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.