In spring of 2013, Grain was granted a nice sum of money by the Creative Industries Transition Fund* to execute a direct mail campaign and increase subscription numbers. We hired a smashing young woman named Nicolette Duncan, straight out of the commerce program at the University of Saskatchewan, to help us run the campaign—she did everything from organizing our mailing list, to writing drafts of the letters, to working with our printers on design. I mention her now because I can’t thank her enough for her work.
In autumn of 2013 we sent approximately 7,000 letters into the postal system and anxiously awaited the influx of new subscriptions. The first response we received had “No longer farming,” in careful script, written overtop of our meticulously designed response form. In case you’re unaware, Grain is not a farming magazine. Like Rhubarb it publishes literature, and, as Rhubarb is related to its namesake, so is Grain. Yes, our first reply to a months’ long project was from someone who had not read any of the text we had spent so much time on, saw the name of our magazine, and declined because they were “No longer farming.” To make matters worse, when we searched our database to find information on our non-famer, we discovered they had been a subscriber a decade ago. How was it possible that someone who used to subscribe to our publication had no memory of what we do?
But that wasn’t the weirdest no we found in our mailbox: we received submissions of poetry with no cover letters, and an envelope stuffed full of losing lottery tickets.
The best no we received, however, was accompanied by a four page letter that I read twice from an artist on the east coast. He wrote about how he had been denied grant money to purchase supplies for portraits that had already been commissioned. Even though he had a guaranteed way to earn money from the money invested in him by his arts board, he was rejected because he hadn’t shown his work in galleries, nor fulfilled the other checklist of things that arts boards look for as they consider the hundreds of applications they get from struggling artists. He wrote this to us to explain that he could see value in supporting a literary magazine—he was an eloquent writer and interested in literature—but even the $35.00 we were asking for four issues was out of his budget.
In the midst of these negative responses were 50+ positive responses, far less than we had anticipated, but far more than we would have received by not trying.
The only way to run a literary magazine in Canada is to do so by running contests to earn revenue, to apply for grants from governing bodies that look closely at subscription numbers, and to make the most of donations of time and money. All of those rely on interest from the public, from you. Doing any of those three things assists literary magazines. But the best way to support literature in Canada is to subscribe to any literary journal/magazine that pays their writers. By subscribing you’re making it easier to apply for grants, and every copy that makes it off the printer and into the hands of a reader means that someone is reading work from writers who deserve to be read and who have been paid for their work.
*The Creative Industries Transition Fund is made possible through funding that was provided to the Saskatchewan Arts Board by the Government of Saskatchewan through the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport.