Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SmokeLong and the Merits of Online Publishing

Some of you may know that I'm a staff editor for an online magazine called SmokeLong Quarterly. The weird name comes from an old Chinese term used to describe short short stories (under 1000 words) that can be finished during a cigarette break. A couple of my stories had been requested by them a few years ago, and last year, as a result, they asked if I would join the team and help them sort through the hundreds of submissions they get every week.

Our latest version just came out yesterday, so I wanted to give a little plug. But, I also wanted to talk about the merits of online publishing. Agents and grants will often give less value to stories that have been published online. For one thing, online magazines have more space for less money, so technically they don't have to be as selective. Online magazines are also newer, so they have not had the chance to build a reputation yet.

But, online publication has its advantages. I was skeptical at first. As soon as my story came out, though, I was really surprised by how valuable this publication was. Agents may only be looking at big print names like Ploughshares, Manoa, or Zoetrope: All-Story, but the average person is more likely to learn more about you from the internet. When my story was published, within weeks it was the top hit you got when you Googled my name, swamping out the records from my previous five years of scientific research. As a result, two blogs ended up liking the story and posted links to it on their blogs. These were people I didn't know, so they were helping to get my name out into the world without my having to ask them. In 2008, SmokeLong got over one million hits on the internet, with nearly 90,000 unique viewers. That's a lot of readers.

Nowadays, I think online publishing is getting more respect as some publications have been around for a few years. SmokeLong is going on six, and there are other publications that I really admire like FriGG and Noo Journal. These places have editors that usually volunteer their time (like me) and who write themselves. They tend to take care in their readings and, because they make no money, they are doing it to help promote writers. SmokeLong reviews everything anonymously and several editors read through the story before almost all decisions are made. We also interview every writer who gets published in each issue. It's some nice exposure.

Of course, it's important--if you are trying to publish through mainstream publishers--to also get the agent. For me, I work on having stories that will help my query letter look good and stories that will be read by as many people as possible. That means publishing both online and in print.


  1. raise some very valid and interesting points! I'm not a strong short story writer, but have been considering focusing on that aspect of writing for some pub creds...

  2. From a lawyer/writer to a scientist/writer I just wanted to say that I stumbled upon your blog and love it. I will definitely be back to read more.

    This post was particularly interesting to me. I've just started submitting literary short fiction, and it's good to get another opinion on online journals.

  3. I love this info you give Davin. I'd been wondering about this for awhile. Sounds like GREAT exposure, for sure, and something I am definitely going to consider.

  4. Beth, Don't forget that plenty of people, including agents claim that you don't actually need an impressive publication record as long as your query/manuscript are strong. It's just another option.

    Hi Jennifer, Thanks for stopping by!

    I'm glad this was useful, Robyn!

  5. I've been thinking lately that I should submit to online publications. No doubt this is because Davin has talked to me about SmokeLong recently (and if you haven't had a look at their site, you should; there's some quite fine writing in it).

    I haven't written any short fiction in a couple of years, but I have some things that I think might be right for McSweeneys. Hmm.

    I'm studiously avoiding submitting to SmokeLong, because I don't want to feel awkward with Davin if my stuff doesn't get in.

  6. Justus, I love paper, but it does seem like it's disappearing on us in some ways. I'll feel happy for the world resources but sad for myself.

    Scott, Thanks a lot for the support. There is some great writing there. If you haven't discovered her, check out Kathy Fish in the archives. She's brilliant. McSweeney's may be my favorite lit mag out there right now. The issues are beautiful. Each one is differently constructed. I sent them a story that got rejected. I've sent them a second one and haven't heard back from them yet.

  7. Here's another advantage to online submissions. There was a period missing in one of my stories, and it was recently added in even though the story is a couple of years old. :)

    BTW, Scott, you can decide about SmokeLong. Like I said, the submissions are blind unless we consciously try to find out the author, which I don't do. I'd only find out after the acceptance, or possibly I'd check if the story was particularly bad. :P You won't fall into the latter category.

  8. Davin,

    I'm still gearing myself up for our forthcoming On Submission Contest! We'll have to work out ground rules.

    I'll keep SmokeLong in mind as a possible victim; it's one of the few good flash fiction sites that aren't genre-laden.

  9. I've had a lot of questions about online publishing! Glad you wrote this, and thanks so much for the information.

    I have such a hard time seeing why online publishing is looked at as substandard. You would almost think that agents (etc.) would appreciate it if your online pub had a large audience!

  10. Davin, thank you for a great post and some good information for me to chew on. I have some short story pieces that I think with some polishing might be worth of submission. I loved your pieces in SmokeLong, and I hope to read more of your work sometime!


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