Monday, December 14, 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 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?



August said...

I have toyed with the idea of releasing small .pdf/.epub 'digital chapbooks', but there are a number of reasons I haven't yet.

First, if you don't have the right kinds of connections (a la the Joyland editors, who have basically taken what my friend Jon and I were doing in obscurity nearly ten years ago, and made it work), or write for the kind of audience that is aggressive about trying new things (like Cory Doctorow), then you run the risk of not being taken seriously.

Second, you run the risk of your work already being considered 'published' by folks who might actually pay you. You can lose coming and going.

(Although, weirdly, most of the journals I've seen will accept work that has been previously published in homemade, low distribution chapbooks, which is part of what made me think of small digital releases in an ebook format rather than blog style.)

If I ever figure out a way to reconcile those things in a way that's to my advantage, you'll see my work appearing online.

Ruth said...

I have a blog where I am tracking my process of writing and publishing a memoir. I have been careful not to include drafts of original chapters as I have a fear of sending them off into the blogosphere and losing control. I also don't like to limit my publishing opportunities. I made an exception though, and published 2 pieces on my blog: one about my mother's life, on her 96th birthday, and one about my father's life and death which had been rejected by the Globe and Mail. Thanks for your thoughts on this emerging option for writers.

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

Thanks, August and Ruth, for your responses. I think the decision to publish online is unique to the individual--their goals for their work, and what they are capable of doing in terms of formatting and marketing work online. And also, as in Ruth's case, there are personal reasons for wanting the work in the world right on a specific day--and it's wonderful that the internet allows us that choice!

Skyla Dawn said...

As an acquiring editor for a small publishing house, over and over I see books that people have already published online. Entire novels. When I tell them we only want unpublished books with all print rights available (and untouched), they tell me they still own the copyright, so it's okay! *sigh*

The reality is that once something is online, you can't really control it anymore. Sure, the writer can take the story down, but it can still be read via a google cache. Small publishers in particular often rely on ebook sales as a good chunk of their income, and having the book floating around online for free isn't going to help sales.

Now, I've provided free serialized fiction on my site since 2004, and I know other authors who have as well. The difference is that we've used it as a promotional tool to draw traffic to our sites and attention to our commercially published work. Any writer who decides to publish online first needs to understand that book or story IS published and, with few exceptions, can't be taken to a commercial publisher later. Unfortunately, too many try publishing online, realize how hard it is to be heard in the din of free internet content and how difficult it is to build an audience, and then get frustrated when they ask a publisher for help and find the doors closed to them.

Christina said...

I think a lot of it depends on what format you use. Google "JC Hutchins," "Mur Lafferty" and "Scott Sigler." These are all authors who have provided not one, but SEVERAL books for free as podcasts, and all three have had at least one of their podcasted books land a book deal because of their podcast success (Sigler - Infected/Contagious, Hutchins - the 7th Son series, Mur Lafferty - Playing for Keeps).

Let's not also forget Terry Fallis and the Best Laid plans.

Now, a bigger question is: would you consider podcasting publishing? If so, shouldn't these three (and many others) be seen as the flipside of the coin?

computerlen said...

I have, in the past uploaded some of my short stories just to find out if readers liked them. I am a beginner. Now, after reading the comments, I will no longer be uploading them. Why take any chances? Thankyou for the information.