Finding life after print: The former Bucks County Writer wins accolades
December 27, 2014. It was 2007 when Joy Stocke and Kimberly Nagy did the unthinkable: They essentially converted the highly regarded literary magazine the Bucks County Writer – founded in 1998 and published by the Writers Room of Bucks County – to an online journal.
“We were told we were going to fail,” Stocke recalled.
In reality, failure was the likely outcome if the magazine reminded in print form, she said.
“We could no longer afford to distribute print,” said Stocke, 57, who, as a literary journalist, author, and community organizer of writers, took over the Doylestown-based nonprofit Bucks County Writer in May 2003, editing it until the winter of 2006. It had been funded through advertising, subscriptions, and donations.
Both the name “Bucks County Writer” and the printed edition are no more, succeeded by the online launch of Wild River Review. Within two years, Wild River Review (at www.wildriverreview.com) was being hailed in literary circles for its international reach and interesting interviews – and that still amuses Stocke.
“Afterwards, you’re called a visionary,’ she said, rejecting such highfalutin praise. “That was completely a business decision. For a successful business, you have to be practical.”
Which is why the new year will bring yet more reinventing by Stocke and Nagy. By mid-January, they plan to debut a reengineered wildriverreview.com that will be more advertising-driven.
“That’s so we can pay our writers . . . a decent wage for their work,” Stocke said. Right now, Wild River’s contributors, mostly freelancers, get a stipend, supported from profits from Wild River’s consulting business.
The online magazine was a registered 501(c)3 until 2012, the nonprofit route chosen “because we didn’t want ugly ads,” Nagy said.
But time and consultants have led them to realize that the website, if designed right, can be doing more for the bottom line than it has been. Advertising sales have been minimal, but are expected to ramp up with the newly designed website.
The redesigned site, which is moving toward a combination of free and for-pay content, aims to be more engaging through the writing and cosmetics. Analytics will give Nagy and Stocke a better sense of how people are using Wild River Review and how long they are staying on the site, all valuable information for advertisers.
“We realize there’s a new game there,” Stocke said.
Their business is more than a website, however. Wild River, named after the Delaware, which flows not far from Stocke’s home in Stockton, N.J., and Nagy’s in Lambertville, N.J., is also a book publishing and consulting business, trading as Wild River Consulting & Publishing. There is no main office per se – Stocke’s and Nagy’s homes serve as meeting sites when needed – but that also might change in 2015, as more hiring is planned, they said.
The Wild River Review, designed in part to get readers to think critically about social issues and leave them “nourished – they’re going to get some food out of it,” Stocke said, has attracted not only readers but potential book authors to Wild River’s publishing and consulting services.
Nagy, 48, honed her marketing and publicity-management skills at publishing houses in London and New York before becoming a work-at-home writer mom in 2003. That was prior to joining Stocke in the Wild River enterprise.
Going online was not a hard sell to the bookish Nagy.
“I love books. I am passionate about beautiful books,” she said. “But books alone aren’t enough anymore. Having an awareness of the digital world is mandatory for any author.”
Their intensely hands-on style of editing – from text work to cover design, book promotion, and, in some cases, fund-raising – enables them to publish about two books a year. That “allows us to work old-school and really allows us to stay closely to our brand,” Nagy said. Their royalty splits vary per deal. The typical cost of their services to authors is $20,000 to $30,000 per book.
“They really made me believe in myself,” said Mark Lyons, 72, a retired physician’s assistant from Mount Airy, whose Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines, a collection of short stories on descansos throughout the United States, was published by Wild River Books this year and has been on the market since October.
As an advocate for immigrant rights and homeless veterans, Lyons also has contributed seven or eight pieces on those topics to Wild River Review. Lyons lauded it as an unrivaled platform for its range of writers – poets, fiction writers and novelists alike – and its “focus on the world of ideas.”
“They were really at the forefront,” Lyons said of Stocke and Nagy. “This was a way to reach a whole lot of writers, not just in the U.S. I think it was very brave.”
Wild River has been profitable for three years, said Stocke, who would not disclose specifics on revenues but said income has doubled every year since 2006.
“We have not had to take out a business loan,” she said, noting that revenue supports the business, including the website restructuring. Health-care benefits to employees – currently seven part-time and two full-time, and growing – could be next, Stocke said, especially if online advertising takes off.
Bringing such commercialization to the magazine is not in conflict with what she and Nagy are at their core: writers, Stocke said.
“A lot of authors view money as a dirty word,” Stocke said. “We never did. We can’t afford to make it separate. . . . Good business is art.”
Stocke, who travels extensively and has a book on Turkish cooking coming out in 2016, said of herself and Nagy, who also is working on a book: “We’re writers who love business.”
See article on front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer