Robert Scheer: Truthdig.com
Oscar Villalon: Zyzzyva
Bruce Bauman: Black Clock
Jon Christensen: Boom
Tom Lutz: Los Angeles Review of Books
Random thoughts on publishing in a literary magazine
Christensen: (About his goals) I want to host a lively dinner party with passionate conversation. That’s the voice we’re looking for. A magazine is an evocative object that sits on your coffee table for three months.
Villalon: We focus mainly on West Coast writers and artists: California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, and Alaska. And we promote emerging writers. (They have a feature called “First Time in Print.”) Zyzzyva is published three times per year.
Scheer: You’re supposed to kick ass and make waves. Most of the print stuff is gone. There is something exciting about electronic publishing. The Internet is the most liberating and the most threatening. (Truthdig.com has been around for nine years and has five Webby Awards.) (He mentioned the website’s first big story was written by Pat Tillman’s brother about his death, saying many people globally read it within 24 hours.) You can find a massive audience all over the world, but [the Internet] is a fragile business model. (He called Snowden a hero.) Google and Yahoo destroyed our privacy (mining data and targeting ads), not the NSA. Invasive gathering of data would be a wet dream for Hitler and Stalin. [Online] shopping is the greatest expression of modern freedom. The consumer impulse and totalitarian impulse are tied together.
Lutz: We watched the business model of the newspaper curl up and die. (This encouraged him to start the LA Review of Books.) The book review is a central part of a democracy. There is still an audience for long-form essays. We’re growing. We’ve doubled our budget each year for three years. We were in over 100 countries after the first month.
Scheer: Conventional wisdom is if you write for the Internet, it should be 500 words (short). This turned out not to be true. We never pandered to the notion that readers have short attention spans. (He mentioned one of their authors, Chris Hedges, saying he never writes fewer than 5,000 words.) We don’t do sexy. (He used to work for Playboy.) We support investigative journalism.
Villalon: Our goal is thoughtful, nuanced essays that remind you of your humanity, remind you that you’re alive; work that creates empathy, sees how you’re tied to others, that you’re not alone—with beautifully wrought prose and verse.
Christensen: We use pleasure and beauty of the magazine itself, the rhythm of the pages, art, photography. It’s a wonderful, pleasurable experience to read a magazine. It still is a physical thing. New media don’t replace old media. The print magazine is still really important. An important part of new media: go where the conversations are going.
Bauman: The role of the literary magazine is to enrich our lives and question what is going on in society, which isn’t all that good. We want magazines to be conversation starters. There is more going on now than ever before, which makes it easier and harder [for lit mags]. None of us is making any money. Plato would want to kick us out of the Republic.
Scheer: Are we just entertainment? The reality is it is not so easy to reach a mass audience.
Lutz: We make sure we are engaged with what we think is important. I have an IV of Google analytics stuck in my arm all day. Our numbers spike when we cover hip hop, but that doesn’t stop us from sharing tough poetry. (The poetry doesn’t get the same numbers.) We are curators.
Villalon: (About finding new writers) The vast majority are from the slush pile. We prefer snail mail because online submissions would be a deluge. We receive about 50 to 75 submissions a week. We are hoping to find gold. We’re not paying New Yorker money. We publish a ton of LA writers. We have a good pool to dip into.
Christensen: (They find writers through emails and meeting people at parties.) We publish themed issues. [It’s like] curating a special issue every quarter. Some writers are found through conversations.
Lutz: What we want is a writer’s passion; it drives what we cover. We ask people, “What are you reading?” We read thousands and thousands of emails, and hundreds of books show up in the doorway.
Scheer: We love books, even though we think books are extinct. The best source of writers is the LA Times Festival of Books (the panelists). I am a writer by definition because I have to pay my rent. It is really difficult out there. Unpaid internships are amoral. We do not have a business model now. Support magazines. It ain’t free. Help enlightening publications, or we won’t have them.
Lutz: We need public support to continue what we’re doing.
Bauman: Black Clock is supported by Cal Arts. We need universities’ support; that’s their responsibility.
Scheer: USC is a wonderful place. I never thought I’d say that. (He’s a Berkeley guy.) But we are squeezing the students. Various bandits die and bleed buildings.
Lutz: My salary is paid by UC Riverside, but I’m not paid to run the magazine.
Villalon: It’s hard for the government to know what you’re reading if you’re holding a book. There will be a resurgence of print. Write letters!