Dispatches | September 09, 2013
Why a Literary Magazine's Blog Still Matters
When I started with TMR about four years ago, our blog didn’t strike me as having a particular useful function. Old blog posts tended to be about things the magazine was doing: hey, Editors’ Prize; hey, subscribe; hey, we like to read, too! They weren’t bad blog posts — they were usually clear, concise blog posts and about two or three paragraphs long at most. But it wasn’t particularly distinct and compelling.
What is our blog’s purpose?
We think about this quite a bit, and the specific answers is always changing. Setting up a blog takes all of five minutes to do, and then, voila!, a person can create content at any time. And the content, the experts (the insidious “they”) tell us all kind of rules about how a blog works. It must have great content. It must be weekly. No, daily! And so on. Many experts with many ideas and all that good stuff.
It can get a little confusing.
One of the big advantages we have is our people. At any given time, we have a dozen undergraduate interns, six graduate editors, five senior staffers, and a couple of office assistants. We have no problem finding writers to create content. Our staffers have a diverse range of backgrounds who have unique perspectives on publishing, not just from the specific jobs they do at TMR, but also their personal backgrounds.
So here’s what we’re trying to do:
Be Friendly One of the things I frequently hear from writers at the AWP conference is some variation of this: “You send the best rejections!” To a non-writer, this probably sounds really weird, but for those involved with writing and publishing, it’s understood to be a compliment. And not even a backhanded one! It seems like such a small thing to give a writer one or two sentences about a submission, but both editors and writers understand that those two sentences, that effort, actually matters tremendously.
We try to keep that same attitude toward our blogging efforts. We try not to lecture, pontificate, or scold. We’re aiming for more of a “coffee on a rainy afternoon and there’s no place we need to be” level of ease.
Be Transparent The biggest problem in literary magazine publishing is the poor relationship between the publishers and the audience. The publishers (editors, writers working on the magazine, and so forth) don’t feel that their hard work is understood, the minutiae that goes into bringing a print or digital edition into the world, how many small things (“Where do I get a UPC code?!”) create massive headaches. The audience (readers, submitters, writers) doesn’t like our response time, or what we publish (often this means Who, not What, we publish), and our mysterious nepotistic nature.
We don’t want to be cloaked in secrecy. We want our audience to understand what we do and why we do it. By being open about how things operate and what our goals are, we should be able to have a better relationship with our audience. It’s strange, given how much publishers and audience need each other, that things are often combative. But, hey, humans are a bit loopy. We’re good with that.
Be Helpful TMR is lucky to have such a large staff, but nonetheless, our staff does have limited time and resources, and they are regularly pushed and pulled in different directions. In the digital age, there is something exciting happening in publishing on a daily basis. But we aren’t a news organization. We can’t breaking stories as they happen. What we can do, however, is not rush to comment or link but to digest the news, and using our experience, try to see events through a lens that is helpful to our audience.
This is what we’ve attempted to do with the conversation about MFA and PhD programs, and our Working Writer Series. Every year there are questions and controversies about the Program Era: we add our two cents when a few extra pennies are necessary. Outside that arena, there are a range of writers whose voices aren’t heard enough, so we created an interview series to highlight voices that are often ignored.
Be Consistent We aim to put up three posts per week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday. We don’t always make it happen (I’m the biggest offender here) but we’d like to have three posts per week that will be a worthy read for you.
But consistency always refers to the quality of the posts. We don’t want to put up something simply because it’s scheduled. We want to write about subjects that matter to us, and, consequently, you.
Be Distinct This is a bit weird because there isn’t one person that posts on the blog. Whether it’s me, Evelyn, Alison, Tanya, or any of the other writers have written for the blog the last four years, there isn’t one specific person that is The Voice of our magazine. Can this blog really have a distinctive voice when there are as many as a dozen contributing authors?
We think so. In the same way that litmags have a style, we think our blog does, too. The term I’m thinking of is “serious play.” Have you ever seen a child making a world with her toys? It’s a complete and total immersion in something that is fun: the figurines and buildings and drama are real to the child. You can’t interrupt them right now: they’re playing. We want the same intensity about our blog without losing sight of the fact that, hey, this is supposed to be fun. The good stuff.
For this reason, I try to make my blog posts conversational in style. Unlike my fiction, I don’t edit these posts dozens of times. Even after I put up a new post, I always find syntactical and grammatical errors. Those aren’t intentional, of course, but by trying to write our posts without too much ornamentation, the hope is that these read like friendly notes rather than legal missives.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting about our Editors’ Prize, the fall issue, great events we’re throwing here in CoMo, and other topics and subjects as they arise. We’ll do our best to make all these things, and more, worthy of your time.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye
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