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Lazette M. Gifford

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Is E-Publishing for You?
by Lazette M. Gifford   

Last edited: Thursday, March 29, 2001
Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2001

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The good and bad sides of publishing on the web.

Is E-Zine Publication for You?
Lazette Gifford

E-zines are everywhere on the World Wide Web. Some die quickly for lack of funds, or loss of the time needed to keep them going, but others are thriving. This is a controversial market, and far from accepted as a real publication for newcomers, let alone anyone who has an established career. So, is it for you or not?

I like e-zine publication. Part of my outlook is based on my fundamental attitude toward writing in general: I write because I love to write. Money and prestige were never part of the 'why do you write' equation for me. Nor was the need to have others read my material, though I was willing to share it. Why a person writes -- and they can write because they both love to write and want the money and prestige, of course -- often has a bearing on how they feel about e-zine publications. This isn't a medium for everyone. I'm going to start with the very tangible down side to publishing on the web:

*Don't expect much money.

I suggest that anyone considering e-zines look for ones that pay at least something, because it will make you feel better. Don't give your stories away unless you have a compelling reason to do so. But over all, the web-based publications are not paying much of anything, with the exception of places like Scifi.com (http://www.scifi.com/), and those are as hard to break into as the print magazines.

People who will not look seriously at web publication often draw attention to the poor money available. I've seen people point out that although the Golden Age pulp magazines paid 1 to 2 cents at best, in today's economy that would be about 12 cents a word. Unfortunately, not even the current Pro Magazines pay that much, so it's not a good comparison.

This is especially true for the writers who are just breaking into the markets. The big money, and the majority of the spots in print magazines, go to established writers. If anyone out there is writing because you think it's an easy way to get rich (either in print or in e-zine), you need to sit down and examine the markets more carefully. There are very few people, especially in the sf/fantasy genre, who are making a living at writing.

*Don't expect fellow writers to be thrilled and supportive of your new publications in e-zines.

Many people think that publication on the 'Net puts you on the same scale as some of the worst fanzine publications. It's not always so, though there are inferior e-zines out there. However, not all of them are bad, just as there are some excellent fanzines.

This is a new medium for storytellers. It's going to grow and change. Like those fabled pulp magazines of the Golden Age, not all the e-zines are going to stand the test of time. People remember the Golden Age of science fiction because we know the names that survived it. However, there are very many people and magazines that never took the next step when it came. Not all of the current bumper crop of e-zines will settle in when civilization finally reaches this wild and wooly New Frontier. A number of writers will also wait until this is an accepted medium before they try to break into it. I like being out there in the frontier.

*Don't list your e-zine credits in cover letters to pro (print) magazines and book publishers.

At this point, print editors are not interested in any sales made to e-zines and e-publishers. Some of them may think that e-zines are fine, and may even have a favorite or two -- but most are still in the 'fanzine' mode of thought. Listing all those little e-zine sales (and fanzine too, if you go that route) only makes you look unprofessional in their eyes. Don't give them any reason to think this before they even look at the story.

*Piracy on the Internet

People often fear that others can steal their stories if they're on the Web. They can, it's true . But they can steal them from print as well, and not with much work. A person doesn't even have to type well these days to put a story into a scanner and run it through an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) program.

If someone is out there looking for stories to steal, they will. However, remember that the moment a story is written, you automatically own the copyright. You do not need to register it. The story is yours. If someone steals it, you have the legal right to demand it be taken down (if on a web site) or credited to you, or whatever else is necessary.

Okay, that's a couple points on the bad side. What about the good side?

*The Reading Public

While fellow (and especially published/established) authors may look down on e-zine publications, very many readers do not. There is a huge audience out there, and as more people become accustomed to looking for stories on the web, their numbers grow. You can reach more people in a single day on a web site than print magazines have any hope of reaching in all their sales. Print magazine sales are dropping, too. It's not that people aren't reading. They are just finding their material in non-traditional locations.

You are likely to hear directly from those readers as well. If you have an email address attached to the story, people can let you know what they think. Very often that's a nice, uplifting reaffirmation that you are reaching your audience. You can rarely get that with print magazines, and certainly not in a time frame like you do on the web.

This is especially nice for a first sale. My first story sale was to Jackhammer E-Zine (http://www.eggplant-productions.com), and within the day I had several e-mails from people who had read it. Some of them were from friends I had directed to the story, but a couple notes were from strangers. I had reached people I had never known.

*A Thriving New Medium

New Web markets are opening up continually, while the print media, unfortunately, is shrinking. Computers are both the blessing and bane for this point. While there are new markets, computers have also made it possible for a considerably larger number of people to write and submit.

That means there are a lot more rivals out there for that elusive publication spot. So while the computer (via the Internet) has opened up the possibility of new markets, it has also given the writer a lot of competition.

That's not as bad as it looks, though, because many writers aren't putting any effort into turning out a quality product. They will write something and send it off without proofing or rewrites, and generally without really caring. They do this because it's easy to drop something into an email and send it off to some poor, unsuspecting editor. This wont work any better in the e-zine field than it would in the print one.

Anyone who can write well, and has a professional approach to their craft, is bound to have a better chance than a large part of the other people submitting. Do not fall into the 'It's only an e-zine' trap. If nothing else, consider this as working practice for the print markets. Do your best!

*Niche Markets

These are wonderful and I suspect that we're going to start seeing more of them. Niche markets that are geared specifically to a certain type of story. The problem with print magazines is that they must appeal to the largest number of people in order to sell enough to be viable. Unique stories that may not draw a lot of readers are less likely to be bought, no matter how well written.

On the web there is room for niche e-zines that can limit the type of material they take to something very specific. If you have a story that has been turned down by print because one editor says there's not enough fantasy to be a fantasy story, but the romance magazines say they won't take anything with fantasy at all, then maybe you should try some place like The Romantic Bower (http://www.theromanticbower.com/).

You've written a story that's too steamy for the romance magazines? Try some of the erotica markets. Horror not selling in the print field? There are several horror e-zines out there. Poetry markets are emerging as well. The possibilities continue to grow, rather than shrink.

Look around and see if there's some place were you would feel comfortable submitting stories. And if not, you might at least find some new publications that you want to read.

So, if you are interested in e-zine publications, what should you do next?

*Take your work seriously.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that just because it's for an e-zine, you don't have to make it the best story you can. Real editors are going to read this material, and you don't want to be embarrassed by it. You also don't want your name remembered as 'that person who sends something every week and has a misspelled word in every paragraph.'

*Pen Names

If you don't want to be associated with e-zine publication, use a pen (web?) name for those publications. You can always claim the material later. I know several people who write for the erotica markets on-line who use pen names. If you think you'd like to try out e-zine publications for material that hasn't found a home elsewhere, but you also fear it will hurt your image, then go this route. It's perfectly legitimate.

*Study the Markets

That's something that should be done as seriously with e-zine publications as well as with print. Know what the editor is looking for, and read what they've accepted. See if the editor is discerning in what they put on-line, or if seems the e-zine prints anything that's sent to it. Do you want to be associated with the other material in this zine?

Check out the places like Speculations Rumor Mill (http://www.speculations.com/rumormill ) for notices on good/bad zines. For that matter, subscribe to Speculations, which is a handy guide to both print and e-zine publications, with fine articles and a lot of helpful information. It comes in the email and is far more up to date than Locus or Writer's Market as far as new markets (short story and novel, print and electronic) is concerned. It does only cover the sf/fantasy/horror genre, however.

*Read the guidelines before you submit!

Know exactly what the editor is looking for and how they want the material submitted. Sending an attached WORD document to a magazine that only accepts stories in the text of the letter is as unprofessional as sending a printed story in Allegro BT font on purple paper to Analog. Don't do it.

I have enjoyed e-zine publication, but I do still want to see my stories in paper print. I've also made a sale of two novels to a new e-book publisher -- but that is an entirely different market from e-zines, where (with few exceptions) the short stories are free to the reader. E-books are bought and even places like Barnes & Noble are starting to offer a few through their web site.

It's a new world out there, gang. Remember that there is always resistance to change, but that change comes, nonetheless. We're standing at a point where a new medium for publication is taking its first steps. Radio railed against the advent of television as something that would ruin the market, but many bought into it when they saw that it wasn't going away. Remember that the first printing presses were thought to be the worst curse in the world by those who were holding on to their lovely, hand-lettered manuscripts. Many of these people didn't like that the moveable press made printed material available to the masses.

That's the same sort of transition we're making here: We are watching a new medium that spans borders, and opens up material to a potentially far wider audience than the Golden Age Pulp authors could have imagined.

In my opinion, as writers we should 'buy into the market' while it's still young, and make our mark while we can. We need to guide this medium in a direction that we will be comfortable with in the future. Standing back and waiting isn't going to necessarily create the avenue of opportunity that writers will enjoy. We are especially in need of control since the Web is a graphics environment, and the written word could easily get lost in all the pretty pictures. (Why does the vision of a world moving from radio to television suddenly come to mind?)

This is a new area for a new millennium and the electronic age. It's not going to go away. This is your chance to step out into the new frontier.

Good luck!


Web Site: Lazette's Place



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