There’s something about a train ride that seems to inspire great story ideas (just ask J.K. Rowling). And a rail trip from New York City to Washington, D.C., is where YA authors Emily X.R. Pan (The Astonishing Color of After) and Nova Ren Suma (The Walls Around Us)—and friends—hatched the idea for Foreshadow: A Serial YA Anthology, a free, monthly online publication committed to publishing YA short stories that feature underrepresented voices, which will run January to December 2019. The venture was announced on August 1, with the debut of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to support it, and a dedicated website where readers will find the teaser/preview Issue Zero to get a taste of what’s to come next year.
By August 12, Pan and Suma had already surpassed their initial Indiegogo goal of $16,000. They’ve now added a stretch goal, hoping to raise an additional $8,000 by September 15. Donors can select perks that range from a curated reading list, stickers, pins, and tote bags to a series of “pick their brain” phone calls with an editor or agent, and a one-hour Skype visit with Pan and Suma. Some higher end perks, including a query-critique phone call with an agent and a 100-page critique from Suma, quickly sold out.
Each issue of Foreshadow will contain three stories, a mix of original work by well-established authors and emerging writers, but always including one story from a new voice that has been selected—and then presented—by such favorite authors as Jason Reynolds, Nicola Yoon, Laurie Halse Anderson, Adam Silvera, Becky Albertalli, Rita Williams-Garcia, and many others.
“As members of the YA community, we couldn’t help noticing the glaring lack of venues to publish young adult short stories,” said Suma, describing what led to the genesis of Foreshadow. Pan points out that in adult publishing, literary magazines have traditionally been one of the places where agents look to scout out new talent. “I know people who got their agents this way, and even had a couple agents reach out to me based on a short story they found,” she recalled. “Why has this practice not trickled into YA? It felt like a gap that needed filling. We both wanted to make a YA-centric literary magazine.”
Both Pan and Suma had previously worked on literary magazines while pursuing their MFA degrees in New York, and Suma said that creating a YA-focused publication “had been a dream of mine for years.” She added, “I knew that Emily had experience with building an online publishing platform from the ground up, because she was the founding editor-in-chief of Bodega Magazine.” Several months after the idea was sparked on that train ride, Suma said, “I emailed Emily to ask if she was up for creating something together. Something to elevate underrepresented voices, and new writers. Something that paid every contributor.”
The pair had their first meeting about their proposed digital magazine at East Village Ukrainian restaurant Veselka in October 2017. “Over five hours and many notebook pages we conjured up a new idea: a digital anthology, released serially, comprised of only young adult short stories,” said Pan.
With the vision in place, Pan and Suma needed to staff and finance their operation. In December they put out a call for applications for a masthead of volunteer positions—fiction editors, readers, managing editor, social media manager, publicist and editorial coordinator—to add to their own roles as co-editors-in-chief. “We were really starting from scratch,” Suma said. They received more than 130 applications. “It was mind-blowing,” said Suma, “and energizing to see how many people were so excited to be a part of this project. We read every single application.” Pan and Suma also gave edit tests and reading tests in addition to follow-up phone interviews to assemble a group of “the strongest, most passionate people,” said Suma. By March of this year they were hard at work on Issue Zero.
On the money side, Suma said that they chose a crowdfunding option because “for the project to really follow our mission, we couldn’t be tied to any specific publisher or company—we needed to do this for ourselves.” Pan believed that the climate might be right for such a fundraising effort, too. “Organizations like We Need Diverse Books have been calling for change, and we’re striving to rise up to that call and offer an example of how publishing can be better,” she said. “It was our hope that in light of the recent discussions around the lack of diversity in both published authors and publishing employees, the YA community would hear our mission and show up to help us out.”
So far so good. “We’re absolutely blown away,” said Pan of the response to date. “I think we were cautiously optimistic when we launched, but we didn’t know what to really expect. We hit our minimum goal of $16,000 in less than two weeks!” Suma added, “We’ve been so touched by the support from members of publishing, and colleagues, and beloved readers. And we’re so proud of Issue Zero—it’s been wonderful to see the enthusiastic reaction to those first three stories.”
The first $16,000 raised will cover payment of contributors, the authors who are reading to discover and select new voices, and the staff, as far as it reaches. If the stretch goal of raising an additional $8,000 is met, Pan and Suma will publish a bonus issue of Foreshadow containing all-new voices, pay contributors a higher rate, and also pay an honorarium to all staff members. In addition, they will open up applications for a mentor program, selecting three marginalized people who want to work in publishing, to be mentored by Pan and Suma who also have background experience working for Big Five publishers.
Looking ahead, Pan said, “Our ultimate goal is really what we’re already working to do—to create new opportunities in this community, and to publish the best stories we can by talented writers who genuinely reflect the diversity in the world we live in.” And Suma believes that growing organically and staying focused is key. “Maybe it sounds like a simple task, but every step of the way we make sure to pause to carefully examine whether we’re staying true to our mission,” she said. “We’d of course be thrilled if this project developed into something more—but for now we’ll take it one step at a time!”
As of 4 p.m. on Thursday, the Foreshadow Indiegogo campaign had notched up to $16,760.