Monday, February 21, 2011

The Milk for Free?

Not too long ago, a writer friend asked me why I posted my stories on my blog 'for free'. I sort of laughed, because the short stories I write might make a grand five bucks. Which is, in fact, the most I have ever made off my short stories; it's sort of the going rate for flash fiction these days.

But his observation gave me pause. For while my stories may not cover my retirement expenses, they could be placed in literary journals. While not pay markets, litmags at least carry cred on vitaes and might attract the attention of an agent or editor. Which led me to ask: should I keep my writings 'secret', revealing only when properly published?

I run on the periphery of literary circles. I'm undegreed and unaffiliated, just a middle-aged woman who comes late to the writing show. There are inner circles, and getting published in many of the premier litzines (print and on-line) often requires membership. I'm the kid who doesn't belong to the country club. Not a pity party, just a fact, ma'am. Besides...

...I consider what I post here my throw-aways. Which is not to say I don't care for my stories -- I do, I love them, I have spent a lot of time caring for and crafting them. But they are my guilty indulgence, the late-night Drambuie, the chili-infused dark chocolate bar squirreled in my pencil drawer. I get to play with new words once a week after hacking and sawing away at my novels (which I will NEVER give away for free). Plus...

...I do submit these stories. And boy, do I get frustrated. Not with the rejections -- I WOULD LOVE A REJECTION! I would love a response! Any response -- EDITORS, are you listening??? Holy Guacamole, I have one story out for 213 days at a reputable paying flash fiction market. No response, even to polite queries. I have 4 other stories out there approaching 100 days (plus 6 others I recently withdrew. I typically withdraw after 100 days if no response). I'm keeping this particular story in for fun -- let's party when it hits 365 days. Hey, I'm an editor, too, things get busy, but with submishmash THERE IS NO EXCUSE for not responding. Besides, it's just plain rude...

...but sometimes my stories DO get published. In the last year, more than a dozen stories and poems which first showed up in some shape or form on my blog have been published in other venues. About half of these are solicited by editors. Which thrills me, because it means someone coveted my words enough to reprint them. And I thank you kind folks and am grateful for championing words, especially my words. But...

...(there is always a but...) once published, I rarely get feedback from readers. Not like here, on my blog, or at fictionaut, or at 52/250. Which saddens me, because jeesh, all I REALLY want (other than a book contract) is for readers to tell me my words moved them or made them think or inspired them to treat a fellow human differently. It's kind of isolating to 'publish', it's like my words get sucked into this great big blackhole. So...

...this leaves me with another question: do I write for readers, or for other writers? And... do we best share our stories and poems with the world?

And that's sort of the crux of it all. For me, at least. And you?

Peace, Linda


  1. It's always nice to get paid for writing but it's extremely nice to hear from readers and get feedback. One of the best things about blogging is the almost instant gratification of knowing what readers think.


  2. I HATE the whole query process... that's prolly why I don't submit as much as I should ;)

  3. This subject has been on my mind a lot lately. I haven't been blogging much, because I've been spending a lot of time on longer pieces and have been submitting them here and there. Yet, I find that I get more readers on my own blog than I do elsewhere, and of course, more feedback. Then, of course, I never think anything of my own is quite good enough.

    It's difficult to know how to treat these little pieces of ourselves. It's quite a quandary.

  4. Quite a nice bit of interesting you've got here.
    Yes, it's a quandary... but think of how writers must have felt before the internet - the only way to get published was through the horrendous query process. Stories, for the most part, I'm sure, were never read by anybody other than the writer's family. Think of how many wonderful tales were abandoned to desk drawers because no publishers deigned it necessary to print them or even respond to them.

    I'm not always a fan of the internet - but one thing it has done is given writers a way to share their work with the world, on their own terms. Blogging, e-books -- isn't it wonderful?

    I sometimes wonder why it's necessary at all to put ourselves through the pain of rejection and queries when it's just not necessary.

    There is going to come a day when publishers will have plenty of time to respond to inquiries because writers will realize they don't need them; and, unfortunately, the internet will also put a lot of publishers out of business, period. I thought it would never happen to newspapers, but it is. The same will happen to publishing. Sure, some companies will survive, but most will not.

    We are at an awkward time in history, where the longstanding tradition of publishing is on the cusp of disappearing and we're torn between tradition and new ways.

  5. we write because we have to...somewhere there is someone for whom our words were meant

    your work does touch the minds and hearts of many, may be not as many as one could hope but many nonetheless

    party on 365

  6. You often see articles/posts on the Internet that ask how the Internet will change publishing. But it already has. Publishing is not what it was even ten years ago. Thing is, we're all just a bit lost in this new world, and sometimes we forget that publishing to a blog is indeed publishing.

    Sometimes I think about writing a post on the bad behavior of editors, particularly the ones who don't respond, but I'm afraid my rant will be a little spicier than guacamole.

    It's illuminating to hear you acknowledge the "inner circles". I say that as a person completely on the outside, with no ties to academia whatsoever. I am not a romantic, my eyes are wide open, and I refuse to be bitter, but I think an outsider's chances of sticking a toe into that inner chamber are pretty low.

    Emily Dickinson is my hero. She wanted to share her poetry and she did, contrary to popular belief. She exchanged mail with over 200 people (that's more "followers" than I have). A couple of them were published, but I think her ambition was of another sort. Her writing was an organic/spiritual part of her organization as a person. One of her correspondents, a woman named Helen Hunt Jackson, told Emily that if her poetry enriched the life of one single person, then she - Emily - did not have the right to withhold it from the world. Those are more than pretty words, I think. They are words to live by.

  7. Mark - you always say the most amazing thing. I didn't know that about Emily Dickinson, mailing her writing to more than 200 people. You're right, they are words to live by.

  8. Wow, great comments here folks. Yes, the future of publishing is here, and it is now.

    There definitely is an inner sanctum of the literary world. Mark, I also am an outsider, and self-taught. My academic ties (in pharmacy! in policy!) don't amount to pooh in the writing world. AWP felt very cliquey, very testosterone-y, very young-y... and now the mfa itself is no longer the terminal degree.

    My unfettered rant on non-responsive editors would be Scotch Bonnet sizzling hot!

    Oops, kid's yelling... back soon. Peace...

  9. Rant away, Linda, there is much to rant about. Inner circles/sanctums always remind me of a grown-up version of high school, just with much more at stake.
    They had an interesting talk on CBC on Sunday afternoon (Feb 22)about how rarely women writers get bylines in magazines as compared to men. They had individuals speaking who had kept track of mags such as Harpers, etc. and out of 300 writers published over a year only 40 were women. Ouch! Who would have thought in this day and age that this type of inequity would still be happening? This compounds the challenges already facing many female writers.

  10. the work you share here is certainly NOT is wonderful snips of your creative process and an opportunity for you to share your goodness with the world. No too mention a place to hone your craft and exchange with all sorts of cool writerly peeps - don't stop!!

  11. i hear you, linda. as michael said: no throwaways here though everybody should be free to throw away jewels. are editors listening? they are and will. i'm listening anyway and loving this!

  12. ...and this wouldn't be complete without me pointing at a marvelous place to share - just over 5000 viewings in a little over a month most of which NOT from the usual lit crowd...: kaffe in katmandu.

  13. umbrella gal, yes, that was a reveal by VIDA -- very disconcerting stats about women's writing NOT making the 'big time'.

    mj, thank you for your kind words about my throw-aways. i think of my 'public' stories as being like those free rags you get in the waiting rooms before you read the doc -- great soundbites to fill your needs, then on to the visit. kind of like tapas.

    marcus, i do hang in kik, but do i need a tutorial on navigating tumblr. not intuitive, at least for me. then again, i've never texted on my phone (not sure i can). call me luddite linda.

    building platform, building readership, making connections, finding writerly peeps -- this is why i write for 'free'. thank you all for reading and commenting. peace...