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05/21/2004

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Dan Wickett

I haven't checked out all of the journals listed on either the new pages weblog, nor the litline.org list (though I have visited both often in the past), but many of those thought of as the larger names in the business certainly do offer minimal amounts of their work, both current and archival, online. Double-checking I find that The Missouri Review, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, Georgia Review, Other Voices, Zoetrope, The Journal, Ontario Review, Paris Review, among others, all have at least minimal offerings. Some others have "examples" without specifying if they are examples from the most current issue or not.

Maybe I fall into the category of some of the snobbery that you refer to, but I can't help disagreeing with the statement that "Some of the most vital short stories are published on the Internet these days," though this was Maud Newton's statement, not yours. I may be missing the better online journals, but I regularly visit Lit. Potpourri, storySouth, failbetter, Segue, Small Spiral Notebook, and probably a couple I'm not recalling. While I've enjoyed some of the work I've read in those, I rarely think they compare positively to those in the journals I mentioned earlier in this post. I've read just about everything Felicia has posted at SSN, and I honestly think the bulk of what she just published in the first printed volume of Small Spiral Notebook surpasses a great deal of what she's been able to get as submissions in the past - and I've liked those submissions enough to return to her site at least weekly the past couple of years when it was online only.

You state "But of course many lit mags published only online are fast achieving the quality of even the better print magazines." Please list some of these online journals so we can all enjoy the work they are publishing! I mean that seriously, not sarcastically - I believe anybody willing to read your site and think about your essays will be very interested in finding these sites.

The one thing I don't think you nail in your reasoning is why the change is imminent. You say that "Print's the thing, and cyber-printing, in the minds of many editors (and probably many writers) is an inferior alternative." If this is the case, especially with the writers thinking so, what will cause the change - what will cause them to lose readers if the better writers are still sending their material to the print journals only?

I've stumbled onto stories in some of the online journals by authors that are also published in print journal and book form. Again, it might be a touch of snobbery, but those stories often seem to be lesser efforts. I've often ended up finding out that those stories were, in fact, early efforts by said authors, and stories that draw the response, 'oh man, you found THAT story?' as if slightly embarassed.

It just seems that if writers, editors, and probably agents as well, generally think that the print journals are superior, than this is where they will tend to try to publish. I think readers will go to where the writers are - those writers that they've read in the past, and want to continue reading. Sure, I'll stumble on the fact that Benjamin Percy has one of his first stories published in the Idaho Review. I did so however, because I noticed the issue had stories by Lee K. Abbott, Stephen Dixon, and Dave Koch in it. It was while reading the issue that had stories by established authors I've previously enjoyed that I found his work (which is really good by the way).

"Literature isn't literature because it comes to us on paper. It's an effort to make language yield compelling and challenging art. This can be done just as readily in cyberspace as on the printed page." There's absolutely nothing to disagree with here (not that that was my intent when I sat down to read your essay). I agree that it would be great if the journals mentioned way back when would put their entire issues online, but I don't think their lack of change is totally due to a superiority complex. I would think that completely changing your business plan and mode of operation in terms of remaining at least close to black ink on the profit statement is even more frightening than giving up your printed paper.

Many of these journals have been around for decades and haven't changed a whole lot in that time. Seeing as most journals started probably die before issue number five, the fact that they are still around means they're doing somehting right and their lack of change has done well for them. That alone is going to make change for them to be even more difficult. Sure, they're only where they're at because of library and MFA Department subscriptions, but if that's in their Business Plan, than (to them at least) it's working.

I would suggest that when readers read one of the stories that the bigger journals offer online, send an email to the journal. Thank them for making it available. Tell them what you liked about the story. Let them know you'll continue visiting thier website and reading what they are publishing online and possibly in print. The few times I've done this, the responses were almost a surprise that somebody had read the story.

Dan Green

My point is not that online journals are currently as good as print journals. (That is, that what they publish is as good, although I don't think it's at all as marginal as you imply.) It's the reluctance to make use of the web to bring the writers they publish more readers. Just because writers still turn first to print doesn't mean that what's printed is read. These journals are missing an opportunity through their print-prejudice. And frankly I find the "samples" offered by the journals you mention simply frustrating and don't go to those journals at all when surfing the web. Why bother?
Among the quality online journals (I'll surely overlook some): Carve, Tarpaulin Sky, Word Riot, Outsider Ink, 3AM Magazine, Chimera Review, storySouth, Unlikely Stories. Other commenters could perhaps add more.

I think the suggestion you make in the last paragraph is a very good one.

Dan Wickett

Thanks for the clarification. I didn't really think that your point was the quality was currently as good - more that it was inevitable that readers would move from print to online, which I don't think is inevitable until the quality comes at least close.

I see though in re-reading where your point actually was more towards the lack of using advancements in the industry to garner larger readerships for their authors. I agree that if this is their sole intent, they have an obligation to use the internet in such a fashion. But, is that their sole intent (to garner large audiences)? I still question how a changing business model is affecting their decisions versus an absolute print-prejudice.

You are certainly right however that just because readers find or buy the lit. journals does NOT mean they are being read. I think that's the absolute beauty of One Story - I'd bet that more than 75% of the subscribers actually read that when they get it.

I am curious though, what is it about the samples that is frustrating? Is it that they give access to a portion, but not all of the issue? Is it the particular pieces they offer? As to, "why bother?" In my prior post I mentioned 9 journals that all had a minimum of two stories or poems available online. That's about a book's worth of material available to read at no cost - potentially new authors for me to determine if I like their work - to help me determine how much I like that journal and if I want to continue visiting the site or possibly subscribing.

Thank you for the suggestions, I'll certainly make it a point to visit those that I've not done so to date in the near future.

TEV

My next Q&A is with Leelila Strogov, founder of Swink, and the role of the web is one of the things we touch on.

Dan Wickett

Mark,

Is that Q&A at your site? I can't find it if it is - I'd like to read it if possible.

Thanks.

TEV

It's coming - still transcribing. Look for it the beginning of next week.

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