by Douglas Kent
When Charles asked me to write something for the Pouchís 50th issue, the problem wasnít so much finding time to contribute, which I am always happy to do. Instead, it was simply coming up with something interesting to write about. This is a very notable and proud achievement, and I didnít want to let it pass without something worthwhile from me… or close to worthwhile, anyway. Having just passed the 100 issue mark with Diplomacy World, I know a bit about the pride in being able to act as the current steward of a hobby institution as it does its best not just to survive, but to grow, evolve, and flourish.
So, with that in mind, I thought Iíd take a look at some of the hurdles facing the Pouch (and Charles) in the coming months… okay, I admit it, thatís not much of a topic, but cut me some slack. Work has been hard lately, itís 100 degrees every day here in Texas, and I am about to suffer through another summer of my Texas Rangers second-half wilting.
Itís All Been Done Before
Publishing a Diplomacy zine is sort of like running a radio station. You want to attract the largest possible audience, but ratings cannot be your sole concern. You need to retain your current audience the best that you can, while at the same time attracting new followers. The problem is that goal can be a very delicate balancing act. If you cater to one sector of the Diplomacy hobby over another, you lose a good chunk of your target audience. Like any other group of people, the Diplomacy player is diverse and eclectic. How do you keep long-time hobby members involved, while serving the needs and desires of new players… or, for that matter, long-time players who have only recently discovered the hobby (or the existence of your publication)?
I mean, how many times can you read an article debating whether opening to the English Channel is a good idea? Well, not very many… but just because Iíve been beaten over the head with a topic like that doesnít mean you have. And it is a certainty that a newer player is still very interested in strategy ideas. Variants are another hit-or-miss area. Some players prefer rules changes, some like huge worldwide variants, and some donít care about variants at all. Humor is difficult to write, even more difficult to write well, and is very personal in taste.
The trick is to try and keep a balanced selection of articles and topics. And that leads us to the second challenge…
Help! I Need Somebody
There is no way to produce quality issues without a flow of material from outside sources. The Lead Editor can contribute an article or two here and there, but most of his energy is spent trying to solicit articles, editing (thereís always more of that then the readership can imagine), planning ahead… a million things to do.
There are only a few Mark Berch types, maybe one every decade, that you can count on for quality articles issue after issue, year after year. And the problem isnít simply getting material… it needs to be interesting, it needs to be accurate, and the author needs to have some sort of style! Creativity helps, although it isnít mandatory.
Okay, so youíve got ten articles promised. Only six of them show up. Youíve got to stomp around, shaking trees until more material shows up… or write it yourself. But what if four of the articles are about the Lepanto opening? Are they different enough to run all in one issue? Probably not. So a few have to be held back for the following issue, which means youíve got an even bigger job ahead of you for this one. Sometimes you just go with what you have on-hand, and sometimes (like last issue for Charles) you are forced to admit you simply donít have enough material to produce a quality issue… which means you delay it or skip it altogether. Itís a lose-lose situation.
Remember, this isnít a paying job. It isnít a full-time one either. In reality, itís a pretty thankless one. You bust your butt, do your best, try to fit it in with whatís going on with your REAL life, and eventually put the issue out there. Then you start on the next one… fully realizing that youíre going to get very little feedback on the one you just finished. And thatís a shame, because as Lead Editor, youíve probably read the material in that issue enough times that youíre far too close to it to know if youíve accomplished your mission or not. There isnít much time to brood about that, however, because in a few short months thereís another issue due.
This goes on forever… until:
Catch Me Now, Iím Falling
I suppose one of the hardest parts about editing a publication like the Pouch is knowing when youíve had enough. There are peaks and valleys, but eventually everybody gets to the point where itís time to pass the job onto someone else. Maybe youíve run out of steam; maybe a new job, a new child, or some other real world issue takes up time you used to be able to commit to publishing. Maybe it isnít that you canít do it anymore, but just that youíve discovered somebody else who can do it better. Who knows?
Whatever the reason, for a zine like the Pouch or Diplomacy World to thrive and survive, new blood is always required. The Lead Editor has simply accepted stewardship of the helm, and all their hard work goes for naught if the zine doesnít survive after weíve retired our position. With luck, you havenít suffered total burnout; itís always helpful to be available to assist the new editor with suggestions, sage advice, and general material when needed.
Above all else, itís good to know that youíre not doing it alone. When you have people around you, helping to produce quality issues, it takes a lot of the pressure off. Not only does that make each individual issue easier to produce, but it also lightens the weight on your shoulders, because you know that the next generation is ready to grab the wheel when you falter.
So instead of just sitting there, reading this boring article, why not prove how lousy it really is? All you need to do is sit down and write a better one for the next issue! Go ahead… I dare you!
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