets history in The Night Ocean’s series of intricately nested narratives. A psychologist’s husband, obsessed with a did-they-or-didn’t-they affair between horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and a gay teenage admirer, disappears while attempting to solve the mystery. Set over a 100-year period and spanning latitudes from Ontario to Mexico City, this novel from New Yorker contributor La Farge promises to pull Lovecraft’s suspense into the present day with flair. (Kirstin)
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Artist Thatcher Hurd, son of Goodnight Moon creators Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd has an art show up at the Rhode Island School of Design that features a three-dimensional life size display from of the illustrations from the book. For more, see the AP story and a photo of the work.(via H2O)