November 15, 2007

New Venture in Literary Publishing

About two months ago, a friend with whom I play tennis mentioned an article that had appeared in the local business paper. It recorded the advent of a new literary journal in my hometown of New Haven. It was tentatively named the New Haven Review of Books, and she thought it appropriate to share because two years earlier I had tried the idea of just such a publication out on her. My reasoning then had been that New Haven, lying midway between New York and Boston, with Yale serving as its local fount of culture, could easily support a quality book review publication. New Haven is rife with intellectuals and artists, and perhaps its greatest problem is retaining them before they head off to, well, New York and Boston.

The magazine was intended as a bit of a lark. I thought it might be fun to do, as a way of reinvigorating my interest in things intellectual. The major drawback for me was quite simply lack of time—I was then a full-time editorial director at Thomson Gale (now Gale Cengage Learning), and my range of contacts among writers was limited. Moreover, my background was stronger as a publisher than as an editor. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I had served as an editor for the student-run Chicago Review. During my doctoral studies, I then worked as editor and publisher for Response: A Jewish Contemporary Review, a nationally published quarterly journal of Jewish fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that had some rather impressive contributors over its forty years of existence. Because of the journal’s small size, I handled pretty much everything, from working with the printer to cashing the checks. It was an interesting experience and my introduction to the business of publishing.

Fast forwarding back to the present, as I was reading through the article in Business New Haven about this new publication, I learned that its founder was a fellow synagogue member (and a fine writer, to boot). When I caught up with him during Saturday services, I mentioned the article and expressed my interest in helping out.

“Do you write?” he asked.

“Not really,” I replied. “In fact, that’s not how I want to help. I’m really more interested in the business of publishing, so I’d like to assist on that front.”

“Really? That’s great. Publishing is the part I know little about, and that’s exactly the type of help we can use now. We published our first issue, and we want to become more established. We’re just not sure how to go about doing that.”

“That’s not too hard,” I responded. “In fact, that’s pretty much what I did years ago when I started working with literary journals.”

And this is how I come to write about the New Haven Review (no longer the New Haven Review of Books). So, over the next few months, I will record some of the work I am doing with respect to this endeavor, hoping what I write can serve as a bit of a primer for others thinking of starting their own literary publications. Let me point out that I will be concentrating on the dynamics of setting up shop and publishing a journal—not on editorial policy. That is left to the wiser heads in the volunteer group of individuals who have gathered around this effort. If you’d like to see what I’m talking about specifically, go ahead and check out the online edition of the New Haven Review of Books. The print version exists as a privately published and distributed, side stapled, edition for now.

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