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Digital Media, Fiction, Publishing, The Writer's Life

And Poof! There Goes Another Story

Recently I was updating some info on my web site when I noticed that a couple of links to stories online no longer worked. I had to assume the journals in which the stories were published had closed.

One of the journals in question was print, the other an online operation. The first story sits in a volume on my bookshelf, and despite the demise of the publisher, I will always have that copy. The second story, however, is gone for good. (I did print a copy of the web page it appeared on, but somehow that just doesn’t count.)

It’s almost as though that second story was never published. And believe me, I’ve already considered sending it out again, but that’s considered cheating in the literary world. Best I can hope for is to try an online journal called The Reprint, which is dedicated to republishing works that have disappeared from the web.

I’m an old fashioned writer. I enjoy holding the published works in my hands and seeing them in plain view. But the possibility of losing published stories to the ether grows with each journal that shifts from print to the Internet.*

Sometimes journals produce their publications as pdf files, which can be downloaded and converted to book form. I can almost live with that. But sometimes the issue is strictly html. I admit, I’ve gone so far as to download an entire online issue, and because I used to be a graphic artist, painstakingly redesign it as a print journal. The process is tedious to the point of being absurd. Plus, printing one or two copies of a 200-plus page journal, whether pdf or self designed, is expensive. A single book with a color cover can cost $20 to $30 at the FedEx store. Forget about any color inside.

I still believe a writer should be paid for his or her creativity, not have to spend time and money just to provide proof that a story was published. But the corporatization of literature is changing all that. We already have to pay many journals to submit, and I can’t help wondering when most journals will resort to charging authors for a copy of the printed result to help meet their operating expenses. Some (Narrative, for example) already charge readers to access online content.

Maybe I’m too old fashioned. Maybe I can’t get used to the idea of literature as something transient, to be read and discarded like the morning newspaper (oops, we hardly have them anymore either).

For now, I will continue to be careful about where I submit my work, choosing print journals almost exclusively, and only resorting to online magazines when I’m solicited by a publication or have run out of viable print journals to submit a story to.

*Yes, there’s the Wayback Machine, but seriously, who would go that far to retrieve an online short story?

Controversial Book Review Update: (See my blog of October 27.) I’m still working on it. I’ve decided to turn it into an essay, to help explain my perspective. I’m preparing to show it to a few trusted people first, and hope to have it finished in another week or so.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


21 thoughts on “And Poof! There Goes Another Story

  1. Of course, you’re right.
    My concern is that online-only work may be the eight track tapes of a coming generation. Do we really believe that every piece living in the servers of the world will be translated to the Next Big Thing? I don’t. And although I’m not one of those prepping for Armagedon, I do know that we’re only one gigantic electronic pulse away from losing everything digital.
    Electrons don’t travel through time and space as well as printed matter. Some may laugh at the quaintness of the message humanity sent about the Voyager spacecraft some four decades ago. It consisted of images engraved on a golden disc as well as an actual, analog record and record player, containing the sounds of the human voice. Grooves and lines on physical media. I believe our note to the future will survive in that way far better than if we’d sent our message to Alpha Centauri on a thumb drive.
    Remember Magritte. “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” ~ This is not a pipe. And a bundle of sparks is not a story.

    Posted by Jon Zech | November 10, 2012, 2:33 PM
    • Maybe this points to the devaluation of literature, or the fact that our art has been usurped by corporate interests that view novels and stories and paintings and art in general as commodities, same as mobile phones and hamburgers. They’ve convinced the public–and many writers–that efiles are just as good as printed material. I don’t think I’ll ever see it that way.

      Posted by jpon | November 11, 2012, 3:25 AM
  2. about *aboard*

    Posted by Jon Zech | November 10, 2012, 2:34 PM
  3. I suppose I have seen too many promos for disaster films (I never watch the films, the promos irritate me enough), but I wonder what would happen if somehow the Internet were attacked (and a few times recently we’ve received warnings in the media about such an event being in the offing) and we had no other means to communicate other than the old “print” forms. I somehow feel we should always have print there as a backup, and keep it alive as a tradition. It’s clear you do too.

    Posted by shadowoperator | November 10, 2012, 2:46 PM
    • Sounds like the basis for a movie. Sad to say the reality has to be reduced to a fantasy.

      I have a friend who’s a cyber-security expert. The idea of an outside entity bringing much of our infrastructure down remotely is not that far-fetched.

      Posted by jpon | November 11, 2012, 3:35 AM
  4. Good post!

    How is looking to republish a work considered “cheating”? If you try to sell it AS republished, you’re telling the publication up front. Am I missing something? I’ve found places over the years open to that. Are they going away, now (haven’t done it in a few years).

    But I’m also like you—I much prefer having hardcovers. Online is the “new thing,” so to speak, and nothing personally against if, but it does seem exactly as you say…rather volatile.

    Keep up the good work, Joe!

    Posted by fpdorchak | November 10, 2012, 3:17 PM
    • Sorry for the confusion about republishing. What I meant to say was taking that previously published story and palming it off as never-before-published.

      But thanks for the vote of support.

      Posted by jpon | November 11, 2012, 3:37 AM
  5. Interesting. Had never really thought about this issue. I agree with the previous comment, though, that it can hardly be ‘cheating’ to republish a story.

    Posted by Huw Thomas | November 10, 2012, 3:49 PM
    • Yeah, I hadn’t thought about it until it happened. I’ll be more careful about preserving published works in the future.

      Posted by jpon | November 11, 2012, 3:38 AM
  6. Just read and tweeted an interview with Maurice Sendak. When asked about e-books he said:

    “I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book. A book is a book is a book. I know that’s terribly old-fashioned. I’m old, and when I’m gone they’ll probably try to make my books on all these things, but I’m going to fight it like hell. [Pauses] I can’t believe I’ve turned into a typical old man. I can’t believe it. I was young just minutes ago.”

    It’s a marvelous interview. He’s grumpy, honest, brutal, and funny. Sendak doesn’t mention the “poof” factor, but it’s something that bothers me, too. Not just in stories but in letters. I have found letters written by a grandmother I never knew. I got to know her through those letters. E-mail goes “poof.”

    The best thing you can do is to own your website and gather everything you’ve published online in one place. Even the best print journals go “poof.” Remember STORY? I have stacks of issues and mourned their demise. It’s sad, we’re all going to die. Sorry, Sendak rubbed off on me a bit this morning.

    Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | November 10, 2012, 3:57 PM
    • What a great comment by Sendak. As much as I use and appreciate the Internet, there’s an artificial feel to it that a book will never have. When I get a story published in a print journal, part of me thinks, it’s done, it’s printed, and no one can ever take that away. No so for online stuff.

      Posted by jpon | November 11, 2012, 3:43 AM
  7. Do you really have over 4000 followers!!!!!!!!!!!!! kaye

    Posted by prasanga | November 10, 2012, 4:50 PM
    • Almost 5,000. WordPress wouldn’t lie.

      Of course they also count my Twitter followers in addition to blog followers.

      Posted by jpon | November 11, 2012, 3:39 AM
  8. I guess I’m with you and Sendak, unabashedly old fashioned. A part of me staunchly believes that e-publishing and online journals are not completely real. If something of mine is accepted to an online journal, I don’t even know if I have bragging rights. I’m sure this antique belief is hindering my success, since everyone is doing things this way these days.

    Posted by girl in the hat | November 10, 2012, 6:59 PM
    • I’m all for publishing online. I just think you need to be vigilant to keep up with your stories. It’s important for writers to have their own websites to keep everything in one place. Like Joe and Sendak, I like to hold a book or journal. But if you publish something online, it’s a wonderful thing. Share it with me, please. And don’t let it go “poof.”

      Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | November 10, 2012, 9:07 PM
      • I really don’t know any writers who prefer online to print–only readers. And there are ways to preserve online publications, but that’s just one more thing that a writer must do that takes away from writing time.

        Posted by jpon | November 11, 2012, 3:55 AM
    • Your comment really gets me thinking, Anna. I do a lot of online promotion because it’s apparently the only way to make a career in creative writing (at least for those of us who aren’t yet established). I’d so much rather write, and I’ll bet the quality of my stuff would improve if I could spend more time at it. Frankly, the writing business could use more people with an antique belief.

      Posted by jpon | November 11, 2012, 3:48 AM
  9. one of the best discussions ever here, and there have been some great ones. I have many thoughts, but will share the one that belongs to a friend of mine who is a historian, trained at Columbia, and an expert in a number of areas. She has worried publicly about the lack of material culture that we are producing/protecting for future generations, and she wonders how the people of 100 years hence will “know” us or if they will know anything about us at all. I think we will always require hard copy: of manuals, encyclopedias, medical research, CPR instructions, and In the Night Kitchen. What scares me is less the internet, which I love frankly, but the concurrent disappearing of the physical backup. This seems extremely dangerous to me, in both the short and the long term.

    as to the immediate: publishing on the internet is a very mixed blessing, I’d agree. On one hand, you get to — theoretically — reach tons of people and there’s the ease and rapidity of transmission. On the other hand, as others have said here, there is the devaluing of what we do to a set of binary codes simply sent out, and the sense that writing is nothing more than “content” that can be “updated” i.e. erased when it is no longer “needed.”

    For all these reasons, I find the continued prevalence of the chapbook an interesting intervention on this issue. I also find the increasing importance of realtime performances by writers in bookstores and at readings, an interesting and important reminder that the physical matters.

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | November 11, 2012, 6:05 PM
  10. Thanks, Stephanie. Your comment means a lot.

    I think society’s infatuation with this new-fangled internet is still powerful, and still making people forget the importance of the real in our lives. Maybe in a decade or two, when everyone is tired of the web, we’ll come to our senses and remember to include the physical in our lives.

    Posted by jpon | November 12, 2012, 2:45 AM
  11. When permanent print is gone, the alteration of history will be inevitable. A quick Wikipedia “fix” changes everything, and who’s to know without paper?
    And, in fact, there are no more paper encyclopedias. Both Britannica and World Book are no longer printed.
    And I’m sorry, Joe, but this is not infatuation…this is love. A version of the Internet will last as long as there’s an electronic civilization. About three years, I’d guess.

    Posted by Jon Zech | November 12, 2012, 2:52 PM

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