Thursday, December 22, 2011

TCR Literary Journal Series: The Notre Dame Review

The Committee Room is happy to begin its series on literary magazines with a profile of the Notre Dame Review, a journal of contemporary and international fiction, poetry, and criticism. Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate of the United States, called the Notre Dame Review "a lively, engaging, unpredictable literary journal."  Sponsored by the Creative Writing Program at the University of Notre Dame, the NDR is a print journal published twice a year.  There is also an online companion nd [re]view.  Founded in 1995, the NDR   publishes the work of renown literary figures such as Nobel laureates Seamus Heaney and Czeslaw Milosz along with that of emerging writers.

The NDR also sponsors the Sandeen Prize for Poetry and the Sullivan Prize for Short Fiction.

In 2009, The Notre Dame Review: The First Ten Years,  a "best of" volume featuring the work of Heaney, Milosz, Paul Muldoon, Denise Levertov, Richard Elman, and many others was published by the Notre Dame Press.

TCR recently interviewed the NDR's editor, William O'Rourke, a prolific, witty, and opinionated novelist, essayist, blogger, and former Chicago Sun-Times columnist, to get his take on running a literary journal and on the literary world generally.

A Brief Interview with William O'Rourke

Q: How long have you been at the NDR?
A: I have been at the NDR since its beginning in 1995 and at Notre Dame since 1981. I was the founding director of Notre Dame’s graduate creative writing program, which began in 1990.  My vision was to have three things happen, more or less, at once: create a program, start a national literary magazine, and begin a publishing series of both poetry and prose.  All three occurred.  Valerie Sayers started the magazine in 1995, after joining the faculty a year earlier (and she also took over the program’s directorship at that time). I began the Sandeen/Sullivan prize series with the Notre Dame Press.  Everything needed to be doable, since we were operating with limited resources.  Our program was very grass roots, having sprung out of the work of the interested people in the English Department. It was bottom up, not top down.
"The 60s and 70s were the last golden age of reading, before the onset of technology began to control everyone’s time and attention."
Q: How has the literary world changed, for good or bad, since you arrived on the scene forty years ago?
A: When I began as a writer, I went to Columbia University’s new graduate creative writing program in 1968.  There were only a handful back then in existence and Columbia provided me a port in the storm of New York City.  The growth period for graduate creative writing programs was the 70s-80s (ND got on the bandwagon after the wagon stopped moving in 1990.)    Bohemia was outsourced to college towns as the literary life in the big cities became too expensive for starving artists.  The starving was taken to the suburbs and the depopulating regions of the country.  But the biggest thing that has changed is the nature of reading.  The 60s and 70s were the last golden age of reading, before the onset of technology began to control everyone’s time and attention.  VCRs first, then the internet and all its spawn.  We invited Big Brother into our lives and now contemporary literature plays a far less significant role in the culture (though a larger one in English departments.)   In 2009, the Notre Dame Press published Notre Dame Review: The First Ten Years, a “best of” volume.   It has introductions by both myself and John Matthias, my coeditor, which go into the changes over time in the literary world.  And I have a book coming out in 2012, to be published by Indiana University Press, Confessions of a Guilty Freelancer, which covers some of  the same ground.

Q: What is the NDR's circulation?
A: 1,500.  Five hundred of which are subscriptions and the rest distributed one way or another. It’s about the same press run as novels or short stories published by most small presses. Or even a bit larger.

Q: What are the NDR's distribution channels?
A: Over the years we have been distributed by Ubiquity, Media Solutions, and Ingram, and others,though distributors have been harder to keep, given the general decline in bookstore sales.

Q: Who are the NDR's readers?
A: The same folk who read other literary journals. The young (and old) who hang out at bookstores and all those who are interested in the literary world in general.

Q: What separates the NDR from countless other American literary journals?
A: The taste of the editors.

Q: NDR's submission guidelines state that the journal seeks material that takes on “big issues.” Could you give some examples of stories or poems that take on such issues especially well
A: See the poems and prose in the last issue, No. 31 (or any issue.)  Start with David Matlin’s story “California City,” and John Wilkinson’s poem “Terre Haute”. For those who wouldn’t know, Terre Haute is the city in Indiana which houses the prison which executes prisoners.  And the home of Eugene V. Debs.

Q: What are the NDR's sources of funding?
A: We are subsidized by the College of Arts & Letters of the University of Notre Dame and by “Sustainers” listed in the magazine, as well as by subscribers and purchasers of the magazine.
"We intend to shock the bourgeois only by the merit of what we publish."
Q: Does the NDR's connection a Catholic university (probably the most prominent Catholic university in the US) influence its content in any way?
A: We are firmly set in a global literary tradition, humanistic in its values, aware of the mission of the University.  We haven’t had any censorship issues (though that isn’t to say we couldn’t have encountered them).  We intend to shock the bourgeois only by the merit of what we publish.  

Q: How does the NDR or any university-based, MFA program connected, literary journal keep from becoming an academic publication read only by people in the “field” of creative writing?
A: By getting out into the public and being recommended by those in the field to those who are not in the field. And we have had short stories and poems republished in the Best American and Pushcart series.  Those anthologies, especially the Best American, have wider circulations.  And, of course, there is the internet, and who knows who is looking through that keyhole?

Q: How many submissions does the NDR receive in a typical month?
A: Over a hundred a month. We take submissions from September to March and nearly a thousand -- roughly half prose, half poetry -- arrive.

Q: What is the NDR's editorial process?
A: Everything gets read.  Often more than once by more than one person.  Graduate students do the first reading but a faculty editor looks at everything they read, so at least two people have read everything. The poetry side is very efficient; the prose side not as good.  The fiction editor champions multiple submission, in order to feel less guilty.

Q: What percentage of submissions don't get past an initial reading?
A: About eighty percent doesn’t go to the upper editors.

Q: What are some common reasons why manuscripts are rejected?
A: It’s the usual mix of reasons: subject, execution, reach, level of accomplishment, general literacy and effect.

Q: What is the role of the NDR's online element nd [re]view?
A: It is an extension of the magazine, extra material that would make any issue too long (we now average around two-hundred fifty pages per issue) -- photographs, other pieces of poetry and prose, more interviews and the endless links. I believe that the internet is “free”, only insofar that one can fill it up with material and not sacrifice any trees or printing budgets.

Q: In a 2010 interview with the Huffington Post you said – “It's an aural-visual world today, not a literate one...Poetry  might well profit over time, given its usual length, size, but not, alas, I think, fiction.” Could you elaborate on that?
A: The paradox of the internet is, though, as mentioned above, it can print endless reams of work, it is a medium that seems to entertain short attention spans and is most suitable for short lengths of both poetry and prose.  As Chekov didn’t say, brevity is the sister of the web site.   And the search engine makes the part greater than the whole.

Q: What are the biggest challenges one faces in running a literary journal?
A: Other than answering interview questions?  Doing what matters and making it matter, while not deepening one’s own cynicism.  In other words, staying generous.
 Additional Reading

"17 Literary Journals That Might Survive the Internet," Huffington Post, August 14, 2010.

Monday, December 19, 2011

TCR Literary Journal Series Begins Soon

The Committee Room is pleased to announce its Literary Journal Series will begin soon.  The series will offer fresh, original interviews with editors and staff members of literary journals -- both print and online -- to get their first-hand views on finding and presenting quality prose and poetry in the 21st century.

Each entry in the series will focus on a particular journal.

Turn to The Committee Room to help expand your world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

TCR Publishing Series: Gival Press

The Committee Room begins its series of articles on publishing with a look at the Gival Press.  Founded in 1998 and based just outside Washington, DC, Gival's focus is on publishing high quality literary works in English, French, and Spanish. Gival also sponsors fiction and poetry contests and the literary journal ArLiJo.

Gival's founder and chief Robert Giron recently sat down (figuratively speaking) for an interview with TCR.

Eighteen Questions for the Head of a Small Publishing House

Q: Why did you want to start a small press?
A: The idea begin back in 1980 when I translated a Mexican poet's poetry collection; I tried unsuccessfully to find a publisher for it. I left El Paso in 1981 with the idea of one idea starting a press; this did not happen until 1998 but after I had taken courses in publications management and after working as an editor.

Q: What does Gival mean?
A: I made up the name with the first two letters of Giron, but I wanted a word that could be pronounced in English, French, and Spanish, which it can. Later on, I discovered that there are streets in France and Israel with the name.

Q: Can you explain Gival's bird symbol?
A: The thunderbird is a major icon in the Southwest Indian tribes and the triangle (three is a magical number) in the logo is pointing downward--from the heavens to Earth. The triangle is important because during  WWII gay men had to wear a pink triangle while in prison. The wings go outward to encompass the words Gival Press, like the global scope of the press.

Q:What experience did you have in publishing?
A: I took classes at George Washington University and worked an as independent contractor and editor for publications in Washington, DC. This was after I had taken courses in creative writing at the University of Texas at El Paso before moving to Washington in 1983.

Q: What were the biggest challenges in getting started?
A: The publishing industry has changed since 1998 and while we have been small we have been able to keep it small and change quickly and prepare for what is happening in the publishing industry. The major publishing companies of New York are just now finally catching up but is quickly changing the future of publishing.  That plus keeping the cash flowing in to keep up with the expenses. Fortunately, I have been able to invest heavily in the business which has kept it going.

Q: How many people work for Gival?
A: We are a small independent press. I'm the main person and I hire independent contractors to do: the book design, editing, distribution, and reviewing, etc.

Q: Gival's guidelines state that "we publish work that has a social or philosophical message."  Could you elaborate on that?
A: We want works that are truly well written but I also want the work to have a purpose other than to simply entertain but this purpose should not be didactic. The story and the characters are the important elements but how one tells the story makes the purpose clear without hitting someone over the head with a frying pan.

Poet John Gosslee reads in Gival Press event at
 Arlington (VA) Arts Center, October 2011
Q: Can you tell us some of Gival's current titles?
A: In Fall 2011 we have the following coming out:

Fiction: The Winner of the Gival Press Novel Award, Gone by Sundown by Peter Leach, which is about towns in Missouri which would routinely force "colored" people out of the town during the Depression.

Fiction: Show Up, Look Good by Mark Wisnieswki about a Midwestern woman who moves to New York City and survives post 9/11.

Fiction: The Pleasuring of Men by Clifford Browder about a young man in the 1890s who goes into male prostitution to survive in New York City.

Poetry: The Silent Art, Winner of the Gival Press Poetry Award by Clifford Bernier, a collection centered around jazz. 12: Sonnets for the Zodiac by John Gosslee in English, French, and Spanish.

Poet Clifford Bernier reads in Gival Press event at
Arlington (VA) Arts Center, October 2011
Q: Gival's Poetic Voices Without Borders 2 won the 2009 National Best Book Award for Fiction and Literature Anthology from USA Book  News.  Can you tell us something this anthology?
A: I wanted to have a collection that was trilingual, so this has poems in English mostly, but also in French, and Spanish. In addition, it has the winners of the Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award for the best poem about GLBT life. This has done well.

Q: How many copies do Gival books usually sell?
A: This varies per book and title. Poetry varies from ten to one-hundred. Fiction from twenty to four-hundred.

Q: How many titles do you publish per year?
A: Usually about four per year; six in 2011

Q: What have been Gival's biggest sellers?
A: As a literary press, we haven't had a NY-type "hot seller" but certainly the memoir by Elis Avery titled The Smoke Week about 9/11 has sold well. Another good seller has been Maximus in Catland by David Garrett Izzo about a cat that saves the world--great for cat lovers and science fiction.

Q: Gival sponsors four annual contests -- a novel contest, a short story contest, a poetry volume contest, and a single poem contest.  What benefits are derived from running a contest?
A: We see lots of mss from a variety of authors: both established and emerging writers. This is the most interesting aspect of publishing for me. The excitement comes through in the work but as an educator I often have to teach the emerging authors the business sort of speak. The contests also put the name of the press out there and as a result we have gotten many well known authors.

Q: What happens when a manuscript is received at Gival?
A: Prior to the Wall Street crash in 2008, we used to have an open reading period for poetry and fiction, but we have not opened it up again. In truth, because we get so many good mss via our novel award and poetry collection award (both annual contests), there are many mss which do not win which we would like to publish. In fact, we have published some that didn't even place as a finalists. I keep notes of those mss I feel have potential and have gotten in touch with authors after the contests. With these mss, I certainly have little time to seek out others; nonetheless, authors do contact us and we ask only those we are truly interested in to send us their ms for our consideration.

Q: Gival recently started an online journal ArLiJo. Why?
A: After we stopped the open reading period, I wanted to give authors a venue for getting their work out there and to help create an audience for them. ArLiJo, which stands for the Arlington Literary Journal Online, costs little to sponsor via Gival Press and it gives authors a link to an established press. Some of these authors we have published or have gone on to publish. Payment for online publication on ArLiJo is any book published by Gival Press.

Q: What are the distribution channels for Gival Press books?
A: We distribute books via BookMasters in Ohio and they have contracts with Ingram and other outlets for bookstores, etc. Plus we sell books on and In addition, we now sell Nook and Kindle ebooks. Before Nook and Kindle, we used to have ebooks with but it was bought by and then the industry changed. We waited to see how the ebook industry was going to do before we entered it again. Now we make all books available as softcover and Nook and Kindle ebooks.

Q: What are the biggest challenges in keeping a small press going?
A: Keeping up with the changes in the industry and maintaining quality and making sure all the bills are paid.

Q: What advice would you give someone interested in starting a small press?
A: Think twice about doing it. Keep your day job (unless you have tons of $$$ you can put into the press) and learn about the industry. You have to love what you do and have a commitment to work day and night and weekends, knowing that many may not acknowledge you or appreciate what you do, but somewhere there are folks who do and once in a while they tell you in person or via email and that makes all the difference.  Then I know that what I believe in has changed someone's life for the better--going back to the mission we created for Gival Press, to publish works that have a message and that have the power to change lives, even if in the the smallest way for as it goes this accumulates like a snow ball and rolls into a huge boulder that will affect the globe.  Remember our outreach is global not just the USA. In fact, I jokingly say the universes.

Friday, December 9, 2011

TCR Begins Publishing Series

The Committee Room is excited to announce its series on publishing starts Monday, December 12.

Get informed. Not overwhelmed. Read The Committee Room.