Following rising calls for literary journals to be more transparent about how they finance their projects, as well as the many misleading, misinformed, and outright creative hot takes concerning indie lit behind-the-scenes operations, we want to share where we get our operating funds and where they go.
Some history: Our three founders each initially invested $700 into Peach over the course of our first season. This bought us one year of website software, graphic design, and a reading series budget. Our original programming included the online journal (publishing twice per week) and Episodes Readings Series (organizing six events during Season 1).
Shortly after we launched, we partnered with local altweekly The Public to run "Peach Picks," a weekly column of reading recommendations written in turns by members of our team. We made $25 per issue—$100 per month for the first two years and $50 per month for the third after The Public went down to publishing every other week—which went directly into the Peach budget. This helped to cover expenses while affording us the chance to publicize new work from our contributors, small presses, and other independent journals.
Some numbers: Our journal is online and free to read, and costs $362 per year to maintain. General submissions are free, and we neither use nor are able to afford Submittable. We've ticketed one of the 17 readings we've organized in the last three and a half years, not including two benefit readings with suggested donations supporting causes unrelated to Peach, and readings cost anywhere from $200 to $500 each to produce.
A year after we launched, we released our Season 1 Yearbook, our first venture into print with 1/5 full-color inserts, heavy stock, and commissioned cover art. We paid for it using funds from "Peach Picks," put the rest on a credit card, and hoped sales would reimburse us. We’re writers, not businesspeople. Luckily, though, sales did, and we broke even.
Yearbooks cost approximately $9 per book to print, and we sell them for $12 pre-sale, $15 retail (from which we take a 40% hit, breaking exactly even), and $15 on our website. We do not have and cannot afford a distributor. All profits from sales go directly back into the Peach budget to subsidize year-round operating costs. Operating costs include but are not limited to office supplies, marketing, printing, shipping, website software, graphic design software, and more.
Until the Yearbook series, we had worried that we ultimately wouldn’t be able to sustain this project—and that’s just financially. Our team’s labor remains unpaid, invisible, and immeasurable. Can’t afford a distributor? Guess who then must research, coordinate, and ship titles to independent bookstores. Can’t afford Submittable? Guess how many hours are spent organizing excel sheets and sending emails during open reading periods. It costs time to be broke! Plus, we’re all stretched thin as it is; each of us works on Peach on top of full-time jobs, several part-time jobs, undergraduate or graduate school, and personal creative work.
Season 2: Inspired by our many sibling journals and presses, we wanted to sponsor a poetry award, so we threw a ticketed party with readings, drag shows, and music to fund it. We didn’t bill it as a fundraiser, but what the fuck isn’t a fundraiser in independent publishing? We hit our goal and funded our first Peach Gold in Poetry.
We realized, however, that we didn’t have the capacity to make this party an annual event to fund each following year’s Peach Gold. We saw it as an initial investment to get the prize off the ground, and now we charge entry fees to cover the awards and guest judges, with anything remaining going back into the budget. We contract judges because we see it as an opportunity to open up our team’s limited tastes to be inclusive of new work and audiences, as well as to offer writers the chance to have their work selected and blurbed by nationally celebrated poets—to make their entry fee, essentially, more worthwhile. We pay judges a fair price because we know we’re paying not only for their time and labor but for their likeness and platform, too.
This spring, The Public went under, and we lost our only dependable source of income. We still, though, managed to put out a third Yearbook, fund a second prize, and organize many more readings—and keep our journal, general submissions, and events free. We have not received funding from a grant, institution, or other third-party source.
We are a team of 11 editors and designers. Not a single one of us has ever been compensated for our labor. We have less than $200 in our account. Our founders have not and will not be reimbursed. And that’s okay—we're doing this because we want to. We believe it’s important and good.
We’ve published more than 300 emerging writers, reviewed more than 100 small press books, paid out $1,300 in poetry prizes, organized nearly 20 events featuring dozens of writers and artists, created a program to mentor teen editors, and published books that both showcase selections from our journal and make an alternative space available for people who don’t want to publish with known sexual abusers. We invite writers and artists living on the margins to the front. We make donations and organize benefit readings when we can. And we’ve done all of this through grassroots fundraising, which means our community of readers and writers also serves as our investors, too.
We hope that by sharing this information other independent and/or nonprofit literary journals and presses might also disclose their models for how they financially sustain themselves. We also hope to clarify some of the accusations that lit mags are scheming eager writers whenever they charge for a service, product, or experience.
TLDR: We’re an independent publishing project. What isn’t a fundraiser?
Keep reading: We appreciated this thread from our friends at Foundlings Press: