Designing and sustaining a poetry and arts-focused journal
The thing that impresses us about San Antonio Review (SAR) is their — and especially William O. Pate II’s — do-it-yourself (DIY) experimentation in publishing processes entirely as a labor of love. There is so much work behind the scenes. The purpose of this resource is to showcase William’s process of attaining and maintaining support—both financial and editorial—for SAR.
Leverage collective funding
Submit to contests and available pots of money
Print & distribute materials (such as stickers/collectables)
Use open systems that help organize finances (ie. Open Collective)
Find collaborators who share your vision and enjoy the process to build your community
Even though your publication might be free to publish in/with and free to read/access, that doesn’t mean it’s free to host and produce. On PubPub, a community is by default open and free, which was appealing to SAR. But the community has other expenses, such as a print publication, marketing/advertising, and dues for publishing memberships. There are also costs associated with long-term storage of work, productivity tools for editorial staff (software licenses, etc.) and fees for various platforms (payment processing, market access, etc.). Pate’s personal opinion is that the low returns in his kind of publishing would drive an ardent capitalist to a nonprofit model.
Pate was very creative in the ways and forms that he found support, mainly through crowdfunding efforts and various grants.
Initially, SAR was funded by Pate himself. He describes “San Antonio Review, as a venture self-funded from my own pocketbook (“disposable” income from my day jobs) and led, maintained, and renewed by an all-volunteer editorial collective (most of whom have never published in its pages), it is meant to serve as a digital and print gathering space for the global commons.”
As SAR grew, he set up crowdfunding campaigns using Kickstarter to help get part of the printing cost covered by supportive community members [read more about the tools SAR uses in the Box below]. However, crowdfunding can be tricky (and perhaps pointless) because all the pledges go away if the goal isn’t reached. This led to Pate canceling the Kickstarter and instead asking for contributions via PayPal or on Facebook.
Grants, though offering a lot of potential funds to support projects, have a lot of specific requirements and required documentation. When the project is not one’s main focus, it’s hard to find the time to research how best to apply for grants and produce all of the required materials. One unlikely but surprisingly valuable source of money turned out to be contests.
One such contest was offered in 2020 from the Camel artAffect Community Grant which offers $25,000 to two projects per year. He happened upon an advertisement for the contest tucked into a pack of cigarettes when he took up smoking for a reason to go outside during the pandemic. These went to recouping Pate’s personal financial contributions during the first few years of SAR’s existence, $~1,000/each to two core editorial collective members to recognize and thank them for their work and prove Pate’s/SAR’s dedication to SAR operating as a collective as much as possible.
To get the word out about their publication and their call for submissions, SAR has a social media presence and spends a little on advertising the pieces they’ve published online. Otherwise, a lot of inbound readership comes from word of mouth, or from Pate sending out stickers to academics and journals he’s a fan of. “When I read an interesting book, I’ll send the author a note thanking them for their work and a sticker to spread the word to them,” Pate said.
Keeping track of finances is also tricky and hard to do on one’s own. So in 2021, SAR became a nonprofit through the Open Collective without incorporating. Through this platform, organizations can share their budget, collect contributions, and spend their money transparently. This platform also has financial and legal support to help organizations to raise and spend money without legally incorporating, worrying about taxes or even opening a bank account. It also helps ensure that SAR will be financially stable when leadership changes. Pate notes that Open Collective is also inspirational in its founders’ initiative to “exit to community” rather than sell to Wall Street or hold a traditional public offering. “Like us, they’re trying to create and live a sustainable alternative to existing structures and ways of being. They’re consciously and actively trying to be otherwise. That’s inspiring to me,” said Pate.
Box: Submissions & Print
“I’ve had to learn a massive variety of tools and tasks to layout in digital and print, to fundraise, to market, to edit, to improve — from coding websites and print CSS to designing images and artwork for pages (print and digital) and so much in-between. San Antonio Review has taken over my life. Nonetheless, we’ve had successes,” Pate said.
For submissions (before using PubPub), SAR used a combination of Submittable, Wordpress, Duotrope, and email submissions. But this ended up being very expensive and rather confusing. Today, PubPub has its own submissions and review functionality, so SAR will now do these internally.
The first print issue was published using Amazon’s self-publishing service, which makes the print copy ridiculously expensive. Pate slowly doled out the money over the course of multiple paychecks to send a copy to every contributor, but didn’t have enough funds for extras to leave at coffee shops and bookstores for people to find and pick up around the city (free copies of the second print issue were ultimately left at coffee shops and other spots in Austin). In addition, Amazon does not have enough flexibility, layout options, bookstore distribution, and ISBN options (“Amazon is wrong for so many reasons,” Pate described in a conversation with us). Currently, SAR uses Pressbooks for layout (importing content from PubPub) — mainly because Adobe is expensive and difficult to use. Recent changes to Pressbooks’ subscription model will likely necessitate another round of Pate searching for the most robust, flexible and easy-to-use solution. Affinity Publisher is another option Pate discovered along with atticus.io. Additionally, SAR uses Ingram for on-demand print services (also check out BookMobile) and distribution to bookstores and libraries, and largely directs readers to independent bookstores or the indie-supporting Bookshop.org for purchases of print copies. They also sell stickers and gear Pate has designed at 787atx.me and Redbubble. For shipping, Pate prefers Sendle (especially their carbon neutral status) and PirateShip or EasyPost.
“It's hard because — what is the incentive? When we win [a contest] and give people $1k, it shows contributors that I'm serious about [SAR] being a collective, but it doesn't necessarily meant they're going to stick around, and the work has to be done.”
Pate reflected recently on the challenges of having editorial support when the work doesn’t pay. For the few people who start an organization — publishing or otherwise — it’s their full labor of love. Others may contribute here and there, but it’s not everyone’s passion project. Yet it’s hard, if not impossible, to keep momentum on one’s own.
Having friends who share your vision help. An early submitter to SAR, Alex Z. Salinas, a grad student in San Antonio at the time of the first print publication, was tapped by Pate to be the journal’s inaugural poetry editor. In 2021, SAR Press also published his first collection of short fiction. Gianna Sannipoli contacted Pate via email from a small town in Texas outside of San Antonio to volunteer. She served as poetry editor for a number of years while going to school in the Czech Republic and only just recently resigned to attend graduate school in Belfast. One of Pate’s oldest friends, Ashley Sommer Lange, who he first met in the AOL Writers Jam chat in the mid-1990s when he lived in Alabama and she in Delaware, took SAR’s prose editor role during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic and resides in Cumbernauld, Scotland. This goes to show that 1) SAR is not just Texas-based and 2) it takes a global effort to make a literary publication.
People want to publish poetry so opening submissions means they will come if people know you exist. Contributors come to SAR by word of mouth by previous contributors. “I guess poetry circles exist,” Pate said, “so submissions are fairly organic.”
For Pate, though, it’s about more than getting just any literary submissions. As an editor, his curatorial process is his own interests: “I publish things that I want to read and share.” However, he notes that he “needs others to keep bringing in shiny new things” or else the SAR will become stale. More support is always appreciated to ensure that the publication persists.
A few other interesting components that caught our eye:
Pate’s father, William O. Pate, has converted former family farmland in southwest Alabama into new growth forest. Initially, the rows of trees were planted largely by hand then he enrolled the land in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP pays people a small amount to do such things to unproductive farmland in support of climate-change mitigation, covering at least a portion of the renewable resources required to produce print editions of San Antonio Review and books published by San Antonio Review Press.
SAR’s resource page, curated by the SAR Editorial Collective, shares reading lists, publications, and tools they’ve found interesting or helpful. These resources are shared in the same vein as sending out stickers to folks he appreciates, supports, and who contribute to the community-building network of SAR.