One of the many reasons New Zealand Books exists is for the sake of writers. Of course, we exist for readers too. Without our readers, both the specialist ones and those who have a general interest in New Zealand letters and culture, we’d have no subscribers; we could not exist. But writers – and by “writers” we mean all those who care about the craft as well as the content of their work – are our lifeblood.
First of all, writers not only produce the books that we review, they also produce our reviews. An obvious point the latter, but one that is sometimes overlooked, particularly by harried editors who in bleak moments like to think that they alone are responsible for putting out the journal.
This means that in New Zealand Books writers themselves have a forum for engaging in critical discourse – for casting judgement on their peers, for testing out new ideas, even for settling old scores – and for doing so in a way that is informed, reasoned and readable. By far the majority of our contributors achieve this. And they do so even though the material rewards from contributing are minimal. In terms of hours expended, reviewers’ rates in New Zealand – and ours are no exception – are laughable. But we wouldn’t be able to pay anything at all were it not for the generous grant we receive from Creative New Zealand. And this is devoted entirely to paying the reviewers’ and editors’ fees – and therefore to supporting writers – not, as some might think, to production or administrative costs. (And, yes, your editors are writers too.)
Just as importantly, the journal also provides a place for writers to see their work given a thorough critical treatment. Most writers need such feedback; indeed, it can be a key to their development. But it is a great luxury in New Zealand. There are far too few such forums. Apart from the Listener (which is unable to give sufficient attention to New Zealand publications), Landfall, JAAM (both of which appear only twice a year and focus more on original work) and the excellent National Radio, there are only the newspapers, which are mostly too timid to devote more than a few hundred words to even the most important books.
Finally, writers are our readers too. New Zealand Books operates as a kind of trade journal for writers. Writers, like any other professionals, have to keep up with what is going on in their field, and not just in the sense of noting the latest titles. They will not necessarily have the time to read everything new, but they do need to know what others think of it, how it fits into an author’s already existing corpus or indeed New Zealand writing and thinking as a whole. They need the debate that our pages generate in order to be sparked into new writing of their own.
Bill Sewell & Harry Ricketts