Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Contempt...

....seems to going out to the Faster Times today, for its new ranking of lit mags.

I'm not all that contemptuous of a person, so I'm asking myself why.

If Wigleaf had made his list, would I feel different? Probably not -- though I might find myself less willing, at the moment, to say what I think...

So why then? Possibilities:

1. I've never loved Cliff Garstang's lit mag rankings, but Cliff has always been completely frank about what they represent: nothing but Pushcart success. In the Faster Times list, I see Lincoln Michel going for what Cliff is going for--an objective-type sense of which lit mags are held in high esteem. But he's not as forthcoming about how the calculations are made.

2. In the 'Why?' section – like, why offer such a list –- he suggests that he's trying to help writers who may be overwhelmed by the number of mags out there and so not know which are the most prestigious. Am I being too bone-headedly literal if I point out that another clear function of any such ranking is to rank? The Faster Times may or may not be super interested in helping fiction writers – who knows – but there's a clear enough basis for interest in stratifications, assertions of relative prestige. Who's up? Who's down? Who's in? Who's out? Tell us, People Magazine. I mean, Faster Times.

3. Back to number 1: the lack of forthcomingness about how mags are assigned 'tiers': Michel is quick to make clear that the rankings don't reflect his own favorites, among which he lists Noon, Unsaid and New York Tyrant. These happen to be among my own favorites, too. Have to say, though: a couple of mags in that general 'family' appear in the lower tiers (fuck you, I’m not listing them)—while some higher-profile/more fully established mags (Barrelhouse, for example) are omitted. Yes, I'm wondering about pandering.

4. Back to number 2: People Magazine. Why do we even do this shit? If you think, as I do, that the fiction in the New York Tyrant is, in general, better and more important than the fiction in the New Yorker, let me suggest that you have an obligation: to lend it your fire, to declare, wholeheartedly, your belief in it. You can be a tool, try to serve the man, or you can be part of how perceptions change.

13 comments:

Laura Ellen Scott said...

all of that, agreed. No need to negotiate the options if you follow your heart. and I am not a sentimental gal.

Erin said...

I get why the temptation is there to rank stuff in the writing world -- the ambiguity of it all can be difficult to bear sometimes. But I don't think trying to create data helps alleviate that burden. And having an ambiguous methodology (hm, didn't we go through this with P&W's MFA rankings, too?) actually makes it worse.

hobart said...

I really like Amber's comment on HTMLGIANT:

>When I first started submitting, I looked and looked and found nothing like it, so I ended up making my own–but only after lots and lots of research and trial and error etc. I bet a lot of young writers are eagerly copying down this list right now. :)

except with the caveat... how beneficial was that lots and lots of research? you know?

Scott Garson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Garson said...

hob--yeah that's my q: how beneficial?

on the one hand--thinking about Amber's htmlg comment--writers are going to want to know what pubs might be really helpful to them, in strictly careerist terms.... nothing wrong w/ that... but that knowledge comes pretty fast... and If LM had just been saying, publish in the NYer, the Paris Review, McSweeney's--this might make a diff. for you-- I wouldn't have seen any harm in it....

but i guess i do see potential harm in the full Faster Times thing: in conception and form, it serves as a tired reaffirmation of something that was never completely true and is probably less true now than ever before: that lit publishing is somehow unified, that we're all doing, all after, the same thing. all climbing the same mountain--just a q of how high you can get... LM would say that he's not saying that, but the form of it (tiers?) is.....

was just saying in an email: i'd like the Faster Times thing more if I was stoned and it was an MTV countdown show. It'd be like, When we return: THE SECOND TIER. Then they could have bottomfeeders come on and talk about how nothing was ever the same again once they'd cracked the amazing pages of the Virginia Quarterly Review.....

Christopher said...

Not to mention, re: #2, his list doesn't really help "writers who may be overwhelmed by the number of mags out there..." for the sole fact that:

1) I think we can rightfully assume that this demographic of writers are rather new to the "business" of writing/submitting/publishing--"emerging" writers, if you will, therefore

2) he cuts his list off at the very point where it could become truly useful to this demographic of writers who feasibly should be most interested in the 4th and 5th tier journals that are more likely to publish new and emerging voices.

So, in that way, his list fails in his very own intentions.

Clifford Garstang said...

I find list-making moderately useful. As a result of my Pushcart-based rankings, I've become aware of and submitted to magazines I wouldn't have otherwise. And it HELPS me prioritize. That said, it dictates nothing. It doesn't account for lots of factors -- money, response time, nasty editors, etc. All of that needs to be experienced and learned by participating in the market, just as the bajillion magazines who aren't on the list will be discovered that way. A bunch of which I happily and hopefully submit to.

Greg Gerke said...

This has probably been pointed out by the list is deliriously close to ranking the amount of money paid for stories. Most all the mags in the first tiers pay the big money and it settles down to no pay.

The knowing you've had work in Tyrant next to Lutz, Schutt, etc. is all the money in the world.

Lincoln said...

Hey Scott,

I think my basic response is what Clifford Garstang said, basically for all their problems, I find lists helpful.

I realize that there are a lot of people that hate lists, indeed there are a lot of people who hate reviews in general. I understand the stance. People often say that there is no point in reading movie reviews because you should form your own opinion, which makes some sense but doesn't really deal with the fact that there are far more movies than you can ever see and you must narrow them down someway.

As for methodology, like most of these kinds of best-of lists, it is fairly subjective. My methodology was to combine what I've gleaned from talking with lots of writers with the major awards (esp. the pushcart ranking and even more especially subtracting the 2010 pushcart from the 2006 pushcart rankings to see what magazines have done in more recent history) and then to run the list by other writers to see what they thought.

That makes it more subjective, but at the same time an objective measure isn't necessarily more accurate (the Pushcart ranking is great, but certainly distorted in a lot of ways. For example, Ploughshares has as many points than McSweneey's, Tin House and VQR combined.)

As far as pandering, I really don't think I did. Indeed, if anything the people who are most likely to be annoyed are other editors who run in similar circles (such as yourself I suppose). The only thing I felt unsure about was putting the magazine I co-edit on the list. I think that was the wrong call and I actually went back and removed us from the ranking.

I can see what you are saying about putting things in tiers, but ultimately I think the upper tiers are fairly uncontroversial and the problem that people have is the cut-off, so even if I removed the tiers and just made it a list, I think some people would be offended.

So then I guess why do it at all? As I said, I find it helpful and lots of other people have found it helpful. Ultimately it is just a blog post that will be useful as a starting point for some writers and not useful to others.

Feel free to email me if you want to ask me anything though. I believe we are facebook buds.

Lincoln said...

Christopher,

I disagree. I know a lot of writers who have been writing for years, been through mfa programs, been published, etc. who still were unaware of lots of big magazines out there. Magazines like Threepenny Review or Gettysburg Review or what have you.

I think it is helpful to know what is out there, not so that you have to climb the money mountain, but just to know your options.

As I said, I hoped it would be an interested compilation of magazines for writers to use as a starting point, not really some rigid hierarchy.

Scott Garson said...

hi l--thnx for your words here. my post was glancingly rant-ish--and i think others in yr position might have ignored it completely. will say too: nothing at all personal here (if i could have used 'Faster Times' in place your name in each case without sounding like a transparent a-hole, i'd have done it....).

a couple of thoughts:

i love reviews. would point out, tho: lists are assertions without argument, which makes them pretty different from what you get in a review.

on the whole question of helpfulness: as i was saying in earlier comment, if writers really don't know which mags are potentially difference-makers for them, of course that's useful info. Those potential diff. makers, as I see it , are the ones I think you're seeing as less controversial--the ones in the upper 3 levels. Looking at the lower levels, though, I don't think there's much of an argument about, for ex., a publication in Subtropics getting you much further than a pub in the North Amer. Review.... So i question the helpfulness....

and--as i was also saying above-- i see the potential for harm. one of the assumptions that support a ranking like this might be that 'prestige' as a value, while slippery, is a thing that exists outside of us, a thing whose measure might somehow be taken. my view of it: prestige is consensus, but prestige is just meaning, and if it's meaning, we're a lot more in charge of it than these 'tierings' would seem to suggest. If there are mags, for ex., that are skating on old cred (The Atlantic), putting out fiction in well-worn molds (The Atlantic), they deserve to be ignored by those writers whom history will probably see as 'happening' in 2010. Let them walk in a self-applied scent of importance. An old Florida dude with his cologne. People who can't write for shit won't know the difference, but most of my friends can. You can, L. all I'm saying here: if it's meaning, we've got some control.....

Lincoln said...

Hey Scott,

Well I do hope it is clear that I shared some of your concerns and attempted to alleviate them with my into and caveats. Obviously not to your satisfaction, but I do worry about some of this stuff.

My original list actually had a sixth "tier" where I put some of the newer magazines and online mags as a purposefully unfinished group suggested how much more is out there. Perhaps I should revert to that. And perhaps I didn't stress enough that this is all approximate and more of a collection of links to journals to check out than a true hierarchy.

For example, I send my best work to places like Unsaid and NOON first, I don't just send to whatever is at the top of the pyramid, and I'd hope others would do the same (not send to those two, but send to ones they love).

You are of course correct about reviews, although at the same time I must admit I don't read film reviews much anymore, I read Metacritic scores. What does this mean? Not sure, maybe I'm stretching the analogy...

Still, I do think these kind of lists can be helpful as starting points to make your own. And to be honest, I probably would not have posted this if there weren't other rankings out there that I felt were unfairly missing some obvious journals.

The Very Minor Writer said...

besides the new yorker, harper's and maybe mcsweeney's, is there any point in ranking any of these? none of these lit journals really make a difference in terms of a writer's career—unless you're teaching somewhere in which case you get tenure points. the most helpful ranking would be by how much they pay, straight up. the new yorker wins there, for sure.