Liam Sarsfield and Jessie Jones are the brains behind Literistic, a service for writers that curates submission deadlines and information on contests and fellowships. Because she is a major Literistic fangirl, Puritan staffer Julienne Isaacs interviewed them by email just a few days after Literistic’s official launch.
Julienne Isaacs: Before my first question, a comment: my drive to submit to literary journals increased exponentially after I subscribed to Literistic. Literistic takes a lot of the pain out of the submission process, and it saves a huge amount of time. Just how frustrated were you with submitting to literary journals? This might be a dumb question, but do you use Literistic yourselves? (Maybe you don’t have time to write anymore.)
Jessie Jones: Aspects of submitting are great, like how it forces you to organize your work and look at it objectively, which is always a struggle. I’m not sure what it’s like for other writers, but I’m relieved when the work is finally out there. My perception of it changes for the better, even if it gets rejected.
The rest of it is pure drudgery, namely the finding of deadlines, the tracking of deadlines and the hours and hours spent locating new places to submit or contests to enter. The process was discouraging. I’d end up submitting to the same places again and again (even to some that weren’t right for my work) because I knew of them and could keep track of them. It was disappointing to miss out on opportunities to publish because I had spent my free time writing, not compiling an extensive database of deadlines that became out-of-date within a matter of weeks. So, to answer your question, I was very frustrated.
I haven’t had as much time to submit my own writing since we launched, but now that I have a better sense of what’s out there, I feel I’m more considerate about where I submit. I’d probably still be complaining about submissions if we hadn’t started Literistic, so it’s definitely helped with that.
Liam Sarsfield: Do I use Literistic? I have a shelf full of chapbooks and lit magazines which I designed and published (and one of said chapbooks has my own work in it), but I’ve taken a hiatus from writing. Frankly, I think I’ve always enjoyed hosting the events, throwing the parties, getting the money for print runs, organizing the editors, and meeting writers as much as I’ve enjoyed the actual process of writing. I can’t admit that without feeling some embarrassment.
Julienne Isaacs: Everything about Literistic is clean, straightforward, and useable. As you have both worked in the software development industry, can you talk about how Literistic was developed—and how long it took to create? Just a wild guess here, but the expression “deceptively simple” no doubt applies.
Liam Sarsfield: I’m a Design Director (or Creative Director) in the tech industry. My world is the world of startups. I’m a practitioner of the type of design thinking that has come to be associated with Apple. I am very, very happy to hear that you think Literistic is simple!
I left the design agency that I helped build in January, and Literistic, which I had designed over the course of about six months, was promptly dusted off and launched. Now, I say that it took six months to design, but that was probably two years ago now. I managed to get a degree, work full-time, and run a culture magazine, but I did not manage to get a degree, work full-time, run a culture magazine, and finish my side projects.
It took two years, three programmers, one illustrator, about $5000 (I think? Oh god I don’t want to check), and a lot of courage to launch Literistic. It could have been done simpler and faster, but I simply didn’t have the time.
Julienne Isaacs: Literistic officially launched on June 9th of this year. A paid subscription to the amped-up Literistic Longlist includes 30 to 40 per cent more deadlines, and subscribers can tailor the service to their preferences. How many subscribers to the Literistic Longlist do you need in order to make it sustainable as a business? Do you see Literistic’s business model changing to incorporate still more services in the future?
Liam Sarsfield likes his questions freshly disembowelled
Liam Sarsfield: I like this question! I like it because it’s gory!
It’s one that I’m nervous to answer given how bad things have become for anyone trying to make a living in the culture industry (especially the literary arts). Admitting that we’d like it to make $60,000 a year feels wrong. Many people with any power (and many without) want to convince you that you’re supposed to want to work in the culture industry for the enjoyment of the work alone. I find this condescending, as if one could live on rainbows and raspberry candies.
I would like Literistic to be able to comfortably employ one person and I would like it to be able to pay anyone and everyone that works on it. Accepting free labour is a damnable offense, as is asking anyone to work on anything for less than a “living wage,” and while I have occasionally been forced to compromise, it hasn’t been without kicking and screaming (which I will continue to do).
At the very least, I would like Literistic to pay the rent while we work on it. How many subscribers is that? Well, rent for our falling apart one-bedroom in Victoria B.C. is $980/month, so we need 310 subscribers, but that’s magic accounting. There are a lot of expenses associated with Literistic. I would like thousands of people to use the service, but I’m not sure that’s realistic. Let’s hope it is!
In all honesty, I’ve wanted to run a good, healthy cultural organization for a very long time. I reached adulthood in an austerity-struck neoliberal hellscape and that dream of mine has always seemed like an impossibility. Can the editors of N+1 feed themselves? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I decided to start with a project—Literistic—that I thought had a good chance of at least paying for the labour. I started with something useful rather than something beautiful. If it works, we have a base to begin building other, perhaps more vital things.
Julienne Isaacs: One of the features of the free version of Literistic is a curated selection of articles on publishing from around the web. One piece that caught my eye recently was this piece in Electric Literature called “Is it time for literary magazines to rethink the slush?” Submission fatigue is at least in part rooted in the sheer energy expense of being a writer. Nowadays, writers have to weigh submission fees against the likelihood of being published—which, for “emerging” writers, is slim. What makes Literistic’s submission fee worth it for emerging writers?
Jessie Jones: I commiserate with this fatigue. Submission fees are a bit like paying a cover charge for a bar: when you finally get inside, it doesn’t always feel worth it.
Literistic, on the other hand, removes the most grievous parts of submissions, including any mention of fees, if you want. It encourages writers to put together more thoughtful submissions and to write with goals in mind.
The list also seems to help redefine submissions for emerging writers, in that it gives them access to opportunities that they may not have found on their own. Major publications like The New Yorker and The Paris Review occupy a lot of real estate in our minds when we think of where we’d like to be published. We wouldn’t discourage writers from submitting to these publications, but if you think that those are the only places worth submitting to, you’re missing out. Literistic isn’t looking to provide a list of only the most prestigious prizes, publications, and fellowships; it provides the opportunity to find the right places for your writing. Finding an audience that appreciates what you’re doing helps build confidence and encourages you to keep going.
And, finally, it just seems to work. We hear from people every week who are submitting more and as a result being published and winning prizes. It’s a pretty small change that you can make to the way you work, but it seems to make a big difference.
Julienne Isaacs: Literistic seems to have an altruistic goal of reverting the arduous submissions process back to a labour of love for emerging writers. Literistic is obviously a labour of love for you. Are you feeling the love from subscribers?
Jessie Jones: They’re the best. Neither of us has ever received so many encouraging emails for something we’ve worked on. Not only that, but they ask questions and give amazing feedback—we’re able to put out a better product because of their engagement.
Labour is labour, no matter which way you swing it. The work is time consuming and tedious, but the end has proven to be worth it. Seeing the list come together every month and having writers tell us that they’re submitting more and—hallelujah!—getting published because of it is pretty damned rewarding.
Liam Sarsfield: This is the most rewarding internet that I’ve ever internetted and when you peel back my joke you’ll find that I’m being completely serious. Receiving thanks from people all week, every week makes every week truly enjoyable.