Hard Copies and Hard Times
This month I am actually writing about something important instead of just rambling about the human condition, as I see it.
Two somethings, and as a BTS reader, they could both directly impact your life, albeit in a small way .In 1995, when I started publishing The Scene, it was a local literary paper, with a circulation of 10,000 copies and a friend put us online as a feature on his new community website promoting the town of Jensen Beach, FL. Printing and distributing the paper was always a herculean task, especially as I did most of the writing, all the editing, such as it was, both content and layout, I sold the ads, collected the money and took my paper paste ups to a newsprint facility a couple hours away and waited from 8 am until about noon, drove home and delivered papers all weekend.
I did this while working 40+ hour regular job, though my boss, who was also my father (more about him later), did let me take one Friday per month off to get the paper printed. The ads never covered more than the cost of the print, and more than once I went into my pocket to pay writers for their poems and short stories. I don’t tell you this to brag or complain, only to help you see why I was so happy 20 years later to realize I could create a free website and never leave my tall wingback chair, never spend any of my money, and yet have the potential to reach millions, or more.
The thing is, we have had people ask for both a hardcopy as well as an e-reader version. I am old school enough, and so squeaky tight, I can’t imagine paying for something I could get for free. Yet, I know, not everyone thinks like me. So we are investigating if there is enough interest to support a subscription to either a hard copy 16 page paper monthly filled with all the good stuff we are currently putting on line.
We will need to reach about 500 annual subscriptions to make it worthwhile. The cost would be $4.00 per single copy, or an annual subscription at a 40% discount ($2.50 x 12) for $30.00. The subscription would not include shipping. Shipping and handling for domestic USA would be another $1.50 per month, so your delivered subscription would be $48.00 per year. E-reader editions would run $2.00 for a single, or a 50% discount of $12.00 per year. (as soon as we figure out how to do an e-reader)
What would we do with the funds generated in excess of costs?
We first restore payments to poets and short story writers. Why do you, as a reader care whether we pay the creative folks you enjoying? Well, it is nice to reward those who give you pleasure, but more importantly, when a writer is deciding where to submit, one of the factors is if it is a cool paper like ours, another is whether it is digital only, or has a hardcopy version, because if it has a real newsprint or magazine version, they can get copies to hold in their hands, to give to mama or their 10th grade English teacher, or to just frame and put on the wall, but a big factor is, “Do they pay?” As a paying publication, you can see submissions double or triple, which means more work for us, but it means a better chance for higher quality work. We have been fortunate to receive high quality work as it is, but paying for work can only make it better.
So think about it. If you are interested, let us know by dropping us an email. We are not going to ask you to subscribe yet, until we get enough folks saying they are interested. At lower than 500 subscriptions, there isn’t a way to make it cost effective to make it work. Keep in mind, we are talking about a 16 page tabloid with color on the front and back and black and white on the inside. $4.00 per month seems like a lot of money for a small paper, so raising the price to make it work for say 200 subscribers doesn’t seem realistic.
Second important new thing! Prison Writing
We are in discussion to add a section that features writers in the PEN/Prison Writing Contests.It seems like an easy enough thing to add a new section, and we have PEN’s permission. Unfortunately, we are limited by basic access issues. The writers in the PEN program have given permission for their work to be used by PEN, but not by us (because we weren’t even aware we were going to be doing this until a few weeks ago, when I got the great idea) and because most inmates dont have email, we will have to contact each writer and get their permission to publish. Eventually, I hope to get PEN to incorporate us into their permission. So this will be slow starting but within a month or two, expect to see some strong writing coming out of our nations prisons and jails. I find this most exciting as it can accomplish three things that are all important to me:
Foremost, in my role as editor of BTS, to find the best and most diverse writing possible for publication.
Second, create an opportunity for aspiring writers who have ended up in a place where hope and encouragement are in short supply.
Third, but in the long run, maybe the most important, give our readers the chance to see inmates not as some “other” or some monsters who need to be caged away. No doubt there are some monsters on the inside just as there are on the outside, but these “monsters” are still human beings. And more importantly, the razor wire, chain link and concrete are not the dividing line between good and evil. It is often the line between the haves and have nots.
Most inmates are Black or Hispanic, even though they do not represent most the general population of this country, most inmates do not have a high school diploma, and conversely, almost nobody with a college degree EVER goes to prison. In the country that locks more of its citizens than any other country, education really is the answer, and literacy is a basic component of education. I doubt someone is going to learn how to read in prison and then become a great writer, but if a program like PEN’s can help a writer who has lost their way or simply been less fortunate than you or I, it would be a good thing to be a part of!
My goal is to turn these new pages into a proving ground for some of the eventual winners, to give the “pretty good” writers a chance to shine, whether they end up as the PEN winners or not. In the process, from some of the samples I have seen, I believe our readers would both get their own education of prison life without the “Hollywood effect” as well as be highly entertained by quality writing. So look for the new pages, coming soon.
Founded in 1971, the PEN Prison Writing Program believes in the restorative, rehabilitative power of writing and provides hundreds of inmates across the country with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work. It provides a place for inmates to express themselves freely and encourages the use of the written word as a legitimate form of power.
PEN's Prison Writing Program sponsors an annual writing contest, publishes a free Handbook for Writers In Prison, provides one-on-one mentoring to inmates, conducts workshops, and seeks to promote inmates' work publicly through literary publications and readings.
Oh, and, as promised in my last month's post, a poem of mine:
Along the fence row,
so thick even I,
a ten-year-old boy,
could not pass,
were wild plums,
small, about a quarter,
and so sweet!
except you could
eat them green
slow and sour
suck on one
for a couple of minutes
and not too many altogether,
My father had
the old farmer
with a bushhog
cut them all down
I haven’t had one since,
but I have never forgotten
of the plums