Monday, December 18, 2006

And So It Begins. Again.

In 2007, January Magazine enters its 10th year of continuous publication. That’s a deliciously long time to have been doing anything, let alone reading and thinking about and writing about books and authors. We have accomplished so much of what we set out to do in 1997. (1997!) In some ways, even more.

In many ways it feels as though we at January Magazine evolved the format that has become associated with blogging. A decade ago, when everyone else was still loading up Web sites with Java applets and other additions that offered a lot of sizzle but not much steak, we found ourselves almost entirely concerned with content: great writing, well edited; top art; super photos. At that time we envisioned a Web site about books and authors and reading that would grow more rich and intellectually valuable over time.

Another one of our early goals was a site that updated every day and a date at the top of the page that would give the reader a clear and honest indication that something new had been added on the date listed. Since those of us who hatched January mostly came from traditional print backgrounds, we knew that we wanted the material at the “top of the fold” to be the freshest we had on offer and that what came next -- the newest stuff -- should push the next newest lower on the page. Does that sound like a thought so simple it doesn’t require mentioning? And yet, when we began, these thoughts were so new, people laughed at us. Out loud.

What else? We talked a lot -- a lot -- about content. Again, steak before sizzle. And in an environment where newly minted “content creators” were writing in-depth stories in short, angry bytes, we were publishing 10,000 word interviews with people like Martin Amis and Margaret Atwood and 40,000 word features (I’m not making this up) on people like seminal crime fictionist Ross Macdonald.

We didn’t try to boil our reviews down to bite-sized bits so small that their meaning became lost. Instead of embracing the idea that, in the digital age, readers had suddenly developed the attention spans of underdeveloped hamsters, we went the other way. We understood -- and still understand -- that our readers are intelligent people who care about books and the people who make them. In fact, we knew they were so intelligent that they were perfectly capable of making decisions about how much of anything we published they wanted to read. They didn’t need us to boil it all down to point form: they had the smarts to pull the points out themselves if desired. We felt our readers deserved everything: all of the information we had so that they could make the decisions on what they read by themselves. And since we didn’t have the restrictions of column inches or a finite number of pages, our writers could party with the material that moved their hearts. Then our readers could party with all of the information they were looking for. And everyone loves a party.

Now, with all of these goals reached for and attained, we feel it’s time for a big change. And, if you’re reading this, the change is in front of you. Midway through 2006, we spun January Magazine’s crime fiction newsletter, The Rap Sheet, out onto its own in blog form under the care of J. Kingston Pierce, the editor who had conceived the concept of a crime fiction newsletter for January in the first place. The Rap Sheet in blog form has been so successful, we were encouraged to try it with January. As you can see, we’ve transformed January Magazine’s main index page into a blog. What’s most exciting about this is that it changes everything, yet everything stays the same. I’ll tell you what I mean.

January Magazine’s back end -- the reviews and profiles our readers have come to love -- will continue unchanged. New full length reviews, profiles and features will flow into January as they always have, but this blog will give us a forum to play with some of the things that January’s original format hadn’t been set up to accommodate. Industry news, for one thing. Not all of it -- there are already vehicles that carry all of that -- but the specialized items that take the fancy of the very talented writers that contribute to January on a regular basis. The things that pull their fancy, as well as the things we think our readers will care most about.

This is a big change for us. I hope you’ll forgive any little bumps we might hit as we make the transition. Most of all, though, I hope you continue to enjoy the journey. I know I speak for everyone at January when I say that we certainly have. As always, thanks so much for joining us.


Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Goodness, gracious, great blogs of fire!!!!

Don't worry, Linda. As long as January continues to provide the same sharp, insightful content you always have, I don't think your readers would mind if you delivered it by blog or web site.

Or carrier pigeon, for that matter.

Let's face it -- most online literary criticism is preening, self-indulgent wankery or fawning, barely literate brown-nosing ("Five stars! Five stars!").

But not January, which has always taken the high road. Not that you guys are elitist or anything -- anyone who genuinely cares about books is welcome -- but in a dumbed-down world where anyone with a PC, an internet connection and a vague (sometimes very vague) grasp of the language posits themselves a "critic" it's reassuring to know someone still values (and offers up a forum for) intelligence and actual critical thought.

I know first hand how hard you and your editors work to make January the prize it is, and the handful of reviews I've written for January over the years are those of which I'm most proud.

Ten years? Wow. You have my awe and my respect. If there's anyone on the web who truly, genuinely deserves five stars, it's you guys.

Thursday, December 21, 2006 10:04:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just discovered January Magazine for the first time a few minutes ago. I love it. It's the best book review e-zine I've seen in quite a bit of searching. I want to send you my Late Spring 2007 book for possible review. It might fit into Art and Culture, Nonfiction or Biography, if you include Memoir in that. It has many pen-and-ink illustrations and historic photos. To keep close at hand or give to friends. It's partly prose, partly poetry, partly reflection, with 10 historic recipes. An anthology. A "Joplin Globe" newspaper feature story this week headlined AUTHOR RETREATS INTO NATURE and then led with "It's about sand, sea, nature and family." Rivers and lakes were not mentioned. Correctly the writer wrote that water is the theme of the book. It's also a collection of 2-Minue Retreats to escape the turmoil and trouble of our times. I tell stories about my pioneer grandmother and my childhood years at my grandparents' farm on Spring River in the 1930s and 40s. Shall I send you the book for possible review? My first two book were novels under a pen name for Berkley/Jove. They were translated into five languages. My work has sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 10:43:00 PM PDT  

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