Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why the Anonymity?

A recent issue of interest has been the growing number of editors and publishers of online and print magazines keeping themselves "anonymous."

Quite frankly, we’re finding this to be a more disturbing trend than not for a number of reasons.

One of the first is that blatant anonymity makes us suspect of the publication, of its validity and credibility.

When considering publications to list on NewPages, one of our minimal requirements is that there has to be an identifiable person who is willing to take responsibility for the finished product. Not being able to know the name of someone to contact if there is a problem, a question, or a concern makes the whole venture seem shady and fly-by-nightish. It’s one thing when no one identifies themselves on the web site, but when we write and ask for a contact, purely for our in-house information, and are denied this – we don’t feel this is a publication NewPages can recommend to our readers.

In the past, our readers have turned to us for help when they had concerns about such matters as how a contest was being run, when they could not get a reply on submissions, or even when their subscription stropped showing up and they could not contact the publisher. In these situations, we have contacted the publication and in most all cases, helped to resolve the situation. Not knowing who someone is does not help to create a working relationship, nor does it seem terribly collegial in the sense of literary community. In fact, it seems quite the opposite, which is exactly what it seems some publications mean to project.

If I had a dime for every time lit mags professed “we don’t want names to matter” and “we’re out to be different from the establishment”... Really, this is a highly cynical position to take against the many good, decent publications out there that indeed have had and currently have people working for them who are ethical, respectful, and concerned about the welfare of literature and publishing. This idea that keeping editors anonymous is the more ethical and just way to run a publication seems to call a lot of great work done by others corrupt.

Checking the backgrounds of those associated with the numerous new publications that crop up weekly is an effort that we make on behalf of our readers. Of course, as the saying goes, anyone can be a dog on the Internet, but we do look at names and attempt to verify these for any publications we list in our guides. We have always attempted to run NewPages as a site which recommends quality publications; we are not a clearinghouse of anything and everything out there – and our readers tell us they appreciate this about our site. If anything, anonymity in publications that claim high ethical standards give us an opposite opinion and raise many other questions: Are the editors publishing themselves? Are they publishing their friends? Honestly, how are we to know?

In terms of editorial credibility, it is helpful for writers as they are looking for places to submit their work to know the background of the people not only making the selections of the work, but who might also be editing their words. Certainly, there will be some people so eager for publication that it doesn’t matter to them, but I would like to know that my work will be given critical consideration – not turned away because it might have been too obscure for Mr. Smith’s eleventh grade class to understand, or, worse yet, published with errors I may have missed and Bill & Ted on their excellent publishing adventure really didn’t know enough to correct. I think most writers consider editors their “peers” in some way – at least in the sense that they will help a writer to grow through both acceptance and rejection and not allow their writing to make a fool of either writer or publication once it's published.

At the professional level, the anonymous stance seems an immature one. I don’t know of any anonymous publication that has had any longevity. I can’t help but say it seems like a “youthful” attitude of self-righteousness and indignation – and one that won’t last long for any publication. Though I could be wrong – I’ll check back with some of you anonymous folks ten years from now – heck, five years from now, and we’ll see if you’re still around – or rather, if your publication is still around.

I have to ask about any writer submitting to an anonymous publication. Is this something to list on your publishing credentials? Is there any scrutiny of that? Again, I certainly do understand that for some people, this is not a concern, but I'm focusing on what we're choosing to list here on NewPages and what our readers expect of what they'll find here (aka our work).

I know at the higher professional levels, to list publications on our accomplishments, those publications have to have a verifiable editorial or peer review process. So, as much as I might admire the work I see on an anonymous publication, I can’t send in my work if I later want it considered for, oh, I don’t know, say a job I’m applying for, or promotion, or tenure. In fact, I recently reviewed an applicant’s resume and called into question two of the publications listed. I don’t think this would necessarily cost the applicant the job, but in some cases where this could make the difference, I think writers need to be careful about using such publications to bolster their credentials. Interestingly enough, in each of the anonymous publications I have seen so far, contributors include bios which list their publishing credentials. Slightly hypocritical, if names don’t matter - ?

Ultimately, it seems to me these spirited, young, anonymous publications are quickly finding their way around – mostly online – and if writers want to submit to them – for fun – they should by all means go ahead and do so. But as quickly as these efforts are sprouting up, they will also find their anonymous editors moving along to greener, more name-worthy publications. Ultimately, this is as any venture in life – user beware. I can’t think of too many situations in which I would engage in a working relationship with someone who insisted on remaining anonymous, though this might just be yet another of the web-future trends of publishing.

As for now – NewPages is not listing publications who insist on remaining anonymous. We have had long discussions about this, both in-house and with publications whose editors both have made themselves known to us and those who refuse to do so. We will continue to attempt to come to some understanding of this new phenomenon, but for now, we've had to make this a deciding factor in listings for our guides.

10 comments:

P. H. M. said...

Girls with Insurance and Thirst For Fire were both once anonymously run and went out of business. I happened to know the guy who ran the latter and so I bought it from him directly. The former, however, I had to buy from someone who had nothing at all to do with the literary world.

I think there is a certain cult of personality that an editor's name gives to a publication. I think that the editor IS the face of the publication and goes a long way, in their own interactions and own writing, toward representing the publication. You don't put this much time into something without it becoming a part of you and you of it. This is undeniably true.

It might seem a frivolous demand, but I demand that if you're going to have editors remain anonymous, then all contributors should also contribute anonymously--this would seem reasonable to me, and forthright, and honest.

I ask that someone name a publication which has lasted longer than a decade which never revealed its editorial staff.

Ananda Osel said...

I agree with you in large part, but it seems somewhat insincere to post an article which professes to care about writers while remaining hushed about the names of the publications that may be exploiting them. Now, in your defense one might claim that naming a particular magazine only serves to promote said magazine, but doesn’t it also protect potential contributors? Isn’t that why you won’t list them on NewPages in the first place, to protect writers?

You also rhetorically ask “Are the editors publishing themselves? Are they publishing their friends? Honestly, how are we to know?” How do we know?! You can’t be serious. Every magazine regardless of size and level of professionalism is publishing their friends. The friend trail is simply longer and more elaborate when it comes to the “professional” or “peer reviewed” journals. This is so obvious it dosen’t even need an example. We are all willful products of the same literary world, thus, our human tendencies do not simply disappear because one becomes “professional.” To claim otherwise is not only untrue, but it reeks of a belief in a non-existent ideal which is, at best, preposterous.

On the other hand, I value your piece and hope you don’t mind the understandable criticisms.

Denise said...

No, of course I don't mind thoughtful commentary in response. But you also can't be serious in thinking we haven't had these same discussions here at NewPages. Of course we have. Of course people know people when it comes to publishing, and of course publications with reputations mean to uphold those reputations by handling submissions as professionally as possible (there’s plenty of stories of “famous” writers whose works were rejected by people who know them). Controversies associated with that are much longer and deeper than this commentary means to address.

But we indeed have received requests to list publications that truly do publish friends and self-publish – blatantly. (I recall one saying: “We publish our friends.”) When editors are anonymous and insist on that anonymity, then this kind of publishing crosses a line that other more professionally run submissions processes do not - regardless of who knows who once they make the publishing cut.

What? You want NewPages to name names of these publications? What would be the purpose in that? Not only that, but they really are becoming so numerous, it would be impossible to keep track. Refer back to the line: writer beware. Do your own research on the publication; if it’s not up to your standard, don’t submit to and/or read it. If you don’t mind the anonymous process, then by all means, submit and read on. Our whole website is based on what we recommend to our readers. Who says we’re being hushed? We list hundreds of publications. That seems pretty loud to me.

D.M. SOLIS said...

This is so very fine indeed. It is good to have an advocate with standards of this caliber. Keep holding them to us, the authors, as well as to others. Well done. Thanks, peace and all good things for you in literature and in life.

Sincerely,
Diane

Ananda Osel said...

Denise,

Thank you for your counter-points. I can appreciate a civil and productive discourse and am happy that you can too. That said, I see no distinction between publications that “publish friends and self publish – blatantly” and those that do so “professionally,” besides the fact that the “professionals” are better at concealing it. In my mind, putting “we publish our friends” on the cover may be dumb, but at least it’s honest. I don’t care about how polished the deception is, just that it’s deception. On the other hand, I totally agree that editors should not be anonymous; you’re absolutely right about that. Thank you for the article and the response. Take care.

headsfromspace said...

"Every magazine regardless of size and level of professionalism is publishing their friends."

This statement is obviously false, as is any generalization.

BULLmensfiction said...

The New Yorker scrapped its masthead 46 weeks into publication, in January 1926. Never seen since.

nathantyree said...

I find your reasoning sound and interesting. Yet, I'm not swayed. I don't find anonymous editors troubling at all.

Denise said...

RE: The New Yorker comment - It's one thing not to publish a masthead, it's another to refuse a request to identify yourself to a publication (NewPages) when asking to be listed with them. That's a differentiation we had to start making here, and then finding all these gray areas of why they weren't disclosing (I think BULL fell into one of those areas, as I recall...). I don't think you'd be hard pressed to find out whose behind The New Yorker.

Denise said...

RE: nathantyree - I don't think I'm trying to sway anything here so much as explain an editorial decision we've made here at NewPages and why we have made it. As I've said - reader and writer beware, and if it's not an issue to you, then by all means, have at it and enjoy reading and sending in your writing for publication. Partially, as well, I do mean to offer advice from someone on the inside of a couple different professional arenas as to how these publications will be viewed.