Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sotto Voce: The Elephant on This Blog

 Like the proverbial elephant in the room that everyone tries to ignore, inactivity on the Sotto Voce site hangs over this blog like an inconvenient truth. As of now SV appears to be one of those Live Sites/Dead Markets I complained about last May, and I've thought long and hard over whether and how I should address it.

My first thought was to go through and erase all traces of my endorsements, but on a blog devoted to promoting online journals that felt somewhat dishonest. At the same time, for all those people who have contacted me after poring over my interview with Emily Thorp hoping to find an answer, I have none, nor do the other staff members I've e-mailed, and of course the interview was back in November 2008 when all of us associated with this new and unique journal were riding high on the first issue.

Still I feel it is time to face the music. Not that I had any responsibility for the creation or administration of SV. I started out as a reviewer––a position I asked for because I found the whole format innovative and exciting–-and would have begun serving as Assistant Editor for the next issue. That didn't give me any say over everyday functions, but as someone who has spent the last 10 years trying to convince people that online publishing is every bit as good, or better than, print, a journal I've been associated with playing into the easy-come-easy-go image some still have of online publishing feels like a black eye.

What bothers me most,though, is that SV was a perfect mix of the best aspects of print and online publishing. The senior staff were well-credentialed and most had or were pursuing MFAs. Yet each submission automatically shot out to 15 or 20 vetted reviewers of varying backgrounds who rated each piece on a scale from 1-5 and added comments. Those comments were considered for the editing of accepted pieces and were included with rejected pieces so submitters could actually find out why a piece didn't make the cut. Finally, and best of all, was an anonymous review system. Even the Managing Editor did not know the name of the submitter or his or her credentials until it was time to send out responses. Playing fields don't get any leveler than that. The icing on that cake was a nice little payment.

That's not to denigrate solid online journals that don't have these features. It required a sophisticated online submission and distribution system designed by someone who, I believe, donated her time. And all publications want to pay contributors, they just can't afford to self-fund as Emily did. That's what makes this such a loss to the online community. All the stars aligned to produce something great. Only they turned out to be shooting stars that burnt out before crashing to earth.

In the meantime I will be back with some of my old friends at The Rose & Thorn that, while sporting a new look, still holds to the same values it has for over ten years: giving new and emerging writers a chance and, even if their system doesn't block the names out, choosing pieces solely based on quality and not on the writer's name or the school they attended or the other journals they've appeared in. Sometimes tried and true is better than new and innovative.

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