A short story of mine was just published by the Lullwater Review. To read a copy of this story you can send a check for $5 payable to “Lullwater Review,” and a request for the Fall 2007 (Vol. XVII No. II) issue to:
Atlanta, GA 30322
I wrote this story in 2004.
Is my point starting to show?
2004. Four years later you can see a copy, assuming issues are still available, for $5.
The last story I just wrote was available, for free, the day I finished writing it.
Before we go any further I’d like to point out that I’m not some embittered loather of the publishing industry preaching for change because of years of neglect and rejection. I love the publishing industry. It has brought me every book I’ve ever enjoyed reading. I’d be an idiot to hate it. I do, however, see great potential for improvement.
So here’s how I see it. In its simplest form it works like this. I write the stories I need to write, always trying to turn out quality work. That work gets put into the hands of people who enjoy reading it. The end. Passion meets passion. In the end that’s what this is all about. It’s important to distill that down every once and while so as not to lose track of the bigger picture.
In reality some roadblocks pop up. For starters, how a reader is supposed to tell what writers to read gets pretty confusing. I don’t know the latest statistics, but a titanic amount of stories and books get written every year. It is obviously not possible for readers to sample all works out there and the decide which one’s they would like to read. So you get a variety of “gatekeepers” as some people call them. I’m not a fan of that word as it connotes the idea that these people are guarding something or protecting quality. I don’t see writing (or any art) as a matter of quality versus non-quality. I see it as a matter of you’re either a member of an artist’s audience or you’re not. In a world where both Jane Austin and Quentin Tarantino are considered geniuses, clearly there’s room for difference of opinion. I’ll grant you that there’s a certain level of quality that has to be maintained, but after that I think it’s really a matter of readers finding the voice they like. So I don’t like the term “gatekeeper” but I don’t have a replacement so I’ll just use that, but I’ll keep it in quotes so it sounds self-mocking.
Anyway, the role these “gatekeepers” play is to take that titanic mountain of new works and sort through it, make it more accessible with a variety of classifications to the average reader. Good, bad, four stars, thumbs up, you’ve got to read this, Wolfe sucks, whatever. My point is that there are systems that arise which allow readers to find books and writers they might enjoy without having to sample everything. You with me so far?
Literary journals, such as the Lullwater Review, are such a system. The good people at these journals read an astonishing, an utterly dazzling array of submissions, pick the most loved, bundle them up inside of a cover, and offer them to the public, who for the most part ignores them. These things aren’t best sellers. But within the publishing industry they’re seen as important. Again, a story that makes it into one of these things has passed by a “gatekeeper.” It has been approved. That doesn’t mean it’s the greatest thing in the world, but it certainly means something. So publishers love to see that you’ve had short stories published when you send your books to them for submission. Makes sense. Heck, you probably think about me a little differently now that you know some prestigious college journal also likes what I write (while I’m waggling my eyebrows ever-so-impressively at you I’ll throw in that I had a previous story published in a journal called Lynx Eye).
Again, makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense is that I wrote this story four years ago, that you have to pay five bucks to see it, that included with my acceptance letter was a letter telling me that Lullwater Review desperately needs my support and asking how many subscriptions I would buy, and that Lynx Eye is no longer in business. My other story was published in their last ever issue.
These people love stories, they love words, they love authors, and they produce these wonderful literary journals that play a huge role within the industry and they wind up spending a lot of time soliciting funds, applying for grants, and doing other rigmarole that seems to me to be a great misplacement of their passion and time.
I say we move the whole damned thing online. Websites are cheap. And they’re easy. I mean, an online literary journal could put out an issue a month. They could read tons of stories and, in the case of writer’s like me with a Creative Commons license, publish the ones they like right on their site. Or at the very least provide links to the stories they like. And they’d have wonderful wonderful amounts of time. They could write insightful reviews and critiques and have heated debates and…well you get the idea. They could spend more time doing what they love and less time asking me for money. And, yes, some would remain obscure, but believe me, journal editors love words and the more impassioned ones would garner an audience. Possibly even turn a profit. And writers like me could just mention on our blogs that we were accepted to Lullwater Review, and then provide a link to the site where you could see the story and insightful reviews and heated debates and such.
Obviously I haven’t quite got all the details worked out, but this makes sense to me. You build up an audience, slowly, over time, gaining support and credibility along the way. That’s how it always goes but it can happen so very very much faster online as well as happen smoother and with more time spent doing what I love and less time spent putting together mailings. I suck at putting together mailings. I used to have to stop after a story and spend weeks not writing in order to put together a mailing.
Two side points before I go. Yes, that is what “26 Stories in 52 Weeks” is all about. Or half about. Seeing what I can stir up online. That’s what the career minded side of me was interested in. The author side became curious about what I might produce over a year with a two week per story deadline. And, yes, both sides know that there’s a touch of gimmick to all of this. I wouldn’t expect other authors to do exactly this, but I would like to see more of them opening up their own web-pages to showcase their work.
And second: money. I don’t know how the financial side of things would work out. I don’t believe in giving my work out for free. I know that sounds funny since I’m sitting here giving my work out for free, but you have to keep in mind that in the publishing industry short stories have zero monetary value. Hell, this site is running at a profit in some weird way. Mailings are expensive. Copying twenty page stories is expensive. And when you keep in mind that the average story that has been accepted for publication has been submitted thirty times (sort of made that number up…I’ve come across hard data on that before but can’t find it now. I know it was way up there, though) well it gets expensive. I’ve estimated that each short story I’ve written has cost me an average of $120 to submit for possible publication. And when you do get published the payments aren’t exactly astronomical. This last story earned me a couple of copies of the Lullwater Review for free. The story before that earned me $5.
There are exceptions. There are contests with a thousand or so dollars given to the winner, and if you get accepted by The New Yorker you might make similar money, and if you’re an established author who has found their audience you can probably publish a collection of short stories for profit, but on the whole short stories are primarily used to build up your resume and that is done at a loss. These stories should have cost me $3120 in total. Even with buying some Google ads I’m ahead of the game. So, no, I don’t believe in giving my work out for free. And I can assure you that if I gain a large enough audience online I would then begin to work on monetizing it. And with the rather nifty tools available online it seems to me that I would succeed at monetizing it. But right now I’m still carving out an audience and with short stories “free” is actually profitable.
So…there we are.
The name of my story in the Lullwater Review is “Lemons are Lemons.”
And I’m nowhere with next week’s story.