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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Enter the Skirmish?

Skirmish is a new fiction-only literary journal that accepts submissions from its users online, but the twist is that users are also the editors. The users give ratings to the stories and the top-voted pieces will be published in its print version. The project is still in beta and there are only eleven stories in the queue, but this idea of user editing could be revolution in small press ideology.

Bringing the democratic process to publishing, like the Digg or YouTube of fiction, is a huge middle finger to the current system. The process gets rid of the editors at the content gates, and enables an almost pure democracy. In theory the best content should bubble to the top, but as the internet has shown us before, the highest quality work doesn't always come to the top. This may be especially true in terms of one publishing cycle. The submission system has a top rated stories section, which serves to push the most viewed stories up higher, while not giving newly submitted stories the chance to build the same momentum. Unless the Skrimish team can figure out some kind of incentive to get all stories read evenly, then only the older stories may stand a chance of being voted into print.

One of my favorite parts about reading various literary journals has been the different styles of stories that get chosen by the editors. I fear that the communities that form around Skirmish could choose stories that are bland and homogenized. If the same users again and again choose to vote for similar stories the whole idea behind the enterprise will be defeated. It will be up to the site controllers to make the site have some kind of interesting challenges, and help create a community around the journal.

Hacking is also a possible problem that could threaten the journal's integrity. Considering that the Times top 100 vote was hacked last year just for the lulz and that the registration process for the website does not even have a captcha, a group of malicious hackers or someone who wishes to vote up their own story could make an automated registration if they felt it was worth their time.

The journal does aim to keep transparency front and center which is crucial in gaining the trust of the users. They have promised to put their entire budget into the journal, and to donate the majority of revenue to the contributors.

Skirmish is currently an interesting experiment, and it will be up to the users and creators of the site to make it something amazing. To submit please visit

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