September 25, 2011

why 3000?

"do you know that more murders are committed at 92 degrees farenheit than any other temperature?
i read an article once.
lower temperatures, people are easy going.
over 92, it's too hot to move.
but just 92, people get irritable."
--- Siouxsie and the Banshees

Occasionally, we get a query asking why our prose word limit is 3,000 words. If you're not doing flash stuff, say, less than 1,500 words, who writes that short? The average short-story length, apparently, is about seventeen pages - maybe 6,000 words or so. And most journals cap their prose limit at 7,500 words or so - say twenty-five pages. So what's with the 3,000?

A few overlapping thoughts:

1. Practicalities: on a staff of dedicated volunteers, with a process whereby we read each story in its entirety, and we promise a quick turnaround time, with a limited page count devoted to prose, it makes sense to publish shorter stories. If we published longer stories, we'd have the following problems:
3 times fewer stories published
2-3 times for story turnaround (or similar turnaround times, but less attention paid to each story)
So this kind of word count ensures that your story is getting a complete, full reading and that we'll get back to you quickly.

2. History of the short story: Has the average length of the short story changed over time? Of course. Why? Economic concerns, attention spans, notions of what does or does not constitute a short story (read Lydia Davis' Varieties of Disturbance lately?) all affect the general length of stories. Yes, it's much harder to get a 7,500 word story published now than it was ten years ago (though of course there were fewer journals then, too). Is 3,000 a kind of liminal space between flash fiction and "traditional" short story? Most definitely. That's where the fun is.

3. Possibility Space and Constraint: In that vein, I encourage people to think about how "traditional" notions of the short story must be deformed when writing shorter forms. It's very, very difficult to write a character and plot driven short story in 3,000 words - there's just not enough time (an example of a really nice "traditional" story in that length might be Stacey Swann's Crib Biting (V8)). So what can you do? What new forms, what new concerns might open up for you? That's what interests us.

If you don't feel like writing short, that's great - I myself am often writing 30-page stories. So while I'm a proponent of short work, I'm not fanatic about it. I am, however, riven by fascination, by mutation, by defacement - and that's one of the things that short forms allow us.



September 23, 2011

Website's back! Now I'm off to Malta.

Oh bless the shining stars. Today was, like, 2003. When websites really did go down for half a day.

If you tried to reach us today. We're sorry. Our web hosts went bonkers on a server.

Anyway, we're back.

And now: I'm off to Malta. Me and the lady are celebrating our one-year. Robert, Sarah and the rest of the Versal gang are going to hold down the fort while we're away. If anything weird happens (again), blame them.

Boring post: Website's down. Submit later!

Hey guys, our website has been down for forever (well, for 7 hours now). Our hosts GreenGeeks are doing some server maintenance and it seems things got wonky. Whatever.

If you're trying to submit to Versal 10, just hang tight with us. I assume things will eventually work again. Or I'm going to go Pulp Fiction on GreenGeeks.

September 22, 2011

Versal's contributor payment matching scheme

In case you missed it, from our guidelines:
NEW! We are now working towards paying our contributors. Funds collected from contributor payment donations will be matched by Versal and distributed equally among Versal 10's contributors. Contributors will also receive one gratis copy and the option to order additional copies at a discount.
All proceeds from the submission fee go towards production costs. The optional $1 added goes towards contributor payment, and will be matched dollar for dollar by Versal’s other fundraising activities.
Maybe it won't be much, at first, but it will be a start towards rectifying at least one inequality in our literary economy, at least where Versal is concerned.

September 18, 2011

Oh, Whiny Writers.

Or, on the use of the word "Repugnant" in response to a $2.00 submission fee.

I don't get worked up about a lot of things in life. And with the exception of ensuring we have a kick-ass cover artist and that the pages of Versal are full of engaging, involved and thought-provoking artwork, I really don't get worked up about a lot of the goings-on in Versal's wide-reaching and ever-increasing journal-sphere. I stay in the background because so much of the conversation surrounding Versal is still specific to the literary world, and while I love you writerly types, my business is all up in the artsy fartsy world.

But this whole friggin' to-do over our new $2.00 submission fee has my proverbial panties in a bunch. Let me just put my thoughts at this point out there plain and simple: seriously? Seriously guys? You guys are gonna get all up and angry and bent out of shape and spend half your lives bitching and blogging and writing nasty emails back and forth about a measly $2? You're going to call it "repugnant" and be sure to let us know you're deleting us from your database and are "disappointed" in our decision to charge?

Ok, hold on. I'll back up and stroke you all a little bit by saying I do, on one level, get it. I "get" several "issues" y'all may be having with the submission fee problem. I get, for instance, that:

a.) As a writer you likely submit your work to a gabillion journals every year (maybe every month?) and if we were all asking for $2.00 every time you submit...well, multiply that $2.00 by a gabillion and you get a decent little bucket of cash going out the door every month. Ok, fair enough. I have responses to that, and the following b.)s, c.)s, and d.)s below, but I'm really not interested in jumping that full-on to this bandwagon. Besides, it's all been explained and justified and defended here on this blog and on other blogs already by not only my wife, Versal's chief Editor Megan M. Garr, but several other brilliant editors and writerly types on other blogs and places where writerly-types keep tabs on these things. I digress. On with the b.)s, c.)s and d.)s...

b.) It's not just the "measly" $2.00 we're talking about, but the principle behind it. Journals don't (usually) pay writers so why should you writers pay us? What gall! This journal is charging you to submit your work, which if accepted we'll only then use to our own advantage to get the journal out there in the world! We should be paying you, and a hell of a lot more than a measly $2.00!

c.) We journals should feel blessed and lucky to receive your work and discover your brilliance spread and bourne across the page (all cheekiness aside, this is often true -- feeling lucky as a reviewer to discover some kick-ass work come up through the submission system). How dare we ask you to pay for sharing your brilliance?

d.) You as writers dunno what we're gonna do with your $2.00, and plenty of journals you've entrusted your $2.00 to in the past have sunk it back into a luscious little pint of Guinness or the like instead of putting it towards actual printing costs.

Ok, so there are a few of the a.)s, b.)s, c.)s and d.)s that I confess I do understand, on some level, might justify some (ahem, some) of the heated arguments and strong language being used around this topic on the interwebs and in my wife's inbox.

But now I go back to the wtf, seriously? part of this conversation. And the part where I want to scream at all you whining writers, "It's two f**ing dollars!". Maybe it's because I'm coming from the perspective of an artist, where I have almost always had to pay submission fees for getting my work out there in the world, under the noses of fellow art-appreciators to let it be sniffed out and scrutinized for its level of worthiness. Maybe it's because when I first started sending work out 12 years ago, I not only had to send (real live paper) checks for submission fees that were at least $2.00, if not more like $5.00, on top of paying postage for mailing an 8.5 x 11" envelope (what was that back then? $0.80 or so?), but I also had to dump loads of my oh-so-limited cash supply into the film, development and printing of multiple slides of my work, and pay postage for a SASE to include with my mailing in the event that (gasp!) I'd be rejected and the reviewers were willing to return the slides I'd just dumped my loads of hard-earned cash into. That was then. Now it's easier of course with digital cameras and files of digital artwork and so on, and with most submission process being handled online, eliminating the postage fees. But I still (almost) always get the fees -- $2.00 to $5.00 or so.

Suffice to say there's always been a cost to send my work out there as an artist. So when the question of whether or not we were going to charge this, in my mind, measly little $2.00 submission fee as a way to, first and foremost, help keep Versal afloat, I thought "Duh! Why haven't we done that before???" And then when my brilliant editor-wife showed me all the whoo-haa going on in the literary blogosphere about this subject, I just frankly got really friggin' annoyed with all these whiny writers and their whiny writer Egos and their whiny writer principles and their kind of really outdated writer thoughts and views on the way this whole literary journal system thing "should" work and their kind of really outdated ideas that journals charging submission fees are either vanity journals or a straight-up scam. And I'm thinking, "Seriously? All this fuss about $2.00? Don't they get it? Don't they get all the work it takes to put these little books together? Don't they get the printing costs?" Oh, and don't even get me started on the fact that y'all used to have to pay for postage to send your work out, and $2.00 is not so different, really, from the $0.50 stamps you used to have to buy 5 or so years ago before online submissions dominated the "send your brilliance out there into the world for other people to review and fondle and decide to print up and spread all over the globe" space of the universe.

Ok. To your credit, writers, I'll say again: I get the why. I do. Especially in light of the whole BlazeVox whoo haa. Trust was broken. You felt used and you felt like someone pulled the wool over your eyes. Fair enough. Sound the alarms. Fight it out. Make yourselves and your opinions known and heard.

But, c'mon. Don't jump to the assumption that every literary journal is functioning the same way as the aforementioned (and might I add so overly referenced now to the point of being bullied in this conversation) BlazeVox or other less-than-transparent publications have behaved in the past.

We're trying our best over here in little A'dam and through the connective wires of the interwebs to be as transparent and honest with y'all as we possibly can about this new decision, this big change in Versal's life. We're about to be 10. This is a big year for us all.

I've known Megan for four years, and in those years I've watched her carry Versal around with her every minute of every day in her poet-activist-fighter's heart. I've watched her fight for Versal, love Versal, get angry about Versal, want to burn Versal down, want to build Versal up, want to keep Versal alive and thriving...but probably most importantly, I've watched her commit to the community and relationships that are Versal.

And that's I guess where I want to end. After all my venting to and about you whining writers, can I ask you to think seriously about your relationship with a literary journal? Think of it like a friend. Like someone you support, and who supports you back. Like someone who, when he or she invites you over for dinner, you'd bring a $7.00 bottle of wine for and/or a bouquet of flowers, because that fosters a system of mutual appreciation and support for the contributions you're both making in that relationship. While that subtle little monetary expectation is usually never spoken, it is in a way an agreement that could be similar to the literary journal's submission fee -- I as your friend who would like your company for dinner will pay $30.00 or so for dinner for both of us, for creating a space we can both enjoy and a space where we can both appreciate one another's talents, and you as a guest may also pay a small amount by bringing a bottle of wine or flowers to add to the atmosphere, and to contribute to our exchange as friends.

Versal can't keep going the way we were -- just barely funding our printing costs through journal sales, local workshops, and by dipping into the (not-so-deep) pockets of our (all strictly volunteer) editors to make sure the next one goes make sure this thing we love and we know a lot of you out there in the world love too, can keep going. And we also can't keep going, and I'm speaking generally now about the journal to writer/creative relationship, with this expectation that the journal is there to serve you, the creative, and that we (the ones making you and a bunch of other creatives the $30.00 dinner, creating the nice atmosphere, and sending that atmosphere out there in the world for other people to enjoy) are just to continue functioning off of non-existing magic money trees.

You see, this thing between you -- you writer or you artist or you creative person functioning in some beautiful in-between space -- and Versal is a partnership. It's a relationship. We aren't here to screw you over. We aren't here to throw your hard-earned $2.00 to the Amsterdam (ahem) blow. We're here to take your creative contribution to our table seriously, to consider its placement in our little book, and to include you if it makes sense in this "dinner conversation" called Versal. We're asking for mutual respect. We're asking you to step beyond the reactionary space where you find a measly $2.00 submission fee "repugnant" and consider why your friend, Versal, who we hope you mutually respect, might be asking for you to bring along that bottle of wine. If the mutual respect is not there, well...I suppose you can go on then with your whining. I don't know that whining makes much sense at this dinner party.

So, that's my soap box. Partially through the lens of an artist who has always had to reach into her pockets to get her work out there. Partially as a person who just thinks it's stupid to be whining about $2.00 (even though now I'm also a person at least bitching about $2.00). Partially as the partner of the editor whose inbox is starting to fill up with whiny writer complaints. But mostly just as me, Shayna Schapp, Versal's art editor, who got worked up enough about some of y'alls response to a request for $2.00 to speak up.

September 14, 2011

Versal's rejection letters, or a close look at our process of enthusiasm

Have you seen this great new wiki of rejection letters?

What a resource, for writers and editors alike.

How so for editors? Because this provides an overview of what we're all saying. How we're talking to our communities. And I don't think any of us take the rejection letter lightly, but some ways we have languaged rejections may become outdated over time. Speaking as a writer who has been receiving rejection letters since 1997, I haven't noticed a significant change in the way they read. That's almost 15 years. Certainly something could change by now? With this resource, we can start to share what works and what doesn't, start to identify "best practice" letters, start a dialogue about how we communicate with each other.

But that's a big project. For now, I've just been using the resource to help us here at Versal to improve our practices. So in the run-up to Versal 10's reading period, a few of our editors and I read through all of them and made a list of the ones we like.

["Like" being a big bucket obviously. It might be that one letter has a respectful, kind closing note, but the rest of it is dismissive. Or another has a nice way of thanking the submitter. Often it just comes down to tone, I think. And of course personal preference. In general, our team seems drawn to those letters that assume that the submitter is a three-dimensional human being who knows what they're doing. Unfortunately I felt that a lot of the letters had a demeaning or patronizing undertone, harking back to a now (I would argue) outdated perception of the relationship between writer and editor. Anyway.]

So we rewrote our letters. I assume at some point these will get posted up on the Wiki (an old one is there now), but in the interest of all things holy here they are in all their glory.

We have three "template" letters and one blank one that we can write from scratch.

The first "tier" (to use the language of the wiki) letter is sent to folks whose work is read by 1-2 editors. This letter indicates that we feel the work is not yet strong enough for continued consideration. Clearly this judgment is subjective, but all such judgments are, and like all journals we must make a distinction between what work is really "ready" for serious consideration for our journal and what work has too many weaknesses.

The second and third tier letters are sent to folks whose work is read by 2-3 editors (at our "second read" level). The letters encourage the writer/artist to submit again next time because there's something about the work we are drawn to, or strengths in the writing or artistic style we see developing over more time. It can thus include a personal message to elaborate on our reading of it (essentially this could be considered the "third tier"). This work is discussed between editors at length, via our system and possibly over drinks in a bar in Amsterdam or elsewhere.

The fourth tier letter is sent to folks whose work made it to our editorial round table. This means that it was "escalated" up to everyone in a particular editorial team (poetry, prose or art), considered by each team member individually, then discussed during a team meeting. Sometimes it takes us two meetings to come to a decision about a piece. In any case, we read the piece or parts of it aloud (or, in the case of the art team, beam it onto a big or high-res screen), those who "sent it up" talk about their reading of the piece, and Robert, Shayna or I lead a discussion around it until we come to a decision.

I'm not the final round. I don't have veto power, nor does Robert or Shayna. But it's not consensus we aim for, either. And we don't see our editorial table as jury duty. Rather, we work to listen to each others' enthusiasm or frustrations, we seek to educate ourselves on a piece's inner workings, we try to impart whatever knowledge we have about the piece to our fellow editors. It's a giving, thoughtful, excited process.

And though most intently seen during our round tables, it is one that filters through every level of our reading.

We look forward to seeing your work.

September 12, 2011

Books worth rererereading

While I'm devoting the fall to reading books by friends and colleagues, I had the amazing opportunity to go back in time to read various "canons" for my PhD exams. Here's a few books I've loved and re-loved after my reading - books which, I suspect, tell us much of what we need to know about literature.

Frankenstein - not just a story about a monster (really, every story is a story about monsters). If Don Quixote and Madame Bovary are in part about bad readers, Frankenstein is about a bad writer - one who can't accept that his (/her) hybrid birth has a life of its own. I love the double-frame, and how the juicy center of the novel is fully inhabited by the monster's tale.

Middlemarch - Eliot reads the brains, manners, and actions of her characters better (and more ironically) than anyone. The book is a compendium of people, artifacts, digressions that far exceed any one character's journey.

Moby Dick - talk about digression! As Ahab, I was "dismasted" after reading MD or, The Whale. A journey of language, a journey of a ship. Messing with the adventure novel, MD meanders through etymologies and symbologies of cetological goodness as much as it tells a tragedy of crew itself coffined by the whale. I will forever be haunted by Orson Welles as Father Mapple in the (not very good) movie version...

Ulysses - is not really hard to read. Of course, there are a few chapters that are difficult, but it's by no means impenetrable. It has so much sound, so much texture. Beautiful, beautiful. Really, if you're scared by the thought of reading it, don't be (yes, Finnegan's Wake is still super scary).

Lolita - my sin, my soul. A book that seduces you with artifice to out-and overlook Humbert's nymphette-mania. Everything is glorious - how HH's "scepter of my passion" later devolves into a "bitter tumor of my passion."

The Art Lover - Carole Maso's elegy is charming and haunting and ultimately a breathtaking reclamation of self in the face of grief. My favorite writer in a sort of post-Duras lineage, who seamlessly merges deep emotional longing and formal sophistication.

Infinite Jest - yes, it's gigantic. And yes, it's the hippest. But it's also the most wondrous synthesis of brilliance and humor and pathos I've read in forever. I'm super-looking forward to the Decembrists' video recreating the Eschaton scene.

and for you theory-heads out there, Blanchot, Blanchot, Blanchot.

Evangelist in readerosity,


September 10, 2011

Faking it.

I expressed last week during a dinner party that -although excited about editing for the first time- I was extremely nervous I would be faking it all the way through. 

Megan, Versal head honcho, smiled at me and said that 'we all did' at some point. She assured me that I would feel better once I got a chance to speak with Robert, the head fiction editor. 

I had spoken to Robert once before through Skype about the editing process. During that chat we set a date to talk about 'literature' (quotes my own) some weeks ahead. That was meant to be about a month ago. The follow up meeting was postponed several times, Robert being in the midst of PhD exams and my needing to postpone our chat due to work overload. 

Although I knew we'd get to it at some point, this did little to change the overwhelming feeling that I felt stuck in some strange limbo: I knew I was to be an editor, but I did not know what was expected of me or how I would accomplish the job. So, this anxiety led me to mention my potential fake-ness to Megan. 

Robert got in touch on Monday, once his exams were complete. Since Robert did not know my experience or analytical 'skills' (again, those quotes are my own) he chose two pieces from Versal 9 to look over: A Year and Demonstrum.

I have to admit, I was a bit nervous. 

We chatted a bit about my current travels in the states before moving on to business. 

Robert asked several provacative and open ended questions to determine how I approached a piece. If you haven't read A Year or Demonstrum, the pieces do a good job of negating anything that is put forward. They leave the reader unhinged, caught in the grips of vertigo. Some times I felt I knew the answer, or a good enough interpretation and answered quickly. Sometimes I was left without an answer. Either way I felt excited, like I might be doing OK.

Then Robert asked me whether I would choose the two pieces for a second read. With confidence I said yes. He asked why. I said meekly, I don't know. 

I was caught. There it was. A fake. A FAKE! 

But Robert smiled (we had video chat on). He went on to explain that –sometimes–a certain amount of ambiguity exists in the choosing process. And that's OK. Sometimes the fiction we appreciate most around here at Versal are the ambiguous fictions, the ones that tranverse borders. The mysterious ones that use tropes as tools, that negate our notions of what fiction should be, that shoots all we know about writing out of a cannon into a million different pieces and puts it together with a TA-DA. The ones that you get a gut feeling about. 

At the moment I'm reading a book called complications by Atul Gawande, given to me by a friend. You might know it: one of those New York Times Bestseller works that end up on the coffee table as a talking point. But this one is different. It is a short book about the trials and tribulations of being a modern surgean; essentially about the complications arising from being a human performing duties in a profession where robot like precision and miracles are expected. 

A large portion of the book talks about learning on the job. That surgeons who go through years and years of training are eventually untethered and have to learn a great deal about cutting into live human beings. A scary thought. 

Surgeons faking on the job. Learning as they go. Cutting up things that were never meant to be cut. 

September 07, 2011

Going Dutch

So it seems that the capitalist system is failing small press publishing in America.

Though I'm no economist, the economics of this look pretty straightforward to me. The literary economy is saturated with presses and journals. The consumers in this economy are consuming what they reasonably can. But the revenue is spread so thin that, in general, no press or journal can survive without external cash injections from grants or credit cards.

In the wake of BlazeVOX-gate, lots is coming out about small press publishing. For the first day or so I think I really did read almost every comment, because I'm really interested in what good can come out of this discussion, for writers and publishers alike. I've admittedly fallen behind on my reading but have a bazillion tabs open in Firefox.

The following list is a generalized distillation of some of what's rising to the surface (at least of what I've seen so far):

  • A general consensus that we (writers and publishers) value transparency where (at least) money is involved (and I think we may be starting to admit that money is always involved, even if it's in an "intangible" form like doing one's own book promotion)
  • Professionalism is a pretty good default to stand by
  • A general consensus that there are not enough consumers for the number of presses and journals (or that the level of consumption itself is too low)
  • There are people who believe that the right of publication should be free, and people who believe in shared economic models (for lack of a better term)
  • There are people who believe art and money cannot or should not coexist, and people who believe that they can (or at least have to)
  • Many publishers are experimenting with new business models, or considering them
  • We all at least seem to agree that we wish things were different, or easier, or both
A few months ago I asked on this very blog how we, writers, could improve our participation in the literary economy. I am a writer and an editor, so I include myself in this question. I have thought about this a lot over the past few months; the BlazeVOX discussion has, if anything, helped my vocabulary along so I can grapple with it better.

In a nutshell, answering this question starts with me just being me. In other words, what do I do and what more can I do? (Now I feel like Johannes and the hippie.)

I asked myself what my consumption is in the literary economy (what I take out of it, so to speak. I'll leave out what I put in to the economy for now). In brief, it is, in no particular order:
- Supporting KickStarter campaigns of presses and journals I like
- Subscribing to my favorite literary mags
- Subscribing to one or two "seasons" of presses I love
- Buying a literary journal I haven't seen before but want to submit to
- Buying extra copies of journals in which my work is published
- Registering for AWP
- Buying about a suitcase full of small press books at AWP
- Purchasing gifts for friends and family from small presses and online bookstores like Powell's
- Writing checks for contest fees (which isn't easy, because I really do forget how to write a check)

So let's say all of us are doing roundabout the above. But that's clearly not enough to sustain all those presses and journals out there that we love. What else can we do?

When I saw that 1913 a journal of forms was actually open for submissions, I rushed over to its website. I freakin' love 1913. I saw it has a small reading fee. I didn't hesitate. If anything, I thought, hell, there's no chance my poetry is going to be accepted by 1913 but I'll throw this journal $3 so other people will be and can be and so that 1913 can be a journal.

And that's when it hit me.


Blame it on Holland. Blame it on my hippie parents or my Montessori preschool. Blame it on my feminism or big Catholic family or the fact that I'm short. Or gay.

I believe in the basic tenants of socialism because I believe in sharing. And I'm starting to see the literary economy like I see my healthcare coverage in Holland:

I pay €135 a month for premium healthcare coverage. On top of that I pay (highish) taxes for healthcare based on my income each year, and a max €175 co-pay (for the whole year). I don't see additional bills once I've hit the yearly co-pay max. And here's the kickers: I have a chronic illness. I take medication daily and see doctors and have blood tests regularly. I also go to a physical therapist once a month for preventative care so that I don't injure myself climbing. Massages are covered. Dentist trips are covered. Hell, until recently, vitamins were covered. Oh yeah, EVERYONE IN HOLLAND IS COVERED.

It ain't perfect, but I don't pay out of pocket for an emergency ambulance ride either.

Imagine we all took a socialist attitude towards publishing, but one of course that didn't rely on "outside" government support. What if we said to ourselves, sure, I'll pay this $3 reading fee or this $20 contest fee or I'll share the costs of my book's publication so that not only I can continue to enjoy the privilege of print but others can as well.

I don't mean to demean the seriousness of our human right to healthcare, but it serves as a good example of where my head's going. It's going away from the economic model I was taught growing up (me! me! me!) to the one I've learned to love in my adopted home (all! all! all!). Johannes Goransson brought up the problematized "Author" in his post and I'd like to take that a step further and complicate the MY WORK IS GREAT AND YOU ARE PRIVILEGED IF YOU GET TO PUBLISH IT idea as being the major contribution any of us make to the world of literature.

Clearly I'm simplifying things. But I hope I'm at least making my point. If we all agree we're committed to seeing writing in print, esp. non-mainstream writing that is not part of the normal capitalist Amazon economy, then does it not follow that we all join in the economics to make that happen? And thus change our minds a bit on what that looks like? The world has changed drastically since I was taught to detest submission fees and vanity presses. Can we not change as well?

I also just want to point out one more thing. In my final post about the help Versal got from some €3000/day strategy consultants, I mentioned that one of the first ideas the consultants had was to charge a fee for submissions. Keep in mind these guys have no idea what's going on over there in the American literary world. They purposefully didn't come into the meeting with much background because we all wanted to see what would come out of the brainstorm if we had a blank page. And the idea came up almost immediately, because they felt that the fee would be a good "channel" to increase writers' participation in the literary economics.

How very socialist of them.

September 05, 2011

Like correctly spelled words in sentences.

The latest fray in literary America, which like most I am watching from afar, has me thinking a lot about best practices in publishing.

If you haven't been keeping up, start here, where writer Brett Ortler shares his recent but seemingly conditional acceptance from BlazeVOX. Then head over to HTMLGiant, which picked up the story rather quickly and where, true to form, the comments threads exploded. There are some heated responses out there, too. And last but not least, BlazeVOX's own Geoffrey Gatza responds here

I'm following the fray closely because I am interested in what is between the lines of this discussion. There's actually quite a lot between the lines but I'm focusing on where it touches issues of business models and (business) practices, transparency, the changing relationships in the literary economy, what we "should" do, how we're/it's all changing, and the much-discussed "future of publishing".

These are each big discussions in and of themselves, which is probably in part why Mr. Ortler's blog catalyzed such a huge debate.

If you've been following our own blog over the last month, you'll know we're struggling with these very issues. Trying to find and implement a new business model for our journal has been an exciting but scary road, and I've tried to share as much about that road as I can, and will continue to do so. And foremost on my mind has been how to continue to be the honest, transparent and respectful journal that we started as and have grown more into. Which is why I'm thinking so much about best practices.

What are best practices? Wiki has a pretty good summary on them. In short, they are generally accepted things that work. For example, we could study what kinds of rejection letters are the "best" using certain criteria. Once you define what is "best", you can determine what practices will lead to it. So in the case of the rejection letter, we might define "best" as being respectful, non-demeaning, encouraging but honest. We could harness indicators like repeat submissions to determine how effective a letter is at its intended goal (some letters, e.g., may want to discourage a writer from sending work to the journal in the future, while others may want to encourage a writer to try again). The practice of writing such letters will have to do with things like the quality of the writing, the diction of its vocabulary, the signature (i.e. signed by an editor or by "The Editors"), the time lapse between submission and rejection, etc. Hard to imagine, maybe, but these things are actually measurable...

It wasn't too long ago that a situation in publishing led to the establishment of a best practice. Foetry's whistle blowing and the subsequent attention that bad contest practices got prompted CLMP to develop a contest code of ethics, which many contests now employ.

This latest eruption has underscored a lot of things, but for me as Versal's editor while Versal undergoes a change, I am interested in some of the best practices for small publishers that are coming to light. Like:

1. Grammatically correct and well-structured correspondence
2. Transparent business models
3. Transparent and upfront publishing terms

In a way these seem very obvious, and almost stupid to write down. But I think a letter that I write to someone who has entrusted me with her work should be well-written and not have spelling errors. I've spent nearly 10 years now with Versal thinking about these things, and assuming I was just a total nerd, and in an early instance having to argue with a fellow (now gone) Versal editor about why he should write emails that had complete sentences, and feeling then like I just was too uptight and generally not cool while his slightly manic emails were "cool" because they were "natural". 

But this post isn't because I feel vindicated now by the crowd. It's because I want to continue (here and elsewhere) talking with writers and editors and everyone interested in what we can all do to make this better. And sometimes the best place to start is somewhere really simple. Like correctly spelled words in sentences.

Feel free to share what you think are "best practices" in small publishing down there in the comments. And also other thoughts. Already this big debate is starting to move "forward". Part of that can be about how in this major transitional time for publishers, we can be "best" at what we're doing.