December 14th, 2009

Self-publishing online: any takers?

What do you think of putting stories or novel excerpts up on your blog? I was recently asked by the writer, editor, and teacher Allyson Latta what I thought of writers publishing their fiction on their own websites and blogs–if it would interfere with work being published elsewhere or cause other problems.

The short answer is yes, it’ll cause some problems as some journals consider a piece published if it has appeared on the internet except in closed writers’ forums and critique groups. And that makes sense to me. Journals don’t make much money and every sale counts, so if by some happy circumstance someone hears RR has another story out (and wants to read it) and web-searches the title to find the journal ordering information, only to discover that the whole piece is on a blog… Well, that’s one less sale for the journal.

So even though not every journal explicitly states that they won’t consider blog-published works, I consider that implied. When my stories are published in online journals, that counts absolutely as a publication, so why shouldn’t it count if I put it up there myself?

Of course, if I wanted desperately to put my stories on Rose-coloured, I might not be so swayed by my perceived impression of journal editors desires. The fact is that my stories, and most fiction, are a terrible fit for the blogosphere. 1000 words is pushing it on the long skinny column of a blog post, and many of my stories are 4000+. I can’t speak for most blog readers, but for myself, I prefer my blog posts meaty, but not that meaty–a few bits of insight, some links and recommendatiosn and points to ponder and we’re done. I’m not ready for an hour of deep reading when I surf the blogs, and thus (with typical egocentricity) I assume no one else is either.

That said, I’ve seen some wicked cool uses of the blog medium in publishing fiction. Like The Montreal Fiores, Dave Fiore’s collection of short and short-short stories about that city. These pieces are brief and punchy and engaging: perfect for the web. And then there was Jim Munroe’s ingenious Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil, a novel in blog form, which Munroe posted to daily until the entire story was up–and then he published the physical-form novel (sadly, the original roommatefromhell.com has been hacked, but the novel’s still available). That project hooked people in because, like on all the best blogs, there was a reason to come back every day–suspense, engagement, and a reader poll to determine the nature of the spin-off project. But that’s a limited-time thing: no one wants to scroll all the way back to post 1 and read the whole 88 posts upside down, so those who missed the initial fuss buy the novel.

What I’m saying here is that, to my mind, there’s nothing wrong with publishing on the internet if you are clear on your goal and know what you are doing. Messieurs Fiore and Munroe both have some serious experience with self-publishing, and are aware of not only how to craft something that people want to read (and buy) but to get it to them. And having done so in the past, they have fans who are eager to see what’s happening when they start new sites or post new stuff. I think that’s awesome.

Less awesome to set up a site to put writing if the writer is unsure who, if anyone, is going to read it, or how to get them to want to. That’s just basically going to disqualify the work from consideration in certain publications, without accomplishing anything cool–the piece is just going to languish there without an audience. I would discourage folks who don’t have a clear sense of how or why to self-publish on the web; it is really not that easy. Publishing companies, even small ones, are so idolized for a reason: they do a lot of hard work editing, polishing, formating, printing, promoting and distributing pysical books *and* online versions, that most writers simply aren’t equipped to do ourselves. I’m very sure I’m not.

So I guess my advice to anyone thinking over putting their stories or novel chapters on the web would be to think carefully why they want to and how it will work. Because there’s nothing wrong with that idea when it’s done well, but when it’s not…better to have saved that energy for writing, or reading.

Anyway, I’m posting this here rather than just emailing Allyson because I’m really not sure what other people think, or whether my feelings on the matter are common. Would anyone care to weigh in?

RR

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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