Saturday, December 8, 2007

Getting Published 3

Why I Publish In E-Zines: One Writer's View of Online Publishing
(Originally published in 1996)

Computer-phobic writers, fellow freelancers and fans of olde style
lit-mags ask why I have chosen to publish in e-zines like Web del Sol / Perihelion; Alsop Review; Blue Moon Review; X-Connect; eSCENE; Gruene Street; Realpoetik; Recursive Angel; Transmog; and Zero City, to name a few.

1. I publish on the Net and World Wide Web because it's cheap: email after all is free.
2. It's more efficient: no SASEs, no International Reply Coupons; fewer trips to the office supply store.
3. It saves time: I don't have to wait 18 months to hear back and the rejections, when they come, are less annoying because a) I've invested less in the submission process and b) it's easy enough to send the work somewhere else.
4. It gives me the opportunity to improve on what I write and make changes even after publication. Zen Buddhists say "First thought, best thought." I say, "Think again."
5. It allows for interaction: timely feedback from fellow writers, editors, publishers, agents, and students.

I recently [remember, this is 1996!] sent a poem to Realpoetik ("rpoetik, the little magazine of the Internet, a moderated listserv..."), got an e-mail acceptance message and saw the poem published, all within 24 hours. Editor Robert Salasin claims he has approximately 3,000 subscribers. All I know is that over the next few days I got more responses ("fine work...," "wish you continued success in Cyberspace...," "would like to use excerpts from A Much-Married Man...") from that single appearance than I got from 30 years of publishing in magazines like The Antioch Review, The Hudson Review, The Nation, The New Yorker, The Transatlantic Review, etc.

Yes, it's a form of instant gratification. Just what the world needs, right? In my opinion, instant gratification has gotten a bad rap. Or maybe I'm late to the game and am just beginning to catch on. Anyway, I write for myself and always have, but I still agree with Whitman: it doesn't hurt to have an audience.

I still use pen and pencil to write and revise and turn to my Olympia portable to type envelopes. I'm still doing what I did in my 20s: writing, revising and sending the best work I have to the editors of the journals I admire.

Writing is re-writing and I spend just as much time revising now as I ever did. To this day I send poems and stories to traditional print journals and, when the publication appears, sometimes long to remove a line or two or correct a typo or printers error. A while back the then London-based Transatlantic Review published "Thousand-Year-Old Fiancee" and destroyed the poem, made it meaningless with a record thirteen typographical errors. They never sent me page proofs and, once the poem was printed, there was nothing I could do except rage at the editor, the inattentive, lackadaisical schmuck.

Now, when I submit work to an e-journal there is no typographer involved because there is no type to set. And if an error occurs or I change my mind, voila! I can email corrections and see the fix made promptly and at no expense. I like that.

Apart from an increasingly large, responsive audience, what's the payoff? Payment used to be in contributor copies. Now with magazines appearing in electronic print, there are no contributor copies to send. Still, a few mainline lit-mags and e-journals do make an effort to pay. In all the years I've been writing, I haven't come close--not one year have I come close--to covering the cost of postage. How much is poetry worth? In 1958, in an effort to determine the dollar value, if any, of my poetry, I engaged in an experiment. A student at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, I sent half a dozen poems to the local phone company as a way of paying my bill. Not only did Ma Bell send them back, but she disconnected my phone. So be it.


I'm doing multi-media stuff now combining poetry, fiction and non-fiction with photographs, paintings, movies and--soon--music and the human voice. I'm collaborating with visual artists, computer scientists and other writers. If you're interested, check out Earthquake Collage and Highway 17 on my home page.

My first computer was an Apple IIe and my first word processing program was Magic Window. Today I use Microsoft Word and Photoshop on a Mac G-4, supercharged by my son. How does it all work? I have no idea. I just switch on my modem, gaze into cyberspace and type away. It's still Magic Window to me.

"So what's the point?" my partner wants to know. "Isn't this just one big ego trip? Who really reads those e-journals? Do you actually think you're going to sell copies of your books on the Net? And what about copyright? How do you know someone isn't going to rip off that new book of poems of yours?"

Of course she's right, but I have all those virtual magazines and editors on the Net waiting for me to check in.

"Gee, honey, I don't know," I say. "I'm just gonna go upstairs for a moment and check my mail."

Copyright (c) 1996, 2001, 2007, Robert Sward

[In response to the above, my friend David Alpaugh writes, "I enjoyed your explanation of why you moved to Internet publishing. I've gravitated in that direction for the reasons you note and also because the sort of person who runs an Internet site tends to be more progressive, less reactionary poetry-wise on the whole than the old school hard copy editors (perhaps because many of the netters are not cloistered in the academy, out and about in the world in various fields). Site editors strike me as more in tune with the kind of reader Dana Gioia would like to recapture for poetry."]

Please see
Getting Published 2 - The New Math of Poetry for more on David Alpaugh.

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