For most of a decade now, Segullah has been providing readers with consistently good art and writing. Recently it has been undergoing some transitions, and so I invited them to discuss these changes with us. I caught Karen Austin just as she was making the transition to managing editor.
Let’s hear what she has to say.
Q: First, for the sadly uninitiated, what is Segullah?
Segullah‘s mission is to encourage literary and artistic talent, provoke thought and promote greater understanding and faith among Latter-day Saint women. We encourage insightful writings which explore life’s richness and complexity while reflecting faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our aim is to highlight a variety of women’s perspectives within a framework of shared beliefs and values. We focus more on narrative and self-expression of the individual experience than on discussions of doctrine or policy. The venues for such writings include an online journal and a blog. In addition, we have a Facebook page and a Twitter account that help direct fans to the literary content and blog.
In Hebrew segullah signifies a cherished personal possession that is set apart and diligently cared for; it is a term the Lord has used with affection to describe His covenant blessings and responsibilities we receive in relationship with Him.
Q: I love the blog. I rarely comment because I don’t want to leave my testosteroney fingerprints everywhere, but I still read a healthy percentage of what you post. What do you know about your online audience—in terms of page views, commenters, geography, loyalty, etc?
With approximately 20,000 views monthly, the blog supports a fairly substantial readership from return ISPs rather than from casual passersby. Google analytics has its limitations, but we can see readership by U.S. geography that matches the distribution of LDS with more hits in the Intermountain West but with appearance from urban centers such as Seattle, Dallas and DC. However, we have hits coming from countries such as Canada, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Australia, Ukraine and Germany. Notably, we see significant hits coming from military addresses, so we are also reaching Americans abroad. Computer data accessible through blog hits doesn’t reveal gender or age, but comments primarily come from people identifying as women.
Data gleaned through our affiliated Facebook page (617 fans) shows that our average fan there is a woman from Salt Lake City aged 30 to 44 (39.1% of of our fans). The ages of fans younger and older are almost evenly split on either side of this mean. And 6.4% of our Facebook fans are men. (The remaining Facebook fans do not indicate gender.) But we have no way of knowing for sure if the demographic of our Facebook fans is generalizable to our blog readership.
Q: For a few years now you’ve also had a print edition. What led to both the beginning and pending end of this venture?
In 2004, a writers group of LDS women living primarily in Salt Lake and Utah counties started workshopping their writing. Almost a year later, they decided to formalizing their work by printing the initial Segullah journal. At that time, print literary journals were more in focus than online journals. They never considered online publication as an option. For example, Exponent II was still printing issues. Kathryn Soper, Justine Dorton and the other founding editors wanted to make something tactile and beautiful, something they could hold in their hands. They pooled together their own money, printed maybe 100 issues, and worked their contacts in an effort to sell those issues. They had a tone that differed from existing publications of LDS literature. As Kylie Turley explains in an editorial for the first issue, “Segullah is a place where believing women bump into real life with all its carpool-migraine-budget issues, its miscarriage-death-divorce disasters, and its true-love, answers-to-prayers, blessed-by-charity moments of sheer joy.”
Now nearly eight years later, readers are more and more drawn to reading texts of a variety of genres online because of the speed, affordability and accessibility of online publication. Many journals, magazines, and newspapers, inside and outside of Mormon culture, are moving more content online or publishing exclusively online. Segullah is moving into the 21st Century and taking its place beside them.
Q: I admit when I received the email about Segullah ceasing print publication I panicked. Not because I’m currently a subscriber (my subscription has lapsed) but because I misread the email and thought you were another Mormon rag to which I am still subscribed. Taking time to analyze my feelings, I am surprised by how betrayed I felt. How do you plan to ease the transition for those who love to see you arrive in the mail?
As a group of people who love to read and write, we recognize the value of holding a print journal. Like many other literary journals, we are hesitant to place so many resources into the tasks of printing and mailing when we could direct more resources to soliciting contributions, workshopping pieces, editing and publishing directly to the internet. It’s challenging to get several dozen schedules to line up for a semi-annual print journal. By posting new content every month, the prose and poetry editors can focus on supporting and encouraging a smaller set of writers at a time. The blog readership is much larger than the circulation numbers, so we expect that writers will receive increased exposure by dovetailing the blog and journal in January of 2013. With the coming of the new year, these two halves of Segullah will share the same main url (segullah.org) that will display introductory paragraphs or lines of poetry that then invite readers to jump to supporting pages.
Q: Another thing Segullah does that sets it apart from much of the Bloggernacle is publish books. Anything new coming down bookwise?
At this moment, the Segullah editors do not have a manuscript in the pipeline for printing. However, we have talked about selecting poems, stories, and essays from the forthcoming online journal for publication in an anthology. We would also include some of the blog posts as well. At this time, we don’t have a concrete timeline for such a publication.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to chat about this time of transition. AMV, of course, is an arts-and-culture blog. So before you go, make a pitch to our readers: What do you offer that they cannot pass up?
Before becoming a staff member of Segullah, I was invigorated as a reader to find a space that allowed exploration of faith through the genre of personal essay—as it exists in this relatively new genre of the blog post. Yes, Segullah does a lot to articulate the domestic sphere and to validate the important intellectual and emotional labor performed there. It makes visible a type of labor that was often ignored or discounted or too often hidden within the pages of private journals or in narrowly shared personal correspondence. By examining the details of their daily lives, Segullah writers and commenters are exploring issues of theology, psychology, sociology, and so forth. Segullah isn’t a space where people regularly hammer out statements of belief in the abstract. There are other places for that. Our narratives ground these abstractions through practice and action that I find incredibly powerful and validating for both writers and readers.
When I read my first issue, I lept and danced about the house, jumping on furniture as I exclaimed to my husband, “I found a community that I’ve always hoped could exist. I found a place to use precise and beautiful language to explore while still holding onto my sometimes indescribable or even unsupportable faith.” By focusing on the particular, we have a community of women who hold fairly diverse views. Even if one contributor’s post contains an implied “moral to the story,” it might conflict sharply with the “moral of the story” implied in the post from the day before. The journals show the same complexity through poetry, fiction and prose. Writers’ truths can differ and still both be valid. Segullah provides a place where women can place their stories side by side.