Should You Publish in Print or Online Journals?
By Becky Tuch
You have just written a great short story. Let’s call it “Trucking.” It is, afterall, about the guy who picked you up in his truck while you were hitch-hiking in Chile. Though the story is funny and light-hearted, it goes deep into the characters’ minds and probes socio-economic conditions. In short, what you have in your hands is a work of literary fiction.
Now, what do you do with it?
In the old days (circa 2005), you would get a copy of Writer’s Digest’s Short Story and Novel Guide. You would scan the list of literary magazines and submit your story to your top five to ten journals, maybe places like The Paris Review or Glimmer Train. If these places rejected your piece, you would go back to your list and send out your story again. This time, you would submit to journals with a smaller circulation but which were still credible, places like Alaska Quarterly Review or Nimrod. If you got accepted, you’d dance around your living room. If you got rejected, you’d shrug and move on down the list until, eventually, you found a home for your work.
This is a perfectly reasonable way to go about your business. That is, assuming you follow the submission guidelines for the various journals, submit only to journals that accept simultaneous submissions, and notify them if your work is accepted elsewhere. And, assuming that you do enough research on the journals beforehand, so that you don’t submit “Trucking” to a journal that specifically wants speculative historical fiction or poems about jazz. If you do it right, this process is thorough and systematic, and if your story is as good as you think it is, it will likely find itself a home sooner or later.
But in the past few years, the literary magazine market has expanded so incredibly with the proliferation of dozens of on-line journals. In addition, the respect for on-line journals has increased, so that to have work published on the internet as opposed to print no longer carries the stigma that it once did.
So, given the many options available to you, what do you choose? Should you even consider on-line and print to be different categories? Or do you merely seek what’s reputable, regardless of the medium? What’s most important to you—prestige, visibility or being spotted by agents? Are you trying to build your resume or your readership? Can you do one or all of these at the same time?
The following are some things to consider when looking for a home for your latest, greatest, work of writing:
Visibility. If your goal is to cultivate a readership, that is more likely to happen on-line. When your work goes live, you can send the link to many people. Conversely, if you tell people you’ve published in a journal, how many will actually go to the bookstore to seek it out? Or make the effort to order the journal and shell out the money? On-line, your work is there for the taking.
Staying Power. If “Trucking” comes out in December 2009, it will still be easily accessible in 2012. With print journals, you’d have to order a back issue, and it’s not likely anyone would find it unless they actively sought it out. This is changing, as more journals post their archives and current contents on-line, but not every journal does this now.
Being Caught in the Act. Greater visibility may not always be desirable. If you never told your parents that you went to Chile and hitch-hiked, they might learn more about you than you’d like. Issues of writing about people you know, satirizing life at your office, or revealing deep parts of yourself become more pressing when you publish on-line. For better or for worse, anyone can find your writing in a Google search. Before publishing on-line, you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable with the material’s exposure, more so than you likely would with a print journal.
Self-Promotion. Reading on-line is a much more fluid, integrative process than print reading. In your bio, you can link to your web page, or other places where you’ve published, and a reader can quickly, easily learn more about you. Readers can also contact you, and are more likely to do so. Many writers say that getting published on-line has generated emails from enthusiastic readers, and these dialogues have been tremendously rewarding.
Where Agents Fear to Tread. For some writers, the goal of publishing in a journal is not to cultivate a large audience, but to get the attention of one specific person—a literary agent. For such a writer, it makes sense to seek publication in top tier journals (agents generally pick from the best of the best.) Though there are highly reputable on-line journals and many agents do mine these for talent, it still seems that agents mostly make their selections from print journals.
The More, the Merrier. It can all come together though. If you publish “Trucking” in Glimmer Train¸ an agent who loves your story might then Google you. If s/he discovers other work that’s on-line and likes what s/he sees, this can be beneficial for everyone.
Why not just have a blog? Yes, if someone Googles you, your blog would also show up, and an agent could see more of your work there. But just like publishing your novel through a reputable publishing house shows that someone has screened and approved of your work before publication, publishing through an on-line journal gives your piece an added stamp of approval. Anyone can have a website or a blog. But publishing credits show that you are serious and hard-working, other people value your work, and you approach your writing in a professional manner—all traits that agents regard highly.
Are you Super Duper Creative? Writing a story or a poem is pretty cool. But have you ever wanted to read your story out loud to an illustrated clip of cartoon sequences? Or have a local chorus sing your poem alongside animation? On-line journals create more opportunity for not just one, but several creative powers to co-exist. Visit Electric Literature to see how these editors are doing story-telling in truly innovative ways.
Want to see your work in Korean? Getting published on-line does create some sticky copyright issues, which may be worth consideration. Some writers are shocked to find that their work has been taken off a web page and translated into several different languages without acknowledgment. You might be flattered if this happened to you. Or you might not like it at all.
Want Students to Share Your Work in Class? On the other hand, when a professor tells her students to find a good short short story they like, nowadays students will look almost exclusively on-line. If you have a short short published on a website, it could get passed around a classroom and be discussed, or printed out and hung on some struggling writer’s bulletin board somewhere. Many on-line journals, however credible, get thousands of hits a month, which means your work has a greater potential to find curious readers and also inspire.
So, how do you determine which on-line journals are reputable? How do you find the absolute best home for your piece? The answer is the same as it’s always been: Homework. Research what’s out there. Choose a few journals–on-line and print–that publish work you admire. Read reviews of on-line and print journals at this website, as well as Newpages.com and Luna Park Review. Remain open-minded about the possibilties for your work and the technology that’s available to you.
And most importantly, don’t forget: Before you submit your work anywhere, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. You wrote something wonderful.