This is the second installment of Dueling Columns between myself and Richard Thomas. Over at “What Does Not Kill You,” Richard talks about the virtues of publishing in online venues. As the editor of an online journal, I appreciate him eagerly defending the practice of publishing online. As a writer, though, I very rarely submit to online venues. Where my career is concerned, I have reservations about online publishing for a few reasons.
First and foremost is a question of legitimacy. True, some online presses are legitimate, edited markets with editors who are familiar with at least the basics of literature, but literally anyone can purchase a web domain, a hosting service, a cheap (or free) software package, and call themselves a press. These “presses” may last a month or a year or ten years (Stirring, for example, has a long history of publishing). The trouble is telling which is a good one and is a blog that only publishes their best friends or is edited by a fourteen year old with Dreamweaver who happens to be working on their freshman project.
Second is a question of perceived legitimacy. Even after researching a potential online market, going through the submission and editing process, and getting published, those that determine the future of literary careers (MFA admission committees, art fellowship and grant committees, residencies, etc, etc) often don’t view work published online as “published” at all.
Finally, there’s the question of payment. When published in traditional literary journals, writers usually get at least a contributor’s copy. Payment of any kind is a rarity in the world of online publishing (for reason #1). Exposure is important, but writers have to eat. And it’s hard enough to make it as a professional writer without voluntarily risking a paycheck.
This latter is the reason we try so hard to offer maximum exposure for our contributors at The Externalist, but even then, I sometimes wonder if a love of publishing great writing is enough.