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the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones

Budget Considerations for Publications

a business proposal

In an ideal world, someone will conceive a publishing project, envision the scope and image of the publication, discern the readership, infer the probable markets, focus its contents from a plethora of contributions, and select from a multitude of prosperous sponsors. Because production is good and the idea is popular, the publication will be successful!

In reality, too many good ideas are stillborn from inadequate funding, mismanagement, misapprehension, misapplication, misappropriation, and simple bad luck. Some poor ideas, with fair execution and sufficient funding, will actually thrive. Most people give their good ideas and energy to marginal entities because they lack the resources to be independent.

There are essentially two ways that new publications are created by persons without the fortunes to purchase success. One either encounters an exceptional opportunity or one creates same. For a person working diligently on their singular path, the inducement to change must be remarkable ... such as a partnership offer or unexpected wealth. These people will mortgage their futures and multiply their labors to exploit the opportunity they did not envision. Depending on one's measure of success, most will be quietly productive, and more content than they were before working for themselves.

The stereotypic specimen is the visionary, who will self-destruct in the process of implementing the one great idea of their lives. This jeopardy endangers all their resources, and often concludes miserably, since idealists are both impractical and uncompromising.

The best solution is to arrange financing and production immediately after conception. Once the idea has some tangible prospect, it can then be creatively designed and later developed. Most long term publications have evolved, so as long as the objective is sustained, the quality can be enhanced and diversity can be augmented.

Financing may be a correlative of the publisher's business structure, so it's important to discover the money before deciding which will be the most appropriate organization. If the business structure is permitted to have precedence over financing then some funding options may be compromised or eliminated. The normal source of financing for proprietorships and partnerships is either personal liquidity, such as inheritance or collateral, or venture capital, such as sponsors or investors. The corporate structure, once vaunted as a hedge against personal bankruptcy, has been pierced by so many recent court decisions that no one benefits from this structure without some better intent than the protection of one's private resources. A not-for-profit organizational format is only useful if the publication fills a specific societal or charitable niche that will regularly garner grants or contributions sufficient to meet operating expenses for an indefinite period. To setup a non-profit corporation simply to qualify for a "start-up" endowment is short-sighted, and may prove ultimately disastrous when further philanthropic monies are insufficient to sustain the publishing goal.

Two interesting exceptions are worth noting. If one desires to exploit the opportunity of start-up capital from a foundation without becoming a non-profit corporation, it is possible to "borrow" the not-for-profit status of a sympathetic organization for the necessary period of initialization. For example, a periodical focused on the literature generated by wartime experiences could negotiate a contractual alliance with a registered veteran's organization through which the launch stipend would be administered. Another option for a creative structure is to setup the publication as a 501c4 non-profit corporation (which is entitled to lobby and advocate), and accept topic specific advertising to support the publication. This would enable the periodical to appeal to both commercial and charitable sources of income.

There are three basic ways to fund a publication: grants, sponsorship, or advertising. Having worked as a grant writer, I am aware that the plethora of ostensible resources bestowing "free" money upon deserving programs is, more often than not, a phantasm ... there are too many good projects chasing after too little money. To compound this crisis, the grants are usually inadequate and must be resubmitted at regular intervals, with no guarantee of approval. For example, Small Press Distribution, which is the largest and longest lived distributor for little magazines and small presses, has had to reorganize twice due to lost funding from formerly reliable sources; which has caused them to become about two-thirds commercial and less tolerant of backlisted materials. It is a rude awakening for the many artists in the literary realm that publishing is a ruthless business, just like the heartless industries selling widgets.

The other two financing methods retain some potential for artistic endeavors. Whether the sponsor is an investor or a philanthropist, the publication can arrange some longer term relationship that specifies the expectations of both parties committed to the contract. If the publication fulfills the sponsor's expectations, for specificity or quality or any other factor, the publication can persist indefinitely. If one desires autonomy, then the publishing house will need to be subdivided into effective segments for advertising and for content. In a small press, this may require that ad sales are developed and produced by one person while another person selects and sequences the submissions. Too many artistic publishers ignore the requirement for sales, in both income and distribution, while focusing on the creative display; but a grant writer will work as hard as an ad salesman, and probably with less success. The only situation which allows total artistic freedom is sponsorship, including owner-publisher presses, and they are uncommon.

As with many things, compromise will be a factor in any decision to publish, but establishing the "bottom-line" before constructing the 'top-line' will increase the publication's potential for success.


C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones