by Mark Athitakis (membership) | May-04-2011
The brainchild of a group of Oberlin College alumni, Full Stop launched earlier this year and has since featured a host of intelligent reviews, interviews, and roundtables, with a focus on contemporary literary fiction. As the "About" page puts it: "Full Stop aims to focus on young writers, works in translation, and books we feel are being neglected by other outlets while engaging with the significant changes occurring in the publishing industry and the evolution of print media."
Full Stop editor in chief Alex Shephard answered questions from NBCC board member Mark Athitakis via email.
Full Stop launched just this year, at a time when there are a number of well-established independent literary websites, and when established publications like the Paris Review and New Yorker have built robust web presences around books as well. What led you and your editors to feel that there was room for one more? What's missing from the ones that are out there?
Jesse and I also noticed that there weren’t a whole lot of fiction sites run by people our age (we’re both 23). A lot of the current online giants were started by people in their 20s, but, for whatever reason there hasn’t been the same generational response among people our age. Full Stop was a way for us to get younger voices out there.
The more we talked about it with each other and with the people who became involved with the site – particularly Max Rivlin-Nadler, Amanda Shubert, and Eric Jett – the more we realized that a lot of print and online outlets were devoting a lot of attention to certain books, while other things completely fell through the cracks. And that a lot of the things that fell through the cracks were books we thought were interesting.
Who are your writers, and how to do you find them? Are they interested in establishing themselves as book critics over the long run? Are they interested in discussing particular authors or types of books?
What our contributors share, unsurprisingly, is a passion for literature. We’ve tried to create a collective of writers with disparate interests though – some are interested in 18th century literature, some “experimental literature,” etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of our contributors go on to become academics; a few of us are interested in writing fiction. I believe only a couple of our contributors are interested in making a career out of criticism – I’m one, but it wasn’t something I had thought much about when we started the site. When we first pitched the site to people it was mostly as a means of writing regularly, of finding creative outlets from the numbing entry-level or dead-end jobs a lot of us have.
The "About" page on the site says that Full Stop focuses on "young writers, works in translation, and books we feel are being neglected by other outlets," though you've covered more mainstream books as well. What is the selection process like for the books that you review?
Can you talk a little bit about the partnership with FictionDaily? What brought that partnership about, and what does each side get out of it?
The idea behind Fiction Weekly is to aggregate an aggregate: to take the best of what FictionDaily posts and present it in a way that’s more digestible and accessible. I think that’s in keeping with the idea behind FictionDaily: to bring attention to the largely neglected area of online fiction. I’m proud to be a part of that project.
What is the site not doing right now that you wish you could do? What would it take to get there?
Right now, we’re just not able to publish reviews and essays every day because all of us have to work other jobs to support ourselves. So much of our attention is focused on keeping everything going, which sometimes thwarts our ambition to experiment and often comes at the expense of our own writing.
Like many literary websites, Full Stop has a mix of quick-hit blog posts and longform pieces, including a multiday roundtable on The Late American Novel, a collection of essays about the future of books. What do you see your readers gravitating toward? Do you feel like you have to course-correct based on traffic and comments?
Right now it’s pretty difficult to say what our readers our gravitating towards. Interviews have been consistently popular, regardless of who we’re interviewing, which has been really encouraging. We really like long-form Q & A’s and it’s really nice to see people respond so enthusiastically.
Regardless of the book, our reviews have a remarkably consistent readership. Some essays and features have been more popular than others, but, again I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a pattern there. It was really heartening to see so many people read our Book Club about The Late American Novel day after day -- that was one of the most popular things we’ve done and something we’re definitely going to do again soon. The blog, which we started in March, has also been surprisingly popular, which is also great, as we try out a lot of things that may end up on other parts of the site there.
I don’t feel much pressure to course-correct based on hits or page views though. The site’s sudden popularity has been incredibly moving to me, but we didn’t start the site to get a million pageviews. We started it to write about what we’re interested in, to contribute to a conversation that, without energy and integrity, can easily stagnate. If nobody was reading something, perhaps we’d pay attention to that, but we generally want to write and read about what we want to write and read about and I hope that doesn’t change. If you ever see a “trend piece” on the site, I’ll resign.
I don’t want to come across as ignoring our readers though – we want to have a kind of dialogue with our readership, just not at the expense of credibility or integrity.
Editorially speaking, though, we’ve barely begun to worry about increasing our readership – that conversation has barely begun at this point. For the most part, we’re still back where we were in December, when we first began talking about the site. We want to try a bunch of different things, to write about what we care about.
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