April's Publishing Tip comes to you from Tara Wohlberg, founder of the online poetry journal, Cede Poetry. In this article, she discusses the difficulties of launching a new literary magazine in today's market, and the contradictory level of support from unknown audiences on the Canadian literary landscape.
A finalist in the City of Westminster (UK) Poetry Competition, Tara Wohlberg's poetry was shortlisted for The Malahat Review's Open Season Awards in 2010, published in CV2 and Quills, and her chapbook Cold Surely Takes the Wood was published by Alfred Gustav Press in 2013.
I launched Cede Poetry, a new online poetry journal, in the spring of 2015.
Curiosity. I'm a Gemini. Also, a writer friend said I was nuts to try to launch a new model in these challenging times of poetic distribution. But I couldn't walk away from a triple-dog dare. Who isn't frustrated with the glacial timelines of so many established journals? In honouring various rules and regs, including non-simultaneous submissions, it can take Dear Writer a long time indeed to hear from Ms. Gatekeeper. Was there a better way of celebrating and disseminating poetry in 2015?
I approached Snazzy Designer with my idea. He said it would be a cinch, wouldn't take much time or be very expensive at his reduced, "family and friends" rate. He uses the cheapest, non-profit web hosting package and public domain images.
I took two senior writers who've collectively run lit mags for an ice age to lunch seeking advice (or perhaps a blessing?) and they cheered me on. A small coterie of poets would act as additional jury members, as needed. They nixed using my home address for personal security, so I rented a mail box. Cede Poetry was born with its own postal code.
I created a simple, poet-proof form to upload into cyberspace. I imagined I could respond in a timely fashion. I would personally reply to the submitter, using their correctly spelled first and last names with a yea or nay verdict.
I had proudly avoided the vortex of social media. Nada. Snazzy Designer insisted as the budget is minimalist—read self-funded—he assured me social media would be the tunnel of love for Cede Poetry. A hipster mentored me and we found some "friends." Almost five hundred buddies later, I'd learned how to "like." Aren't people friendly online!
Naturally, there was a red versus black aspect to consider. I regularly pay submission fees for contests or using Submittable. I also pay public institutions like the CBC twenty-five dollars a pop for their poetry prize, which doesn't include a "free subscription" like the stalwart, old-time journals which insist on snail mail submissions with SASE postcards and eleven-month response times. It seemed to me that three bucks a poem, the price of a Holiday Inn coffee, was a good start.
My budget was finite; there were myriad unknowns. Maybe the second volume would bring in enough revenue to permit proper payment to contributors or even a—gasp—print journal? If I could break even and pay submitters more than just lunch for a review on a sumptuous website—wouldn't we all win?
I started to share my joy on Facebook. The League of Canadian Poets listserv was not amused. A new journal might be launching. My good news story landed like a cold griddle cake in Regina.
Enter: The Trolls. Trip trap, trip trap.
People I didn't know had über dogmatic thoughts about my experiment. Highlights include:
I am in the business of being paid for my writing, not paying others to read my writing.
Submittable receives $1.14 and the journal, $1.86. They say that, "it's a great way for writers and artists to help offset the costs of production." Poets offsetting the costs of production for literary journals strikes me as a bit odd.
The whole thing stinks to high heaven.
I've been on both sides of the publishing business. I know that no one is making any money. If we don't have places to publish, we all lose out. I can't possibly subscribe to all the mags that I want to submit to…I'll pay a little guilt money instead.
We need to look beyond taxpayer subsidies…but we're not taking about a well-known and respected magazine like Malahat or Prism here, but a start-up that no one has seen and may not even make it to print.
After these mean girl swipes continued for several days, I wondered who the poetry community really was. Were these the same earnest folk who preach "building community" at open mics and books launches? Don't all artists take unmitigated risks? Is respectful discourse between peers just so 2014?
I limped through multiple new platforms and pretended to understand how poetic spacing was viewed on various devices. An established poet got a better offer and pulled their work just after I'd figured out how to insert their contributor bio with correct formatting into the table of contents. No, this was not a union gig. My hourly rate remained minus $00.00.
I can assure you I have not had to seek out a tax haven for what some consider Cede Poetry's ill-gotten gains. Since inception there have been fewer than a hundred submissions. Cede Poetry's bottom line is vermillion. May 2017 will be the final volume unless I win the lottery.
Can you commodify art in the twenty-first century? Good luck.
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The Malahat Review posts "Publishing Tips" as a bimonthly guest column on its website and in Malahat lite. Follow it in order to learn how to improve your professional skills, from the writing of cover letters, to what house style means, to choosing a rhyming dictionary, to having an author photo (as opposed to a selfie) shot. If you have a Publishing Tip you'd like to share, email The Malahat Review at firstname.lastname@example.org, with "Publishing Tip Idea" in the subject line. Tips should be 750 words or less. If yours is accepted, you will be paid an honorarium of $50.