cover art by Suzanne Levesque
cover art by Suzanne Levesque

Sure, the Internet’s slow-folding, death-of-print side effect saddens many of us who still cherish the tactile experience of holding a book or a magazine and hearing the pages turn as our brains take in the literature at hand. Book heartbreak aside, it’s heartening to remind ourselves that digital publishing itself doesn’t minimize our lit-reading options—it actually increases them. Although everything’s permutating in the world of fiction and poetry publishing, and I’m the first to complain about it, that doesn’t mean great writing’s not being born digitally all the time—same goes for on-the-rise online publishing imprints like Dzanc that raise funds to print books the old-fashioned way.

As long-established literary journals like Shenandoah bid farewell to print and take up residence online, so are numerous startup journals staking their claim on the web and in some cases even producing actual tangible books with artistic covers–the kind you can touch. And they’re using yet another fast-growing digital playing field to find their funds: Kickstarter.

Case in point: Cobalt, an online quarterly lit journal featuring fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and interviews edited by University of Baltimore alums, wants you to visit their Kickstarter page and consider pledging part of the $2000+ they’ll need to produce their first book through Cobalt Press. Why should you consider this project among the other dozen your music-video-making friends are hounding you to help with?

Cobalt’s a quality journal. Founded by writers Andrew Keating and Jill Williams, the publication’s editors have seen 1400 submissions since they launched in July 2011. In November 2012, the crew published their first annual print edition of the pub. Poetry editor is Tabitha Surface; Samantha Stanco edits nonfiction; Rafe Posey handles fiction; Rachel Wooley contributes design; Keating publishes interviews. Amanda Gilleland is helping the crew design that exciting first book, Where You Should Be, an anthology of fiction and poetry on the subject of fatherhood by four seasoned writers: Dave Housley (Ryan Seacrest Is Famous), BL Pawelek (So Hold Me Tight and Hold Me Tight), Ben Tanzer (My Father’s House and You Can Make Him Like You), and Tom Williams (The Mimic’s Own Voice).

To learn more about the journal, check out this story by Estela González; read this poem by Elizabeth Bodi. And note: A brand-new issue lands online today, featuring interviews with award-winning writers Jen Michalski and Brian Russell, whose work was published in Cobalt’s inaugural issue.

“Our mission, cheesy as it is, is ‘to publish literature of the highest caliber,’” Keating says. “That simple. I think it’s kind of like Jack FM’s ‘We play what we want.’”

Playing what they want, choosing an eclectic mix of manuscripts and poems, seems to appeal to their online readership, the numbers of which they track carefully over time.

“Now really is the time to be publishing online,” says Keating of the quarterly entity, which, by the way, is currently accepting entries for their first-ever Jim Palmer Baseball Writing Prize. (You can submit baseball-themed fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the price of $5.58, 558 being Palmer’s record number of games pitched for the Orioles.)

“Not only are more people reading Cobalt than ever,” Keating continues, “they’re seeing Cobalt as a truly legitimate source for literary goodness. A report I pulled today showed that we’re seeing an average of over 10,000 viewers per month, with peaks around 14,000 in months when we publish a quarterly issue. Online publications don’t go away as easily as print. Anybody can read them, usually for free, so having something published in an online journal will almost certainly get you more readers for longer. Print magazines end up in recycling bins or collecting dust on a shelf in the basement.”

Keating says he’s optimistic about the Kickstarter campaign but has mixed feelings about the phenomenon.

“Kickstarter has its advantages and disadvantages,” Keating says. “If we ran a fundraising campaign directly through our website, we wouldn’t have to pay fees to both Kickstarter and Amazon which processes the credit cards. These costs aren’t HUGE, in the grand scheme of things, but it is worth noting. Kickstarter’s strength is the promotability. There are a ton of ways that Kickstarter campaigns are marketed locally and nationally. They feature interesting and trending campaigns, and it’s easier to hit more potential donors than you knew existed because of their model. Gabe Durham and Ken Baumann, for instance, are launching a press called Boss Fight Books, dedicated to books written by great authors such as [Baltimore’s] Michael Kimball on the subject of individual classic video games. The campaign was to raise $5,000. They raised double that in the first two days (currently around $14,000 with 24 days to go). There is a momentum to Kickstarter campaigns, too. If someone sees that 50 people have backed the campaign, then they’ll trust the project’s legitimacy and be more likely to donate. Kickstarter has all sorts of ways to build trust with your donors, which is why so many projects like ours are being successfully funded on a daily basis.”

As an industrious, college-professing DIY crew, why do they need the very modest money they’re requesting?

“The biggest challenge to being a small press right now is funding and time,” Keating explains. “We don’t necessarily have the resources that large presses can tap into, we don’t have millions of dollars to burn on overly dramatic trailers to air on late-night TV, and we have to put in all the work ourselves. [My wife] Stacie and I are collaborating on the main editorial process for the fiction in Where You Should Be, Tabitha is working on the poetry, and Rafe is copyediting. I’m sure that Samantha will get in on the action, too, at some point.”

Not sure what to get your dad for Father’s Day next year? Donate $50 and Keating will list your pop’s name on a Favorite Fathers page, plus, says their Kickstarter promise, “you can choose to have us ship a copy directly to your father in time for Father’s Day 2014 with a special Cobalt-themed card. Or we’ll send the card and book to you, and you can see him jump up and down with excitement in person!”

For my money, I’m excited about the concept of a real book being born of a well-made website founded in Baltimore.