Thursday, August 21, 2008

Trying to get published: minefield or quicksand?

Having recently finished a first draft of my "Alphabet" project, I've started sending letters out to small magazines in the hope of publication. For the curious, feedback on the project has been good, but no bites yet. I do intend to put the full project out as a Revelator chapbook at some point, but there's no specific timeline for that at this point, in part because "the full project" is more than just my 26 entries.

Sending out submissions has me thinking about the publication process again. "The Alphabet" project itself doesn't really fit neatly into genre boundaries, which makes it a challenge to figure out whether I should be sending it out as poetry (I tend to think of it as prose) or fiction (it's not narrative—there are almost no characters, per se, and no plot). The entries tend to be short, and I have given thought to posting them as a sort of serial here on Wordwright, but I'm hesitant to do so for the same reason that I'm in no hurry to get the chapbook together at this particular moment.

Last spring there was some tension at the University of Iowa over a plan to make all Masters' theses freely available online. "All Masters' theses" would have included MFA theses from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and after severe protest from Workshop students, Iowa announced that they would not, in fact, make theses available online. (Via The Chronicle of Higher Education, subscription required.)

On the whole, I'm in favor of making scholarly work, including creative writing, as widely available as possible, and all else being equal, I agree with the argument that making creative writing available for free on line has a tendency to actually help sales of physical copies, especially for new writers looking for an audience. If I had been a student at the Workshop, however, I think I would have been one of the voices arguing against free online posting of creative theses.

One of the most challenging parts of the publication process for a writer, especially a new writer without either an established audience or an agent, is convincing a publisher to invest resources in actually publishing your work. Whether or not a free online edition of a particular book is actually competition for a printed edition, many publishers still believe that readers are unlikely to pay for something that they can download for free. Most first-time authors do not have the economic power to enter a negotiation with a publisher at that disadvantage.

Sadly, something similar holds true even for the small literary magazines (who usually don't pay contributors at all). Editors of small literary magazines rarely reap much financial benefit from their efforts, and so their primary motivation is to be able to share something with an audience first. Many such editors are likely to view work available online as "already published," and thus may turn their attention to other work.

This makes sending out submissions a very strange situation, especially for someone like me who has always been something of a self-publisher. I would really like the chance to share my work with anyone who would be interested in reading it, but in order to try and get my work to new audiences (through small literary magazines), I'm actually keeping myself from sharing it with at least a portion of the small audience that I already have (though this blog).

I still think that "The Alphabet" is wonderfully suited for serial publication on something like a blog, and it would make for a month of great reading on Wordwright. But I think that I'll wait for that first round of rejection letters to come back before I actually do it.

1 comment:

Gavin said...

Attentive readers will note that a draft of W has already appeared on this blog.