It was disappointing, though not a complete surprise, to find out that Seizure has not been awarded Australia Council funding in the latest round. Given the massive cuts and the changes in structure, we knew this was a possibility. The real bombshell was that only two journals were funded in the organisations category. For a full list of the grants, click here. Although I don't know which magazines applied for funding, I think it is highly likely that a number were unsuccessful in this round. This is a damaging hit and the aftershocks will bring about a shift in the status quo. While there is another round in February, there is no guarantee that we will see publications that have received funding in the past awarded grants in the future. We can have a discussion about whether it is feasible for journals to rely on funding – whether we should be building different, more sustainable models – but I feel that the quality of the work and the energy in the industry are testament to the success of the tax-payer supported publishing landscape of the past few years.
For the past few years, literary journals in this country have thrived. Sprouted up like so many mushrooms. Eudaemonia. Flourishing. Whatever you want to call it, I think we’ll look back at this time as something of a golden age for the Australian lit mag. Admittedly subscriptions are still modest for most publications and they run on the smell of an oily rag (a delightfully true-blue expression) but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that short-story and essay collections are finding attention with mainstream publishers and broader readerships and that it is writers published in journals that are enjoying that success.
At Seizure we’ve had that proud-parent feeling watching writers experiment and develop their craft and some who go on to Miles Franklin or Victorian Premier’s Literary Award shortlistings.
We have always worked to propel the publishing industry forward. Having been the recipients of both stellar mentoring and the back-in-your-box shutdown, we have always have included editorial professional development alongside our publication program. We have mentored and worked with over a dozen editors – for some it was their first publishing gig, others were very experienced but lacking in creative and career opportunities. This side is just as important for the future vibrancy of the publishing industry as the nurturing of talented writers.
Much of the success and the vitality of the community was the result of volunteer labour by editors, designers and managers and, on the other side of that P&L, Australia Council funding for writers. We have received over $100,000 in grants and other funding over the past few years and given over 90% of that money to contributors. Paying them to do what they do best.
While there are ways for literary journals to generate revenue, all the time spent finding advertisers, running workshops or crowd-funding campaigns is time away from the core function of commissioning, editing and publishing new work. It takes what is already a significant amount of unpaid labour and adds onerous chores. By nature, literary journals are not geared towards making money and anyone who thinks this is due to lack of skills or marketing need only look to the steady collapse of print magazines to know that even multi-million dollar publications find it increasingly difficult to turn content into revenue. Trade publishers too have a hard enough time on this front and it’s at the core of their business.
So what now for Seizure?
With our budget radically slashed we will do what we can. For next year we will continue to publish Flashers and Roundup and extracts from exciting debut Australian writers. Viva la Novella 2016 has been funded by Xoum, IPED and the NSW Society of Editors and we will be publishing two new titles in the second half of the year (entries close the end of December, details here). We will be running events with the City of Sydney Late Night Libraries and will be at regional and big-city literary festivals.
And we will take some time over the break to reassess. What is the role of a journal in Sydney, 2016? How can we best showcase new writing, encourage experimentation and play, alongside professionalism and skills development? Where does the money come from and how should it be distributed?
Here’s wishing you a relaxing, reading-filled festive season and I look forward to bringing you great new writing in the new year.