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Dear Readers Most Uterary publishing cruises below the radar screens ofcommerce, in a zone where people see what they want to see. Partly because they are rumored to be so few in number, readers of Uterature, unlike, say, beer drinkers or car buyers, are not weU studied as a market group. One of the old saws of commercial publishing houses is that there are only X number of Uterary readers in this country and it's a waste of time trying to entice others. The value of X varies between 5,000 and 25,000, depending on the editor's optimism and definition of "Uterary." In any case, they don't want to get too crazy with the expenses for literary titles. They will try for free media coverage and reviews and possibly a few signings (although they are a vanishing institution) for a new book. But beyond those efforts, authors are lucky if their books get the shrug of a couple of smaU ads. Publishers regard the minimal advertising that they do for Uterary books as an unfortunate business expense, a token notice done less to encourage sales than to avoid insulting authors. In fact, they deny that ads for Uterary titles have any impact at aU. This adds up to a number of very good reasons why an author who spent three years or more writing a book must never ask a publisher to actually put out for it. Readers, you see, are the only ones who sell books—by word ofmouth. But there are so few of them, and they are mysterious, unpredictable, and no one really knows how to reach them; publishers dimly hope for crossover buyers, people who are attracted to a book not because it is a vital work of Uterature but because they imagine that it is something else, something presumably more interesting or at least more saleable—a travelogue, or recipe book, or chronicle of sex in the White House. I heard a version of this neatly circular and defeatist excuse for inaction and faUure by pubUshers the year I started thinking about writing as a profession, and I have probably heard or read it every year since, sometimes several times, from authors as weU as editors and agents. The editors of literary magazines, as opposed to those working for commercial houses, might be expected to be more hopeful about readers, but they aren't. I have heard editors—good editors of fine Uterary magazines—speak ofreaders so doubtfully and superstitiously that you might think they were some mythical woodpecker thought to live in the swamps of Georgia but in such tiny groups that no one has exactly seen one. An editor of one of the best literary magazines in the country, after telling me of his subscription woes, once said to me with heartfelt anguish, "Why are we doing this?" To me, the difficulty of selling Uterature isn't surprising. Why should it be easier than anything else? And I question the picture of an unchanging , smaU group of Uterary readers who are quirky, unknowable, and who need to be bamboozled into buying Uterature. Instead of grumbling about their ageing, vanishing audience, Uterary publishers, authors and editors should cheerfully work to find new ways to meet readers. For one thing, the dearth of "serious" readers is much exaggerated. If 5,000 is the limit, then The Missouri Review in its twenty-fifth year manages to reach aU of them, plus, apparently, some unserious ones. Our subscribers are spread among fifty states and twenty-two foreign countries , includingJapan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Jamaica and China. We do know some demographic details about our readers from surveys and statistics. We know that they are about 55 percent female (about the same as the worldwide ratio of women to men), predominantly 35 years old or older and typicaUy have estimated incomes ofbetween $55,000 and $80,000. They are weU educated; over 50 percent have completed graduate degrees. Their general profile is similar to those who buy commercial magazines with Uterary content and Broadway play tickets. Such statistics are, of course, only a poUce sketch of our readers; and even if we knew that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 5-8
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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