From the Writer’s Desk: The Future of Irreantum

Since 1999, Irreantum has been committed to publishing the very best in Mormon literature. Over the years, a number of editors and editorial board members have volunteered their time to discover, polish, and publish this literature, passionate in their conviction that promoting and preserving LDS voices is a communal responsibility. Christopher Bigelow founded the magazine, and at the end of his editorial tenure new editors stepped forward. Laraine Wilkins, Valerie Holladay, Scott Hatch, and Angela Hallstrom all served as editors-in-chief over the magazine’s 13-year lifetime. I took over editorial duties in 2010, and was joined by co-editor Josh Allen in 2011.

Josh and I have both committed to helming Irreantum through 2013, and our 2012 contest winners have provided us with plenty of excellent material to produce two more strong issues of the magazine. However, we find ourselves at a crossroads regarding Irreantum’s future in 2014 and beyond. If the magazine is to continue, a new editor or editors must be found. The journal’s future financial viability is also a concern. As has been the case with many print magazines, Irreantum’s subscription rates have continued to decline as the cost of producing the journal has increased.  Willing volunteers have also been few and far between, and the Association for Mormon Letters, whose membership helps sustain the journal, has seen similar declines in membership and willing volunteers.

Irreantum has found itself at the brink of extinction a number of times in its short history, and each time a handful of dedicated volunteers have stepped forward to ensure its future. It is our hope that this might happen again. As things stand today, Irreantum is committed to publishing two issues in 2013. However, with Josh’s and my departure, Angela Hallstrom has also stepped down as Irreantum’s contest coordinator, and Irreantum’s 2013 literary contests have been suspended, unless and until specific plans for Irreantum’s future can be made.

We hold out hope that Irreantum can continue, either as a print magazine or as a digital journal, but if this to happen volunteers must step forward. Most important, an editor-in-chief (or co-editors-in-chief) must be found.

If you are interested in this position, please email us at irreantum@mormonletters.org. The request will then be taken to the AML board, where Irreantum’s future can be discussed more fully.

We appreciate the support of Irreantum’s loyal readership, and hope we can count on this support in 2013 and beyond.

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23 Responses to From the Writer’s Desk: The Future of Irreantum

  1. Th. says:

    .

    I JUST became a lifetime subscriber. This would not be a great time for me to watch you go bellyup.

  2. Lee Allred says:

    “The journal’s future financial viability is also a concern. As has been the case with many print magazines, Irreantum’s subscription rates have continued to decline as the cost of producing the journal has increased.”

    Might I make a very strong suggestion? Ditch the traditional magazine periodical subscription publishing method and the subscription method.

    Instead, continue to call it a magazine if you wish but publish each issue as a POD book. My experience is with Amazon’s CreateSpace, so that’s what I’ll talk about below.

    Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch used to publish the fiction magazine PULPHOUSE, as well as high-quality fiction anthologies. The rising cost of publishing eventually brought down the company.

    They are launching a new anthology magazine venture this spring, FICTION RIVER, utilizing the magazine-as-a-POD method (publishing through CreateSpace). I’ve been involved behind the scenes a bit in its launch. The economics of the POD method was what made FICTION RIVER possible.

    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=7437

    Key advantages to the POD model:

    1) Amazon pays for all the major costs of traditional model: the printing, paper, warehousing, shipping. They pay for all of this out of their cut of the retail purchase.

    The only costs for producing the magazine — I mean book — left is the small POD setup fee and whatever money you pay staff, contributors, and illustrator/photographers (or for stock art).

    2) Back issues. No back issues in boxes sitting in someone’s garage. No need for volunteers to mail out back issues from mail orders.

    People interested in back orders just order up a copy from Amazon who prints and bills and ships (and adds AML’s cut of the sale to Irreantum a monthly royalty check or auto deposit).

    Best of all, back issues will never go out of print.

    3) Shipping cost savings aren’t just for Irreantum but also for its readers. CreateSpace does all the shipping, and CreateSpace printed books are eligible for Amazon’s Prime service — meaning no shipping costs for two-day delivery for Irreantum buyers with Prime.

    4) World wide distribution. Available to Saints and non-Saints interested in MoLit all across the globe with better exposure than current model.

    Disadvantages:

    1) The biggest disadvantage would be the end of subscriptions and being able to tie receipt of the magazine with AML membership. One possible solution would be to offer AML members (and poor lifetime subscribers like Theric) free eBook versions of the book-magazines.

    This is doable by uploading the ebook to Smashwords and creating a “coupon” for a free download. Email AML members and lifetime subscribers the coupon code for each issue.

    AML members wouldn’t get a free printed book, but at least they’d get the ebook.

    2) Change of financial method. Rather than a large annual influx of funding (from AML membership renewals), the cash stream would be a small monthly influx of point-of-purchase sales. Also, there’s a delay between retail sale and Amazon sending the monthly check. I think the reduced priting expenses greatly offset this. It’s a different model; I think it’s a better one.

    You also might think about additional funding through Kickstarter. FICTION RIVER raised its startup capital (for author payments for stories) through Kickstarter.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/403649867/fiction-river-an-original-fiction-anthology-series

    3 Back Issue. What to to with pre-POD back issues?

    Going the POD route still leaves boxes of back issues previously published in somebody’s garage.

    One solution might be to utilize Amazon’s warehouse fulfillment service. For a small warehousing fee they store the books at their warehouse and fulfill orders for them just like other merchandise. They handle the orders and the shipping and send you the check similar to CreateSpace new books.

    Also, it may be possible to republish recent back issues as
    POD Createspace books. I’m fairly sure that desktop publishing PDF files were used to publish the last few issues “traditionally” anyway. Those PDF files would be the same ones needed to POD through CreateSpace.

    It might be cheaper in the long run to republish them as books and (sadly) recycle the extant printed ones.

    That would be my strong suggestion on the financial side of IRREANTUM’s problems, going the CreateSpace POD magazine-as-book route. (Wish I could help out on the volunteer side, but my health issues make any regular deadline commitments like that impossible.)

  3. Neil Aitken says:

    A few thoughts from someone else who runs a literary journal :

    1. Online vs Print. Perhaps it’s time to shift to an online format? It’s a lot cheaper to produce an online literary journal than it is to stay with print. You can always offer a print-on-demand version for those who want it, while delivering the content for free online. The big benefit of online formats is the potential expansion of the readership. Print is limited to subscribers — libraries, writers, and readers who tend to already know and are familiar with the content of the journal. Online provides an opportunity for more people to discover the journal and its concerns. There are some in-between solutions as well — some journals offer portions of the issue online for free, while requiring a subscription or purchase to access the full issue. (I don’t particularly care for that approach, but it’s out there). Alternatively, Irreantum could be produced as an online journal with PDF/EPub versions for sale, another compromise I’ve seen work.

    2. Fundraising. Crowdfunding through Kickstarter.com and IndieGoGo.com (or other similar sites) can alleviate a lot of the pressure to locate big donors or recruit subscribers. Instead, people donate at the level they feel is appropriate for their situation and investment in the project. Some will donate $5, some $10, some $25, and others $100, $500, or $1000. Rather than fixing the investment level at the subscription rate (or the lifetime membership rate), you can offer more ways and levels for people to contribute. Crowdfunding works much better once you’ve build a sizable readership and/or fanbase — a strong online presence, clear goals, some graphics, and a compelling narrative will help make a convincing case.

    I would love to see Irreantum continue — and hopefully expand its influence — but I do feel that this is a good time to re-evaluate whether the current format and approaches are the best practices for the future. I think as more and more readers switch to iPads, Nooks, and Kindles — and as the population of LDS writers and readers continues to grow and diversify, some sort of evolution seems to be needed.

    • Th. says:

      .

      I’m not in favor of dropping the paper edition, but I do agree that Irreantum should move online. What the relationship between the online and paper version should be I don’t yet claim to know.

  4. Boyd Petersen says:

    These are all great suggestions, but what we need first is someone who is willing to step up and implement them. We need new editors!

    • Th. says:

      .

      I’ve always had the impression that, with the exception of contest management (and parts of that task as well), working with AML requires a strong Utah presence. (As for me, I haven’t been in Utah in over six years.)

  5. Mark Penny says:

    Is there someplace we can get details and offer assistance? I didn’t notice anything on AML or Irreantum.

  6. Scott Hales says:

    What’s the time commitment for the editorship? Can we get a fuller job description?

    • Th. says:

      .

      I sent an email to that end but yes: a public posting would be helpful.

    • Jack Harrell says:

      Great question, Scott. We currently publish two issues a year. Josh does one and I do the other. Ideally, we have section editors for fiction, poetry, personal essay, critical essay, and book review. Right now only two of those are staffed. That’s more work that needs to be done–recruiting section editors. Of course, everyone involved is a volunteer.

      Of late, many of the things published were submitted and selected through the contests. (Managing the contests, which Angela Hallstrom has done, really involves A LOT of time.)

      Even the winning pieces still need a good deal of editorial assistance, which the section editors work on. The main editor manages all this. Ideally we want each issue to have three or four short stories, the same number of personal essays, several poems, and four to six book reviews. We also like to have some critical essays, which are harder to find. Sometimes papers presented at the AML Annual Conference can be improved for publication, but that means someone has to be aware of the best papers appearing in that forum and seek them out.

      A cover artist must be found for each issue, and those matter have to be worked out. From there the editor organizes things and works with the person who does the layout. Then there’s the matter of getting the thing to a press and getting it mailed out to subscribers.

      How many hours goes into all this? For the section editors, one short story might involve three of four hours of work. For the main editor, I would estimate 20 or 30 hours are put into each issue, spread out over six months. I haven’t actually counted–this is just a guess.

  7. Family health issues over the past while have kept me from keeping up with weekly Everyday Mormon Writer content the way I’d hoped to, but I’m not worried about the contests because the short bursts of energy are easier than sustained work.

    If Irreantum struggles to find a full editor, could AML at least find small committees to keep administering the contests and posting winners online? For something limited like that, digital collaboration wouldn’t be too tough.

    And I’d be way more willing to sign up to coordinate or help with a contest for a few weeks in June than to sign up as editor-in-chief of a struggling print magazine for a year.

  8. Th. says:

    .

    One thing I would promote to future leadership is the importance of a print edition as a symbol of AML’s legitimacy. Paper still has a weight.

    I’m interested in one of the undereditor positions. But I don’t work at a university and I already get slack now and then for the amount of time I dedicate to other things. Besides. Peculiar Pages is supposed to be coming out with some more books. Soon. Promise.

  9. Tyler says:

    I’m also interested in an editorial position, but I’m already poetry editor for Dialogue, so I suppose that may make my interests somewhat conflicted…

  10. Lee Allred said “a large annual influx of funding,” and I have to ask “where? when?”

    Membership/subscription renewals are minimal at best. Please reread Jack’s second paragraph above. Irreantum’s circulation for the last issue was under 100.

  11. Lee Allred says:

    Large, not huge, large being relative was what I meant. Is there not a noticable spike (small, perhaps, but a spike nonetheless) of renewals/new subscriptions from the annual AML meeting? That’s when I always renewed mine at least. (And years I didn’t or couldn’t attend, mine lapsed.)

    After two decades around AML, I’d no illusion of any Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of money. My suggestion posted above was only an attempt to help alleviate a need for one.

    (Parenthetically, the tone of “Where?””When?” “Please reread” is not one I’d take were I soliciting help, but wording is important in these matters, especially for a writer, and mine was clumsily handled in my original post.)

  12. I apologize, Lee, but I’ve watched us solicit help for so many years and the help has just dwindled.

    For the last couple of years, the AML meeting has been free to everyone, member or not, so there hasn’t been much incentive from that direction to renew.

    Maybe I’m just tired.

  13. Wm says:

    I can’t help with the contest this year because a) I already have written an awesome entry for it should it take place so I really, really don’t want to recuse myself and, more importantly, b) my second church calling is going to take up quite a bit of time between now and the end of June.

    However, I could likely help coordinate/judge contest entries in 2014 and 2015.

  14. Th. says:

    .

    Contest coordination is the one thing I’m interested in. So long as it doesn’t require travel to Utah. I’m still a bit unclear on that question.

  15. Wm says:

    Angela H. did it last year and she doesn’t live in Utah anymore.

  16. I’d love to help out. I’ll send you a personal email with my phone number.

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