I'm happy to say that my interview with Sotto Voce's Managing Editor, Emily Thorp, attracted record numbers of readers to this blog. I can't say I'm surprised. From the time word went out about the pending publication, interest was piqued. The attractive website and sophisticated submission system promised a solid, long-lived publication and a weighty addition to anyone's list of credits. On the other hand, the review process bordered on the experimental. Imagine, a publication that didn't just pay lip service to discovering bright new writers, a place where MFAs and MBAs, the credentialed and the first-timers, would all meet on the same level field.
Like an experiment is Socialism or Free Love, everyone waited to see how it would turn out, especially as there were no "sample issues" to determine just what SV was looking for. No doubt there were visions of Iowa graduates being dispatched with standard rejections (and, better yet, criticisms from editors), while oft-rejected writers received glowing and appreciative acceptance letters. Revenge of the newbies.
Well, it didn't exactly turn out that way. When the first issue went live, most contributors had other writing credits, some had MFAs, and others taught writing. So what does that say? To some it implied a kind of backroom finagling, or as someone commented on another blog,
"birds of a feather," i.e. those with MFAs will naturally know and favor the writing of other MFAs, even if submissions are anonymous. However, as Emily Thorp commented on that same post after I brought to her attention,
Over half of our one hundred twenty reviewers do not have an MFA, and many do not have any formal literary education at all.(By the way folks, I think it would be nice when you have comments about one of my posts, to add them to my blog where I, and the interview subject, can easily reply rather than having to dig around to find them, but that's another subject for another day.)
For what it's worth, here is my take on the matter, and at this point I think I need to note that my opinions are totally my own and should not be taken as reflecting the opinions of Emily Thorp or the editorial philosphy of Sotto Voce, or, in fact, any other publication I have worked with.
After reviewing work for three different publications, all of them online, I can tell you that the majority of submissions are really bad. About a couple of handfuls show promise, but aren't there yet, and a very small percentage are actually ready for publication. No one wants to hear that, or, at least, they want to believe their work rises above the rest. While I am obviously an advocate of online publishing, even I have to lament that the advent of Word Processing and then online submissions has made everyone a writer––at least they think they are. People dash off stories or poems or essays with a sense of entitlement to get published, and, if they are rejected, consider it the fault of the "system" and nothing to do with them.
I had a piece published in the first issue of Sotto Voce. I'm not saying this to gloat over those who were rejected. I say it because I submitted and revised that story for four years. The first several versions were rejected by a variety of publications, and well they should have been. They simply weren't ready. And even with the version that was published, the SV editor made suggestions that, for the most part, I accepted as improving it even more. (A couple of things dealt with local coloquialisms that the editor would not know.) In the ten years or so I've devoted to my writing, I have not gotten my MFA, because it simply wasn't practical. I have taken courses, some more valuable than others, attended conferences and workshops, and read and read and read.The first story I wrote wasn't published, nor the second. The third one was, after more rejections and revisions than I can remember. Same with every one after that. I even gave up for a couple of years, frustrated that I would never be the writer I wanted to be, and now, I'm not, and I know I will never be, but I write anyway and am gratified when anyone provides a chance for my work to be read by anyone other than myself and a handful of friends.
So let me make some observations about the "writers" I've encountered over my ten years or so of editing.
- If you think you are a great writer, or even a very good one, then you probably aren't. The best writers struggle over every word, and are never satisfied, even when they see their work in print.
- If you think your work is so good, editors will overlook poor spelling and grammar, you are dead wrong. With thousands of submissions to choose from, they are bound to find something just as good that doesn't need to be cleaned up.
- If you think editors are rejecting your work because they just don't "get it," then you are the one who doesn't "get it."
- If you think your work is rejected because it's "edgy and experimental" make sure it isn't simply vacuous and superficial.
- If you think you can dismiss what is currently being published in top-tier journals as not to your taste, you can, absolutley, but you shouldn't be surprised when they reject your work because it isn't what they want.
- If you can't embrace criticism, then don't write. It takes far more effort to point out what is wrong with a piece than to praise it to high heaven. Appreciate any feedback you can get.
- If you think you don't need to work at improving your craft, you are probably one of the people who needs to work the hardest.