The editor of a small, struggling magazine wrote to me recently, asking that I share with her the secrets of The Sun’s success.
Long-time subscribers will appreciate the irony, recalling the numerous times I’ve had to approach readers hat in hand, never knowing if The Sun had a future. The urgency of those appeals was always genuine, the response always generous.
I suppose The Sun is a success, if only by virtue of having survived this long. Our readership continues to grow; we pay the bills; we earn modest salaries now instead of subsistence pay. Yet, to my mind, our success has less to do with worldly recognition, or anything measurable, than with the quality of the magazine, its success at being what it is. Is each issue as good as it can be? Does it unite us without the forced cry of “oneness”? Does it honor our sense of wonder without sentimentalizing it — without denying the pain that’s undeniable or the joy no words can describe?
The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti observed that all organizations run the risk of becoming self-serving, regardless of the original purpose or vision behind them; it’s one of the perils of success. I try to stay aware of this even as I become distracted by how many more letters there are to answer, how many manuscripts to read, how many decisions to be made about everything from computers — which I barely understand — to dealing with the post office, which I’ll never understand. Seduced by my own busyness, I can forget to think, to feel; my success at staying true to The Sun — which, first of all, means staying true to myself — is never a settled question, but must be earned again and again. The reward isn’t recognition, after all, but being able to do the work with greater clarity and kindness and determination. The work itself is the reward, whether “struggle” or “success” attends it. The work is work: long hours, well spent.
I was keenly reminded recently how problematic success can be when the North Carolina Arts Council turned down our request for a grant. There wasn’t enough money to go around, the Council said. Small, struggling magazines needed it more.
I could no more argue with the Council’s reasoning than I could pretend not to be disappointed. I know there are many worthy organizations trying to bring something valuable into the world; I don’t want to seem selfish. Yet for years, the Council has helped us pay writers whose work appears in the magazine. We were counting on that support, just as those who write for The Sun count on those checks. For some, the recognition matters more than the money; for others, idealistic or foolish enough to try to make their living as writers, a check from The Sun, however modest, means a great deal.
The predicament is that while we’re no longer a “little” magazine, we’re not big enough to make it without help. Thus, I’m asking you to become A Friend Of The Sun, and pledge your ongoing financial support. Such help, in the form of a quarterly or yearly tax-deductible donation, would allow us to keep paying writers; it would provide a reliable source of income as we continue to seek more readers — without turning to dubious marketing strategies that sacrifice means for ends.
I fret about how to pay writers, how to deal with the challenges of growth. But what a blessing it is to have such problems! I marvel that month after month there is a magazine, that after sixteen years, The Sun is still here. Perhaps one of the secrets of The Sun’s success is that I don’t take its existence for granted. I invite you to consider the miracle of its existence, its growing pains, its need.
— Sy Safransky