Sunday, February 25, 2007

LitMag Wave: The New Dominion


It’s not really a literary magazine, as it turns out, but I had hopes for The New Dominion. And I suppose it’s too soon to judge, since there’s only been one issue of the print quarterly so far. Before the debut number appeared I emailed the editors and asked about fiction and they did say that fiction would eventually be part of the magazine, but after seeing Volume 1, Issue 1, I’m skeptical.

The magazine is a spinoff of a regularly updated website that was until January 1, 2007 known as the Augusta Free Press. Written almost entirely by the magazine’s editor, it includes stories about local transportation controversies, the ambitions of Virginia’s popular former governor, Mark Warner, and an interesting (and reasonably balanced) discussion of immigration matters. Touching on the arts, there are articles about the Virginia film industry (informative, I must say, after having seen numerous film crews around here in recent years) and a local screenwriter. The closest we come to literature is an interview (by the editor) with Earl Hamner (who grew up just on the other side of the Blue Ridge) and an excerpt from Hamner’s non-fiction book about his aunts: Generous Women. (I must confess that there is also a page containing what might be called poetry, again, by the editor; I wouldn't swear that was his intention, though.)

I’m not sure there is much of an appetite for a local quarterly news magazine, so I’m also not optimistic about The New Dominion’s survival. If it wants to shift to a literary and arts magazine, which I think would be a valuable addition to the region, I’d be all for that and would even subscribe. Otherwise, probably not.

Next up: One Story

10 comments:

Chris Graham said...

Tell me how to sell a Valleycentric literary-themed magazine ... what the market demographics would be, how it would make money (and don't tell me it would be off subscriptions and rack sales, because those barely pay the printing and distribution costs).
If you can give me an idea of how to make a visable business venture out of a Valley-themed literary magazine, I would do it in a heartbeat.
I'm going to assume that you're not going to be able to give me a good answer on this one, though - because if you could, either you would be doing it, we would be doing it, or somebody else would be doing it.
The plain truth is that there isn't enough of a market to justify the kind of magazine you seem to want The New Dominion to be.
I'm sorry that we fell short of your expectations on that end. And I will work hard to prove your assessment of our long-term viability wrong - just as we worked hard to prove that the naysayers who predicted the downfall of our Augusta Free Press basically from day one were themselves way, way off base.

Clifford Garstang said...

Chris,
I don't mean to belittle your enterprise, which is attractively produced, and I wish you all the luck with it. I'm just not sure I want to spend money on it as currently targeted. Which is not the same as recommending that you become a literary magazine, although, as I said, that's exactly what I would pay money for. First, if the goal is to make money, there's no way you should pursue a lit magazine. I'm with you there. Second, and I mean no offense by this, maybe you aren't the right folks to do it anyway. Such a magazine would be a welcome new outlet for creative writers in the area, but it would almost certainly be non-profit (relying on grants and donations in the first instance) and would depend on the (donated) talents and energy of dedicated literature lovers. I don't blame you if that's not your thing.
As for TND falling short of expectations, I don't think that's what I said. It wasn't what I hoped for, but that's different.
Best of luck with it.

Chris Graham said...

I just submitted a lengthy response - but for some reason, it did not appear on the site.
Ah, technology.
I think your idea of a nonprofit/community-based effort only works on paper. It would be difficult to find people willing to give the time needed (we spent upwards of 120 hours on layout, graphic design and proofreading on the first edition of The New Dominion) on a volunteer basis - and even if you could do that, finding access to the untold thousands of dollars that would be needed to print and distribute the mag is much easier said than done.
Which is not to say that following the AFP model in one respect wouldn't work - we used our website to build toward our goal of moving into print. And then we set about to building up a reputation and audience - and voila, here we are.
I can see starting a litmag online and then efforting to build up enough of an audience and support network (of contributors, layout people, etc.) to one day become viable in print.
There's the seed. Perhaps someone will plant it and nurture it to the point where it can one day blossom.
(I was going to write them in poem form, but I gather that I don't have any appreciable skill in that area.)

Clifford Garstang said...

Sorry about the technology. Out of my control!

The non-profit litmag model is pretty standard (and I didn't say community-based, I don't think, but I suppose that could describe any group of like-minded editor types) and there are hundreds or thousands of them in the country. If someone isn't affiliated with a university or isn't backed by a boatload of cash that can attract bigname writers, advertising and a distribution deal, then small and non-profit is the only way to start. And yes, many (very, very many) do start life as web-based with a view to transitioning to print or a print/web combo. All very common. I've been observing this and participating for some time, so I have a pretty clear picture of what's involved. (One of the main activities on this blog is reviewing literary magazines.) But speaking as a writer trying to place stories in these magazines--the more the merrier.

As for your poetical skills--don't take my comments too much to heart. I'm a decent judge of fiction, but I might not recognize a good poem if Rita Dove hit me over the head with it.

Chris Graham said...

We come full circle - I think I'm reading you right when I say that it seemed to me that you had wanted to see The New Dominion turn out to be a literary magazine, and you seem to be pretty well aware as to why we would not want to go down that line.
You mention that there are hundreds if not thousands of those type magazines already out there for people to read.
This isn't an original thought on my part - but it seems to me that I am not going to be best utilizing my time trying to do something that many, many others are already doing, and that many are doing very, very well.
For that matter, I'm not sure if it makes sense for anybody to commit their time and other efforts to such an enterprise considering the current oversaturation of the literary market.
Unless, and this is my personal view, one were to do so in mind of trying to meet an unmet need - e.g. starting a regional-focus mag highlighting writers with talent who are currently unsigned and in need of an outlet and audience.
There is where my own unpublished (darn technology) breakdown that I tried to post earlier would come to play. Basically, the commitment of time and money to such an enterprise is more than the average Joe might think it to be.
I do thank you for being willing to engage in this discussion today - and hope that you don't mind me providing critiques of your critiques, as it were. I do see an untapped resource here in the Valley - in the form of many, many good writers who are in need of a publisher to be able to reach outside audiences - and would one day like to be in the position of providing an outlet to them.
In the meantime ... gotta pay the bills.

Clifford Garstang said...

It has been a good a discussion. Let me conclude briefly, though, with this: I don't think the literary "market" is saturated, even though there are lots of entries; and, in any case, there is always room for quality. Furthermore, for most of the participants, it makes sense to be involved because it's about creating and promoting art, not money. If it were only about money, I'd go back to practicing law! I would have been thrilled if TND had turned out to be a new literary force in the area, but I understand that this isn't what you set out to do, and that's fine. Doesn't mean I can't dream, though, right?

Chris Graham said...

Artists have to think about money, too - making sure the bills are paid is not only for the average businessman or businesswoman.
Which leads me to this question - if nobody reads it, if nobody sees it, if nobody hears it, is it art?
And this one - if the artist dies of starvation or exposure because he or she rfused to pay heed to the necessities of life, is he or she still an artist?
These thoughts have to be kept in the forefront of consideration - as much as we all hate book publishers, for instance, we need them to publish our books; as much as we all wish that we could tell the museum curator or art-gallery director where to go sometimes, it beats having our artwork sitting in a basement sight unseen.
I'm not sure that the idea that poverty is the noble way for an artist makes that much sense today, if it ever has - my mindset is that if I want to keep at it, then I have to figure out a way to pay for it and be able to pay for room and board. And asking people for grants and donations and the rest so that I can pursue my idea of art seems to me to be the height of haughtiness.

Clifford Garstang said...

These are frivolous questions. Of course bills must be paid, and artists must eat, but they (we) find support in a wide variety of activities, some related to art, some not. But the art itself doesn’t have to be about earning money and if that’s all it’s about, chances are it will be schlock (entertaining, maybe, and consequently worthwhile, but not art). Most writers of literary fiction (with notable exceptions, of course) make little or no money from their art, even those of us who publish regularly in the kind of literary magazines I’m talking about. I assume most would like to earn money from the writing, publish a smashing novel that is somehow both literary and commercially successful, but most of us will never do that. For me, it is more important that people read what I’ve written, which is why I still submit work to literary magazines that can only afford to pay me in copies, and why I’m always looking for new publishing venues. And who said anything about poverty? It isn’t a question of poverty being noble and never was; it’s a question of doing what it takes to create the space in which to give life to art. And the vast majority of literary writers I know have worked to pay their own way, either by saving first to buy the time they need, or by working at jobs that somehow allow them the time. And I find your comment about the “height of haughtiness” to be ridiculous. No artist I know survives solely on handouts. I guess you’re one of those people who thinks there is no place for NEA or VCA grants? That there should be no publicly funded art? That private foundations that support artists and arts organizations are wasting their money? That the American Shakespeare Center should let the lights go out because they get 40% of their funding from grants and donations?

Linera Lucas said...

I wish more magazines with a local focus would actually include good fiction. It would make such a nice change from all the articles on how to survive rush hour, or use up the local crop of apples, or find a good doctor. I like all those topics; I read my local magazines, but I long for a STORY as well. Doesn't have to be by a big name, just interesting characters, and a good plot, and well-written.

SP Rankin said...

Cliff, surely you're not impugning the long-held tradition that artists must suffer for their art? If I weren't so weak from hunger I would shake my skeletal fist in righteous rage.

And you couldn't possibly be suggesting that I sell out to The Man and get a ... job... to support myself as I write my thirteen-volume epistolary novel/epic poem/roman a clef set in an unnamed city (but they'll KNOW WHO THEY ARE)?

You are attempting to subvert the very real and beautiful truth of Art=Suffering with your notions of practical, productive people balancing the demands of life with the urge to create. Of course we refuse to pay heed to the necessities of life! You either do it for love, or you do it for money. Do you love it, Cliff? Do you really?

But I have been inspired to found a new literary lifestyle magazine, Chilblains and Saltines Quarterly. Instead of fiction, I will publish tips and hints for maintaining the ultimate artistic lifestyle:

• Newspaper Throw Pillows: Decorating your garret on pennies a day

• Change Under the Sofa Cushion: Fund your artistic ambitions with these little-known grants

• Tuberculosis Is SO Nineteenth-Century: the top ten trendiest diseases of today's artists

• Literary Magazines: They're not just for dinner any more

•Bills Are For Little People: Tips on transitioning from productive business person to haughty drain on society.

I'm pretty sure I can get the NEA interested!