Replacing Irreantum: Staffing/Production

11.26.13 | | 13 comments

This is a continuation of my analysis of the barriers involved in replacing Irreantum, the now defunct literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters. Other installments:

Scope/Positioning | Staffing/Production | Generating Submissions | Financial Models | Starting Up

STAFFING/PRODUCTION

A literary magazine/journal is nothing without an audience, but it can’t even try to establish an audience without staffing to create the thing. That’s an obvious statement, but in the world of Mormon letters it represents a major challenge to any ongoing attempt to publish fiction. Very few fiction magazines can support a full-time staff. Many rely on institutional affiliation or at the very least on key staff who have faculty positions at institutions that will give them the time and even credit towards promotion/pay increases for their work on the journal. As far as I know there is no institution that would be willing to provide that. I don’t know that that’s the best idea anyway because of the issues I raise in the previous post. Academic or foundation support comes with a certain set of expectations that are often inimical to the more populist scope that a successor to Irreantum probably should attempt. Irreantum struggled with staffing, especially succession planning. In fact it’s amazing that it lasted as long as it did, and I personally am grateful for all of the hours that its various editors and other staff put into it.

The simple solution would appear to be paying staff. But even setting aside the difficulties of doing so, payment doesn’t solve all the problems. When editors and other staff members become reliant on income, especially when that income is small but meaningful and the community is tight (as is the funding), then it becomes more difficult to change staff when needed (as in: when people get burnt out). Unless you have a hands-off benevolent dictator of a benefactor who can provide competitive salaries but also will intervene when it is needed, it’s very difficult to keep the quality up and the product fresh.

So even throwing money at editorial staffing is no cure-all. There is one area where you generally have to fund part of the mag and that is production. Specifically layout and publication (electronic or print). As hard as it is to find good slush readers, managing editors, section editors and (sometimes) copyeditors who will work for free, it’s even more difficult to find volunteer layout artists because they don’t get the (admittedly, grueling) fun (and accolades such as they are) of the editorial work. And, to be blunt, they have a more rare skillset that should be compensated (and this applies just as much to electronic layout as for print). In addition, even though you can cut costs by not having a print version of the journal, there are still costs for electronic distribution (at the very least the cost of web hosting, but there also may be web development costs as well).

What does that mean for any successor to Irreantum? I don’t know for sure. I’d love to hear what incentives/situations would cause some you to step up and pitch in. But I do have one observation and a couple of thoughts.

1. People are sometimes willing to work for free when the work is exciting and rewarding and important and the people they are working with are cool. Having the right Scope/Positioning can help with that.

2. This would be hard, but, ideally, staffing would be modular and distributed (but also coordinated).

3. Also: ideally, the technical side of production would be set up in such a way that minimal (or even no) work would need to be made by a contracted layout artist.  

13 comments: “Replacing Irreantum: Staffing/Production

  1. Jonathan Langford

    There are other potential problems with a paid staff model, even if it otherwise were feasible:
    - Pay for some can tend to discourage volunteerism by all. And a broad volunteer corps has many benefits. For one thing, it tends to broaden the market base. More essentially, it helps to build that sense of community I mentioned my comment on your first post.
    - Pay inherently segregates, and has the potential to create an elite.

    Neither of which is an insurmountable barrier, if one had the money and the right people in leadership positions….

  2. Wm Morris Post author

    Agreed. Even if pay were feasible for all staff (which certainly isn’t the case for any likely successor to Irreantum but isn’t even the case for many great literary mags and journals), you still run into the issues of varying sizes in salary, etc. Granta and The New Yorker have both had their awkward moments in relation to leadership successions, staff perceptions of variance in pay, etc.

  3. Scott M. Roberts

    In the SF/F magazine world, most slush readers do it for the love or experience. Assistant editors are sometimes paid, though usually a pittance.

    I’d be willing to do either for a subscription if it meant getting a populist Mormon lit mag or website up and running.

  4. Wm Morris Post author

    Yep. I see something like Clarkesworld or Strange Horizons as a strong model for any successor to Irreantum, although start up money for initial launch and especially for paying contributors might be difficult to come by. There are options, of course, and I’ll get to that in Financial Models. But a key difference between the SF&F mags and Mormon fiction is that the former has a much larger potential audience that is more accustomed to seeking out and paying for fiction.

  5. Theric Jepson

    .

    If there is pay for contributors—real pay—then there will be a constant inflow of good work. If that’s true, a lot of other stuff can fall into place.

    How much does it run, paying contributors? I suppose I could copy and paste all the Clarkesworld stuff and multiply by the pennies, but . . . not right now.

  6. Wm Morris Post author

    I’ll have more to say about contributors and getting submissions (hopefully tomorrow), but to answer your question, 5 cents a word is considered a pro rate in the genre mag world and the higher tier mags play 6-9 cents a word.

    Token payments are also an option.

  7. Lee Allred

    My suggestion would be scale back and minimize where possible even if where unexpected:

    • Convert IRREANTUM from periodical into an annual publication (best of/survey of the year) — reducing workload substantially. See Year’s Best SF volumes for example, but add crit theory pieces, essays.

    • S/l/o/u/g/h/ Hand over administration of annual fiction contest to UVU Mormon Studies (but keep pub rights) and utilize students

    • Go to a Create POD next-to-nothing low overhead printing model (both inventory costs and order fulfill). The annual revamp model synergizes with this (more book than publication).

    Or.

    Just POD Year’s Best AMV :)

  8. Wm Morris Post author

    All viable options, Lee, although I have to say that I don’t have a ton of confidence in UVU — at least if their administration of the Marilyn Brown Novel award is any indication of their approach. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy they do it. But the effort put into to publicizing it (both the contest and the results) seems minimal and insular.

  9. Adam K. K. Figueira

    I may be willing to contribute any relevant skills I have for a subscription and assuming there were enough people involved that it wouldn’t displace my full-time work, or become a thing I couldn’t balance appropriately with my other commitments. I’ve loved collaborations with this community in the past and would be willing to sacrifice certain other things to see that something like this could happen.

  10. Wm Morris Post author

    Cool, Adam. What I’m posting here is all theoretical at this point, but if I become aware of (or get heavily involved in) non-theoretical discussions, I will give you a holler.

  11. Th.

    .

    • Convert IRREANTUM from periodical into an annual publication (best of/survey of the year) — reducing workload substantially. See Year’s Best SF volumes for example, but add crit theory pieces, essays.

    This is a pretty terrific idea. Combined with an online forum for such work and a network of people looking everywhere else and reporting it (we could call them Hallites) this could work out well.

  12. Wm Morris Post author

    I like the idea in theory, but where is the work going to come from? If all we’re doing is reprinting Sunstone and Dialogue stories then that’s not really an improvement in the field.

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