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The line that started a war (Image: A wet invite)
The line that started a war (Image: A wet invite)

BooksSeptember 15, 2023

How to make friends and influence the literary community

The line that started a war (Image: A wet invite)
The line that started a war (Image: A wet invite)

A new literary journal has pissed off the entire community by insinuating that book launches are dry and elite. We analyse the primary and secondary sources.

Amid furore over Sir Peter Jackson’s Shelly Bay and election-powered footballing with the climate crisis and education and infrastructure, the literary community of Aotearoa is now also grappling with an invitation to a book launch that has puzzled, amused and wounded seemingly every writer in the country.

“This is your ticket to be among the very first to claim the journal,” reads the Paperless Post invitation to the launch of Folly Journal 001, suggesting that the journal is an Instant Kiwi prize rather than a purchase. “You’ll also have the chance to hang out with the team behind Folly’s magic, and the amazing humans who have supported us along the way.”

Nice one! A new journal is exciting and full of potential. There’s always room for more, and different. And given the extent of Broadmore’s investment already, Folly is uniquely positioned to offer opportunities to new writers. Always a good thing.

Folly Journal was founded by Emily Makere Broadmore, Tiana Jones and Dana Turner, who are supported by a wider team in their mission to create “a publication that resonates with readers outside of the literary community.” Folly is in partnership with the newly established (also by Broadmore) Wellington Writers’ Studio after Broadmore and her husband William purchased the historic Cuba Street building in which the studio (and Heft communications, Broadmore’s business) operates out of. 

The Folly homepage

But then the invitation continues: “Limited spaces available. RSVP now and let’s have fun at a literary launch that is a far cry from the usual dry and elite affairs.”

Gulp. Dry? Elite? Affair? You could practically see the cloud of awkwardly self-conscious indignation rising up from the beautiful minds of the select invitees who have attended just such dry and elite affairs many a time. It’s at this point that the Paperless Post Invitation got taken to the place where all decent literary scandals get taken: the public court of X formerly known as Twitter.

Insanely hard-working writer and editor Ashleigh Young appears to have been the first to gently toss a smidge of shit into a modestly whirring fan. “This feels like a strange way to invite people to a book launch,” she wrote. “Lots of launches that I’ve gone to have been, frankly, unhinged” 

“I only go to elite non-fun launches myself.” replied writer Tina Makeriti. “(Always confused when word ‘elite’ applied to writers – do you mean embarrassed weirdos trying to make small talk and failing miserably? Also making no money and making very little impact on the media?)” The easiest way to annoy a writer in New Zealand? Suggest that they are either elite, successful or, if you dare, both.

So this whole folly could maybe be written off as someone reading embarrassment and weirdness as aloof and unfriendly and then basing their whole marketing strategy on making sure they are not that. Fighting “a perception of elitism in the literary community” with a little bit of harmless invite-only, RSVP-driven exclusivity.

However, when Isa Pearl Ritchie joined the X-formerly-Twitter thread, she blew the case wide open with this droplet of intel: “It’s a pun because the launch is in a sauna (if it’s the one I’m thinking of).” It was the one she was thinking of. “It’s a sauna with readings, I think.” And then, “This might be a secret so should obviously be plastered all over Twitter because that’s the law.”

And it is the law. Nothing in the New Zealand literary community is a secret because it’s physically and philosophically impossible. But the law here has welcomed a lot more questions than answers. Because who is thinking about the journal in all of this? How can paper survive in a sauna? Sure, it’s not dry in there. But should a book launch be wet. Like literally wet? 

Could Folly’s assertions be true? Is your bog standard book launch just too dry? 

Poet Jordan Hamel remembers his own launch as one of the very best nights of his life. “Considering the degenerate nature of the company I keep,” he said, “it’s fair to say that launch was far from dry, possibly one of the wettest launches in recent memory. Although I do remember someone from THWUP telling me a story about a launch from yesteryear where some poor person had too much chardonnay and projectile vomited over the NZ non-fiction section during the launch speech. I would have given anything in the world to have seen that happen in person.”

If you haven’t been to a book launch before then the usual key elements could be summarised as: speeches, luke warm wine (to help the embarrassed weirdos unravel and read as less aloof and more uncanny), mediterranean-ish platters that will quickly descend into something akin to the aesthetic of afternoon tea at a preschool. Or in Young’s words (back on X), your bog standard launches are simply “big weird parties. Your old teachers will be there, you will write your speech on the back of a McDonald’s receipt, you will cry, there will be karaoke, you cannot escape.”

Most books launches are also free and open to all. Almost weekly, it seems, on a Thursday night in Wellington you can waltz up to Unity Books or Good Books (information will be boosted across social media for weeks in advance, encouraging people, anyone, to come) to join the party, drink the warm wine, eat the crummy nibs and feel pressure to buy the book in front of the author to support their really quite extreme act of faith and humanity. 

Back on X formerly Twitter, Hamel shared a meme (noting that The Spinoff quote pictured has nothing to do with Folly, or this story. It was used, Hamel explained, because it was there). When I asked him to tell me more, he explained that he was irritated by what he calls the “girlbossification of lit mags” that’s happening these days. “While I respect that Folly pays contributors, and is trying to do something, the whole ‘we’re not like other girls’ schtick carelessly steps on a whole lot of people who have spent years in the NZ lit scene working to build their own visions and elevate Aotearoa voices.”

Folly’s mission statement suggests that stepping on the NZ lit scene might not be of huge concern as their mission is to create a journal “that resonates with readers outside of the literary community”. Other Aotearoa creative ventures that have paved a similar road with much success. In the audio realm, student radio station bFM had the famous tagline: “Other radio stations are shit.”

The tone is different, but Folly says that it’s “Beautiful. Eccentric. Ridiculous. Folly is where literature meets real life.” There’s also a badge thingy on there saying “Recommended by Reedsy, Best Writing Contests 2023”. And you can buy a Folly tumbler and also Folly robes.

It’s the robes that bothered me, at first. The robe featured in Hamel’s meme is this one (you can purchase it for $120). I foolishly thought they were maybe for writing in. But then of course I realised. They’re ideal for a sauna!

The Folly Social Club page kind of explains it all. The website page says that the club is: “open to all. That being said, we highly recommend joining our mailing list to get exclusive access to presales and stay informed about upcoming events.” If you click on the upcoming events you can purchase tickets to either an individual or small group sauna + Folly robe ($160). There’s also a link to a Folly Journal Launch Afterparty – Exclusive Access.

I personally can’t fathom attending a book launch in a sauna. Getting uncomfortably sweaty while trying to concentrate on a reading from a fellow nervous weirdo is my idea of honest to god hell. Unity Books on a good launch night is close and steamy enough for me. This sauna biz takes the meaning of elite to a slippery new place. 

But a launch in a sauna could be … unhinged in a fun, usual book launch kind of a way. It does lend itself to some apt analogies with, like, birth. Which is what a launch really is. A birthing ritual. The steam will be atmospheric and if it does ruin the nice paper it could at least make a good story and something to remember Folly 001 by.

Because making a new thing is hard work. Putting it out there is scary. If you’re coming at it thinking you’re surrounded by dry humans who are elite then maybe you’d be pretty careful about who you invited to your sauna party, lest you get everyone else tweeting about you. Or maybe this was all a clever marketing strategy from Heft communications, in which case, bravo.

Meanwhile, for those confused as to whether they are an elite writer or just a normal one, Rebecca K Reilly has made a quiz.

Folly Journal (price currently unknown) will be available from bookshops soon. You can purchase robes here.

Keep going!