A year or more ago I heard about this project called Liberty Island, supposed to give those of us whose politics make us pariahs with most of traditional publishing — though not Baen Books — a haven where we could meet our fans. I keep meaning to contribute to them, but of course, the last year I spent more time sick than well, and consequently I’m so far behind on books and contracts, I can practically see myself around the corner.
Well, they are up now (and have a story by Frank J. Fleming). And I’ve secured an interview with Adam Bellow, Liberty Island’s publisher and CEO. Bellow is a longtime nonfiction editor, currently running Broadside, the conservative nonfiction imprint of HarperCollins. He is also the author of In Praise of Nepotism, a lively contrarian take on an eternally divisive topic.
And, yep, sure, as soon as I get a weekend to pound it out, I’ll do a novella for Liberty Island.
Sarah Hoyt: I heard of Liberty Island back when it was in the planning stages. I understand it is an online magazine-cum-community center for writers and readers on the right side of the spectrum. Is this true? What do you want to tell us about Liberty Island?
Adam Bellow: We started Liberty Island to help the new wave of conservative storytellers connect with their natural audience. Even before launching the site we’ve discovered dozens of new voices on the right that you won’t find anywhere else. These are talented and creative people who have previously been excluded from mainstream culture because they hold the wrong views and didn’t go to the right schools or attend the approved writing programs. This just confirms our hunch that something like Liberty Island is desperately needed.
SH: Who is the audience for Liberty Island? What is “conservative fiction”? Shouldn’t good stories just stand on their own?
AB: Great literature stands on its own, but the productions of popular culture often carry a hidden freight of ideology that reflects its authors’ biases. Sometimes not so hidden — the evil conservative businessman is essentially the default villain in Hollywood these days. But think about what happens when great stories are told from a conservative perspective: you get Tom Clancy, or Brad Thor, or James Patterson, or Vince Flynn. Mega-bestselling authors with a huge following. Our audience is anyone who loves great pulp writers like those guys. At Liberty Island you will find dozens of stories like these, in genres ranging from humor to thriller to SciFi. These writers aren’t heavy handed in the least – their conservative outlook is sometimes explicit but just as often merely implied or completely submerged. Besides, a case can be made that traditional pulp genres are inherently conservative.
SH: In what way do you intend to distinguish yourself from other online magazines?
AB: Liberty Island combines a magazine, a free range self-publishing platform, and a community of readers and writers who share a commitment to the values of freedom, individualism, and American exceptionalism. It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.
SH: What made you think of the project – and commit to it and work so hard for it?
AB: Two things: first, an impulse to carry the culture war into the field of popular culture. And second, the writers themselves. In 25 years as an editor of nonfiction books I’ve watched the conservative intellectual project thrive and flourish. But like others on the right I’ve been dismayed by the slowness of conservatives to challenge the liberal dominance of popular culture. It’s not enough to carp and criticize the frequently substandard and offensive crap that liberals produce. As Andrew Breitbart used to say, we have to make our own—and it has to be good. But recently we began to notice an exciting development: hundreds, indeed thousands of conservative and libertarian writers were seizing the opportunity afforded by new digital technologies to produce and publish original works of fiction. Others were making music, video, graphics, and other forms of entertainment right on their laptops at home. These were ordinary men and women all over the country, working in isolation, doing their best to hone their art and find an audience. Yet no one seemed to know that they existed. So we started talking about what we could do to help them. Liberty Island grew out of those discussions.
SH: What do you and your associates bring to the project?
AB: What we bring (if I may say so) is education, taste, and decades of experience as editors in the conservative publishing world. We know what it takes to make a good story better. We understand the dynamics of digital publishing. Most of all we have a commitment to the mission of Liberty Island, which is to recapture the culture from the left.
SH: I’ve observed over a long time that the left wing excludes those they even suspect of a different opinion, while the right tends to try to include good work, even if it is left-leaning. What is your solution to this dichotomy, and how do you plan to deal with submissions that are to the left of center?
AB: The great thing about popular culture is that it has the capacity to transcend these kinds of partisan distinctions. Good stories are good stories. If they happen to convey a message about current threats to freedom or advance what we would call a wholesome worldview, that’s a plus. As for submissions, we are completely non-sectarian. Liberty Island welcomes any writer—and any reader—right or left–who values freedom and American ideals and thinks those things are worth defending.
SH: What is your plan for monetizing the site, and how do you intend to pay authors?
AB: Liberty Island is essentially a curated self-publishing platform. In other words, we don’t pay writers and we don’t charge readers. Everything published on Liberty Island is free. However, we strongly encourage tipjar contributions to writers whose work readers like. This is consistent with our emphasis on helping writers build a following and a base of support. In our next phase we’ll introduce a line of novels and we’ve already got some great stuff in hand that we’re really excited about – some of it is truly groundbreaking. We also have a range of other products in the works that will help the site drive revenue once we build more traffic and awareness. I should add that this is a for-profit venture – we’re actively looking for investors, and are hoping to turn a nice profit. We are capitalists, after all.
SH: Is there anything else you wish PJM readers to know about Liberty Island?
AB: Liberty Island will only work if the people it was made for put it to good use. We have built it – now we’ll see if they will come.