Sunday, June 20, 2010

Online Journals

A lot of writers are dubious of the value of publishing in online journals. Now, before I even go any further, let me just say as an editor of an online journal that online journals do get good submissions. They do. And as a reader I can honestly say that I’ve found just as much great stuff published online as I have in print journals. I don’t really know where that snooty print-only attitude comes from. It seems to me that online publishing is the wave of the future (in fact, one of the top literary journals in America, Tri-Quarterly, switched to an online only format a few years ago).

I realize, though, that since online journals aren’t as well regarded in the literary community as print journals, even writers who don’t frown on online publishing are still often wary about submitting to online publications. Will it even look good on my cover letter, you might ask, and might it actually look bad for me to have been published in these places?

Well in my opinion getting published is primarily about getting your work out there – trying to reach an audience. Of course, the best way to reach the largest possible readership would be to land a piece in one of the select few journals that have a huge circulation and an excellent reputation, but getting published by those places requires a heavy dose of luck. I’ve even heard that many agents don’t pay too much attention to those few major print journals because they assume that most of the writers being published in those venues already have agents.

A good alternative, I feel, is online publication. Think about it – when you’re dealing with the tiny little journals that don’t have a huge readership to begin with, which do you think is more likely to steadily build an audience: the journal that is free and easily accessible from any computer, or the one that you have to pay for and order and then wait four to six weeks for delivery? On top of that, online journals usually keep your work up in their archives forever (or until you ask them to take it down). For print pubs, once the journal moves on to the next issue, your chances of having that particular piece read in that particular outlet reduce dramatically.

The other thing about online journals is that they get your name out on the web – always a good idea for new writers. If I google your name, will it be obvious that you’re a writer? Will I be able to find samples of your work? My understanding is that many agents do look prospective clients up online. One agent interviewed recently in Poets and Writers, in fact, said that one of the main ways she finds prospective clients is by trolling the web.

I think online journals have been unjustly judged. Online journals offer great exposure. They get your work out there, and they help you to build a presence on the web. It probably is true that most online journals receive fewer submissions than print journals, but that doesn’t automatically mean that they aren’t receiving good submissions, and it definitely doesn’t mean that getting published online can’t be a very useful step in your career. It can!


Jayme said...

I completely agree. When I have done research on certain poets, it has been extremely frustrating if I can't find their work online. I found one poet with ONE poem online, and I could not print the poem out to show other people. How is that encouraging people to read your work? I would at least say publish some of your work online.

My tiny problem with online journals is that I don't want them all to go online. I like my print copies too. I don't have money to buy them, but I do browse them in the library, and I have a few copies of journals that I especially like. The great thing about living in a college town is that you can get print journals for a quarter at the thrift store, read them, and return them if you aren't impressed.

The same is true of an online journal, if you don't think it is quality, don't submit there. If the website doesn't work or if there are typos or bad graphics, don't submit there. However, there are really great sites out there, that I would be really honored to publish on.

I also think the podcast is a great idea. Where can I find it?

Ashley Cowger said...

Yeah, good points. I feel the same way, that I like to actually hold a hard copy of a journal in my hands. I really like the journals that publish both online and in print. That covers both bases nicely. I think your idea to publish "some of your work online" is perfect. It's probably not wise to only publish online, but it's probably not wise to only publish in print, either.

Yeah, I love the idea of podcast journals. There are a few good podcast journals that I know of. One that I highly recommend, which does horror fiction, is called Pseudopod. The one I have a story forthcoming from is called Bound Off. You can get them both for free on ITunes.

Jayme said...

Cool. I'm going to ITunes!