Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Relevance of Online Fiction Magazines

The past few days I've been dusting off old manuscripts, tightening and tinkering, and sending them out into the world.  Reading old short stories is like catching up with old friends, and I always love the feeling of reading over something and thinking, "hey, this was really clever!  I really like this!"

I also wrote a brand-new piece for an anthology deadline for Enchanted Conversation.  I'm very excited about the project, especially because I'm a big sucker for revisionist fairytales.

The whole process has gotten me to thinking a lot about the short fiction market, though, and the thoughts haven't necessarily been entirely positive.  The vast majority of the short fiction markets -- especially for genre fiction -- are online.  The most common model is an e-zine with an annual or quarterly print-on-demand print issue showcasing the best of the stories.  It's a very elegant system, and I am actually a supporter of print-on-demand technology; one day, I suspect even major publishing houses will move in a similar direction.  It makes much more sense economically to print on demand rather than print up thousands of copies that may never sell.

But it does raise an important question: who's actually reading these stories?

Honestly.  Who -- and let's be honest here -- actually gets online and says to themselves, "I'm looking for something fun to read! Let's google for a nice short story to read!"?  And it's not like these e-zines are advertising.  I can safely say I have never found an advertisement for a single webzine anywhere unless it was 1.) the writer's personal site or 2.) a market listing site.  Which leads me to believe that the only people who read these magazines are people looking to get published in them, making the whole process a little masturbatory.  What's the point?

This isn't a question unique to online markets, of course.  This has been the reality of literary magazines for a long time.  But it seems especially depressing online, maybe due to the sheer number of them.  At least if you've been published in some university's literary journal, you can wave the issue under somebody's nose and say, "hey look, here's my byline!"  You don't really get that satisfaction from the online markets.

They're a nice way to get your name out on the web, I suppose.  I do get a kick out of googling myself to see what comes up, but even those results are indicative of how poorly circulated the webzines really are.  Right now, when I google myself, my first page hits are:
-- This blog
-- My Goodreads profile
--My Twitter account
-- A short story on "All Things Girl"
-- A blog comment I made on a prominent agent's blog
-- An editorial I wrote for Muggle.net about the theoretical identity of the Half-Blood Prince
-- My Nanowrimo profile

All of which is to say, I have five stories published -- four of them on the web -- and only one comes up when you search for me online?  A comment on someone else's blog rates higher in search engines than my short stories?  That seems like a pretty good indication that these sites aren't getting a ton of traffic.

I'm not dissing online publication.  Not by a long shot.  I'm still writing, and submitting, and I still take immense pride in my published works no matter where they appear.  But I am genuinely flummoxed by this problem and how to go about solving it.  In this "direct to consumer" world that artists are quickly finding themselves in, how do you find readers?

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