1. Linda, why did you create January Magazine http://www.januarymagazine.com/? In the mid-to late 1990s, I was mostly making my living writing and lecturing about Internet technologies. I am the author of several Web and Internet-related books. Because I was thinking about it all the time, I had a lot of theories about success on the Web and what that would look like, but I needed a way to test them.
At the same time, my partner, David Middleton, and I had been interviewing authors for mainstream magazines and newspapers. We’d both talk with the authors, then I would write the piece and David would photograph them. We both loved it but the big limitation would be the editors we'd work with and what they'd give space to. Quite often I’d pitch an author I wanted to interview, and an editor would say, “Oh, no one cares about that person.” And I knew that was not true. I felt sure that people cared about books and the people who made them.
Then there was a straw. The universe just conspired. We’d interviewed this really well known author of historical fiction for a metro daily newspaper. The author was just terrific and had all these great stories and a lot to share. I wrote a story of the 800 words assigned, which was already tight. David submitted his gorgeous photos. And it happened that some rock star broke his leg or ended up in therapy or something, and they cut my 800 word piece down to an impossibly spare 400. And, in that same piece, they used David’s photo badly. We’re perfectionists, David and I: our heads didn’t explode, but it felt very like that.
We took that interview, and a few others that either hadn’t found homes or whose copyrights had reverted back to us, and we decided to create a magazine that was really initially intended to be an online showcase for our work, plus a testing ground for the aforementioned theories in Internet technologies. David is a graphic designer and illustrator as well as a photographer and we both just threw our talents at the project to sort of see what we’d come up with.
The site went online in November of 1997 and not long after we were named a Yahoo! site of the day, which at the time was a really big deal. It meant that overnight our traffic shot from the 50 or 100 visitors a day we’d been getting, if that, to something like 14,000. That tickled all my geeky tendencies, to be perfectly honest. I’ll just never forget that initial rush or the months I spent attempting to duplicate it: I wanted more!
So we had a measure of success. And others liked what we were building and asked if they could come and play, too. And it just grew (and grew and grew) from there.
There’s more, too -- it’s been almost 15 years after all -- but I’ll stop here. It’s an ongoing story. One that rewards us every day.
2. What do you love about the book publishing industry? Books! Now it should be understood that January Magazine makes a point of not covering the industry. There are people doing that, sure. But also, for us, focusing too much on the industry detracts from our joy in what we’re all talking about with such passion. Books. And, honestly, if you take a few steps back and away, the industry ceases to matter very much. There are highs and lows. Technologies change. And, every couple of years, a bunch of people start hollering that the sky is falling. Truthfully? None of it matters very much. We want our stories. And we want to celebrate our storytellers. And all this other stuff? It’s water under bridges: the course may alter, but the river? It continues to flow.
3. Where is the industry heading? It seems possible to me that I just inadvertently answered that!
4. You are an author and a journalist. How do you overcome the challenges in having your voice heard through all the clutter? You do not. You write the best book you can and treat both your story and the people you tell about it with the utmost respect. And if your voice is true and your story is compelling, people will listen. I believe that. It’s something like a creed.
A number of years ago reviewer and booklover David J. Montgomery said: “The best way to get your book reviewed, and the best way to have it be a success, is to write the best book you possibly can. And that is the one area of the process over which an author actually has control.”
Now, in truth, since that time the whole e-book thing has sort of happened and it gives a different spin to parts of that sentiment. But at the heart of it there is still this beating truth: if you have not written the best book you can, why should anyone care? And you’ve never ever heard anyone say, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t written such a good book!” You just never hear that.
5. What advice do you have for authors looking to get published and to market their books? Write the best book you can, then edit until it’s still better. If you did not in some way bleed when you wrote that book, you didn’t work hard enough. It sounds trite, but art really must hurt.
One thing this economy combined with the changes in the industry have together done in the last three or so years is create an environment where only the very, very best will make it: Will receive representation. Will get published. Will get purchased if self-published. If you have a crappy book that you do not care sufficiently about, you’ve lost before you left the gate. If you’re not prepared to give it everything you’ve got, you might as well stay home because there are better uses for your time.