This is the first in a new series called Objects of Affection – celebrating the physical in a digital world.
I quizzed Miriam Johnson (MJ) and Blythe Robertson (BKR), who are also the team behind Edinburgh’s popular Lunchquest reviews site, on how The Istanbul Review came into existence and how you can submit your writing or art for the next edition.
Tell us a bit of background about yourself/selves.
BKR: I have a 9-5 in an area of work that’s not too different to where you used to work, Milo. On top of that, I run social media for The Istanbul Review.
Essentially, when I’m enthusiastic about something, I have a fairly deep well of energy to draw upon.
MJ and I have ended up forming a pretty formidable creative team, over the past year or so. I’ve grown to rely upon her good judgment entirely. When I pour forth with amazingly fat-headed pronouncements, I’m confident that she can find the essence of what I’m trying to say and shine the appropriate light on it.
MJ: There are five of us that make up the core team of The Istanbul Review. Our Editor-in-Chief, Hande Zapsu Watt; the Head of Administration, Patrick Watt; recently appointed Reviews Editor, Tracey Emerson; Social Media Manager, Blythe Robertson; and myself, the Managing Editor.
I’m originally from Alabama and I’ve been here for years studying, and I have a few regular roles within the world of academia and publishing that allow me to spend time doing what I love: writing, teaching and working on the Review.
My background is essentially in creative writing, with a specialty in poetry, and a few years ago I decided to learn about the publishing aspects of the literary world before embarking on even more studies in Edinburgh where I met our Editor, Hande, and the Review took shape.
Between Blythe and I, we level each other out quite well. He is a rock that makes sure we stay grounded, has a core sense of strategy and overarching aim and can tell me to calm down when I start to worry. Likewise, I often point out to him the logistics behind ideas that may or may not work from a publishing perspective.
Tell us a bit about the Istanbul Review, e.g. what’s the ethos/aim behind it, how did you both get involved, what’s the link with Edinburgh?
MJ: The Istanbul Review showcases world literature by combining established voices such as Paulo Coelho and Elif Shafak with up-and-coming new authors and artists.
Istanbul is an amazing place, bridging continents as it does, and we wanted to do the same with the journal, bridging East and West, merging and mixing until we had the best content to present to the world as a whole.
It was founded in Edinburgh in the beginning of 2011, when we had the initial idea to develop a literary journal. Istanbul’s place as a leading world city, which has historically bridged cultures and continents, fit well with our aims – and surprisingly there a printed literary journal hasn’t been based there until now.
We took some inspiration from successful, international literary journals and set up the framework for The Istanbul Review. Less than eighteen months later, we published the first issue appropriately themed, “The State of Literature.”
Each issue will have an overarching theme that the essays, interviews and reviews will address, but the creative content is judged solely on its merit, regardless of author or theme.
We not only wanted to create a platform for world literature, we also wanted to showcase works of art by up and coming and established artists. In the first issue, we were lucky enough to have two well-known Turkish artists, Oguz Demir and Sena, contribute art and Omer Zapsu designed our logo. And, with our choice to make each edition a high-quality, full-colour product, we hope to promote the arts more in subsequent editions.
BKR: We run things from two centres, Istanbul and Edinburgh (with increasing help from St Fillans, too), which can be challenging at times. But smartphones are wonderful things, so we just about manage to keep everybody apprised on all the latest developments.
I joined the team, formally, when the project was already quite well developed, and it was becoming clear that a couple of extra pairs of hands were needed to get Issue 1 across the finishing line.
I think we’ve been very lucky in that we all bring different skills to the party. A couple of us have a decade of experience inside big administrative organisations, so we’re pretty solid at running the day-to-day nonsense inherent in these type of things, thereby letting “the creatives” in the Editorial Team get on with ensuring that we have a quality product to sell.
A lot of credit goes to Hande and MJ for recognising that they needed help with more of this day-to-day stuff, and enlisting the appropriately enthusiastic people to assist.
How did you find the process of publishing the first issue? Do you have any advice for anyone else thinking of getting into publishing a print periodical?
BKR: MJ’s really the expert on this one. All I can reiterate is that you need to draw on expertise and “extra bodies” to share the burden. Finding the correct skills at the right time is really key to success, I think. We’ve worked this out as we’ve gone along, and we’re starting to see the benefits as we put together Issue 2. We have a way to go before things are running with slick efficiency, but we’re always looking to improve.
MJ: Anytime one goes to set up a new publishing venture it is a worrying and exciting prospect. Luckily, I have a degree in publishing, which taught me most of the theoretical aspects of the publishing industry, while also allowing me to get my hands dirty creating fictional products. Translating this knowledge to the real world has been less straightforward, but it still went pretty smoothly.
One of the dangers of literary journals is that they generally have a life span of three years, with most of them shutting down in the first year. So one of the main concerns we had was finding a viable business strategy that would allow us the security of maintaining the Review while we got up and running.
We decided to steer away from immediate subscription services and chose to work with carefully selected advertisers with a definite upper limit per printed edition.
Another of the main challenges has been the web design. It is hard to work with a designer who is not a part of the core team, and we have had some exceptional help along the way from various people in London, Istanbul and the States who have made it possible for us to run the website ourselves.
The two major issues that often arise while putting together a project of this nature is sourcing original content that is of a high enough quality to be included, and the logistical aspects of the design, layout and printing of the Review itself.
Within our core team at the Review, we were able to create mailing lists that would reach some of the best creative writers in the English speaking world, and I was able to put together a layout that was expanded from a design sample, and heavily guided by our Editor, who has the real eye for design.
We currently print in Istanbul in full colour, soft back editions which are 235mm x 165mm.
The submission deadline for issue 2 is fast approaching. What would you say to any artists or writers considering sending something in, and what are the benefits of submitting for the artist/writer?
MJ: I say get your hands on a copy of the first edition to see the sort of stuff we like. Send something in. Follow the guidelines, please, follow the guidelines. The theme of issue two is “The Screen of Literature”.
In poetry, we ask for several poems, and if we like the writing, but not the particular poems, we work with the writer and ask for other works.
In art, we are looking for high quality, original work. We have eclectic tastes, but it must be good. It could be as simple as a photo of a skyline, a circle on a blank page, or as intricate as you desire. You often never know what will strike you until you see it.
The benefits of submitting are many! We are committed to promoting our content across a range of media. We are always looking for content for the printed Review, but we are also looking for content for the Poem and Art of the month section of the website. If we are really taken by an artist or poet, we are looking into the possibilities of doing a small feature in our newsletter.
Plus, there is the added benefit of getting to be presented to the world of literature alongside the greats. Because, lets face it, where else outside of The Istanbul Review can you read up and coming authors: Rob Magnusson Smith and Andre Naffis-Sahely, alongside an original contribution from Sir Terry Pratchett and interviews with best-selling Turkish author Elif Shafak, and the current prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?
In addition, all of our contributors are provided with copies of the issue in which they appear, so for Issue 2 contributors, you could have your artwork, poetry or short story read by children’s author, illustrator and Oscar-winner Shaun Tan.
BKR: there is a huge benefit in getting your work “out there” for people to consume and react to. The creative process can be lonely, isolated and full of self doubt, but the endgame is expression. What we’re offering is a platform for world writers to sit side-by-side with people from different continents or different literary and artistic traditions.
I got to send out a tweet, in the run-up to publication that read something like, “read issue 1, featuring Paulo Coelho, Terry Pratchett, (one of our less widely published contributors), Banana Yoshimoto and Elif Shafak.” For that lesser-known writer, it was the most hilarious thing they’d ever seen, and one of those “career” moments. But even for folks like Coelho, who’s the most translated writer writing in Portuguese in history, he doesn’t get published next to Terry Pratchett, too often.
With our ethos of bridging world literature, we can do things like that, spanning genres, continents, levels of experience and fame. For folks thinking of submitting, I’d love for them to be that Twitter user who gets to retweet the list of luminaries that they sit beside within the pages of our publication.
Submissions are currently open for the second edition of The Istanbul Review, which has the theme ʻThe Screen of Literatureʼ.
for more details and to buy the first edition, see The Istanbul Review’s website.