Friday, July 3, 2020

The elders of Sherlockian publishing.

Doing a little Watsonian research this week, I came up on this phrase from the submission guidelines in the first issue of The Watsonian, back in 2013: "Aspiring to become a publication with some degree of the prestige of the Baker Street Journal or The Sherlock Holmes Journal . . ." And then I thought, how many publications have I seen with that very thought. I remember distinctly that moment when our local journal, Wheelwrightings, had seen some success in the 1980s after moving to a true typeset format, which few had back then, and the then-editor pondered "Are we as good as The Baker Street Journal?"

So many have aspired over the years, and many have actually succeeded . . . for a single issue, or maybe more. I don't think that anyone considers in their ambitious moment of journal creation, is that The Baker Street Journal began in 1946. The Sherlock Holmes Journal began in 1952. The prestige of either of those journals, as up or down as the quality might be, is largely dependent upon the fact that they were here first, and they have survived.

And that didn't come easy. The Baker Street Journal started with gloriously fat issues and top writers, then failed as a commercial venture in 1949.  When it was revived in 1951, its construction-paper covers and paper-brad bindings made it look more like an elementary school project than what we would now consider a journal, but it lived on, and there was no shame in that. The Sherlockians of 1951 were surely just as glad to see it in their mailboxes as anything that came after.

The Baker Street Journal has been passed through many hands in its history, typeset on a typewriter when needed, published by a university press when arrangements could be made, just doing whatever the current Irregulars sustaining it thought necessary. To say it has always done this, or always been that, would be a very questionable statement, as it has been many things over the years, fanciful at one moment, scholarly the next. It printed writers who saw their by-line printed with pride, and writers who used fake names. It had the same cover year after year with a stapled spine, and it has had color covers with square-bound spines. None of that matters so much as, like a rock star who stage dives into a trusting crowd, it manages to float through the years on the hands of Sherlockians passing it forward to those who come after.

We've seen that take place with Canadian Holmes, and with The Serpentine Muse, both begun in the 1970s and showing signs of the longevity of BSJ and SHJ, having passed through a few hands to get to 2020. Will we see that again, in an era when digital publishing has pushed ink-on-paper to the side? More journals that cross the forty year mark?

It all depends upon if someone finds something in their existence worth carrying forward. It could be out of a sense of obligation to those who came before, or a duty to those yet to come. Sherlockian publishing has never been a successful model for profit, so we know it won't be for purely mercenary reasons, and it you just want to gather a bunch of essays and publish them for a Sherlockian audience, books are becoming a very popular way to do that of late. No, continuing forward with a publication whose name has lasted for years requires a bond that extends over generations.

Any one of us can do something once. Doing something across time takes many of us, bound by common cause, even though our reasons for being behind that cause may differ. And that's what our journals are, really, a common cause called Sherlock Holmes Or maybe John Watson.

We shall see.

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