Wednesday, April 16, 2014

SBJ vs. n+1: The Two Cultures of American Magazine Editors

As a founder and co-editor in chief of Stoneboat Literary Journal, I often wonder what big-league editors do to build a successful magazine. I recently had the opportunity to do just that when best-selling author and editor of n+1 magazine Chad Harbach visited my alma mater to give an informative talk and answer questions about his books, magazine, and potential television project.

With his novel The Art of Fielding in hand, I was the very last person to approach his table to get my book signed. My mind was swimming with questions: How did you build funding for your journal? What did you do to grow your audience? Where did you find resources for constructing a marketing plan? How do you carve out time to write every day? I didn't know which question to ask first of a man whom I respect and admire.

After he signed my book, however, the question became quite obvious: 

Will you arm wrestle me?

Chad Harbach and Rob Pockat lock hands before the big match.
While I must admit that I'm one who harbors constant impulsivity issues, I'm normally quite able to contain those impulsive behaviors in public. Not so much on this given evening.

Chad's a fellow born-and-bred Wisconsinite, so he wholeheartedly accepted my challenge. Like most people from our home state, Chad takes what he does very seriously, but he's not afraid of a little good-natured levity. Yet even in the convivial spirit of this competition, I could see an instant fire in his eyes...a fire that made the final results of the match quite apparent to me before we even locked hands.

I walked away not knowing how to build funding, grow an audience, construct a marketing plan, or find time to write, but I did find affirmation in my belief that great art--writing, painting, music, drawing, film-making, etc.--comes from good people who aren't afraid to take a chance. Chad Harbach, as we say in Wisconsin, is good people. And he's definitely not afraid to take a chance.

I'm not ashamed to say that a New York Times best-selling author, Harvard graduate, and successful magazine editor owned me on that given table, on that given night, and yes, there's video to prove it. I am proud to say, however, that I wasn't afraid to take a chance to share a few minutes of amusement with a fellow Wisconsin denizen.

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