Monday, November 10, 2008

Online Publishing: It's a No-Brainer, or It Should Be

Oy, I thought the days of having to pound out all the good reasons for publishing online were over. I figured it was a no-brainer until I came across a recent post in a forum I frequent. The poster was concerned that The Kenyon Review now considers all submissions for both the print version and KR Online. If accepted, she didn't want her work appearing in the online version.

On the plus side, things have reached the point where even in this forum where many members have MFAs and publish with Knopf, I wasn't the only one to react with, "whuh?" But for those of you who still doubt whether being published online is as good as print, let me go through it one more time.

Many early online publications were, and remain, open to new writers. In the beginning this could mean sites that "published" (really just posted) whatever came in. Even those attempting to be more selective were only as good as the submissions they received. But those that survived now often receive as many or more submissions as print publications. Publications like The Rose & Thorn and Sotto Voce, the two I've been associated with most recently, are able to publish only a small percentage of the work they receive. They remain a venue for new writers to break in, but new doesn't mean bad. It simply means writers who need to build some credits, and both these publications now receive submissions from writers who have quite a few credits as well. And now we have many top-tier print publications lending their cachet to online publishing.

In the early days it wasn't unusual for someone, with best of intentions, to set up a site and then lose interest or time to maintain it. The unlucky few they "published" (actually simply posted) had nothing to show for it. That situation is not the standard anymore, and many online publications have been around for years. Furthermore, top-tier publications like Kenyon are more likely to move entirely to online rather than fold altogether.

Still, it's important to get a feel for the durability of any new publication before you submit. Many upstart print publicatons fold too, and even more venerable ones can succomb to the cost of print. My first publication was in Beginnings. When I learned a few weeks ago that they had apparently stopped publishing, I was certainly glad that "Dora's Memoir" had been re-printed in The Rose & Thorn.

So far I've listed reasons why online is as good as print, but there are also reasons why it is actually better. First, by its very nature, the Internet reaches a wider audience. Reading your work is not limited to those who subscribe to a print journal or the people willing to go out and buy it. Further, while mailing journals overseas is expensive, Internet publications can be easily accessed all over the world.

Second, your work is available longer. Online publications can be archived for months and even years. Also, online publications are available in a Google Search. So someone can Google your name and easily read all the work you've published online going back several years.

Third, you can receive feedback. If you or the publication chooses to include your e-mail address, readers will often contact you about your work. Writers can also sign up for Google Alerts to receive notification any time the writer's name or the story are mentioned online.

Fourth, with online publications you can do more than just list your published work on your webpage; you can link to it so anyone can see the quality of your writing.

One Drawback
There is one drawback to publishing online. Unlike print, if the publication does go belly-up, or if there is some technical problem and the archives are lost, your work can disappear. That's why I always print out any of my work that appears online and make sure that the name of the publication and the date show up somewhere on my hardcopy. I've yet to have that occur, but if it does, I'm ready, and, if I also keep a copy in my Word files, I can easily set up a new link from my webpage.

Is there anyone out there who still thinks online publishing is second-class? If so, I give up.

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