Hello…and a Bit of Goodbye
There is so much we all want to say. Over the past few months, letters from subscribers have been pouring in via post and email, expressing gratitude for years of reading pleasure, as well as regret that those years are ending. Many of our readers have expressed excitement, too, about the future of OV Books—an excitement we share! A few have taken a more mournful tone, wondering if there was something our readers could have done to help or “prevent” the end of Other Voices —wondering why we have made this decision. Each note has touched our hearts, and helped us reflect on what Other Voices has meant to so many people over its long and vibrant run.
The reasons a literary magazine closes its doors are always complex. There are a myriad of explanations. A couple, though, seem worthy of elaboration, to honor all of you who have supported us over the years:
1) The reason we have decided to stop publishing is not financial. We haven’t run out of money or been denied grant funding—our donors have not abandoned us and subscriptions are not “down.” While money is almost always somewhat short at independent, nonprofit magazines, Other Voices has been blessed for more than 20 years with loyal financial support from the Illinois Arts Council, the Highland Park Park District and the Highland Park Arts Commission, as well as more sporadic (but significant!) grants from the NEA. Like any journal with a history of nearly a quarter century, we also have a core group of loyal donors who have never abandoned us—and since a flurry of growth in the late 1990’s and launching our book press in 2004, subscriptions have actually been up. We explain this because we want our readers to know that we are not changing courses due to lack of interest or support. You, our readers, did not fail us in any way. You subscribed; you gave; you told your friends. You’ve done all that anyone in this business could have asked!
2) Those of us who have been running Other Voices/OV Books have a few beliefs that have contributed to this transition, and the main one is this: the literary magazine community is currently thriving—perhaps more than ever before. While lit mags tend to be a little short on cash, and even the top level editors are often unpaid (and first readers almost always are!), the artistic integrity of this community is, in our estimation, as high as it has ever been. The number of literary magazines in the United States continues to grow despite all financial challenges. Organizations like CLMP and Web del Sol—among many others—have made it easier for literary magazine editors to communicate with and support one another, as well as for readers to find us on the web and elsewhere. In major cities like Chicago—as well as plenty of university towns—new journals and zines pop up annually. For the population interested in the “little magazines” (albeit this may be a smallish population), there has never been a better time to be a reader. Therefore, there has also never been a better time to be a writer submitting to literary magazines. Increasingly, I know fewer and fewer talented short story writers who “can’t” get their work published in magazines. They may not be paid (or paid much), but these days, if you’re persistent and you’re good, there is a magazine out there interested in publishing your work. And that’s cause for celebration!
3) By contrast, the book publishing industry seems to have deteriorated rapidly over these past seven to ten years. With the rise of celebrity memoirs, chick lit and so forth, literary fiction —especially short fiction—has been increasingly marginalized in New York, to the point that most agents don’t even represent short story collections anymore unless the writer is already famous. Independent book presses step forth to try and remedy the problem—but unlike literary magazines, which can publish twenty or even more writers per issue, many independent presses can only afford to publish between one and five books per year, and so many, many of the writers being widely published in the lit mags (even those winning awards) cannot find publishers for their short story collections. Worse, anthologies are not even reviewed in most newspaper book sections these days. Even if a short story writer can find a publisher, independent presses are often so under-funded that they have essentially no marketing budget (much less a dedicated PR person on staff), and poor distribution, so that a writer may be lucky to get 100 copies of the book into stores, and is often solely responsible for arranging his/her own readings and events, as well as paying for costs. Indie publishing has its artistic integrity intact, but this doesn’t remedy the fact that, for a new writer especially, indie publishing can be like throwing a party (releasing a book) and “nobody comes.”
With this in mind, OV Books has aimed—with great initial success—to be an antidote for such pitfalls. Publishing the edgy, risk-taking, literary short fiction that the New York market seems to no longer have much interest in, we also—by keeping our list small—offer author advances, arrange extensive readings, secure distribution that will get thousands, not hundreds, of copies in bookstores, including the chains. Our model has been so successful that our first author, Tod Goldberg, who had his first two novels published with much larger houses, has publicly said many times that OV Books was his best publishing experience by far.
For all these reasons, OV Books seems, to us, more “essential” at this moment to the literary climate of our country and culture. We dearly hope Other Voices magazine will be missed, but (as opposed to when it was founded in 1984), we feel secure that we are exiting the literary magazine community at a “high point,” with many other outstanding journals carrying the torch of excellence and championing original literature that yields greater complexity with each reading—work that stands the test of time. And so our mission—our future—feels rooted at this juncture in book publishing.
We hope you will agree that, while this news is bittersweet, there is much cause to celebrate. OV Books’ next title, A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection, will be on shelves in April 2008, and we are already at work on our fourth title, another short story collection by a stunning new author. This is not “goodbye,” exactly, then, but more like, “See you in the book aisles!” I’ll still be here, along with Stacy Bierlein, Lois Hauselman, Kathryn Kosmeja, Allison Parker, Barbara Shoup, and other members of the Other Voices team, doing what we all love to do: reading manuscripts and championing writers. We hope you’ll still be there too, reading the work we’re most excited about, carrying the torch, and keeping the written word alive!