Apr/May 2000  •   Salon

Promoting Eclectica

by Tom Dooley

I've been keeping Eclectica going mostly on my own for over a year now, and without my former co-editor's technical expertise and artistic vision, several aspects of the magazine have regrettably been neglected. Most notably, new issues have been slow in coming, often missing deadlines by entire months. This issue is no exception since it was originally due out the beginning of March. However, as I feel after each issue is finally ready to hit the web, it does seem like better late than never. The magazine, its contributors, and its readership have taken on a life of their own, and even my fitful contributions haven't prevented Eclectica from hanging around and remaining a truly respectable venue for new writing. Plus, while Eclectica is supposed to be a bimonthly publication, it has at least managed to stay a quarterly, which seems to be the norm for many of the more established literary sites on the net.

Wondering just how Eclectica stacks up against the competition, I did some checking around the web. There are 372 zines listed in the literary category of InfoJump, a search engine / rating site devoted to publications on the internet. At one point, Eclectica was ranked number one in InfoJump in the literary category and in the top five of all zines regardless of content. We've fallen to #29 now, primarily because the voting mechanism allowing readers to give their feedback to InfoJump directly from our site has been defective for almost two years. No technical wizard me, I finally fixed this feature and have added it to the table of contents and all list pages in the hopes that readers will help get our numbers back up. [Ed: This feature no longer exists!]

It doesn't take long to realize InfoJump's ratings don't often truly reflect the quality of the publications contained therein. Blue Moon Review, a quality zine, is ranked #337, while Into the Minds, a pretty good site but one that doesn't have or deserve quite the same reputation, holds the #14 position. This is not to say it wouldn't help Eclectica to attract new readers if we could regain our top ranking in InfoJump, but I was curious to know if there were any other indicators of where the best writing could be found on the net. There is, of course, John Labovitz's List of E-zines, which as of March 8, 2000, contained an updated directory of 4,392 online publications. However, Labovitz's list doesn't try to give any indication of which zines are better than others, and over 4,000 of anything, let alone ezines, can get pretty intimidating.

I was able to find a number of lists that do have rating systems. Some, like the ezines they contain, are better than others. Since it's up to the editors to submit their publications to these lists, Eclectica wasn't in any of them until this week. It's worth noting all of these lists have the same inherent problems InfoJump does. The more established a publication, like Blue Moon, the more votes its likely to get, yes, but the lower its rating is likely to be. A new zine publisher can easily ask ten of his friends to vote, thereby giving his publication the highest possible rating even if no one else ever reads it.

There are movements toward a "cleaning up" of the Internet, most notably Netscape's Open Directory Project, formerly NewHoo. This directory relies upon an army of over 20,000 volunteers to edit particular categories. It's a great concept, and while it's already rivaled Yahoo! as the most used directory on the web, it'll be interesting to see where it goes in the coming years. In the meantime, I've come to realize the best way to track down quality publications is still to check out the links page of some of the better zines. Of course, under my stewardship Eclectica has to date failed to provide such a list of links. I have, however, started work on one to promote those sites helping to raise the overall editorial standards on the web.

I unfortunately cannot remember the details, but I heard on NPR the other day about a guy who convinced an airline company to place free booklets of poetry on their international flights. His point was when it comes to items of personal taste like poetry, supply actually creates demand. If our society is to become more literate (which it seems safe to say we're nearing an all-time low in that department), we need to increase the supply. This is where the Internet comes in as the first major technological advance of recent history actually possessing the potential to increase literacy and literary awareness in the world. But, let's face it: it's severely hampered by an avalanche of cliches and masturbatory tripe. People should have easy access to writing that stimulates their intellects, emotions, and creativity, and right now this is only the case if they know where to find such writing or are blessed with the time and patience to look for it.

If you agree with what I've said so far, and you agree Eclectica is a place on the web where you can find the kind of high standards necessary to bring credibility to the web, please take a moment to submit your vote to InfoJump using the box at the bottom of this page or at the bottoms of any of the table of contents pages. [Ed: Or just spread the word on social media!] And if you have friends who enjoy reading top quality fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, please take a moment to tell or email them about Eclectica. With no promotion at all, this site receives hits from 10,000 unique users per month. I'd like to see if we can at least double that number in the months to come. While the various search engines and lists have their drawbacks, we might as well take as much advantage of them as we can. You and your immediate circle of friends can help us do that by taking a few moments to vote.

Speaking of great writing though, I'd like to turn my attention to the current issue. One of the things that strikes me is the remarkable array of characters in the fiction category. There's the embattled but in no way pathetic woman who must change her father's diapers in Elayne Roman's "Quick Pick," and the drying-out drunk who must spend a month building a retaining wall for the sheriff's daughter in A.M. Kiernan's "Jungle Quilt." The still attractive wife of a well-known homosexual British aristocrat is just one of several interesting characters in Andrew Morton's "England's Glory," while the newly divorced couple in John Palcewski's "Dawn of Civility" are indelibly sketched by a few documents and keepsakes spilled from a shoebox. These and many other characters help to make this what I believe to be one of the better fiction issues we've ever had.

Which is not to say fiction is the only source of excitement in this issue. There are poems from nine different poets and an eclectic assortment of nonfiction and miscellany, including Frederick Zackel's nearly exhaustive treatise entitled "Sex & Death," which pretty much says everything there is to say about that particular combination of topics. Craig Butler returns with yet another satirical portrait, this time of an invented (I sincerely hope!) playwright, as opposed to the cabaret director he profiled a couple issues ago. And Ann Skea continues to write great book reviews, and I give my opinions about some new music releases. All in all, this issue was another labor of love, and I'm proud of it (not to mention happy to be done with it!).

I hope you enjoy the work of all these fine writers, and that you'll find the time to help promote Eclectica so more people will have a chance to read their work.