Friday, July 25, 2008

Zine Writing: Beyond Simplicity

I wasn't always such a cheerleader for zines. While I've edited for zines for nearly 10 years now, too many of the early ones were the equivalent of blogs (which, hard to believe, didn't even exist back then) copying and pasting stories for anyone to read. They weren't particularly pleasing to the eye, work was often poorly proofed, and, quite honestly, bad. Yours truly, of course, was never associated with anything so primitive, but enough of them existed to give zines a bad name.

In the cyber-world ten years is a lifetime, and there have been tremendous changes since then. Most of us have learned that being open to new writers doesn't have to mean being open to bad writers. Sites are now quite appealing and sophisticated and most online publications receive enough submissions to be highly selective. Still,among those of us working and publishing in zines far too much time is spent on what makes zines as good as print and not nearly enough time is spent talking about what makes zines better than print.

Open Door Policy
These days zines are by no means an easy acceptance. Like any other publisher they turn down hundreds of submissions each month and end up choosing between the good and the very good. However, most strictly online publication, i.e. those that did not make a move from print, especially the more established ones, give little or no weight to past credits. As an editor I've seen that what works in print doesn't always work online, and therefore a string of credits doesn't really count for much.

This results in more than just a receptiveness to new writers; it means a receptiveness to new styles as well. Even among online publications associated with venerable print journals like the Kenyon Review, you'll find the online work is edgier and more experimental.

Read Round the World
The cost of mailing and purchasing publications from other countries means the reach of print is miniscule in comparison to online. English speakers around the world read American zines and vice versa. Consider the value of having your work read not just in the US and Canada, but in the UK, Israel, India, South Africa.

And because they read, they also submit. So zines have developed a much more international flavor than print journals.

Your Work Sticks Around
Working with The Rose & Thorn I had the opportunity to re-publish three pieces that originally appeared in print, online. Why would I bother? Because online publications are archived and easily accessible to new readers.

Think about it. Unless you are good enough to publish a collection of your work or appear in an award anthology, what are the chances anyone will find your work and read it six months, let alone a year from now? That happens all the time online. Even better, readers will often e-mail you to tell you about it.

Easy Links
When you've published in print, the best you can do is list those publications on your website. When you've published online, you can link to the actual piece. The result makes it much easier to provide clips, and sometimes editors will seek you out rather than the other way around.

Zine writing is definitely the wave of the future. Until now, the emphasis has been on how that benefits the reader. But it benefits the writer, too, in many many ways.

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