COMINGS AND GOINGS AND CHALLENGES AND FUTURES AND NEW WORLDS AND THINGS
As they say, it’s always better to leave at the time of your choosing than be pushed, so, with that in mind, I’m here to report that Verity La-la-land is currently experiencing some changes. After four years at the helm, trying to keep my hand on the sometimes (oftentimes) slippery tiller, navigating some choppy seas but also some of the most beautifully intoxicating seas imaginable, I’m swimming ashore, I’m finding a safe harbour, I’m heading for the hills. In other words, I’m standing down as editor. I’m leaving entirely.
It’s been an extraordinary trip; I had no idea that Verity La would become what it is today. Back in 2010, when, after knocking off a bottle of cheap verdelho, I came up with the concept of a ballsy little e-shaped journal for the literary misfits and almost-forgotten, I thought there’d be little interest and the whole thing would fall on its face within six months. But here we are.
Scanning the Vault’s list of published work is both exhilarating and sobering. Exhilarating because it never ceases to amaze me how many writers have been so willing to donate such astonishing work to our project. Sobering because this whole business of editing a literary journal is a delight but it also comes with a solid whack of exhaustion. All in all, I’ve very much enjoyed interacting with our writers, especially through the interview process, and it’s also been gratifying to facilitate reviews of books that often go ignored by bigger publications.
This current iteration of Verity La is the journal’s second, and, I think, there is a need to move to a third.
There are, however, some challenges.
The first is working towards a publishing model that might enable payment of contributors. Verity La is a labour of love: in our universe no one gets paid; money – for anyone – has never been an intention. I am somewhat relieved to read that the #paythewriters movement now recognises the value of projects like Verity La. Needless to say, writers working in commercial contexts MUST be paid and they must be paid APPROPRIATELY. For Verity La, is there a realistic way of doing things just over the horizon that might result in our contributors being paid and at the right levels?
I hope so.
Related to this, what is the impact of free-to-net journals like this one on the viability of publicly funded journals and/or commercial publications? Is it justifiable to flood the internet with free content – no matter how good it is – when journals that pay writers are dropping like flies? But there’s a flipside question: Do we want a culture where there are only a dozen or so government-funded literary journals? How would that be good for diversity and pluralism and accessible support? Shouldn’t there be a place in the Australian literary landscape for punk’s fuck-you spirit?
Every single publication in this country is trying to grapple with these questions. They are difficult questions, and complex, and they require considerable thought and energy and innovation.
Another key challenge for a contemporary journal is readership. As a prominent Australian literary mover and shaker rather brutally told me recently, ‘There is no hope for Australian fiction writers.’ As a small press told me, ‘We’re not going to publish poetry any more – it’s near impossible to sell.’ These are grim opinions indeed. It’s tempting to believe that social media is the answer. It’s part of the answer, but it’s also a false promise. Turning ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ into subscribers and readers is a task and a half, let alone turning them into consumers of literature i.e. people who might actually fork out their hard-earned cash for published work.
Personally, I’m a pragmatic optimist: I would like to think that the digital age opens up many possibilities for writers, readers, and publishers. As always, it’s about putting the right people in the right jobs.
Which brings me to the most important announcement of all.
Afters some robust and reflective discussion amongst the Verity La team and our close associates, after looking at a range of options including shutting the journal down, it’s been decided that the ship will keep sailing – under the editorship of Michele Seminara. Michele brings to the role a first-rate literary intelligence, an open and inclusive approach, and, importantly, new energy and fresh ideas. Michele is acutely aware of the impediments that might come the journal’s way, but readers should have every confidence that with her guidance Verity La will continue to play a role in developing and exploring Australia’s literary worlds.
In the coming weeks and months, Michele will be making some announcements about further changes to the editorial line-up. Do bear with the team as the journal goes through this transitional phase.
HUGE thanks to all the writers, reviewers, editors, proof-readers, submission readers, visual artists, and site-technicians – what a very fine bunch of volunteers you are. And to our subscribers and readers: much gratitude.
See you on the other side.