Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net
Holly Lisle's Vision

Epublishing as the Middle Ground

By Lazette Gifford

2002, By Lazette Gifford

Here is a scenario many of us know too well:  The rejection slips have piled up, and there is no longer room on the wall to post the latest.  You cherish the ones that say things like 'send more' or 'great story, but not quite for us.'  And you keep trying.  The problem is that there is a very limited number of print venues, whether you write novels or short stories.  At some point you're going to run out of places to send some of those manuscripts. 

As writers, we all end up collecting trunk stories that never sold, though not always because the stories were bad.  In many cases, they just didn't fit into any of the publications that are available at this point. The print medium is far more limited than it might sometimes appear.  The big-name magazine publications have to appeal to the broadest number of people possible, and that means even a well-written story has to be on a subject or in a style that they think will draw a favorable response from the most readers.  The same is true in book publishing, where the genre editors may want to take chances, but have the heads of the publishing company to contend with, and who are looking at the bottom line of cost versus number of buyers.  It's a hard barrier to cross, and all serious writers will continue to push at it and try to find that little chink where they can fit in.  

But there are still all those trunk manuscripts.  Short of new print publications, there may be no future for those poor, rejected stories...unless you turn to the Internet and e-publication.  As someone who has published quite a few stories in ezines and one novel at an epublisher -- but hasn't been able to sell to paper publications -- I find myself standing in the middle of 'not quite a hobby' but 'far from a professional' -- at least by the current standards. 

Here is the point where you might want to examine your reasons for writing.  People have many different ones, and most braid together in different levels of intricacy.  For some people the only really satisfactory goal is to see their name on the cover of Analog or a Del Rey hardbound. There are others who write stories and give them to friends to read, and finally a group that finishes the work and then drops it into notebooks and is happy to leave them there forever. 

But for many writers there is a blend of wanting to be published both for the fame and to share the stories with others.  That leaves those people in a precarious balance when one side or the other is lacking fulfillment.  And here is where publishing on the Internet may step in to fill the void. 

The problem is that most ezines and epublishers do not pay enough money (when they pay at all) to be considered as professional publications.  So does that mean if you go that route you are writing strictly as a hobby? 

Not really.  Although some people don't take those publications seriously -- both writers and readers -- that doesn't mean that you cannot be very serious about the work and put just as much effort into the writing as you would if it were going into a print medium.  So what's the payback then, if you aren't going to get the money?  Why work that hard? 

What are you writing for? 

Seeing your name on the cover of Analog is a great goal.  I wouldn't mind it myself, but it's not my only goal.  I write to share my stories with others.  More than anything else, that's my real purpose in writing.  So Zette, you say, why aren't you just publishing them on your web site then? 

There are two important reasons -- first, because no one would see them there.  But second is a reason that is far more important for any serious writer.  I submit stories to ezines and epupblishers because I enjoy the process of submitting stories, of working with editors, and of learning to fix the flaws in my writing.  It's a proving ground and a learning experience.  I also get paid for the work, and I find people who enjoy reading the stories. 

Turning to the Internet may seem like a last ditch move of desperation for a failing writer, but that's just because so few of them look to the Web before they run out of paper publishers.  Many of them aren't aware of the quality of many of the epublications or that there are far more available than there are paper venues.  There are also several that cater to very specific niche markets, and well-written stories that can't find a place in the limited fields offered in paper can often find a place in an ezine. 

There are dangers in leaping into epublishing.  If you write short stories, read the ezine before you submit to it.  Make certain you want to be associated with the type of stories they publish.  And don't believe that just because it's an ezine they're automatically going to take your story.   Any good publication has a dedicated editor who is looking for excellence. The same holds true for ebook publications.   Expect rejections even here, especially if you are not willing put in hard work on your material. 

There's the problem, however.  Even if you put just as much work into this material as you would for paper publications, and even if you get numerous people reading your material and emailing you about how wonderful a writer you are, you will still not be considered professional because the story appeared on the Internet. 

However, publishing on the Internet can't quite be considered as a hobby either, not when the work can be just a grueling as it would be for the old-fashioned world of paper printing. The work is just as hard, but there is still going to be a step higher for the recognition.   

If you try your hand at epublication, welcome to the middle ground.  The footing is a little precarious, but it is a step up from that trunk.  Good luck!