After one year and four issues, at least one thing should be clear about The Reprint: we love Annalemma. No journal has been represented as much as Annalemma in our first year, with three of our pieces being taken from their pages (Issue 2: Amber Spark’s “You Will be the Living Equation”; Issue 4: Aubrey Hirsch’s “Elysian” and Roxane Gay’s “How”). The passion of the people behind the magazine is evident in each story, as the stories are fully formed works of art that transport the reader to somewhere new. Whether we’re being turned into a math equation, chemistry set, or just need to escape from a world not of our choosing, the reader is fully immersed in the stories of Annalemma.
The quality that graces the pages of Annalemma is enough to set it apart from many of its contemporaries, but they go further with this quality bleeding into their other arenas as well. The online portion of the journal is no tagalong; instead it’s a vibrant showcase of some of the best authors and artists working today.
I attribute the depth and quality of Annalemma back to the founder and editor Chris Heavener's vision and execution. Even in his blogging you see the spark that is Annalemma. His 6/25/2010 “Connection One” post laments the isolation of the literary world, the insular nature of this community in which we participate. Chris offers ideas to make the independent literature scene visible to the greater community, ideas to spread the passion of the participants of indie lit. He says: “It’s time independent literature had a boom of its own.” In a way, he started a boom, as this post famously launched Christopher Newgent’s brainchild, Vouched Books.
Not so famously, this post also helped launch Zine-Scene. Zine-Scene is my contribution to promoting online literature in the way that Chris proposed. The spotlights act as shout-outs to some of the journals and authors that we at Zine-Scene admire. The Reprint is another avenue to “Vouch” for literature we love, with the added benefit of questioning the print-is-king mentality.
This secondary benefit is actually a way to attack mainstream sensibilities. If a story from Tin House, Noon, Ninth Letter, or Columbia is online as part of our enterprise, doesn’t that somehow validate the work published alongside it from the lndie journals like Annalemma, Artifice, Big Lucks, Unsaid, Parcel, or Pank? Not that this validation is needed for those who actively engage in the indie lit scene, but for those who just look to the BASS (with its 12 represented journals) maybe a push toward indie lit is what is needed to spread the indie lit boom.
Chris and Annalemma gave me my push and he was kind enough to answer some questions about his wonderful venture!
What was the driving force behind creating Annalemma?
It's changed over the years. It started out I just wanted to make something cool. Five or six years ago I was really into magazines, the form. I liked the color, the paper, the loose and breezy nature of it. A magazine was something that didn't require a lot of effort to get lost in, you just open it up and find something that hits you. In magazine publishing there's so much thought and effort put into the look and the feel so you can grab the casual reader's attention. But the content in most magazines (the writing) often betrayed the thoughtful design and the vibrant color that's a tradition of the form. In my head I imagined what the perfect magazine would look like to me and it turned out to be Annalemma.
It turns out the perfect magazine is a subjective thing, my ideal is different than someone else's, which makes it hard to sell to others. So now the driving force is to make something universally beautiful, which has its own challenges, but we're up to it.
What keeps you going?
Working with artists and writers has been the best. Making those connections and creating a cool project around that relationship makes me feel really good. But that's like 10% of what running a magazine is. The rest of it is headaches and heartbreaks (sales, marketing, advertising, distribution. Jesus god, distribution).
But that's changed over the years too. I've found a lot of pleasure in making sales. You have to work really hard for it, so the payoff is satisfying. It feels good to have some money coming into the bank account that ensures the survival of the mag, but it feels better knowing someone else sees the value in what you're doing. That's got the potential to feel incredibly validating.
What do you look for in a submission?
In simple terms, a good story. It's harder to say what I look for, it's more about what I don't want in a submission that's easier to spot. About 90% of submissions make the same mistakes over and over again: no conflict (or a very soft one), flat language, soft on voice (no authority = no trust from the reader), no regard for the reader's attention. A lot of people think they can write a short story like a novel, long and slow burning.
Stephen Elliott talks a lot about how people who read your work are doing you a huge favor and you need to recognize that by not wasting their time. I think a lot of new writers make the mistake of thinking they're somehow entitled to the audience's attention because they're participating in this grand literary tradition that should be respected. If anything, literature less respected and less culturally relevant now than it ever has been and fiction writers need to own up to that. I think it's just as imperative to entertain the audience as it is to push the limits of the art form and say something meaningful.
When I read Aubrey Hirsch’s “Elysian,” I fell in love with the piece and sought out more of Aubrey’s work and fell in love with the author. What drew you to this piece?
Aubrey writes great characters and this piece was a good example of that skill. They're human at their core and they're dealing with human conflicts. She writes great details too. She did a great job accentuating the wife's obsession with having a baby by making those lists of proper (yet gross) foods for the husband to eat so his sperm would be most fertile. I have a soft spot for domestic dramas, too. It's a genre that's really easy to fuck up, but if you can hit the right balance of pathos and perspective then you've got a story a lot of people can relate to and connect with.
I was already in love with Roxane Gay and her words by the time she sent me “How” (In fact, we had her in Issue 1). I sent out a plea on Twitter for a few more submissions because I thought I needed one more piece to round out the issue and Roxane came to the rescue. “How” was part of your Sacrifice issue; can you talk a bit about theming your print issues and how “How” worked in the framework of issue 6?
I used to think having a theme for an issue was restrictive, so that's why we didn't do it for a long time. We'd just sent Issue Five off to the printer when I was talking to my designer, Jen O'Malley, and she brought up the idea of having a theme for the next issue. She pointed out having a theme can really sharpen your focus and give you an opportunity to say something, rather than just producing art for art's sake. I liked that idea of focusing the magazine's creative powers to make a statement, and it has given the issues more of a mission so we're going to keep doing that.
Right now the themes are pretty loose and esoteric ideas. Sacrifice is a good example of that. I knew I wanted to have a theme for that issue and Matt Bell sent me a story dealing with that theme and some of the other stories I knew I wanted to use had sacrifice woven into them somehow, so it felt right and we went with it.
The main characters in Roxane's story are sacrificing their happiness and satisfaction for a family that doesn't appreciate it, which makes for a ticking time bomb of conflict. That story dealt with a big part of the theme of sacrificing something, especially when it comes to family: You can be a martyr if you want, but that doesn't mean anyone's going to praise you. Zora Neale Hurston said it better, "If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other folks then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding."
Your enterprise is somewhat unique in the fact that you have both a very strong online presence and print presence. I admire the fact that both forums offer incredible work and that there doesn’t seem to be a hierarchy. I realize that wasn’t a question, but I thought I should say it anyway.
Thanks. I try not to have a hierarchy in quality for either medium. It's tempting to save the best stuff for the print issue but it doesn't make sense when you think about it. Most people are going to read the website over the print issue because the website is free. They're getting their first impression of Anna from the web so it had better reflect the quality of the print issue. I started publishing stuff on the site because I wanted to use it as a marketing tool for the print issue, to keep peoples attention, to say, "hey, we're still here," in the long interval between print issues. It's since evolved into its own publication with its own requirements and aesthetic. I publish stuff on the web that I wouldn't put in the print issue, not because it's better or worse in quality, but just because it works better on the web, it's easier to read on a lunch break or to decompress and sink into at the end of the day.
Earlier this year you had a subscription drive. What’d you learn from the drive? How has it affected your business model going forward?
I learned a lot. I felt it was kind of risky cause I was pushing the advocates and supporters of the mag to pony up dough, which is a hard thing to do for most people these days. I still feel like I cashed in on a lot of goodwill that I spent years cultivating by having a good reputation in the community. We'll see if I'm right about that next time we have a drive.
I also learned that drives are annoying from the outsider's perspective but very effective from the insider's perspective. It helped to be as transparent as possible with the supporters and people who follow the mag, to say what the goal of the drive was, where we stood with its progress. If you show people your project has legs then they get excited about it.
We've had a loose business model from the get-go. When Anna started it was just me pumping all my money into it in the hopes it would get enough attention from people who were into it. That didn't work out, so we went nonprofit and solicited donors to pay for production costs. That worked out okay but it sucks to have to go back to the well every time you want to publish an issue. An ideal situation, which is what we're getting a glimpse of now, is that the production costs are covered by the reader base. Right now we've got our expenses down to a manageable number and if we can get a certain number of subscribers for every publication cycle then we can keep going. I'm hoping we can keep it this way, it feels great knowing people value Anna enough to support it financially.
What are Annalemma’s plans moving forward? Anything we should be on the lookout for?
I want to do a site re-design in the future, something that distinguishes between the print and web a bit more than we already do. That's going to cost a lot of money and time though, so that's a ways down the line. I
had the opportunity to go to India this year and I've been reading a lot of Indian writers lately, there's so many good ones. India is the future. It's an incredibly rich and beautiful place, but the disparity between the castes is a breathtaking and deep-seated root of much of the country's hardships. So I want to do an issue about India soon but I'm still trying to figure out how to frame it.
On a broad stroke, I'm interested in exploring ways for a magazine like this to regain some cultural relevancy. Seems like Americans nowadays are more interested in living their lives through a screen and viewing the world through that lens, which is problematic for how we process information. The internet provides info in easy-to-digest formats, which doesn't leave a lot of room for the development of deeper cognitive skills, like sitting down with a book for a few hours. I don't think this is going to change any time soon but I believe there's going to be some sort of evening out period where people are going to get sick of eating candy and hunger for a deeper connection with the information they're interacting with that the internet has yet to satisfy in the way books can. I think it's important for magazines like this to forge that path. I just haven't figured out how to do that yet, but we're working on it.