Writers have always faced the dilemma of how family and friends–-particularly those recreated on the page––will react to our published work, but publishing online is akin to that nightmare of walking into your workplace and discovering you are bare-a--ed naked. Today not just those we know but those we've just met, like prospective employers or a possible love interest, can Google our names and find everything we've posted from stories and poems to comments in forums.
Writers like Tobias Wolff and Ann Beattie came to terms with this, I'm sure, long before making the move online. But for those of us who labored in considerably greater obscurity, publishing in mid-level print journals provided the advantage of a certain control over who read our work and when.
I started thinking about this when I read two posts in a forum I frequent. One was a writer who had published a story in a small journal that was then picked up for BASS. The other had a story published in a less well-known online publication. Both had proudly told friends and family about the publication but due to some foul language and sex scenes were a little uncomfortable with certain people reading them. Ironically, the writer with the story in BASS probably had the least to worry about.
Outside of my writer friends, very few people I know have ever heard of BASS. Of those who have, even fewer read it, and the handful who might politely express an interest in reading my story are not looking to purchase the entire anthology. I'd have no intention of lending out a precious contributor's copy to someone who probably wouldn't read it much less return it. So publication of my work in BASS (were hell ever to actually freeze over) would be a nice little credit that caused very little discomfort.
On the other hand, if I brag to my friends about the story just published online, they don't even need to know in what zine. Sitting around bored at work one day they could simply Google my name and there it would be along with other writing I may not have mentioned like the post supporting socialized medicine I'd hoped my boss at the insurance company would never see.
Which brings up another point about publishing online. That can holds a lot of worms.
With much of my work published or re-published online, this is something I struggle with regularly. When it comes to family, I'm very picky about what I want them to read. My stories are rarely even close to autobiographical, but my Mom would grill me on every infidelity or depressed housewife. Not to mention posts that hit closer to home like difficult aging parents.
In the larger world, I also like to compartmentalize my writing. There are those I want to read and know all my work. There are those I would like to know about some things but not others, and there are those I prefer not to tell at all. Like the people who think all "real" writers publish books.
I remain pretty safe with that last group since people rarely Google my name for no reason (though it has happened). It's the first two and the family where it gets dicy. At the same time my editing self can always tell when a writer is holding back––not going somewhere so as not to expose a nerve that could set off a family conflagration. Those pieces definitely suffer for it.
To a certain extent writing has always been the equivalent of exposing yourself in public. Only in print you could limit it to some cleavage or maybe a dorsal view. Online you are bare-a--ed naked, and in front of the entire world.