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Great integrity, terrible PR. April 15, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Having just posted about Laurel’s Kitchen the other day, I wondered what had become of Laurel and company in the intervening three-plus decades since the book’s original publication and turned to my good friend Google to find out. Google brought up a tangential site for a magazine called A Real Life that featured articles by (or perhaps excerpts from) my heroes Laurel Robertson, Helen Nearing, Wendell Berry, etc. I was getting all excited until I read the daunting words “A Real Life Magazine is no longer being published.”

The magazine, a cottage publication, had managed to hold on, coming out five times a year, for more than five years, surviving through word of mouth. You can still buy back issues or a collection of all 31 issues on their website (http://www.areallife.com/). The site also proclaims that the publisher, Barbara McNally, is “working on a book and hosting A Real Life Retreats.”

This reminds me of a similar and much-loved quarterly that our friend Ben and I, Luddites that we are, subscribed to until it also died, simply called Plain. Its editor/publisher, Scott Savage, also published a book, The Plain Reader, before vanishing from sight. Though the word “Plain” invokes the “plain people,” the Amish and Mennonites, and they and their lifestyles figured prominently in Plain, Mr. Savage and his family chose to become Quakers, yet give up cars, electricity and the like.

How is it that inspiring and helpful publications like Plain and A Real Life fail, when so much trash persists? A PR failure, I’m thinking. Charlie Sheen’s latest bizarrities, the Kardashians’ fashion faux pas, and Lady Gaga’s cheekbones turn up on every computer screen and in every newspaper and news broadcast. But where is the news about people who are doing real good in the world, the Scott Savages, Wendell Berrys, Helen Nearings, Eknath Easwarans and Laurel Robertsons?

Occasionally, a Mother Teresa or an Eckhart Tolle manages to break through the consumerist/sensationalist PR wall, picked up by the Pope or by Oprah and promoted despite their unfashionable appearance and values. Good magazines like the Mother Earth News, Backwoods Home, and Back Home manage to find the means to keep going. Miracles happen. 

But miracles, at least in our day, seem to need a basis in practicality to give them momentum. And they need publishers with a great sense for PR. Lacking that—lacking any sense of PR whatever, as far as I can see—publications like Plain and A Real Life are destined to die, despite a loyal fan base. Loyal fans, in the absence of advertising, simply aren’t enough, unless you’re savvy enough to sell ancillary products like mugs and tee-shirts, anthologies, and the like yourself to make up for the shortfall.

The unworldly nature of Plain (and, presumably, of A Real Life) awes me and gives me hope. True, they failed, at least from a financial perspective. But the fact that they began, that they existed, that they had a following, defies all odds. From my vantage point, that makes them a success. Now, if they’d just had some good PR…

              ‘Til next time,




1. Barbara McNally - April 19, 2011

Hello Silence- My name is Barbara McNally and I wrote and published A Real Life for almost 8 years. And yes, Laurel Robertson was a regular contributor and became a friend, and Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, Eliott Coleman, An Lovejoy and many other good people also contributed. Even though I did not accept advertising, I was able to make it work and built the subscription base to over 40,000. Pretty good, don’t you think, especially without the internet. I stopped publishing for two reasons: first, it was a lot for one person to write and publish the magazine for so many years and I needed a break, and second, I wanted to write a book, which I’ve done. I’ve decided to release the book in a new way. In August, there will be a new energy on the web—I’m starting A Real Life online and also releasing installments of my book each month on the site. When you subscribe for a year, I’ll send you a complete print copy of the book at the end of the year. During the year you’ll get support and inspiration from many of the same good people that spoke on the pages of A Real Life, as well as resources and ideas to feel the big connection and live a life that really matters. I’ll be on facebook and twitter in about a month, and I will let you know when the site is up and running. (Also, all of the back issues of A Real Life will be available on the site as pdfs to download.) The integrity and intention is as pure as ever (still no advertising or affiliations ) and you could certainly give us a hand with PR. I hope you’ll tell all your readers about A Real Life online. I’ll be in touch when it happens. All the best to you, and thanks for appreciating my work.
Barbara McNally (and Laurel too)

Wow, Barbara, hello and thanks for checking in and letting us know how to keep in touch with A Real Life online. Keep me posted and I’ll pass all your contact data along to our Poor Richard’s Almanac readers! Best of luck to you and A Real Life in all its incarnations, and thanks so much for fighting the good fight!

2. susan willson - May 23, 2012

I google barbara every two weeks since I read that august 15th was the date her online work would begin.. to no avail…I miss A Real Life and my Real Life needs support…Barbara, where are you? You are good enough now!!!!

Thanks for the update, Susan! That’s discouraging news. I never heard any followup from Barbara to pass along, either, despite her wonderful response to my post. Maybe you should consider taking up where she left off and blogging about your efforts to live a Real Life, with your successes, failures, struggles, and satisfactions (if you don’t already have a blog). It would be a beautiful and inspiring thing to do!

susan willson - June 12, 2012

I love your response- so positiveand affirming. you should pick up where Barbara left off . I will take your advice and will try to get my real life out there. thanks.

Go for it, Susan! And please send us the link when you’re up and running!

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