On Twitter this weekend, I was taking requests for things to blog about because I’m all about service. And I’m lazy. Nik Perring suggested I talk about how the Internet is affecting the short form, Â what it’s doing for readers and writers. I don’t really have any deep thoughts on this subject because so many others have tackled it quite eloquently, but I’ll toss out a couple things. We aim to please. These are just my opinions, and I’m no authority on anything, so please, take this with a significantly sized grain of salt.
Online writing has great reach. While many writers are still hung up on print publication, the reality is that your writing will be more widely read online. For example, we print 500 copies of PANK each year. For PANK 3, 128 copies went to contributors. Â This year, we’ll Â have more than 40,000 visitors to our website. In the big picture of the Internet, our online readership is tiny, but still, 40,000 unique visitors is a lot more than 362. I understand the importance of print publication for the academics among us. Matt, Mare and I are all “academics,” so we’re sensitive to the issue. Â At the same time, I would love to see more acknowledgment, within the academy, of the legitimacy of online publishing, particularly in terms of readership. Part of that legitimacy will come from academics making a case to their tenure committees as to why a publication in many online magazines is as if not more legitimate as publication in the Random Ass Review that prints 150 copies a year. As an aside, if anyone decides to start a magazine called the Random Ass Review, I’ll subscribe.
There’s an abundance, an overwhelming abundance of good writing online. I don’t doubt there was a time when there was a bunch of crap writing in online magazines, but in the past several years, the quality has gotten beyond reproach. I would put any issue of most online magazines up against the traditional print mags.
Online publishing is more flexible in making room in the canon for experimental writing. mud luscious and abjective and elimae, in particular, come to mind. The work they are publishing consistently challenges (in a great way) my expectations in really exciting directions. Online publishing also encourages multimodal storytelling–incorprating image, text and sound to create really innovative reading experiences.
Online writing is flexible in terms of being able not only to reach more readers but to showcase more writers. We publish one print issue a year but 12 monthly online issues and that allows us the ability to develop really great relationships with more writers.
All of this contributes to more people reading more short stories (and of course poetry) and giving writers more and better opportunities to showcase their craft.
The Not So Good
The cult of personality/flavor of the week ethos seems pretty rampant in online publishing, where one or two guys become pied pipers and everyone tries to imitate their style or impress them and soon you’re reading a bunch of stuff that all looks exactly the same. As such, I think the Internet endangers originality to a certain extent. However, the same could be said for print publishing. I also worry about some of the cynicism and nihilism you see online, where it seems uncool to care about writing and publishing and everything is about deconstruction. Â (I may have a personal disinterest in that sort of thing because I do that for my day job.)
As with anything involving the Internet, there are people who don’t have access. The accessibility I talked about earlier is accessibility to people with relative means. While we’re all frenzied in talking about online publishing and e-books and the falling sky and so on, we’re forgetting that there are millions of people in this very country who don’t have computers and/or Internet access, people who get their reading material from libraries and don’t have the luxury of reading literature published online. I worry about how these populations get left behind with the trend toward the e-whatever. I would love to see more magazines, PANK included, work to reach underserved populations more effectively. I remain impressed by high quality magazines like NOO Journal that are distributed for free. I would love to see this taken a step further, bringing a free literary magazine to inner cities and rural America. And then of course, there is the rest of the world, but one thing at a time.
I’m personally wary of the ways in which the short form is becoming shorter and shorter. Twitter fiction is something that drives me crazy a little. I respect people who write it and I’m in no position to deem it as anything but a legitimate form of the short story but I prefer stories that are a bit longer. I think we verge on the absurd with nanofiction. It is a slippery slope and some day someone’s going to come up with one word fiction and one letter fiction and people are going to say that isn’t crazy. That’s not me. Â We once got a submission of a short story with one word—peace. I don’t even know how to evaluate something like that. Having said that, Â I read Nanoism and Nano Fiction and think they are fine fine magazines. The story that Nanoism currently has up is really great. It evokes a sense of place very nicely. And clearly, people are latching on to this idea of diminutive fiction. PANK contributor Robert Swartwood got a book deal from his conception of hint fiction as fiction that is 25 words or less. Another tally in the good column, then, is that the Internet makes it possible for writers to explore and stretch the boundaries of the short form. It’s a little give, a little take.
Sometimes, online publishing allows us to underestimate the reader. Many a time you will see it said that readers have a limited attention span online. Readers have an infinite attention span for good writing. I don’t think that we should pander to the lowest common denominator. I don’t think we should give in to the cultural obsession with instant gratification and fast media and multiple incoming streams of information. Literature has always been about taking readers into different worlds, different times, different places. Why would we stop now? Ultimately, I don’t think we should give in to the notion that people won’t read more than 1,500 words online. Â Why not challenge readers to appreciate longer versions of the short form online? This is another one of those slippery slope things. We do a real disservice to our audiences and ourselves when we try and estimate and then limit what people will read. A magazine that doesn’t do this sort of pandering is bearcreekfeed.
The immediacy of Internet publishing makes it really easy for writers to submit unpolished work. Some times, I feel that writers save their best writing for print venues and send their minor works to online magazines because they think (and are sometimes proven correct) that the standards are lower. I would love to see writers demonstrate more respect for both their work and the online venues where they want to publish their work by sending their best work whether they’re submitting to Ploughshares or an online magazine.
And that’s really all I have to say about that. I guess I had more opinions than I thought.
I hope this answers your question, Nik!