(I'd like to welcome my friend the distinguished writer and editor Nannette Croce to Paper Cut. She is the founder and publisher of Zine Writer and will be guest blogging today on the changing face of the literary journals.)
Online Publishing at the Crossroads
When I started working with online publications at the end of the last century (that term still has me thinking horse & carriage), zine credits didn’t count much, if at all, when submitting to print. The literary cognoscenti equated the relative ease of starting an online publication, the primitive appearance of early websites, and the fact that most zines didn’t pay (now most print pubs don’t pay either) with being less selective.
In fact, many zines like The Rose & Thorn http://www.theroseandthornezine.com/ that started publishing in 1997 were already receiving more than enough submissions to choose only the best. At the same time the lack of competition from well-credentialed and (back then, less ubiquitous) MFA grads, made the Internet fertile ground for new skilled writers who, after years of rejection, just wanted their work to appear somewhere––anywhere––it could be read. And once past the “stigma” of having to publish online, those writers realized the distinct advantages it provided over print.
Once that piece had appeared in the current issue, it wouldn’t be dumped in the trash by everyone but the writer and his Mom; it would be archived online for people to read in years to come and where it could be linked to from a website. Publishing online provided an online presence so contacts could Google a writer’s name and find samples of her work. But by far the greatest advantage was that as more and more people started spending more and more of their time online, zines reached more readers in varying parts of the world than all but the biggest print publications.
It wasn’t long before credentialed writers began to catch on. While exclusively online literary zines still weren’t getting submissions from the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, in my last couple of years working with The Rose & Thorn, we did receive many submissions from writers with credits from the “better” print journals. By then, though, it had become the credo of most zines to remain open to new writers and to ignore credentials when reviewing submissions. (My current employer Sotto Voce http://sottovocemagazine.com/index.htm attaches no names or bios to work under review.) Other characteristics specific to zines were accepting different genres and requiring a good story with good characters in addition to the well-crafted sentences and killer similes that seemed to take priority in most print journals.
Hence, for a short time, online publishing became the most perfect of worlds. Zines (though many dropped the old connotations of that term for “online journals”) had come to be considered valuable writing credits, while, at the same time, maintaining that level playing field where new and experienced writers competed solely on the quality of their writing.
Enter the big guns. It was just a matter of time before the big name print journals, facing a dwindling readership and difficult financial times, would see the benefits of publishing online. Many venerable print journals like The Kenyon Review http://www.kenyonreview.org/kro_full.php and Agni http://www.bu.edu/agni/ now publish online counterparts. Magazines like Narrative http://www.narrativemagazine.com/ have a mainly online presence with the print version being secondary. Narrative has brought to the web the afore mentioned Ms. Oates and other names like Rick Bass, Lorrie Moore, Robert Olen Butler, etc., etc.
This transition to where everyone will be publishing online has brought Internet publishing to a crossroads. Will these former print journals impose their hierarchy on the egalitarian web and relegate the online pioneers to where they were a decade ago, or will everyone have to open up to a broad range of writers and subjects? This will depend on readers and writers.
Readers vote with their clicks and every online journal I’ve been associated with received literally tens of thousands of page views per month. This would imply that people are reading online who never picked up a print journal. It’s hard to imagine that these people were biding their time waiting for Agni to come online.
Writers need to decide how important it is to appear in those “big names.” If tens of thousands of people read your work and it appears in a journal you respect, does it matter if the contributors’ names are Alice Munro and Rick Bass?
Only time will tell.
Nannette Croce was formerly Co-Managing Editor at The Rose & Thorn and is currently Assistant Fiction Editor for Sotto Voce. Her work has appeared in various online and print journals including The Rose & Thorn, Sotto Voce http://sottovocemagazine.com/index.htm, The Writers Post Journal, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her blogs are zine writer http://zinewriter.blogspot.com/: insider tips for getting your work published online and cross reference http://crossreferencebookreviews.blogspot.com/: a book review blog (where she recently reviewed Shades of Luz http://crossreferencebookreviews.blogspot.com/2009/10/shades-of-luz-by-john-gorman.html). She also runs CROSSxCHECKING http://crossreferencebookreviews.blogspot.com/2009/10/shades-of-luz-by-john-gorman.html an editing and critiquing service.