lovely literary lady: get to know anne mcpeak of A Public Space!

we’ve know anne mcpeak for years, as she made her way from one stellar lit mag to the next. currently the managing editor of A Public Space, anne is one of those special, dedicated, behind-the-scenes work-horses that toils everyday for LITERATURE, without looking for personal glory. get to know anne! trust us, she’s spectacular!

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Q & A with anne:

nook: you’ve made the rounds in the lit mag world! first you worked for the Hudson Review, now A Public Space…am i missing anything? you’ve been quite involved in the community beyond your formal positions, as well. what drew you to the field? and what keeps the fire burning, in what can sometimes be a sad-making landscape?

anne: i know! i pinch myself all the time. (i also did a short stint at Words Without Borders.) my mother was a poet and i grew up with a lot of books, but also literary magazines, so i always knew they existed and i was always reading. when the time came to think about a career, publishing was a given, and i was more excited about magazines than books. part of it was that i was writing, myself, so i wanted a career that was constantly involved with new work from a large group of writers. i also just loved the possibilities of magazines. jonathan galassi [head of FSG] put it nicely on a panel i once attended; he called it the “serendipitous pleasure” of reading magazines, turning the page and being introduced to something you didn’t know you were going to love.

as for keeping the fire burning—it is a challenging field, no doubt about that. literary magazines often have a DIY spirit, and that can be frustrating at times when the stakes are high, but it’s also very satisfying to see how much you can accomplish with very little. when i’m really proud, i can put the magazine in someone’s hands and tell her about a writer i think she’ll love. that’s just really exciting. i want people to read the pieces i love in the magazine, but i also want them to go out and find every book that writer has ever written, or, if those books haven’t been written yet, i want people to be standing by. so there’s the sense that i’m playing a part in literary history, and i guess that potential, more than anything else, keeps my chin up.

nook: you are in a unique position, i think, to talk about the drastic changes in the area of lit mag distribution over the past several years, first with the loss of DeBoer and then with the rise of the digital platform. can you give us some impressions?

anne: distribution for literary magazines has always been a catch-22, as you know—necessary exposure at a considerable financial loss (as big box stores destroy unsold copies rather than returning them to publishers). at the Hudson Review, we considered distribution a marketing expense, and that pretty much sums it up. DeBoer closed right around the time i left the Hudson Review, but my memory is that we hadn’t used them for years—they never paid! and that says a lot, too, that magazine distribution isn’t really a sustainable business model. borders’ closing definitely affected the distribution picture, as well…but there’s a lot of opportunity too, and if the focus for indie publishers is increasingly on finding ways to reach readers in a meaningful way, then hand-selling is the obvious answer.

the internet has been incredible for that! at A Public Space, we sell directly to readers across the country and around the world (and the direct communication is important, because we can approach those readers in the future, to offer discounted subscriptions, tell them about events, that sort of thing). on a local level, we make a point of distributing directly, as well. we talk to bookstores when a new issue is coming out, deliver issues ourselves, and pick up unsold issues (or deliver more issues if they sell out). obviously that sort of hands-on approach is only possible on a small scale for a publication like ours, but if you really love the project you’re working on, and you have a way to reach your community directly, that can be incredibly meaningful.

as for digital platforms, A Public Space is in the middle of broadening our presence, and we’ve had many interesting discussions about how best to do that. it’s an especially important question for print publications—how can we make digital products that truly reflect the print counterpart in terms of design, production value, readability? the digital publishing landscape is in flux, so it’s a pioneer moment—no one has the best answer yet. even the big guys are struggling to adapt to the digital marketplace (note the impending Random House/Penguin merger), and there’s an impulse to find strength in numbers. the indie world has already produced some exciting experiments—Electric Literature, Red Lemonade, Open Road Media, etc.—and i imagine we’re going to see a lot more.

nook: we’re both bard girls! i have a special place in my heart for the hudson valley…and i imagine you do, as well. (i think you had a very pretty wedding up there recently, according to facebook evidence.) are you from upstate originally? what brought you to new york and the world of lit mag publishing?

anne: oh, the hudson valley! I’m not from new york state originally, but my husband’s mother is from ghent (where her parents were chicken farmers), so he and I both have deep ties to the area, hence the location of our wedding. we actually lived and worked up there for a year after graduating from bard, but it wasn’t a place we could launch careers. i really wanted to give publishing a try, and new york is the most obvious choice for the industry—plus, it’s new york! we’ve been here ten years, and it’s been awesome, but we do secretly (and frequently) scheme about ways to return to the hudson valley …

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